Wendy’s Feast of Legends: Great Advert, Baffling RPG
If you had told me that one day I’d be sitting at my desk, trying to write a serious article about a tabletop RPG produced by a fast-food chain I would have wondered what weird alternate dimension you’d crawled out of, and probably smacked you with a shovel. And yet here we are, taking a look at Feast of Legends, a D&D-Lite RPG about fighting the evil forces of frozen beef using war-skillets.
Honestly, there are a couple of things to unpack here – well, more than a couple but let’s be reasonable. The first is about whether there’s actually a good game hiding beneath all the Wendy’s branding. The second is trying to take some kind of stab at what the hell this all means for the RPG hobby, and if that’s something even worth talking about in the face of this increasingly bizarre parody of a world we call reality.
Okay then. Let’s get weird.
Dungeons and Dinners
On the surface, Feast of Legends is a stripped-down take on D&D 5E. Some of the names have changed and most of the fancier rules have been ripped out, but if you decide to take it to the table you’ll still be rolling d20s, still be using the advantage/disadvantage system and still be fighting folks with your action, movement and bonus action.
More than this, the theme has remained pretty much the same – exploring dangerous places and beating up bad guys – but with a fast-food twist. Rather than playing a wizard and tossing Magic Missiles you’ll join up with “The Order of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich” and use their magical spice powers to burn their foes into a crispy corpse.
Well, maybe not a corpse, as this is a strictly PG-rated game. Enemies are simply defeated and when player characters get smashed by evil French fries, they just get tired until they eat some delicious, brand-friendly food!
Sure, that’s a little twee but it fits in perfectly with the tone of the book. This isn’t meant to be anything even remotely serious – it’s just about having silly fun. Everything is all left very simple and streamlined and it seems as though you should be able to just grab the free PDF and start playing with your buddies with only a tiny amount of prep or rules-reading.
Alas, the word “seems” is rather important here, as if you take things completely by-the-book, Feast of Legends is actually pretty close to unplayable.
Where’s the Beef?
It honestly seems as though the plan was to write down a whole load of RPG-sounding stuff and hope that a game spontaneously generated itself from the mulch. Even concepts as basic as a ‘skill roll’ are left completely undefined, half the weapon table is practically unusable because the tags on them don’t mean anything and several class – sorry, ‘order’ – abilities are literally useless.
For example, most of the beef-related orders have special defences against cold damage (because apparently not being frozen is a big thing at Wendy’s? We don’t have them in the UK so I’m a little in the dark here) but there aren’t any creatures or effects that deal cold damage. Now, plenty do ice damage, but are they meant to be the same thing?
Another order can pair with another to gain advantage on skill rolls, but – assuming skill rolls means rolls made with skills, which is less clear than you might think – neither of them actually make these until they’re several levels in, as all their early skills are 100% passive. The surprisingly detailed campaign even gets in on the action, with several checks seeming to use old-school “roll against” templates while others use more modern DC-based designs.
Sure, we might not expect world-shaking design from a free fast-food RPG but it’s just frustrating to see so many things that kind of break the game.
If you’ve ever run D&D before you could probably pick up the PDF of Feast of Legends, take about 10 minutes to sort out all the weirdness and come out with something light and silly to play, but it’s not really much of a game. And this is perhaps the point – because Feast of Legends probably isn’t really meant to be an RPG, but rather a lure.
Are Ads Bads?
On a certain level, trying to seriously criticise Feast of Legends is an impossibly dumb act, because this isn’t a product that people are going to actually play with any degree of seriousness. It doesn’t really need to work mechanically because anyone who’s going to play it for more than 10 minutes are probably already RPG fans killing a couple of hours, and they can happily fill in the missing (or nonsensical) bits from other games.
No, rather than nailing the content of an RPG what Feast of Legends seems to be aiming for is to capture the look and feel of an RPG. And it does this incredibly well.
The design work is top-notch, the less rules-ey writing is fun and the entire thing is put together with a near-supernatural slickness. This might all fall apart when you take it to the table, but who cares? Feast of Legends exists to get people visiting the site, downloading the PDF and forwarding it to their buddies so they can have a laugh while flicking through it. It’s meant to gets eyes on the brand, and to squeeze in a little messaging along the way.
The mere fact that I’m writing this piece and that my Twitter feed has been packed with mentions of @Wendys is a sign that this has goddamn nailed it. As someone who used to work in the PR industry I’m genuinely, honestly impressed by the work that has been put into this campaign and hope that whoever pulled off such as stupid-sounding idea is having a really rather profitable meeting with their boss this morning.
Still, though, I’m left with a few weird questions around Feast of Legends.
On the one hand I’m always uncomfortable when corporate chains try to present themselves as friendly, buddy-buddy parts of our life. When we’re sharing adverts of our own free will – and make no mistake, Feast of Legends is an advert – it’s hard not to feel like a cog in somebody else’s highly-profitable machine. While some bits will make you giggle, the section of rules dedicated to the mechanical buffs you gain from buying Wendy’s products and the penalties you get for having dared to ingest other types of food are undeniably creepy.
On top of this, Wendy’s isn’t exactly free from ethical concerns itself. The company is one of the few major US fast-food chains to not sign up for the Fair Food Program, which ensures better wages and safer working conditions for farmworkers, and one of its largest shareholders is a prominent supporter of Donald Trump.
Having said that, there’s no denying that the Feast of Legends campaign is… fun. It’s light-hearted nonsense that takes the rare step of appealing to the RPG community rather than mocking it, and the whole thing is so plastered in logos that it can’t possibly fall into the ethical nightmare that is undisclosed product placement. There’s no real way to absorb this slab of advertising without being fully aware of it and that – somehow – makes it a little better.
Stop This Reality, I Want to Get Off
So, where does this leave us? Is Feast of Legends good or bad? Should I fly to America and buy a huge stack of burgers to grab that +1 STR or start boycotting RPGs altogether because the corporate machine has picked them up as a marketing tool.
I just don’t know.
This is really weird.
I wish I had an answer to give, because that would mean I knew how I felt about it. As things are I’m both amused and disgusted; delighted with the silliness and repulsed by the barrage of advertising. It’s a broken game but a brilliant bit of PR.
That is, perhaps, the best lens to view this through – as a solid piece of advertising from a big ol’ fast-food chain. If you want to play around with it then fill your boots. Laugh at the nonsense on display and marvel at the beautiful maps and solid fantasy art. Just don’t forget that what you’re laughing at is trying to get you to buy something that has nothing to do with the product in your hands.
If you still want to check the game out, you can grab the PDF for free here.