11 Jan

Review: Tim Kask’s Snakeriders of the Aradondo

Eldritch Enterprises LogoEldritch Enterprises has put out quite a few adventures meant to be adapted to whatever system you please. I’ve previously taken a look at Frank Mentzer’s Lich Dungeon Level 1 and also James M. Wards and Christopher Clark’s science fiction adventure, Dark Outpost. Tim Kask’s fantasy adventure Snakeriders of the Aradondo embraces the same old-school approach found in those other works. Those are all names you should know if you know your RPG history.

Better still, history is still being made as the OSR continues to develop and gather support with publications like the upcoming Gygax Magazine. But I digress…

Snakeriders of the Aradondo, My Fluff Thoughts

Snakeriders of the Aradondo coverFrom the author’s preface, it is clear that Snakeriders of the Aradondo is intended to be the Dungeon Master’s guide to fleshing out the adventure rather than a blow by blow description of every square mile of the expansive jungle island that the party will explore. There is some upfront work for a DM here, especially if you are the sort of game master that relies on a great deal of preparation. If you are more of a sandbox or seat-of-the-pants game master, the adventure’s freeform style leaves plenty of “wiggle room” for players to do as they please and for you to adjust the setting to their actions.

The adventure can be as expansive or as focused as you please. Originally set in Kask’s world of Makanda, the adventure details a bit of the world’s history and unusual features. It can just as easily be adapted to your own setting. I am a big fan of the approach that Kask discusses in his preface: “I have written my adventures… with the aim of giving the Game Master all the ingredients to whip up a dandy adventure stew. Each group that tries it will add their own seasoning to the recipe, and that is as it should be… A good cook knows how to modify a recipe to suit the palate of his diners…”

I so rarely run published material straight out of the box. I accept this advice as a given, since I first tore the shrinkwrap off B1: In Search of the Unknown I’ve taken to seasoning my adventures to suit my players. I sometimes feel (perhaps unfairly) that many people want a self-contained, point A to point B adventure path and are afraid to let their characters off the rails. Then again, I suppose that’s just a different “stew” for different tastes and at times I can see the appeal. Although it could be run in the “on rails” style, Snakeriders of the Aradondo is clearly more suited to a spontaneous and free-form group.

Snakeriders of the Aradondo, My Crunch Thoughts

The stats are presented through “shorthand” that adapts to any system after only a little getting used to. When I first encountered this style in Lich Dungeon Level 1, it slowed me down a little, but now it comes fairly naturally to adjudicate on the fly. (My only complaint was the use of footnotes in one spot that seemed unnecessary as the information could just as easily have been incorporated into the stat block directly. It’s a terribly small thing, though.)

The art style and layout is reminiscent of the “old school” modules I grew up on and it contributes to the feel of the product in a positive way. The layout is clean and straightforward. The maps for the dungeon areas are neat and easy to read and the outdoor material, including some geomorphs for “hex crawling,” brings me back to X1: Isle of Dread. I feel there is a little redundancy in the adventure’s set-up and description of the island that could have been clipped but, for those who do not like to page flip for certain information, it probably works.

For the record, I reviewed the PDF version of the product, but it is also available in hardcopy. Either way, you can pick it up here at DriveThruRPG.com. I think fans of the “old school” will be satisfied and “sandbox” DMs of the newer editions can also have a great deal of fun with Snakeriders of the Aradondo.

Although called out as a fantasy adventure for moderate level characters, the pulp feel of the setting stirred my imagination towards a more modern pulp setting. Tim Kask points out that pulp stories were among his influences. With the easily adjusted stats of the creatures in the book, I think it could be easily adapted to a setting outside the fantasy genre and will likely use the adventure to that effect and throw my players an unexpected curveball.

5 thoughts on “Review: Tim Kask’s Snakeriders of the Aradondo

  1. I’m struggling to reconcile snakeriders and pulp in my mind. Interesting mix of concepts, that. How successful do you find system-neutral materials in terms of introducing *some* crunch? It would seem to me that they would quickly (easily) fall into almost entirely fluff, at which point I’d just as soon read a well crafted novel or story

    1. I think material “compatible with any system” is often a hook-delivery system. Any crunch that’s there almost always requires GM tinkering before it can be fielded for the PCs’ use. System neutral material can turn into exactly what you’re talking about: almost entirely fluff. I think the key difference in taking your queues from a generic adventure versus a novel/story/movie is that you don’t arrive with a preconceived notion of how the story is “supposed to” end. I think a GM feels more ownership from the outset as he or she fills in the blanks of crunch (and also the unique fluff of his or her world).

      From an author’s point of view, system neutral material lets you reach a wider audience, or even reach an “inaccessible” audience for those who play games that don’t embrace some form of OGL. My own “experiment” of writing a system neutral supplement (The Eternal Rest) to test the waters was a lot more successful than I would have expected. I find that some folks read gaming books (of all sorts) the way I might read a novel, whether or not they intend to run them. (OK, I might sometimes be one of those people.) When it comes to published material, I often look outside my comfort zone for something I wouldn’t have written myself, I’m fishing for new ideas when I pick up something published. Except for those times when I didn’t prepare enough for gaming that week. 😉

  2. I also read plenty of gaming materials which are not always intended to be run; part of the joy in it for me is imagining them in play, including the crunch (weird perhaps, but there it is). I did quite enjoy The Eternal Rest, and would love it to factor into actual play in my gaming future.

    1. Given a choice (or, rather, if forced to make one) I take more interest in the “fluff” than the crunch. I do enjoy the crunch, though, because I’m becoming more an more comfortable hijacking mechanical concepts and putting them to use elsewhere. In a recent game of Gamma World, the players got pre-generated characters and had no real history between them, despite growing up in the same town. I borrowed from Fiasco to create some links, secrets, and random facts between them.

      As for the Eternal Rest, there’s a lot of hooks there. And that’s all I’ll say about that. 😉

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