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Gastronomic detective comic Chew plates up a Forged in the Dark-style RPG adaptation

Grab your dice and a fork.

It’s been a big week for Image imprint comics courting roleplay groups as the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning series Chew announced a tabletop RPG adaptation of its world of food-based crime and superpowers. The project has launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a pair of books from publisher Imagining Games.

Chew was created by writer John Layman and illustrator Rob Guillory in 2009 and follows Tony Chu, a detective who finds himself embroiled in the US Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to eradicate illegal chicken smuggling. See, a strain of avian flu killed millions and led to the outlawing of chicken and other edible birds. Also, Chu is a cibopath - he learns about something’s past by eating part of it, including people.

The resulting storylines weave between outlandish parody of government action-espionage flicks and watching the main cast desperately attempt to hold together their personal relationships. Chew: The Roleplaying Game will attempt to emulate its source material by using the Forged in the Dark engine, a stripped-down rule set based on John Harper’s crew-based game, Blades in the Dark.

For the unforged in the crowd, the system focuses on the collaborative fiction being spun between players by giving them tools to gain and hold advantages using specific narrative descriptions. Each action earns a certain threat and potential effect level from the GM, but that can be affected - or have the consequences mitigated - through clever use of gear, perks and narrative positioning. More description means a better chance of success, so knowing one’s character and surroundings is key.

Playbooks - equivalent to classes - in Chew will be defined by their quirks and approaches, filling in how the world views that character and what weird, food-based superpowers they might possess. Tony’s cibopathy is the tip of the iceberg, and the possibilities range from gelatin-based familiars and desert telepathy to a preternatural knack for throwing tortilla chips with deadly intent.

One of Blades in the Dark trademark features is the stress mechanic that allows players to roll extra dice or otherwise nudge a potentially bad outcome at their own personal expense. Too much stress can lead to mental scarring or permanent retirement. Chew’s appetite fills that gap, denoting each character’s drive to solve the current case, whether that’s locating a stolen prizewinning fighting rooster or busting the latest frog/chicken gene splicing lab. Spending appetite will be a necessity to avoid the worst fictional outcomes and can lead to tense and meaningful roleplay moments.

Players in Chew: The Roleplaying Game can elect to work for the FDA, as in the comic series, or wear the badge of some other ostensibly innocent federal agency. Campaigns will comprise a series of cases that seem disconnected at first but might point to a broader conspiracy. To help keep track of everything, both the physical and digital versions will offer a Investigative Campaign Corkboard. Think of it like a campaign journal-meets-hardboiled detective conspiracy plotter.

The game will cover two books - a core rule book with everything needed for play and The CHEWniverse world book, which builds out the universe with more character options, factions and case hooks. Each book is planned to be over 200 pages long in hardcover. Lead designer Pete Petrusha is joined on the design team by Mitch Wallace, Justin Ford, Carly Petrusha and Morgan Weeks. Art direction is led by Federico Sohns.

The Kickstarter campaign for Chew: The Roleplaying Game runs through November 4th, with both digital and physical editions available to backers for $25 (£18) and $40 (£29), respectively. Publisher Imagining Games currently expects to ship books in May 2022.

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