Surveying the Vaults of Vaarn

In case you aren’t keyed into the broader tabletop RPG universe, there’s something of an Old-School Revival or Renaissance (henceforth OSR) going on. Many RPG gamers are looking towards the past, to the RPG heydays of the 70s and 80s, to draw inspiration for the future of tabletop games. And what, exactly, does this imply? Well, the members of the OSR aren’t always sure themselves, but it’s typically a broader focus on player agency and dungeon crawling, increased risk of character death, and reduced focus on pre-written plots. The gamemaster of an OSR game is once again an impartial referee, whose role is to simply mediate the world that the players explore in a sandbox style. “Rulings, not rules” is a common refrain – instead of having granular rulesets that explore every possible corner-case, OSR games prefer lighter and simpler rules, giving the gamemaster the final say on what is and isn’t permissible. 

But what I like about the OSR scene is the incredible bulk of content for it. There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of really fantastic OSR blogs, zines, and books out in the world filled to the brim with imaginative and wild settings. One of these settings is Vaults of Vaarn, a pay-what-you-want zine by author Leo Hunt A.K.A. graculusdroog on itch.io.

I downloaded Vaults of Vaarn on a lark, looking for more interesting RPG content to consume, and found myself blown away. Hunt emphasizes strongly his influences, naming Dune, Hyperion, and The Book of the New Sun, as well as the art of Moebius. He says it’s fine if you’re not familiar with these works, because it’ll “make his theft seem original.” Well, I’m not familiar with any of these works (aside from the art of Moebius), and Vaarn seems pretty damn original to me. So original, in fact, I thought I’d do a little review of it, just because it’s got me so jazzed.

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New brew Mountain Dew VooDew Two, woohoo?

We like to drink Mountain Dew, but we’re pretty neutral on the regular Mountain Dew itself. Much more interesting is their large selection of flavors – the classics like Game Fuel, LiveWire, Code Red, and so, so many more. Plain Mountain Dew seems flat in comparison. Sure, sometimes there’s nothing you’d like more than the fresh taste of Green, but then you can just have a crisp Sprite or something. Why settle for less? Give me a glass of White Out and I’ll be happ- oh right, they discontinued White Out, and discontinued so many other limited-time flavors because we can have nothing good in the world for more than a moment.

In that vein, Pepsi has seen it fit to bring back the VooDew, the “mystery flavor” soda that was released last year for the Halloween season. With Fall somehow having come back again, VooDew has come with it as surely as the changing colors of the leaves.

The gimmick of VooDew, as we already defined, is that it is a “mystery flavor” which means it doesn’t taste like much at all. Last year it was revealed to be candy corn, an obviously Halloween flavor that is so flavorless that it probably could have been anything. What flavor could it possibly be this year??? Let’s find out!

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McDonald’s finally catches up with Spicy Chicken McNuggets

Finally, the last and greatest of the Big Three falls to the world of spicy nuggets. Spicy Chicken McNuggets are now available nationwide, after so many spiceless years. It’s hard to imagine that McDonald’s has never before offered a spicy variant of their nuggets, even when they’ve done the very popular (and sorely missed) Spicy McChicken.

The Chicken McNugget has been one of the biggest items of the McDonald’s menu for years. When it first was introduced, it caused a massive chicken shortage in McDonald’s supply chain because every single franchisee wanted them! The McRib was invented solely to function as a stop-gap special item until more chicken could be ordered. McDonald’s messing around with the Chicken McNugget is bonkers to consider, and here we are.

Wendy’s has always been the boss of the spicy nugget scene, and even Burger King stepped in to fill the void after Wendy’s briefly discontinued them. In hindsight, the idea of McDonald’s not doing a spicy nugget seems ludicrous. But here we are, the Spicy Chicken McNugget is here, and we’re gonna find out if McDonald’s should have bothered.

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Can KFC’s fries jump the bar that 2020 buried?

When we started writing this article, we were going to be very, very harsh on KFC. We were fans of the potato wedges, and upon hearing that they were replacing them with fries, we grew very upset. How could they do this? Potato wedges were one of the cornerstones of the KFC menu. Fries are… Nothing. Generic. Bland. They are everywhere, and potato wedges were a delightful way to separate KFC from the rest of the fast food world.

KFC’s appeal wasn’t that it was just “fast food”. It felt like a meal, a real meal that you eat with your family as a thing. KFC has offered quick service meals for our entire lives, but having the platonic idea of “getting a bucket for dinner” is inseparable from KFC as a concept. The wedges illustrated this. They weren’t french fries like what you’d get at a McDonald’s, they were home-cooked wedges just like what you could cook at home. Total difference.

We felt that KFC getting rid of the wedges was the latest awful move in a series of terrible decisions. KFC has been on a sharp and steep decline since the mid-2000s, and nothing seems to be turning their image around. They rely on tacky gimmicks like the new Colonel commercials and outlandish promotional stunts like VR video games and Crocs that smell like fried chicken, but can’t get past the simple fact that their food is not as good as it used to be and their atmosphere is a dump.

We haven’t properly eaten at KFC in what may be years. Them switching to fries seemed like justification that it was the right decision.

But then we decided we had to give it a chance.

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Five Dollar Pizza is so much more than five dollars of pizza

Pizza is too expensive! We’ll just say it! It costs too much money to buy a pizza! Having to pay so much damn money for a simple bread, sauce, and cheese is exhausting. In the quarantine environment we’ve been living in for the past seven months minimum, pizza has evolved from an “easy meal” to “life-saving necessity” for us. We know that pizza isn’t cheap – the costs of cheese and toppings adds up quickly, and the margins are razor-thin even in the largest markets. 

Still, there’s a saying about bad sex and bad pizza: it’s still pretty good. Sometimes the cheapest pizzas are the best ones, not just for their quality, but for the experiences they provide. Some of our best pizza memories take place in parked cars at Little Caesars, at gas stations, in college cafeterias, getting the Pizza Hut personal pan at Target. Cheap pizza is something that’s worth hunting down and going out of your way for.

When we found a place called Five Dollar Pizza in Minneapolis, we really thought it was too good to be true. Ever since Little Caesars had shut down completely in our area, we had resigned ourselves to pizza costing over twice as much from now on.  We didn’t really mind, because Little Caesars pizza really tastes like it was made with five dollars worth of ingredients, so we willing shelled out for our local Domino’s “$5.99 for Two” deals and made do. Seeing that there was another place, an independent place, that offered pizza at a Little Caesars price seemed impossible. But, one day we were up in the area, and decided we simply had no choice but to drop in. For five dollars, what could we lose?

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Do Us A Flavor and stay inside

It’s that time of year again! In case you haven’t been out to get groceries in the past, oh, ten or so years, Lay’s has regularly done more “interesting” flavors as limited-time promotions. It all started with the “Do Us A Flavor” contest in 2012, where you could submit your ideas for chip flavors online and the winners would be made into real chips. This ended up giving us such strange chips as Cappuccino and Wasabi Ginger, which were utterly divine and need to come back. 

Now Lay’s has released a line of five “Flavor Icons”, chips inspired by famous restaurants around America. No contest here, just five bags of good ol’ American sit-down taste: Chile Relleno from Cocina Azul in Albuquerque; Wavy Carnitas Street Taco from El Torito in Los Angeles; Kettle Cooked New York Style Pizza from Grimaldi’s in New York City; Philly Cheesesteak from Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia; and finally Nashville Hot Chicken from Party Fowl in Nashville.

We only ended up trying the former three flavors, because grocery shopping sucks. We would have loved to try the hot chicken flavor, but you can’t get everything you want, especially in this hell world we live in nowadays.

So hey, let’s crack open these bags and see what kind of weird shit Lay’s is doing this year.

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Taco John’s Meat & Potato Breakfast Burrito has meat and potato indeed

Taco Bell may have betrayed us, but it’s a good thing they aren’t the only pseudo-Mexican-style food restaurant in the business. One of our personal favorites is Taco John’s, a distinctively Midwestern brand of ground meat slop shoved into tortillas that has managed to capture our heart. 

It’s no secret that our number one favorite fast food item is Taco Bell’s Breakfast Crunchwrap, which was definitely the reason we were distracted from noticing Taco John’s breakfast menu for so long. Though Taco John’s was our first stop if we wanted shitty tacos, Taco Bell had our hearts for shitty breakfast. With Taco Bell announcing that they’re going to be making unforgivable changes to their menu, we’ve been in the market for a new tortilla-wrapped breakfast delight.

Most of Taco John’s breakfast items were the standard ‘breakfast burrito’ kind of thing, but one caught our eye: The “Meat & Potato Breakfast Burrito”. With just good old meat, potatoes, and eggs in it, it was a potential challenger to the Crunchwrap throne.

So can the Meat & Potato Breakfast Burrito dethrone the Breakfast Crunchwrap in our eyes? Hit the jump and find out.

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