Bakto's Terrifying Cuisine: A Personal History

Posted by Jared Sinclair on

Bakto’s Terrifying Cuisine is by far the most popular and most played thing I ever created. And—I can’t believe it as I write it—it's been over 4 years. I’ve heard a lot of very nice things about the adventure over the years. Hell, it even got featured in an article as the best one-shot adventure for D&D. But I have never really spoken about creating the adventure itself.

First of all, I wasn’t (and am still not really) much of a writer back then. My biggest accomplishment in writing previous to Bakto's was getting laughed at by a teacher because of my poor writing skills. Also, English isn’t even my first language, so imagine how nervous I was about writing anything, much less charging real money for it! 

After hanging out in the old G+ groups and seeing a lot of people just publishing real books, I set out to do the same. The original idea for Bakto's came from Iron Chef, most specifically the Japanese version from the 90’s. I watched it in hazy, overworked, late nights by accident. Its over-the-top, colorful presentation and its earnest (though exaggerated) love for food enraptured me. The other main inspiration was the manga Delicious in Dungeon (which will soon get an anime adaptation!), a very D&D-inspired dungeon-crawl adventure about cooking and eating monsters in a cliché fantasy dungeon. Through the lens of cooking, it tries to reinvent the old staples of dungeon games for a more modern audience, without losing what made them special in the first place. Another thing that motivated me was the lack of actual cooking adventures in RPGs, as most of them seem to be more food-themed than anything else. No one cooks, you just fight in kitchens against living cakes or something (to be fair, we do have a butter golem). Or if you cook, it is far too complicated and granular, like an entirely new game to learn on top of whichever one you’re using. And that’s why Bakto is still the king. #humblebrag

Originally, I wanted to do a big dungeon called the “Rubedite Chef’s Stadium” or something, and one of the rooms was a trap/restaurant where a demon mistook players for chefs and demanded a properly cooked meal—or else. As I wrote the rest of the dungeon, I noticed nothing matched that room in terms of quality, nothing got me that excited to write. Despite being pretty happy with what I had gotten, I just felt like publishing a book, paying artists, doing layout and all that jazz was a little too much for me, so I shelved the whole thing. Until I saw Nate Treme post about pamphlet adventures on Twitter. Suddenly, things looked extremely doable. After all, a pamphlet is barely two pages. Bakto's itself turned out to be a little over 1000 words. Hell, this postmortem has more words than the original pamphlet!

So I got together with a couple of friends and “founded” Roll 4 Tarrasque (though it’s pretty much just me these days). As we brainstormed ideas, I remembered that one room in the dungeon and pitched it to my friends. They loved it, and from there all the ideas you see in the pamphlet just flowed out. The whole thing took two weeks to write and another two for layout and art. 

The constraints of space, budget, and skill created a lot of my favorite things in the adventure. The Mad-Libs demonic generation came out of a need to describe a demon with as few sentences as possible, and give the adventure more replayability. You may notice that Bakto’s adjectives and wants have no relation with the ingredients in the dungeon—this was on purpose, for no reason other than we had a good laugh coming up with everything. As a matter of fact, the thing I'm most proud of is that this adventure is just me, 100% unfiltered. I wrote exactly what I wanted to write. And this is the greatest lesson I learned about writing: Just be yourself. It’s cliché, but it sure as hell works.

I couldn’t draw maps, so I made an abstract map, in a style I still use to this day. Since this is not a “real” dungeon-crawl adventure (there is light everywhere and all the doors are open), the most important part of the map was simply communicating the relationship between rooms. 

Another favorite thing of mine, and what makes this actually perfect for one-shots, is the time limit. You can’t fully explore the dungeon in twenty turns, meaning you have to make tough decisions—and this once again adds to the replayability of the whole thing. Of course, having a time limit forces this to be a one-shot: you can’t stretch this out!

The original art of the adventure, by the wonderful Sam Mameli, is an homage to the demonic statue on the cover of the AD&D (1st edition) Player’s Handbook. That demon depicted in the statue has lived rent-free in my mind since I first saw it. To me, that image is D&D. What better way to pay homage to a game that was so important in my life? That’s how Bakto’s visual character came to be. His name came from a friend telling me the demon I was making was like Rakdos from Magic: the Gathering. I really did not care for Magic at the time, but the name had a nice ring to it, so I just messed with the sounds until "Bakto" came out.

This expanded version was an opportunity to flesh out a lot of things I had to cut due to space, like the Garden Kingdom princess that is, unlike everyone around her, just a potato with a face drawn on (and who also happens to be the love interest of a lowly Porcini Goblin). Being able to write at length about each ingredient (and add new ones) was a lovely opportunity, and I believe they will give you a lot of fuel for further adventures. Some of them may even end the world (or create an entirely new one). I can’t wait for veterans to try the Rubedite Chef Challenge and meet the funky little guys I’ve created.

This new, beautiful version of the adventure wouldn’t be possible without all the people who bought and played Bakto’s over the years, people who have talked about and hyped it. Without Bakto’s my life would have been completely different: I’ve been working solely with games for a while now, something that feels surreal for someone born in Brazil—a privilege I have entirely because of the love the internet has given this demonic chef.

Hopefully, as you pick up this labor of love, this legendary adventure, you will be inspired to write your very own Bakto’s. You won't be afraid to put your goofy ideas out there in the world. May Bakto’s Terrifying Cuisine bring you as much joy as it has me.  

- Giuliano Roverato

Bakto's Terrifying Cuisine is available for preorder right now. The original pamphlet adventure is still available on Itch.

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →