I know opinions of Frank vary, but I've run a few of his adventures, and I think he really knows how to write a fun gaming experience. He doesn't have the evocative writing style that EGG had, but he gets the rules and knows how to write fun, challenging adventures around them. A lot of his stuff was published as tournament adventures, and they need some tweaking for campaign use.
Post by foster1941 on May 28, 2016 12:13:18 GMT -5
Frank's adventures are mechanically very tight and conscious of the rules (moreso than Gary's or Rob's) and thus very well-suited to the tournament environment (where part of the "test" is how well the players know the rules - giving the pre-gen characters certain spells and items and then putting challenges in the adventure that depend on using those spells and items), but I'm not sure he totally "groks" fantasy - as in the sense of wonder and symbolism and dream-logic and such - because his stuff always feels too clinical and always seems to veer in a direction that feels more like SF than fantasy to me. He looks at the rules logically and extrapolates from them in ways that are self-consistent but aren't consistent with game's literary antecedents (or, AFAICT, the designers' intent - at least before Frank talked them around to his view) and run contrary to the feel I want the game to evoke. Frank's approach leads to stuff like modrons and pseudo-undead, which is not where I want to go.
I always had a fondness for TO THE AID OF FALX. I thought the time limit added an innovative layer of tension.
It was a different time period for gaming, back then, when D&D wasn't that far removed from sci-fi. I knew a lot of DMs at that time who ran games with more of a sci-fi sensibility. And Frank was writing in a tournament style that was testing the skill of the players. That style of play seems to have largely been abandoned, but that isn't necessarily or entirely a good thing...
Last Edit: May 28, 2016 13:15:25 GMT -5 by GRWelsh
Post by geneweigel on May 28, 2016 14:10:56 GMT -5
I'll never forget the look that I got from Frank Mentzer after he overheard me talking to Gary. Heh, it was if he was knew I was pro-Gary for higher reasons than just an "auto-fan" in scope and was elated and nervous at the same time.
I remember playing in the 80's Mentzer's name was thrown out on the table during a game something that had never happened before. Taylor, a good DM for Gygax era AD&D adventures, ran I11 THE NEEDLE (1987) and the the complaints from him, and the players (about 5 of us). It was never logged in the campaign logs because no one wanted to recall it. The entire session was about 12 hours which consisted of giving up, tearing at the quality of the module and Frank Mentzer's D&D track record. My brother was Mentzer's BECMI rep at the table and he lost big time. I did join in with T1-4 (1985) and BOOK OF MARVELOUS MAGIC (1985) but SET 5: IMMORTALS (1986) was fresh in everyone's minds. I had given up on the BECMI series with SET3: COMPANION RULES (1984) but still bought SET4 :MASTER RULES (1985) and IMMORTALS as well as I thought I'd miss something. Everyone there had bought the same stuff and it was a matter of where was this going? I think the term being bandied around was "candy ass toy D&D". The reason the module broke down into anti-Mentzer debate was because it was bland as all fuck linear maps then a maze without features then its a rocket ship. We just played in an 11 year old's adventure and it had more effort than that. The toy based D&D module XL1 QUEST FOR THE HEARTSTONE (1984) was fun but this was crap.
I've never used the Mentzer rules, so I can't comment. When I read his adventures, there really wasn't anything inspiring about them, which may be why I held off on running them for so long, but we've always had a good time with them. IMO, Frank really has the game side of it down, but yeah, capturing the literary fantasy vibe, not so much.
Not counting the few times I played when I was real young, and didn't really get it, I started with Moldvay, and then added Cook. I still get the most nostalgic rush when I peruse those rules and the Lost City and the Keep on the Borderlands. One of these days I'm going to run another Moldvay game. I collected the Mentzer series much later. I have paged through the books, but never gave them a serious reading. I've had several of Frank's adventures for a long time, but never bothered to run them until fairly recently.
Post by geneweigel on May 29, 2016 15:06:22 GMT -5
I'll sum up "BASIC, EXPERT, COMPANION, MASTER and IMMORTALS" its pandering to the least common deniminator (READ: kids), we all know that, but the way that Mentzer put it was different than the Molvay/Cook edit's commentary. Its "over directing" like someone who thinks they know what kids will respond to but actually doesn't. Thats why I found it repulsive.
That said his modules are made like someone who has his foot in the door and doesn't have to fight for his meals.
Post by geneweigel on May 30, 2016 17:06:04 GMT -5
Sorry had to be terse, or came out terse, there was a bunch of Memorial Day fallout yesterday (as usual) to deal with.
I think citations of MENTZER-ISMS are in order in the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: PLAYERS MANUAL By Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson revised by Frank Mentzer (1983):
Dedication This game has undergone a startling metamorphosis from its earliest forms, written for hobbyists, to the current revision, usable and understandable by nearly anyone. The original flavor and intent has been carefully preserved. With the greatest admiration, respect, and thanks, this edition is dedicated to the president and founder of TSR Hobbies: E. GARY GYGAX.
"Nearly anyone" (READ: it seems severe autism is what Frank was reaching for.)
On pages 2 to 22 is a long talk about your first adventure and playing the character over without treasure and a different name. Exciting parts are learning D&D by solo adventure with these tidbits:
67 Since you didn’t kill the Rust Monster, it’s still there, eating rust. Are you dragging a large chest full of coins? Yes Read 81 No Read 41
81 Oops! As you enter the room, the Rust Monster looks up from its feeding, grunts, and runs toward you. It rushes to the chest you are dragging, and before you can escape, it dissolves the metal bands around the chest. The chest comes apart, coins falling everywhere, and the creature gleefully turns all the coins to rust! Do you want to: Go East? Read 29 Go West? Read 16 Attack the creature? Read 86
22 If you have been in this room before, please read 39. Otherwise, continue: You enter the strange room to investigate. The room is empty and clean, and the only feature is the orange mouth on the far wall, about 8’ long. The room looks like Entry 22 Map (add it to your map): You search the room, listening and looking carefully, but you find nothing. Suddenly, as you are about to leave, the lips of the giant mouth move, and in a big booming bass voice it says, “Surprise! You are here for double-or-nothing! Ready or not, here we go. 0-T-T-F-F-S-S. What’s next in line? If you solve this riddle, your treasure will double. If you fail, it will all disappear. What is your answer?” If you try to leave, you find the way blocked by an invisible force. “You must answer, y’know!” bellows the mouth. Think about it, and decide what the answer is. Then read 82.
82 If you guess the answer correctly, you may double the amount of treasure you have. If not, it all disappears, and your character is left with none. The answer is “E.” The letters stand for One, Two, Three, four, Five, Six, and Seven. The “next in the series” is Eight! Now read 24
24 You suddenly feel different (either more or less weiqhted down, depending on your answer). Whatever answer you gave, the mouth laughs and says “Come back again some time!” The invisible barrier is gone, and you can leave the room. You cannot find anything more here, nor will the mouth speak to you again. Read 40.
Now lets compare fighter descriptions:
D&D Boxed Set (1974) Gary Gygax (and Arneson in spirit anyways):
Fighting Men includes the characters of elves and dwarves and even hobbits. Magic-Users includes only men and elves. Clerics are limited to men only. All non-human players are restricted in some aspects and gifted in others. This will be dealt with in the paragraphs pertaining to each non-human type. Fighting-Men: All magical weaponry is usable by fighters, and this in itself is a big advantage. In addition, they gain the advantage of more "hit dice" (the score of which determines how many points of damage can be taken before a character is killed). They can use only a very limited number of magical items of the nonweaponry variety, however, and they can use no spells.
and Basic DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (1974) John Eric Holmes edit:
Fighting Men — any human character can be a fighting man and all halflings and dwarves are members of the fighter class, unless they opt to be thieves. Elves are a combination of fighting man and magic-user, as described later. Fighting men can use any weapon and wear any kind of armor including magic weapons and magic armor. They can not do other kinds of magic, however. As they advance in experience they increase their "hit dice" and are harder to kill. After they reach the fourth level of experience they also increase their ability to get hits on an opponent, but experience levels that high are not discussed in this book and the reader is referred to the more complete rules in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.
D&D BASIC RULE BOOK (1981) by Tom Moldvay edit:
FIGHTERS Fighters are humans who train for battle. It is their job to fight monsters and to protect the weaker members of a party. Great heroes such as Hercules were fighters. The prime requisite for a fighter is Strength. Strong fighters can kill mon sters more easily with their powerful blows. A Strength score of 13 or greater will give the fighter a bonus on earned experience points.
and here is DUNGEONS & DRAGONS PLAYERS MANUAL (1983) by Frank Mentzer edit:
Fighter Description A fighter is a human who studies combat. Fighters usually have greater Strength than other characters. They usually hit monsters more often, and inflict more damage. In the D&D game, fighters protect the weaker characters. A party of all fighters would probably survive most dungeons, even where magic would be useful. Every group of explorers should have at least one or two fighters. Strength is needed in many game situations. For example, a door may be stuck, or a huge boulder may block the party’s progress; a strong fighter can often solve these problems. Magic might also work, but magic is limited, and a fighter can use strength as often as needed. Your fighter could probably survive a dungeon adventure when exploring alone. This is why your Solo Adventures have been designed for fighters. The other classes are not as self-sufficient as the fighter. Magic-users and thieves are much weaker, and although clerics can wear any type of armor, they are limited in other ways. In group adventures, your fighter should stay in front. If there are three or more fighters in the party, one should stay in the back, in case a monster tries to sneak up on you. Whenever a battle occurs, don’t be afraid to move in; your character is better equipped for combat than any other type. When a group is surprised, the monsters may damage the characters before they have a chance to react. Fighters have a better chance at surviving these dangers, since they have more hit points. A fighter character should know more about the many weapons than other characters. Be sure to read the Combat section, on page 59, to learn how to use both hand-to-hand and missile weapons. Learn the forms of Defensive Movement described in the same section, so you can play your fighter most effectively when those rules are added to your game. Fighters often look for magical healing potions, since they are usually hurt in battles. Magical weapons are also valuable, adding bonuses to Hit and Damage Rolls.
I played in the Egg of the Phoenix at 1981 Gen Con in Lake Racine, WI and it was a blast! (albeit different from Gary style) Whenever Frank was in a room with other gamers (including Gary), he of course contributed, but in hindsight I see that he was watching and listening to the rest of us to get a feel of things (I probably blabbed more than he did. Go figure... ^__^).
The Frank-edit Basic Set was the first D&D product I ever owned, when I was 9 years old. For a 9-year-old with no prior experience with this type of game, or much experience with the fantasy genre, it served its purpose well enough to get me hooked (after all I'm still here 32 years later...) so I have a nostalgic soft spot for it, but in retrospect there's a ton of stuff I really don't like about it - mostly in the "advice" to players and especially DMs about how to play the game "correctly." There's some of it on display in the quote above about how to properly play a fighter - stay in front and move into combat, study the combat rules, look for healing potions, etc. - and there's much more in the DM book - recommendations to not allow players to purchase equipment items on the list, to choose rather than roll the numbers of monsters affected by sleep spells and undead turning, what spells should be assigned to magic-user and elf characters (including a recommendation to give elves "worse" spells because they don't need them as much), and so on. The advice for how to design adventures is also really bad.
It's also completely reflexive and self-referential - as far as I can recall it never refers to or explains anything in terms of mythology or fantasy fiction, and never really explains the "whys" of anything at all outside of the context of the rules-construct. Contrast Moldvay's description of the fighter class with Mentzer's - Moldvay says this is the type of character to play if you want to be a hero like Hercules, Mentzer only talks about the game-mechanical functions of the class - this is the type of character who hits most often and is best at opening doors and who should stand in front. It's like Mentzer is encouraging players to approach things purely in terms of rules - you're this type of playing piece, this is how to do best in the game with this piece - without trying to leverage the players' imagination or pre-existing knowledge of or interest in fantasy. That's sort of what I was referring to above about not being sure Frank really "gets" fantasy - at very least he doesn't seem very interested in it.
EGG's fondness and familiarity of the source material shows in his writing. His writing is incredibly evocative. His adventures are good reads. He also knew how to use the rules to write a fun adventure. Frank's modules are drab reads, nothing really exciting about them in that regard. But they play very well, IMO, his understanding of the rules is excellent, he challenges the players, etc. Thinking of Rob K. he's also steeped in the same source material that EGG was, but he doesn't have the ability to tap it the same way Gary did. I think he can create a good adventure in his head, and he's a good DM, but his published adventures are a hit or miss mix. Some of his stuff has been a complete mess rules-wise, and his adventures are filled with new material that seems like it was added because he can't write a challenging adventure within the existing rules.
Let's look harshly at The EGG OF THE PHOENIX "I" version. It combined all the Mentzer RPGA "R" series into one megamodule by Paul Jaquays. Jaquays attempts, remember I said attempts, at jazzing up Mentzer's bland text. The original "R" series are better because the original layout is very evocative of the Tsojcanth era and the Jaquays fleshing out for the "I" series just seems like user end crap that "any teen" could do (stupid names, etc.) and the regurging of the 5 year old visuals is disastrous in the current layout of 1987. Once crisp maps look goddawful in FR era fringe.