Fallen Hero: The end of my business relationship with Frank Mentzer

Today, like every other day, I woke up and fired up the laptop…

I sat down to have some coffee and toast with my wife. Harvey Weinstein is still in the air, and as we prepared for the day we talked about it, about how she had experienced similar issues in the corporate world and elsewhere, about how men are conditioned to be aggressive, and about how that’s also a bullshit excuse. And then my messenger goes off.

“There’s something blowing up on Twitter I think you guys should look at.”

For those who don’t know me, I’m a writer. I write fantasy and science fiction. A few years back, I was invited to a convention in Madison—run, I might add, by an incredibly kind and talented lawyer. It was the break I’d been looking for. Much of what I write is fantasy based, and from what I could tell this was a burgeoning and promising con that I definitely wanted to be a part of. With glee, I accepted.

Only one problem: my wife and I and our dog were traveling the country in our RV. Fulltime.

Attending would be easy. Parking was an issue.

So, I posted in the Facebook group for the con, asking if anyone knew where I could park my 28’ Winnebago. Right away, I received a message.

“Why don’t you just park in my driveway?”

I was shocked when I saw who had sent it. Frank Mentzer. A legend in the tabletop gaming industry. Graciously, I accepted.

Frank and Deb were warm and obliging. Very kind people. I couldn’t believe that not only had we found a place to park, but I was sitting in the living room of a man who had been one of the most powerful driving forces behind the Dungeons & Dragons phenomenon. This is the guy who wrote the Red Box (for those of you not in the know, this is a big one), as well as multiple other books and modules. He’s an enormous talent. This is the man whose powerful yet concise descriptive writing style influenced my own. And here we were having coffee with him and his wife.

I would attend that convention. And I would meet a lot of industry people, all very kind, all very nice.

About a year later, my wife and I decided maybe it was time to come off the road. We’d seen so much, traveled from Arizona to Oregon, across the entire country to New York, and then back down to Arizona for the winter. Afterwards, as we were driving back up to Oregon (our home state at the time), I struck up a conversation.

“You know, it seems like we’re running out of room for your art supplies.” My wife is a talented artist, and for her to live in such tight quarters was starting to bother me. She never said a word, so I spoke up. “Maybe it’s time we found a house.”

She perked up. “Really?” I nodded. “But homes are so expensive in Oregon.” It’s true. Even a starter home was out of our price range. So the discussion turned to all the states we’d driven through.

“Out of all of them.” I asked, “which state do you think you like the best?”

A few came up, one of which was Wisconsin. So I asked how she felt about settling down in Madison.

“I LOVED Madison,” she said. And I had to admit I loved it too. I have lots of readers in Wisconsin, and the time we spent there during the con was a great experience. So, after much discussion, we decided to move there.

Sarah got a job within a week. I, on the other hand, was having a tough time. I’d just had a big client drop off and was on the lookout for a new writing project. (Incidentally, for those who don’t know, most writers hold down day jobs. Mine was, and still is, as a ghostwriter.) I put the feelers out. One of the persons I contacted was Frank. Right away, I received a reply.

“How do you feel about writing for the gaming industry?”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wrote back, explaining that I had never done any RPG writing, but that I had grown up playing D&D, and that it had strongly influenced my novels. A few days later Frank sent me an offer for part-time work on his Empyrea project, which I gladly accepted.

I won’t get into the project, the scope, the stumbling blocks we encountered. Those are things that happen with any position, with any new company. We were struggling. Everyone knew it. But we were all determined to make Frank’s new project work. Frank was always kind, always treated me well.

Then I got that message.

I clicked on it. I read the Twitter feed. I did my research.

As a former victim of abuse, I believe the story. All of it. I know what it’s like to have people doubt you, to say it could have been prevented, to blame you for everything, to call you weak. With a heavy heart, I came to the only conclusion that made sense. I had to resign from my involvement with Frank’s Empyrea project.

I’m not going to go on and on about how disheartened this has made me feel, about how I had witnessed a legend fall flat on his face right before my eyes, about how truly disappointed I was with the way Frank handled the aftermath (there’s an ocean of screenshots out there). What I will say is this:

When anyone comes to you with accusations, they are opening themselves up in the most vulnerable fashion that a person can. They are risking everything. They are reaching out. They are crying for help. Having gone through this myself, I know what it’s like to see that brick wall of instant doubt appear in someone’s eyes, the spinning wheels in the brain, that rapid shuffle of logic to find a way, any kind of way, to turn it all around on you.

I will not doubt this woman. I  believe her and I will do everything I can to stand up for her and other women (and men) who have to continually endure this brand of worn-out, deeply embedded victimization. I will not be complicit. I will not find excuses. I will not cover for someone.

So I’m jobless. Again.

I believe this woman. I’d wish her well, but she seems perfectly capable of standing on her own two feet.

As for Frank, I’m deeply saddened and disappointed. His work will have to continue without me.

I encourage Frank to come clean, to apologize and admit fault. That would be a start. It won’t erase the damage done, but perhaps it will provide an indication of some kind of personal growth, some acknowledgment that he’s handled this improperly. People can change. My hope is that Frank can muster even half as much courage as this woman has exhibited.

TF

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About Ted Fauster

25 Responses to Fallen Hero: The end of my business relationship with Frank Mentzer

  1. Out of curiosity, did you talk to Frank in person or at the very least, on the phone?
    I’m not defending him, I don’t feel like I know enough about the situation, I don’t think anyone does except Ms. Price and Frank…
    I just feel like, if these allegations were made against someone that I actually knew and had a business/personal relationships with, I would want to hear thier side from them directly before completely severing ties.

  2. Pingback: Want to Hear Something Interesting? – Crossing the 'Verse

  3. But doesn’t he deserve a chance to defend himself? What ever happened to innocent before guilt, or simple due process that every human being deserves regardless of gender? As a person who has made a career of investigating crimes like sex assault and abuse I can tell you for a fact that both sides of the story need to be held with equal weight without direct physical evidence contradicting one story. Unfortunately there have been enough cases where the accused was falsely charged or labeled that any story has to be scrutinized to such a degree.
    Is it possible that her story can be taking out of content or elements motivated by something else? Has anyone in the past accused her of fabricating stories? This is not a case of blaming the victim, but the uncomfortable reality that such cases have occurred where the accused is not guilty of the crimes or intent as described by the victim that warrant scrutiny.

    • Profile Cover Art

      All valid points. I would encourage you to do some investigation of your own, just as I did (which is why I included the link). Sadly, I found enough evidence to warrant severing ties, and zero evidence of any history of Jessica making false claims. In fact, numerous others have now come forward to corroborate her story. I could spend an inordinate amount of time posting additional links, but the purpose of this post is not to vilify Frank Mentzer, it’s to shine a light on the pervasiveness of issues such as this in the gaming community and elsewhere, and to explain why I left the project. It’s a sad situation all around.

    • Fenris, I was willing to at least give Mentzer the benefit of the doubt and wait to see if he at least owned the effects of his actions, whether he meant them or not.

      But then he claimed (read the posted Facebook exchange) that he hit on Jessica Price in response to a message from her, implying that she came on to him first. He didn’t realize that she had posted their exchange, and that his creepy messages to her were very clearly an overture that he began, not her.

      In other words, he lied, and he got caught.

      Sure, he’s entitled to honestly offer his side of the story, but he has demonstrated that his side of the story is not trustworthy. And at that point he loses.

      • Paul Scott, I think there is a hole in your analysis. Mentzer claimed he and Jessica Price had talked at the con and there was, from his perspective, a little harmless flirtation. Jessica Price tweeted that she didn’t feel there was any flirtation going on. This precedes any of the posts screen-captured by Jessica Price. I read Jessica Price’s screen shots and there just isn’t anything there to pretend he’s sexually harassing or harassing. He told her she was “beautiful and brilliant”, ‘not to worry’ that he’s “safe”, and he apparently didn’t get “freezing” during a sexual assault. Strangely, she didn’t screen shot his comments about the Seattle bus incident which is the bulk of her criticism of Frank Mentzer. She asked him not to respond anymore and unfriended him and he messaged her one more time. He was clearly making his last post to her. Then she blocked him which I suspect didn’t matter based on what he sent her. She makes a claim that he threatened to blackball her but the words he uses could easily be inferred differently. I haven’t heard anything that accuses him of continuing to pester her or attempting to bad-mouth her. I believe in being fair so I am going to chalk it up to a misunderstanding at this point. I certainly haven’t heard enough and I refuse to jump to conclusions.

        • If you can’t see the sheer creepiness in the message he sent her, especially given the age and power differential between them, then you’re part of the problem.

  4. Thank you. I wish I had work for you, but as someone previously unaware of you you’ve gained my attention and respect. I will check out your books and keep your name in mind if there’s anything that comes up in my industry.

  5. Hi Ted.

    I believe you and I am sorry you face doubt when you tell your story. This news about Menzter disappointed me deeply. Thank you for being one of the creators in our hobby willing to stand up for what is ethical and moral. I will follow your work more closely.

  6. Kudos, I know that must have been a very hard decision to make, but unfortunately sometimes doing the right thing requires sacrifice. Mentzer’s Red Box was a huge part of my early gaming life (my first DM was my mom, running me and my friends against Bargle the Infamous), and I always held him in high esteem based on that. Like you, this whole episode was deeply disappointing for me, and I hope he takes this as an opportunity for personal growth and reflection.

  7. Bravo, sir. Well said. I’m sorry your stand has rendered you jobless, but if taking a stand were painless, it wouldn’t mean a damn thing. Thank you for being an example of the kind of man we need more of.

  8. Ted, I’d been around Frank at many of the same conventions you were at. I’ve seen him do the “pretty girl head swivel” and I’ve seen him try to apply 1970s/early 1980s “compliment her appearance, point out he’s too old to de-escalate” thing. It got passed off as “harmless grampa” behavior.

    I saw how he reacted to ConTessa last year, but didn’t speak up. I saw the Dragonfoot “explosion” where he made “threat” based on his industry stature.

    Here’s the thing about the RPG/gaming industry: Nobody has enough stature to say “You’ll never work in this town again.” Sometimes, that’s a bad thing – we have bad actors whom everyone knows are bad actors who are still in the industry. Really, about the only behavior that will get you driven out is owning a company that hires multiple freelancers and then doesn’t pay them long enough for ALL OF THEM to trash your brand.

    And even then, sometimes, these people get second and third acts, because it’s a risky business.

    I also believe her, and Crystal, and friends of friends of friends at Paizo say that Mentzer was deliberately not invited back to PaizoCon over this.

    If you’re looking for writing work, contact me. I can’t make up for the work Frank was offering, but I am hiring writers.

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