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Sunday, July 29, 2012

As Requested, My Curriculum Vitae-

Pictured - Mona and I at our big SCA wedding with the kids, Ash was had turned 12 then and Em had just turned 7 earlier in the month, John was still 9.

My name is William Dowie. I am a 43 year old white man from the rural northern edge of central New York state, on Lake Ontario. I am a giant history nerd, in college I majored in history with a focus on Classical Antiquity and the European Middle Ages, I minored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. I also took a bunch of Anthropology courses, but not enough to count as a second major. I am 6'6" tall and I have worked as a substitute teacher, short order cook, bouncer, machinist and convenience store clerk, just to name a few. I speak French passably well, Spanish slightly less so, and can usually guess my way through written Italian or Latin. I have tried to teach myself Scots Gaelic, much less successfully, but can pick out a number of written words on sight and sometimes recognize words when I hear them. Oddly enough I can pick out Welsh words now just as easily when they are cognates to the Scots Gaelic words I know, I see patterns in language easily.

I am married to a wonderful woman named Mona and we have three children; Ashli (19), John (17) and Ember (14), who were literally left on our doorstep when they were 11, 9 and 6 respectively. We live on a small, mostly forested plot of land in New Haven, New York - which is north of Syracuse and east of Rochester, nearest to the smaller city of Oswego, NY - where I continue to scheme ways to homestead and get off the grid, mostly because I hate the high cost of electricity in a county with three nuclear power plants, and I want healthier food than I can buy from the store, with the bonus that it'll be cheaper too. I have been frustrated in my attempts to clear my land because it's a lot harder to do than you would think, I have a lot more respect for pioneers now, especially since they did it with no power tools at all. I also have some valuable lumber that I can't seem to get anyone to harvest because my lot is too small and the presence of my house and the power lines along the edge of the road make it too difficult to be worth it, so apparently I need the price of Cherry to rise back to the level it was before our economic collapse to attract loggers.

I have been playing board wargames and D&D since 1980, when my friend Chris introduced me to both the week that we went to see Excalibur together with my dad. We played SPI's Sorcerer that weekend, because he had brought it over to my house and played D&D with him DMing before the week was out using the Holmes Basic rules. I went out and bought a set as soon as I could save up the money, maybe a month later. For a long time after that pretty much all of my money went into my D&D habit in some way or another, books, modules, Dragon Magazine, "official" Grenadier miniatures.

I found the SCA while the local group was doing a demo at the Sterling Renaissance Festival in Sterling, NY back in 1983 when I was 14, I have drifted in and out of the SCA ever since. I am currently missing Pennsic for my 41st time in a row. Something always comes up. Not that it matters anymore, I have passed my fighting prime and I don't think it's coming back no matter how hard I try. I keep resolving to make it to fighter practice more often and get back into my "Crown Tourney" rhythm, but that just isn't going to happen at my age anymore. I don't heal quick enough to fight six days a week anymore. That and I can't afford the gas money for the hundreds of extra miles per week I'd be putting on my minivan to go to all of the extra fighter practices and events. Still, I have made a lot of good friends in the SCA over the years and some great memories, I am happy to have been there for what I did and I wish I could do more still.

1985 was the year of the release of the 1st edition AD&D Oriental Adventures book, it's one of those books that you either love despite it's warts or you hate because of them. I love that book and it's probably because it's the only AD&D book I ever pre-ordered at Twilight Book & Game Emporium in Syracuse, NY - a sadly long gone FLGS. Despite the fact that the glue cracked on the binding causing several pages to become loose literally the first time I opened it, I was determined to get my money's worth out of it. Before my friend Tim left for Basic training in the US army the next year I took over DMing duties from him, which I had only rarely done before, and we played an epic OA campaign. I have played in one pretty epic OA campaign, as a Steppe Barbarian named Chanar Ilkhan, and DMed a few more since. One of my current projects is rewriting the OA book as I think it should have been.

As a side note, I was really anti-Rokugan because they changed the default setting in the 3e version of the Oriental Adventures book to Rokugan from Kara-Tur, and that made me, by default, anti-Legend of the Five Rings. I had been strongly attracted to the setting through AEG's Clan War miniature battle game prior to that, but hadn't bought into it at the time because I could not find at least one other person that was willing to also jump on board with me and had been burned by miniature games that way in the past. Now I am happy to say I have come full circle because I started buying old Clan War miniatures on EBay for my OA campaign and ended up getting the rules, which made me interested in the setting, which made me interested in the RPG, which got me to buy the new board game, which led me to buy some CCG cards too. I have even read through some of the published fiction, and, until it was shut down recently, was playing in a Facebook app version of the RPG called Emerald Empire. I really hated the 3e version of Oriental Adventures.

I played (A)D&D, tried out some other RPGs and wargamed a lot through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Wargaming kind of died in the 1990s (except on the PC, it boomed there), and I concentrated on just RPGs, then just D&D. Sometime after 3rd edition D&D came out, after the novelty wore off for me, I realized I disliked DMing it rather intensely. I was a little late coming to the 3rd edition party, because my D&D group was happy with 2nd edition and we didn't switch over until that campaign died. At the time, I had grown bored with 2nd edition AD&D and welcomed the change, although several things bothered me from the beginning; the faster rate of rising in level was a big one and I missed real multi-classing. I took me a while though, and DMing for several different groups, to realize the worst part was that it neutered the DM. My original AD&D groups, who were familiar with my fast and loose, shoot from the hip DMing style were OK with me making rules calls on the fly when none of us had any idea how something was supposed to work in the new system; we'd keep the game moving and I could look it up later. We might even like my way better. The other groups had people who STUDIED the rules though; at first, every time I made a ruling I'd see disapproving looks, eventually they got brave enough to start offering suggestions as to the right way to handle the situation.

So I quit DMing and let one of them DM in each group. Neither group lasted much longer. One started a new campaign and it was just too railroad-ey, I actually started stress testing that campaign to see what would happen if my character deliberately did things that were contrary to the predestined storyline. My character got punished, he made minor alterations to his storyline, but nothing seriously bad could ever happen to us, so, eventually, as a group we got bored and quit. The other guy just took over my game where I left off and had me make a character that would take his place. He had been unlucky in my game and died several times, but I assume that was because he kept making wuss characters, Rogues and Bards. I made a Barbarian, it was fun while it lasted, we went from 8th to 11th level with him at the helm, then he TPKed the party.

I took a break for a while, despaired over playing D&D again, then picked up Hackmaster. I ran a pretty fun Hackmaster game for a while and that was what led me to realize that I should just go back to playing 1st edition AD&D. That was the year we got the kids though, so I wasn't done with 3rd edition - when they decided they were interested in learning to play D&D, they wanted to play the newest version, 3.5 at the time. I gritted my teeth and went with it, anything to get kids into gaming. I have been walking them back in home games for years now, and have only recently discovered the Moldvay Basic half of B/X myself. Back in the day I bought the Expert Boxed Set when it came out, but I never got the Moldvay Basic Set that matched it because I already had a Basic Set, the Holmes Basic Set. So we've been playing that a bit lately, but my home games are pretty much at a stand-still right now, almost everyone that doesn't live here is too busy to come over and play, and everyone that does live here doesn't want to play with just their mom and dad, brother and/or sister. John is still gaming this summer, he's in a regular 4th edition D&D game with some guys he goes to school with and I am playing Dawn Patrol semi-regularly with Darryl & his dad, John and Dalton. We also recently tried out the Legend of the Five Rings 1st edition RPG here at the house. I am trying to start a game of 43 AD and it's supplement Warband, but the start has been plagued by bad luck and poor coordination of schedules.

I have always run my D&D games in my own "World of Garnia" fantasy setting as a default. It's my Greyhawk, my buddy Darryl and I have been working on this on and off for decades, we're doing a serious reboot of the entire setting and discussing it on my other blog. The primary idea for the campaign is that a group of Celts fled the Roman onslaught to this new world, the world of the Sidhe (Elves) where magic works. The main campaign area is one where their culture has flourished. I designed it originally using the core 1st edition AD&D rules, so there are a lot of 1st edition AD&D assumptions in the setting, but I am trying to make the setting system neutral so that it can be played with any FRPG system. When we have finished the maps and gazetteers they'll be released for use. Currently we're working on the whole world, then we plan to "drill down" and do specific regions. I will also most likely release the adventures that I have written for the setting over the years, it's just finding and transcribing all of the stuff, then updating it to match the current standard is going to be a chore.

By now you are probably wondering where all this "Great Khan" stuff comes from, right? Well back in 1996 my buddy Darryl and I were living most of a continent apart and wanted to play some D&D together. He had played a lot of the SSI Gold Box D&D games starting with "Pool of Radiance" when it came out and we were both new to the internet and on AOL at the time where they had a game called "Neverwinter Nights" that ran using the same engine, but was multi-player, up to 300 I think it was. I guess that makes it the first MMORPG, it was great fun anyway. Darryl was more savvy than me and figured out the best way to advance in the game was through guild membership, so we duly joined a guild together. ERS, the Explorers of the Rising Sun, who made us create new Screen Names, because that was your character's name in the game, and everyone in the guild was named ERS something. I was ERS Garn, Darryl was ERS Frodal, we were named after deities I had created for my Garnia campaign world.

But then we realized, being ambitious adventurers, that ERS was there to help newbies find their bearings and, in general, be nice; and we wanted to move up the food chain in NWN. So we decided to create our own guild, which would, even though it was a gamble, make us guild leaders and let us take charge of our destinies and how we wanted to play the game. We needed a hook though, and that's where our collective history nerdity took over, we decided to play as Mongols, because we wanted to send out a strong challenge to the status quo in all of the guilds and it was unique in NWN to play a culturally oriented guild, unless that culture was a fantasy one. Mostly I think we chose the Mongols though because I was playing them at the time in Civilization. Partly I think we picked them because we both loved the NES game Genghis Khan*, Darryl and I used to spend weekends playing that game together. We also both liked the Mongol reputation for ass-kickery and conquest. Then we studied and studied some more, at this point I think that our kids could hold their own at a conference of Mongol Medieval History scholars.

Anyway, the Steppe Warriors were born. Technically, since NWN is in the Forgotten Realms, we were members of the, at the time, recently defeated Tuigan Horde that decided to march west rather than return east. Darryl was our first Khakhan with his character SW Ogotai, named after one of the sons of Genghis Khan, the reasoning was that he could afford to be online more often (remember this was when you paid/minute of use) because I was in school at the time, and he was a better recruiter. My character was named SW Jagatai, also after a son of Genghis Khan. Ultimately Darryl resigned the position of Khakhan and I was elected to fill it. We've had our highs and lows as a group, and we're pretty dormant now, but I have been Jagatai, Khakhan of the Steppe Warriors since 1997 on the internet, so when I named the blog and when I created my initial Blogger account, I just naturally went with the same motif. My Yahoo email address is still SWJagatai at yahoo dot com, created in the same era. Back when I was sure we were going to leap from AOL's NWN into the expanding universe of MMOs I registered three domain names,, and; I used to joke that they would soon be followed by and Clearly things didn't turn out as well for the Steppe Warriors as I had anticipated in the late 1990s.

Ultimately, I am pretty pleased with my alternate persona. In doing the research to properly play a Mongol character I have learned a great many things about the Mongols and other steppe peoples. I have eaten a bunch of Mongol food, drank Kumiss, shot arrows from a composite bow (not while mounted though), been in a yurt and made friends with a bunch of people that I otherwise probably never would have met. When I think about how it could have gone another way, if I'd been playing a different Civilization that day when Darryl and I were talking on the phone, or if he and I hadn't played so much of Koei's Genghis Khan together and he hadn't been as receptive to the idea, or maybe it was the fact that he had played in one of my epic Oriental Adventures campaigns that made him cool with the idea. If Darryl hadn't signed on for Mongols, we might have been a Samurai guild or a Viking guild or a Celt guild, they were all infinitely more familiar to both of us at the time; or maybe we'd have gone with something lame like a Dark Elf Ranger guild, who knows?

At any given time I usually have more irons in the fire than is wise, so many of my projects get back-burnered until I get back around to them. Currently I have on hold an Oriental Adventures campaign that just kind of fizzled when it was starting to get good, I had converted the Temple of Elemental Evil for OA and made it the Black Temple from OA1. I have a B/X Viking campaign that stopped when two of my regular adult players got new jobs. I have a B/X conversion for WW II that I spent a lot of time working on last summer, but my regular group, which is mostly my wife and kids and family friends, was lukewarm about play-testing it. I'd say it's an early alpha level right now. I am working on a total rewrite of the 1st edition OA book, kind of recasting it in a form I find more desirable. I just started learning the L5R RPG, I am GMing and the party is about 1/2 way through the adventure in the back of the book, I still haven't found the fumble rule. I have announced several times, prematurely, the start of my 43 AD campaign, so while that should be starting soon, I am going to not say when just in case something happens again. Mostly though, right now, getting a lot of my time behind the scenes, is the reworking of my old Garnia campaign world. We've made some interesting progress on it. I also have a bunch of OSR stuff piling up on my to read list, making me wish I had bought hard copies rather than pdfs because I mostly hate reading off my monitor, but that's where my copies of "Lamentations of the Flame Princess", "Carcosa", "Vornheim", "Adventurer, Conqueror, King", and several other major releases are sitting waiting to be read.

*Out of all of Koei's strategy games for the NES, Genghis Khan had the best multi-player play, Nobunaga's Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms were too slow, and Nobunaga's Ambition II had the annoying "siege mode" in battle.


  1. Interesting story! I am in Seattle, now, but grew up in Canada so I know that area of the country well. Never did make it as an SCA fighter (I envy you) as I was always too out of shape and did not fit in culturally.

    But thank you for sharing. Neat stuff.

    1. Actually, I didn't mention this in the long story of who I am and what I do, but I have some pretty strong ties to Canada. My mother's entire family is French-Canadian and 1/2 of my father's family is from Canada (his father's side).

  2. William,
    Absolutly love this blog, I have been reading it for over a year (1st post) but I read it at work We grew up 2hrs apart,Binghamton and our ages are days apart Aug20th here. I started the same way wargames led to D&D. I even checked out the SCA because of you, wife vetoed it. I'm intrigued by your childrens story thank you for doing the right thing not many people do that anymore and thank you for sharing it.

    Kevin Dailey

    1. Two hours away is all? If it weren't for gas prices I'd suggest we game together sometime. Now that's a pretty pricey trip though. I know, my wife's family is from Waverly, NY- about the same distance from here as Binghamton, but further west; between Owego and Elmira. Anyway, it's nice to see someone agree that it was the right thing to do to take the kids in, at the time most people thought Mona and I were crazy to take in three kids. We did it because we knew that if they ended up in the system they would almost definitely be split up, and they had been the only constant in each other's lives. Previous to living with us, their mother had abandoned them at her mother's house, and she traded them back and forth to their father and his new girlfriend. Her mother lives in Kansas, their father, at the time we got them, was living in Arizona. Their father had apparently gotten tired of taking care of them and their grandmother didn't want them anymore, so he sent them to NY to be with their mother, who was living with a buddy of mine at the time. He put them on a plane by themselves and sent them to JFK in NY, because any NY airport will do right? I went to go pick them up at the airport with my buddy and their mom, they spent one night at their trailer and John had a bad allergic reaction to their cats. Then their mother dropped them off at our house for us to watch while she was at work, literally leaving them on our porch, and they have lived with us ever since. Their mom broke up with my buddy, who was attempting to make her do right by her kids, and she moved out of the county.

  3. William,
    If I still lived in Binghamton I would be there ASAP!
    I live in southern Maryland now and your wife is very talented.