Frank Mentzer is one of the first generation of D&D designers, and his work is well-known to the old guard AD&D players and OSR types. We caught up with him to ask these questions three.
Mr. Mentzer, you have written some classic adventures for D&D. What makes an adventure stand the test of time? What makes it connect with players?
There are too many successful types to shove them all into one narrow answer. Some seminal adventures are the beginnings of entire campaigns (B1, B2, and G1 are often cited). Some have awesome moments, visuals, or bad guys. Almost all the best and most memorable contain some version of The Big Finale: the whole story leads to one pivotal moment, one or more characters die heroically, but the survivors pull off a victory 'against all odds', get the treasure, and retrieve their fallen. That can apply to a lot of good adventures, and certainly not just those by TSR.
Pirates are fairly popular, and shark gods are cool. What else makes the Razor Coast worth a gamer's hard-earned cash?
It has built-in variety unified by a popular topic. Historically, seafarers have come in lots of flavors, and the 'independent adventurer' equates reasonably well to 'pirate'... while omitting the historical realities (they were poor, often a slave or prisoner, and life was cheap and short). So that part is a no-brainer.
The coolest element is Frog God's (admittedly recent) record. Look at everything produced in the last few years, and this relatively new company keeps creating stand-out stuff... Rappan Athuk, Slumbering Tsar, the Tome of Horrors ultimate monster-book, and even the 'retroclone' Swords & Wizardry rule set. The customer can count on the quality of writing and art.
Do you think adventures and campaigns are more about the designer's vision, the GM's session plans, or the player choices? Who really makes or breaks a great game?
A healthy gaming group decides what it wants as a whole. The players and Game Master synergize; neither dictates the terms. N00bs should start with the Rules As Written (RAW) and try published modules to see how the pros do it -- those who have been doing this for up to 40 years. But the beauty of roleplaying as social entertainment is customization, and with just a bit of experience, the entire gaming group can decide what parts they like and what they don't... individual rules, styles of play, and more.
The designer's (or GM's) vision is a starting point, but is best customized for the players' tastes. A 'great game' is entirely subjective. One group may prefer hackenslash dungeon crawls, a totally escapist (and arguably juvenile) respite from realworld cares. Another may prefer negotiations, roleplaying in depth, and other more sophisticated methods -- perhaps as an elevation from realworld boredom containing none of that.
The answer for all is obviously a setting that's self-consistent and acceptably exciting, but with plenty of opportunities to cook it the way you want. The old saying about 'too many cooks' is inverted here; when it comes to ideas, the more the better. Razor Coast is a good soup-stock with several servings as-is; from there, it'll be easy to 'season to taste' and keep dishing it out when the given adventures are done.
Thank you, Mr. Mentzer, and we look forward to seeing what you do with Razor Coast!