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Johnstone Metzger
The Nightmares Underneath, The Metamorphica, Dungeon Planet.
The Nightmares Underneath, The Metamorphica, Dungeon Planet.

Johnstone Metzger's posts

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I mean talk about just kludging some shit together until it sort of works.

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Okay, hypothetical:

Blades in the Dark, but cyberpunk-ish sci-fi, no crew, every PC does their own scores (they can also work together if they want to).

What would I need to make this work?

1. Flashpoint situation that all PCs have an interest in.
2. Involved factions (corps, gangs, las tres letras, etc) from which to generate NPCs.
3. A small pool of NPCs that create triangles with the PCs.

Some PCs are on salary or freelancing and are given missions. Some might be given only directives. Others might get to, or have to, make up their own scores in order to get paid.

Each player decides on their own plan and its detail, and makes their own engagement rolls.

What else do I need to make this work?

Are scores in this version simple jobs, like a heist or whatever, which players can do separately at different times, perhaps with some overlap? Or do scores become longer-term missions, with all players starting at the same time (i.e. when they become involved in the flashpoint situation)? Or are longer-term missions just made of those smaller scores, with players making engagement rolls all the time to see how any sort of mission-oriented undertaking goes?

Post 3 of 3
The Great British Menu

This show is even less like American tv than Masterchef: The Professionals UK is. Like that show, it feels more like an industry competition that happens to be filmed than something created for tv. Every year, there is a 4-course banquet to celebrate some kind of super-British thing, like the anniversary of Normandy or Wimbledon or (you guessed it) the Queen. Three ambitious up-and-coming chefs from each of the 8 regions of the UK build their own menu to fit the brief and compete to represent their region in the finals, where the judges decide which 4 dishes will appear at the banquet. It is possible for 1 chef to cook 2 dishes at the banquet, though this is very rare.

The 8 regions are: London & the SE, SW, Central, NW, NE, N. Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. As you might imagine, London/SE is a pretty strong region.

There are 5 episodes every week and episodes are half an hour each (the final week's episodes are 1 hour long). The first four feature the 3 chefs cooking one of their dishes and being rated by a veteran of the competition (at least these days, I dunno exactly what they did in the early years). After they present all four dishes, the chef with the lowest total score is eliminated and in the fifth episode the remaining 2 chefs cook their whole menu for the 4 judges and a regional winner is declared. After 8 weeks, the 8 regional winners assemble and cook their dishes for the judges again, at the end of which the final banquet menu is decided. The final episode is the banquet.

This show is good because it features fine dining chefs cooking deliberately fancy, impressive dishes to a specific brief. Being British (and mostly in the service of throwing a banquet), there's no fancy American showbiz stuff in the presentation so it's very down-to-Earth except for the fact that the dishes are supposed to be banquet-worthy show-stoppers. The half-hour episodes are really easy to watch because they're short and only contain 1 thing in each of them. You also get to hear accents from all over the UK, if you want to practice mimicking them for later use in your rpgs. It is, however, more heavily dominated by white dudes than most cooking shows (for obvious reasons). Baking fans may also be interested to know that Prue Leith, a new judge on The Great British Bake Off, was a judge on Great British Menu up until switching shows this year.

Okay, I think that's it for cooking competition show recommendations. I can't think of anything else I want to write up at the moment, since the goal was mainly to talk up shows from outside America. This was a short one, but I tend to watch GBM episodes first when I have several queued up at the same time, probably because of the shorter run time and the fancier food.

Post 2 of 3
The Masterchef Franchise Part 2: Australia

Before the Australians licensed the Masterchef name, there was only the British show. But the Australians didn't pick up the format, instead they reinvented the show by making it, basically, Top Chef but for amateurs (and then adding more to it). It was always Survivor-style, with contestants leaving their jobs and lives behind and staying in a house together for 3 months while participating in this rigorous competition that includes several challenges every week.

The broadcast format is similar to that of the UK, but there are 5 episodes every week. For three months. Yes, there are between 60 and 80 episodes per season, depending on the season, and they are all an hour long. Or longer. Yes, you read that right. This is one fucking intense competition.

Much like the American version, Masterchef Australia starts with a week of auditions to determine the 24 official contestants who appear in the opening credits, and then the standard weekly format begins. Generally, the first episode of the week includes a mystery box challenge and then an invention challenge. Th winner of the first gets an advantage in the second—usually they get to pick the core ingredient or whatever. Then the judges choose the top 3 and the bottom 3 of the second challenge. There is often a special guest chef who comes and picks the 8 ingredients of the mystery box challenge and determines the theme of the second challenge.

In the second episode, the 3 losers from the previous episode must recreate a dish brought in by a guest chef over the course of several hours. This is always an amazing-looking dish with a recipe running a dozen or more pages. The guest who brought it in gives them advice while they cook and tells them to get a move on or they won't get it finished. The contestant with the worst dish is eliminated.

Third episode of the week features something unique to Masterchef Australia. The 3 winners from the first episode cook off against each other, and the winner of that challenge goes head-to-head with an up-and-coming professional chef. They get a few advantages, like an extra 15 minutes and maybe their choice of which pantry both of them will use. The judges don't see them cook and taste both dishes blind, scoring them out of 10. If the contestant can beat the pro, they get an immunity pin, which they can use to keep themselves out of one future elimination challenge. They don't win that often, but it does happen. This immunity challenge not only showcases new Australian talent, but also allows them to show the contestants (and the home audience) some new and interesting techniques. Because the judges aren't there for the cook, contestants have some other high-end Australian chef as a mentor for these challenges, giving them advice and trying to help them beat the other pro.

Fourth episode of the week is usually a team challenge. Often teams are making food for the public, sometimes in a professional restaurant during normal business hours, and they have to make large quantities. The whole point here, of course, is to gradually give the contestants more and more commercial, professional cooking experiences, and there are certainly more of these than there are in any other Masterchef series.

In the fifth episode the losing team or teams go into an elimination challenge and the worst dish sends its maker home. Afterward, this episode gets even longer than 1 hour because there is a masterclass, where the 3 judges (and the guest if there is one) do a series of cooking demonstrations for the contestants. These were much more common in earlier seasons than they have been lately, where it seems like there's only 1 every 3 or 4 weeks, instead of every single week. You should know that the remaining contestants are in all of these masterclasses, so there will be spoilers in that regard if you decide to just watch these ones. You might prefer to check the Masterchef Australia website and just get the recipes instead (although the site has plenty of spoilers as well). As far as I know you can get recipes for lots and lots of stuff, maybe even everything? I can't cook though, so I haven't checked on which ones are and are not available.

Some weeks there is a special guest who stays the whole week, or takes the contestants on a road trip around Australia; and near the end there is always a week-long trip to some exotic foreign location like... the United States! (both times were actually pretty good), or Italy, or Japan. In Masterchef: The Professionals UK they went to The Fat Duck once, but Heston Bloomenthal himself drops in on the Australians for a whole week every year. Marco Pierre White and Maggie Beer have been regulars in the past. Most guests are British or Australian—American chefs rarely appear outside of the show taking a trip to the US, and they have grown rarer in more recent seasons.

This isn't just a competition that puts amateurs through a few tests to find out who's best. On Masterchef Australia, they give contestants every opportunity to learn new techniques and hone their skills, soak up advice from professionals, and actually get better. By the end of it, you have home cooks who can confidently handle fine dining recipes and even plate them like pros. People who make it to the top 6 get eliminated for dishes that would have won challenges at the start of the comp. On the American Masterchef, they'll eliminate a contestant for not cooking 3 eggs perfectly the first time under massive pressure and time constraints, which basically just serves to make them look incompetent. On the Australian show, they have tons of guests who all bring in amazing-looking food. In fact, this show is almost unrelentingly positive. They never encourage rivalries, contestants are genuinely happy for each others' successes and don't badmouth each other, and the judges are always asking contestants about their food dreams and their kids and other heart-warming crap like that. The stress of the competition and being away from home for so long produces lots of breakdowns and tears, so honestly they get more than enough drama already without trying to be shitty about it the way the American version is.

Season 5
I started watching when Season 4 was on, and then went back and watched Season 3 after. But you get a lot of spoilers about previous seasons in this show, with winners (and not-winners) coming back and stuff like that. Part of the fun for me is not knowing what happens, so I didn't watch all that much of the first two seasons. Season 1 was kind of budget, being a new, untested show and all, and the basic format wasn't quite nailed down until Season 3.

However, Season 5 is where the show stumbled. Instead of doing auditions, the producers decided to cast their official 24 based partly on personalities, in the hopes that contestants would start as good tv and pick up the culinary skills over the course of the show. As such, the first half of this season really suffers. Especially when they kick it off with a ridiculous "girls against boys" theme. They still ended up with some talented cooks at the end, but this season remains notorious.

With Season 6, they returned to their winning formula and have stuck to it ever since. It's a cliche to say that every season since then gets better and sees a higher standard of cooking, but it's kind of true for the most part.

The Masterchef Franchise Part 3: Everything Else

After the Australians licensed the Masterchef name, it blew up. An American version soon followed, and then many others all over the world. In spite of being a 3-star chef, Gordon Ramsay's American tv persona tends to be trashy and abusive, and this version of Masterchef kind of bought into that (not to the same degree as Hell's Kitchen, but he still insults people in auditions and whatnot). Masterchef Canada also tried to foster catfights and rivalries, though less successfully, while the other versions (Asia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa) mostly ditched that and tried to be more positive. Even so, these shows are all basically copies of the American version, and while they're not all terrible, they still (just like the American version) end up being pale shadows of Masterchef Australia.

The exception is the one year Masterchef New Zealand had contestants enter and compete in pairs, which is also (not coincidentally) how My Kitchen Rules works. My Kitchen Rules is a trashy Australian amateur cooking competition with a focus on duos or couples, throwing dinner parties, and cooking 3-course meals. If you want to see dinner party meltdowns, watch that show. The American version features celebrity couples, the host duo of Cat Cora and Curtis Stone (both slumming it hard), and feels even more like gorging on garbage junk food than the Australian version does.

In summation: Masterchef Australia is The Wire of cooking shows.

Cooking Competitions on Television
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At Go Play NW, I talked up the cooking shows I watch, so I wrote this in an effort to share what I think is good tv with people who might not ordinarily watch shows from outside the US. There are lots of episodic cooking competition shows on American television. Some of them are really great, like Chopped and Iron Chef. Many others are not nearly as good, but this is the kind of cooking competition show that America does well. The rest of the world doesn't really have the same kind of handle on it. Sure, there's Chopped Canada but really, come on.

Personally, though, I prefer the longer-running competitions, like the Top Chef franchise, but this format is not really America's specialty. Hell's Kitchen is unabashedly trashy, while Masterchef USA seems to put the lion's share of its energies into encouraging catfights and rivalries instead of nurturing the talents of its amateur contestants. The Next Iron Chef series was as good as Top Chef Masters, but Iron Chef Gauntlet was not quite as good as Top Chef Duels. I found The Taste oddly amusing, even though the format has some obvious problems. Yes, I've watched a bunch of others, too.

However, if I had to assemble a top 5 for long-form cooking competition tv shows (and I don't, but I have anyway), it would be, in alphabetical order:
Great British Menu
Masterchef Australia
Masterchef UK
Masterchef: The Professionals Australia
Masterchef: The Professionals UK

The Australian shows are much like the American ones in format, just better quality. This is not merely "my opinion," either. Every version of Masterchef except the original UK version is quite obviously a cheaper, smaller, lesser version of Masterchef Australia. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. Australia doesn't even have as many people as Texas and their climate's even worse, how can they make a better show than the US? It's because they care more, that's why.

The Australian version of Masterchef: The Professionals only ran one season and I'd say it's real advantage over the Top Chef and Next Iron Chef franchises is primarily in the cinematography (especially in the first episode), although the challenges are also interesting and lack the gimmickry, product placement, and celebrity drop-ins of American shows. It can't really top the actual cooking talent on Iron Chef or Top Chef Masters, so I'm actually cool with any y'all thinking those are better.

The 3 British shows are rather different and unique, and they have no parallels in the American market.

First, I'll talk about the Masterchef franchise. I have watched at least a few episodes from every English-language version of Masterchef, and I can break them down into roughly 3 categories (with a few exceptions): the original (from the UK), the Australian version, and all the rest. Then I'll get to the Great British Menu.

The Masterchef Franchise Part 1: The UK

Masterchef UK has been going on for quite a while, having started in the 1990s, and then being revived again this millennia and running 13 years so far (we will be ignoring the original 90s version, as I know nothing about it and probably never will).

Unlike other Masterchef competitions, this one seems to take place on weekends. Contestants are grouped into heats, which are whittled down over two rounds, with the remaining contestants being combined into new heats to be further whittled down. The final few, usually 14 or fewer, then meet as a full group. Also unlike American shows, there are 3 episodes every week: usually two 1-hour episodes featuring two different heats, and then a third, half-hour episode featuring the winners of those two heats battling together. After the heats are over, there are still 3 episodes a week.

Most rounds consist of contestants cooking a composed dish or two that they have practiced at home. Improvisation challenges are fairly sparse, although the format changes every year. Past years have seen challenges where contestants taste a dish and have to recreate it with a small pantry of ingredients (some of which were not used in the dish). Contestants often cook for high-profile food critics as well as past winners, so the show has numerous voices saying intelligent things about the food in addition to the two judges (an English food writer and an Australian chef who lives and works in Britain).

In general, this show is fairly chill. There's no fancy sets or camerawork, no bling, just people cooking and talking about food. There are, however, various challenges that don't involve contestants being eliminated, such as when they are sent to do a service in a professional restaurant or cook dishes from recipes for fine dining chefs to judge. These challenges are meant to inspire them and teach them new skills. Contestants who stick around until the end are invariably those who learn the most over the course of the competition, and those who make it to the top 3 or 4 go an a trip to some other country and learn from chefs at top-end restaurants. Did you watch Chef's Table S02E04? Yeah, the top 4 of Season 12 (just a year back) went to Mexico and cooked at Pujol with Enrique Olvera. Chef's Table has real pretty food porn, but not much actual cooking, which is most of what you see in Masterchef UK. The top 3 of an earlier year went to Barcelona and cooked with some of El Bulli's chefs, and a year before that, the top 3 went to Enoteca Pinchiorri in Italy, which also has 3-stars. But sometimes they go to places like South Africa or Northern Thailand and get a mix of both fine dining and traditional native cuisines.

Masterchef: The Professionals UK is very similar, but with professional chefs competing and acclaimed Michelin-star chefs for judges—it was Michel Roux Jr. and Monica Galetti originally, with Marcus Wareing replacing Michel in recent years. A few other things are different too. The Professionals starts out with the dreaded skills test, where one of the judges asks for a specific technique to be demonstrated and the contestant fumbles through it, destroyed by nerves beneath the glare of cameras and Michelin-starred judges and being in an unfamiliar kitchen. The judges demonstrate the skill first, of course, so the audience knows what it looks like when done properly. This also happens with full dishes at various times—the judge demonstrates a dish for the audience, and the contestants must replicate it from a recipe. It's usually fairly classic, and meant to test the knowledge base of the contestants, not trip them up with someone weird.

At the end of each season, there is a trip somewhere, just like in the amateur version, but on this show they usually (at least for the last 5 years) go and cook at a 3-star restaurant that is also in the world's top 50: places like The Fat Duck, Maaemo, Piazza Duomo, El Celler De Can Roca, Mugaritz. Did you see the very first episode of Chef's Table, with Massimo Bottura? In S06E22 of Masterchef: The Professionals UK, the top three go to Osteria Francescana and cook with him. You get to see Five Ages of Parmesan being made, plated, and eaten. Also the Jackson Pollock dish and the dropped lemon tart. They don't explain the pigeons in this episode though, you need to watch Chef's Table to get that kind of stuff. This show is all about the cooking.

Speaking of Chef's Table, one of the final challenges in the Professionals series is a 3-course or 4-course meal for several tables worth of some of the best chef's in Britain, a few of whom they will already have met and cooked for earlier in the season. The amateurs will cook dishes designed by a top chef and serve them to a small table of other luminaries, but the professionals are usually left to design their own menu for the larger crowd. All in all, it's basically an industry competition that happens to be televised, not so much a game show that happens to be about cooking.

Go Play Northwest 2017

Bussed in, had dinner at Cypress or whatever it's called next to campus, then went up to Pike street for supper before playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel in the evening. Tony's game had so many players a group of us convinced this Paul guy to run a separate funnel for us and we had fun cracking wise and watching our poor, miserable peasants bite the dust. Some of my characters killed each other.

I played Inheritance, which was cool. You can see a photo in the Go Play NW community. I was Tyr the one-armed guy, so I grabbed a blanket from my room to wear as a cloak over my right arm. When +Sean Nittner explained how touching works and said an emphatic bear hug is symbolized by touching a person's arms with two hands I was like "TWO hands, huh?" and it took him a moment to get it.

Nate gave me his Monster Compandium booklet, some monster pictures he got Dan to write words for. I told him he should start a patreon, ha ha ha. It's good though, I might have to steal some aspects of the monster stat block format for myself.

After the catered dinner, I ran a playtest of my new game The Company of Monsters. Elevator pitch is: "Like Dungeon World, but you play the monsters and you fight the humans." I was invited to deliver this pitch in an elevator, too! Thanks Elevator Guy! I've been hacking Apocalypse World since before it was finished and yet have still never published a full PbtA game. Weird huh? Well, this is it I guess. Or the first of several, maybe. It worked really good, no major flaws. I'll develop it through my patreon. There won't be a kickstarter.

Stayed up real late after with Stras and Morgan and a bunch of other people, talking games and movies. Good times.

I played My Daughter the Queen of France with the delightful crew of Jory, Jessie, Caroline, and Daniel (who played Shakespeare). This game continues to be both great as well as great at taking me out of genre fiction and into slice-of-life fiction, which I normally don't much care for.

Had pizza for dinner then did a drinking and hanging out citycrawl larp thing (not an actual larp). I talked up Masterchef Australia (and other non-American cooking competition shows) to +John Harper, +allison arth, +Andi Carrison, and +Gary Montgomery, so now I need to write some words about that. I also seem to remember I promised to go down to Seattle and help pick ingredients for Chopped: Tiny House Edition as well. What have I got myself into?!? Later, John explained to me that everybody thinks I'm more aloof than I actually mean to be, which is partly a result of me hating every moment I have to do my own advertising.

Came back real late but there was Stras, still up, getting feedback on his game like some kind of professional or something.

Had breakfast food at Oddfellows, heard one of Sean's rants and explained The Company of Monsters to him, but we had to go catch the bus before any more game design conversation broke out and did not get to recommend any games to the server.

On the bus, +Jackson Tegu reminded me that being aloof is part of my brand and now I don't know what the fuck to think (this is partly a joke). Also, I pushed him pretty hard on selling his games like normal people do, and it sounds like he's getting closer, so keep your fingers crossed, kids! Hope is still alive!

My Go Play Northwest experience was really great this year and I managed to not let a lack of sleep kick my ass until I got home but now I'm in the middle of that so I'll write some more words later instead of now.

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Okay, so, I think I have enough material to run a playtest of my monster game at GPNW if I happen to feel like it. The rules reference sheets, play procedures outline, and a few character archetypes are done enough that I can probably just grab anything extra I need from Perilous Wilds, Wizard-Spawned Insanities, or A Market in the Woods.

Computer nerd goes to a comedy club, does a set. Promoter takes him to task for going over time, computer nerd says "What? You said do a short set so I only did eight bits!"
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