Great Khan Enthroned

Great Khan Enthroned

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Wee Update

I started writing again, pretty regularly, after I had more or less decided to quit this and start another blog, at least for a few posts, then I went on a communications blackout again. This time it happened because I started writing a post about how using ideas that you think suck when you first have them, or actually using elements of a game that you personally dislike, can actually lead to some pretty cool stuff. I started writing about how I kind of hate Gnomes in AD&D, and then came up with a pretty cool Gnome-based idea for my new AD&D campaign. So I wasn't ready to share it just yet, and I kept on working on it. I also started running a new AD&D campaign, we're two sessions in now, and I keep getting lots of cool ideas that I want to work on, so I have been. Again, something I can't really share just yet. Additionally, the AD&D Oriental Adventures group I started on Facebook a few months back has started to take off a bit, so I have been spending a bit of time making sure I keep up with that, since it's my group, my responsibility. Then there have been a few KAG related things I've been doing some work on, and lastly, but not least, I have another idea for a new (A)D&D campaign that I have been thinking about some, so I am writing that stuff up in my “campaign ideas” document; which I started specifically to document any ideas I wanted to explore for use at a later date- either because I didn't have an active game going, or I was running something else but didn't want to lose a good idea. I've been looking at a lot of “gonzo” old school stuff lately, and it has inspired me. That and Whitestar.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Monks, Monasteries and AD&D

Monks, love them or hate them, are part of the AD&D landscape. They have been around since the early days of the original D&D game, from the Blackmoor supplement in 1975. Ever since then they have been crapping up D&D's (and AD&D's) pseudo-western European fantasy vibe. They yanked them from the D&D line with Holmes Basic (which was really basic) and they weren't in B/X, but they returned there, renamed the Mystic, with the Cyclopedia, maybe BECMI, I don't know, I only ever had the Companion set for that edition. 2nd edition AD&D dumped them, although it's possible they showed up in one of the eight million splatbooks. They definitely made a return as a core class in 3rd edition*, and were/are presumably in 4th and 5th editions**.

I work, mostly, with 1st edition AD&D, so eventually the subject of Monks always comes up. They make decent villains, as the Scarlet Brotherhood, in Greyhawk; and, as such, appear in several AD&D modules set there. Greyhawk is about as close as you really get to an official, core, 1st edition AD&D setting. It belonged to EGG, pretty much all of the published modules are set somewhere in the World of Greyhawk, pre-1985 anyway, and Greyhawk means acceptance of Monks. So does 1st edition AD&D, by the book.

We may not use every single rule when we play 1st edition AD&D, for instance we mostly ditch weapon vs. armor, but it's tough to justify getting rid of a class from the Players Handbook. Assassins are probably the only other class people ever try to ditch, and you have more justification for that- I often run with a “No Evil Aligned Characters” house rule to promote a more cooperative and heroic style of game. But with Monks, we're just kind of stuck with them***, if we're playing AD&D.

It's hard to remove that whole Shaolin Kung-Fu image from them, and that flies in the face of the rest of the AD&D aesthetic. They should be tonsured and live a simple, contemplative life, away from the concerns and squabbles of the secular world, devoted to their deity, in short, another brand of Cleric. I keep trying to find a way to make the Monk Class seem more like traditional European monks, to justify their existence in an otherwise largely Western European assumed setting. Maybe something like Friar Tuck? I know he's not a Monk, but a Friar, but in a pseudo-European context isn't that what adventuring Monk would be?

I don't really offer any solutions to the Monk problem, I just wanted to air my thoughts on the subject a bit. What does everyone else think? Are Monks fine in AD&D? Do they need some sort of reskinning for a more western medieval setting? Do we say to hell with verisimilitude and go with it anyway, because it is a FANTASY world first and foremost?

*which should have been either called 3rd edition AD&D, or like 5th or 6th edition D&D. Does Cyclopedia count as a different edition than BECMI? What about that black basic book from the 1990s?
**I actually own, and gave a read through of 5th edition, but I honestly can't recall if the Monk was present, and I am not interested enough to go look it up.

***Mostly, I have run a long standing game in a world without any Monks and never had anyone complain.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

RPG a day

Just to keep in practice, but I am doing them all at once, because I am a rebel-

Forthcoming game I am most looking forward to:
I can't really think of any game that isn't out yet, that I have heard of that I want- so I am going to say the print copies of White Star.

Kickstarted game I am most pleased I backed:
I don't actually do a lot of Kickstarters. I got burned by the Up Front Kickstarter, and my disposable income has dropped significantly since my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I am going to say anything from Kevin Crawford.

Favorite new game of the last 12 months:
James Spahn's White Star, hands down.

Most surprising game:
Again, White Star. I was surprised by how much I loved it, and by how inspired I was by it. I have a couple of different settings for it that I am tinkering with, nothing I can publish (copyrighted IP), and I may not end up ever playing in them (too little time, too few players), but I was still surprised at how much this game affected me.

Most recent RPG purchase:
The Spectre King for the Pendragon game.

Most recent RPG played:
Labyrinth Lord, before I moved. I had decided to run a session of Stonehell with the system it was statted for.

Favorite free RPG:
Delving Deeper- but this was a toss up between retroclones. OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry were all in the running too, and maybe on a different day one of them would have been picked, but today it's Delving Deeper.

Favorite appearance of RPGs in the media:
I can't really think of any, odd question, pass.

Favorite media you wish was an RPG:
Falling Skies?

Favorite RPG publisher:
TSR, they gave us D&D. But for extant companies, I am going to go with New Big Dragon Games.

Favorite RPG writer:
E. Gary Gygax, but for living authors I'll pick Richard Leblanc.

Favorite RPG illustration:
Tough call, too many to choose from, old TSR stuff, OSR stuff, other games and companies. I always was fond of Twilight 2000's photo realistic style. “A Paladin in Hell” is certainly evocative and inspirational, as is pretty much anything by Trampier or Otus- in different ways.

Favorite RPG podcast:
I really don't listen to podcasts with any regularity.

Favorite RPG accessory:
What popped immediately to mind was the Kara-Tur boxed set, but when I think about it, I haven't really used it all that much, I used the module OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” way more. I haven't actually spent enough time using any new stuff to properly assess their utility, but I'd like to say the “d30 sandbox companion” or the “Wilderness Alphabet” .

Longest campaign played:
I'd have to say Tim McDougal's Specularum based 1st edition AD&D campaign from the 1980s was the longest running, and probably the most often played campaign I ever played in. I DMed a pretty long running campaign concurrent with that, mostly 1-on-1 with my next door neighbor Scott Whitmore, but Tim's played more often.

Longest game session played:
A 1-on-1 week long Oriental Adventures sandbox with my friend Darryl Cook when we were 18 I think. I think I was unemployed at the time and he had a week's paid vacation. We holed up in my bedroom at my parent's house and never stopped for more than about 3 hours time to nap, which we did maybe 7 or 8 times in 7 days. We ate at the game table, and only had 2 or 3 15 minute (at most) bathroom breaks. He played a Kensai and kept really good notes about the whole game, I had those notes for like a decade after that. I eventually lost them, probably in a move.

Favorite Fantasy RPG:
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition, pre-Unearthed Arcana (but including Oriental Adventures). Runners up- 2nd edition AD&D and B/X D&D.

Favorite SF RPG:
West End Games d6 Star Wars. Runners up- FASA's Star Trek, Twilight 2000 (1st edition) and Gamma World (early 1980's edition).

Favorite Supers RPG:
TSR's Marvel Super Heroes.

Favorite Horror RPG:
Vampire: The Masquerade. I lost OSR cred there, but I stand by it, as it brought way more people. especially women, to the hobby. I was in college when it hit and the RPG scene exploded.

Favorite RPG setting:
I am assuming published, so I am going to go with 43AD. I know it's a stand alone game, but it's really just a setting book for Zozer Game's d6 RPG system. Plus, since I worked on it, I am intimately familiar with it- a real bonus. Otherwise, probably a tie between B/X D&D's “The Known World” AKA “Mystara” and EGG's own “World of Greyhawk”.

Perfect gaming environment:
A large table with comfortable chairs, good lighting, a small side table for the GM. Temperature at a comfortable level (AC in summer, heat in winter- these have been an issue in the past), snacks & drinks easily accessible. Nearby bathroom facilities. Bookshelves stocked with RPGs and their accessories are a plus. No distractions nearby- TV, radio, computer, etc. Handicapped accessible would be nice too. Most places I have gamed have met most of these criteria, few meet all.

Favorite house rule:
I don't know if it's my favorite, but it certainly is the most widely utilized among gamers I have played with- the nearly universal natural 20 equals a double damage critical hit. How the critical hit is applied has some minor variation- I double the number of damage dice, then add any applicable bonuses (Strength, Magic), other people just roll the normal damage dice and then double it, some people double bonuses too. Runners up include the d30 rule and “Shields Shall Be Splintered”, but they are forgotten too often at the table, and the 4d6 drop the lowest die x7, drop the lowest total, arrange as desired stat rolling system.

Favorite revolutionary game mechanic:
a 3 way tie of good rules from the 3rd edition era- the 3 saving throw system, the critical threat-hit system, and ascending AC. I don't use them but I recognize their excellence.

Favorite inspiration for my game:
History, followed by literature from various historical periods(Norse Sagas, Chansons des Geste), followed by historical fiction (I am a big fan of Simon Scarrow's Macro & Cato series, Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome, and there are several series about vikings I like.), followed by myth, folklore and legend, then lastly fantasy and science fiction literature (I really liked Katherine Kerr's Deverry series, Dorothy Heydt's “A Point of Honor”, Deborah Turner Harris's “Caledon of the Mists” and it's sequels, of course Robert E. Howard's Conan and more). They are all pretty tightly tied together for me. I guess movies and TV are pretty inspirational to me too, HBO's Rome was excellent, History Channel's Vikings ranges from OK to good. Gaming fiction I find next to useless as inspiration, as it is usually pretty uninspired itself. GURPS has some excellent supplements- Vikings, Imperial Rome, Celtic Myth, Middle Ages. There are quite a few books on adventure design that are pretty good whether you use the tables or not- Wilderness and Dungeon Alphabets, Tome of Adventure Design, even TSR's DM's Cookbook.

Favorite idea for merging 2 games into 1:
There's a special hell in which I have served too much time. Genre mashing is sometimes OK, system mashing usually is not.

Favorite game I no longer play:
I could be a smart-ass and say AD&D, just because I haven't got a new game going since I moved, but I'll go with Pendragon instead. I haven't played that since the 1980's. Every now and again I buy new stuff for it, but I never play.

Favorite RPG website or blog:
Tough call, I read a lot of gaming blogs, OSR blogs mainly, and each of them I have a good reason for reading. Commentary, content, or news; they're all pretty important to me in their own ways.

Favorite RPG playing celebrity:
I haven't played with any of them, and I don't know any personally, but I guess I'd have to go with Vin Diesel. The man preaches the gospel of gaming.

Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of gaming:
My marriage. I met my wife because of gaming nearly 25 years ago, started dating roughly 22 years ago and we've been together ever since. Most of my oldest friends I met through gaming too, so here's a shout out to my buddy Darryl- we met at the junior high D&D club in the fall of 1981.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

1st edition AD&D

I don't think it's a secret that my favorite D&D is AD&D- 1st edition, from back in the days when you didn't need to quantify your edition. It seems to me that most OSR folk remember AD&D fondly but prefer OD&D or B/X. They certainly have encouraged me to give both of them a try, and, by and large, I have enjoyed it. AD&D is pretty much where the “power creep” between editions started, I get that, but I still can't think “Fighter” without thinking 1d10+CON bonus/level HP; decades of playing and DMing have drilled this into me. 1st and 2nd edition AD&D. There are, doubtless, other examples, that was just off the top of my head.

I just ordered a “new” 1st edition AD&D book from Lulu- “The Lost Handbook” a compilation of AD&D articles from “The Strategic Review” and “The Dragon”. “The Lost Handbook” is over 500 pages of “new” AD&D material, much of it new to me anyway, and for what isn't it saves me having to dig through my back issues of Dragon to find stuff, probably the best $14.28 I've spent in a long, long time.


I also just realized that I don't actually own a “complete” set of 1st edition AD&D hardcovers. I never owned, and only skimmed through my friend Darryl's, a copy of the “Manual of the Planes”, nor have I ever owned, or even skimmed through a copy of “Dragonlance Adventures”. I understand the latter, I always loathed Dragonlance; but the former was most likely an oversight or something. I was never really all that interested in planar adventures, and, as I recall, it seemed pretty technical. I guess I'll look for copies of both now though, just because I am a perfectionist when it comes to the completeness of my hoard.


That said, I own and have read through a few other AD&D books that I have had pretty minimal use for, “Greyhawk Adventures”, “Wilderness Survival Guide” and “Dungeoneers Survival Guide”. Each of them are of limited utility, in my opinion. I have seen partisans for the two survival guides, particularly the one I like the least, “Wilderness Survival Guide”, to each their own I guess. Maybe it's that I bought these books long after the 1st edition era, all within the last five or six years, so I don't have any fond nostalgia for them.

“Greyhawk Adventures” suffers from little to no use primarily because I don't run a Greyhawk campaign. I like the concept of 0-level characters, but I have never used the rules. I guess the new spells might be OK, again never used them. The Greyhawk deities were of no use to me by the time it was published.

That being said, I also have little use for, and general disdain for “Unearthed Arcana”. I am a bigger fan of “Unearthed Arcana” than the aforementioned tomes, just because it has some redeeming qualities- new spells and items, demi-human deities although I don't think I have ever seen them in play. I don't totally hate the concept of Hierophant Druids, although I've never seen them in play. I think we can all agree that Cavaliers and Barbarians are an abomination. I am, in theory, favor of Weapon Specialization for single classed Fighters, but I have seen that some OSR people hate it. I can honestly say I rarely use(d) any of this book, probably because I didn't actually own it until, roughly, the 2nd edition era. My friends Darryl and Lance each owned a copy, which I could borrow from either one of them whenever I wanted, so I just put off buying a copy. I did think it was curious that it was given the Premium Edition reprint treatment, if I'd been WotC I'd've likely just reprinted the core three books.

“Oriental Adventures” is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of a book. I love it, warts and all, but I can see why a lot of people don't. This was the only AD&D book I pre-ordered at my FLGS (at least as local as it got for a country boy like me)- the late and much lamented “Twilight Book and Game Emporium” in Syracuse, New York. The rose-colored glasses of nostalgia are in full effect for me, OA rejuvenated waning interest in AD&D, and RPGs in general, for my group back in '85. I have heavily modified the character classes and the non-weapon proficiency sub-system for play over the years, but I still love it and I think OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” is maybe the best sandbox ever released by TSR.


Aside from OA, I was always pretty much a “core books” kind of a guy, “Monster Manual”, “Players Handbook” and “Dungeon Masters Guide”, sometimes with “Deities & Demigods” added for when religion entered the game in anything other than it's “Yeah, my Cleric has a Deity” kind of a way. “Fiend Folio” and “Monster Manual II” were kind of under utilized too I guess. This probably stems from my introduction to (A)D&D- Holmes Basic→AD&D and the X half of B/X concurrently, and all of them within no more then eighteen months of each other, as I was learning the game. I played D&D for the first time in early 1981 (I just checked, it was the week after I saw the movie “Excalibur” in the theater, which was right after it came out). I distinctly remember “Fiend Folio” being the new book. “Monster Manual II” came out around the same time as “Unearthed Arcana” and “Oriental Adventures” in 1985, so I really remember those being new books, and, while new books had their novelty value, most of us in my neck of the woods stuck to the tried and true- MM, PH & DMG.

I have to wonder what my experience would have been if I'd found that boxed set a year or two earlier, or been introduced to D&D via B/X. I remember finding a book store, after I'd discovered (Holmes Basic) D&D and already moved on to AD&D, where I spotted the original D&D books. It was in a mall we never went to, I tried to hunt down my mom and dad to get them to buy them for me- but when I found them they decided it was time to go. I never saw any of those OD&D books again until I spotted them on the internet. After I moved on to AD&D and realized there was a distinction at all, I had nothing but disdain for Basic. I never owned a Moldvay Basic set until I started reading about how great it was on OSR blogs and grabbed on off Ebay, despite the fact that I freely used my Cook/Marsh Expert set all the time, at least until 2nd edition AD&D came out. The only Mentzer set I bought was the Companion set, and only because it had the War Machine rules that were hyped in Dragon at the time.

Now that I look back on it, that was kind of odd behavior for me. I bought pretty much every TSR boxed set I could afford, when I could find them- “Boot Hill”, “Dawn Patrol”, “Marvel Super Heroes” and their minigames too. I was an early to mid 1980's TSR fanboy, except when my AD&D snobbery kept me from buying into the D&D product line (for the most part, I did pick up a lot of D&D stuff when Kaybee Toys periodically purged the D&D stuff from their shelves, since it was so cheap and compatible with AD&D).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

OK, maybe it wasn't the last blog post.

I have a couple of different campaign worlds I am working on right now. One of them is my 30+ year old world that I have worked on and run games in since I was in junior high- my Garnia campaign. I have worked on it with my BFF Darryl since the early 1980s. We have both run games there. We have both contributed significantly to the canon. Originally I was the idea guy and he was the cartographer, but that fell by the wayside almost immediately when I outsourced several lengthy eras of history to him so we could have back story; which, as I recall, was a bit of advice from an old article in The Dragon. We're older and better at writing now, both of us have taken a lot of college level history. I was a history major with a minor in medieval and renaissance studies. I forget what he did as an undergrad, but I know he was working on a masters in US history at one point. So I have tons of material, mostly in my brain, but a lot of it written out, that I could share. Garnia started out as a pretty generic D&D (AD&D) world, and it still is, but it has a lot of historical baggage added on too. So it makes me feel a little constrained when it comes to creating for it, and I am not sure that a lot of it would translate well to other campaign settings, as it is a heavily Celtic influence world (with a few other cultures thrown in around the world for diversity).

Then I have my new “Shattered Empire” setting that I started writing last December or maybe January. I started writing that world as a more D&D-ish setting for my (then) new Swords & Wizardry campaign. The campaign kind of went on hiatus while my wife was in the hospital and getting radiation, then we moved across the state, so I don't actually have a play group anymore. But I kept right on writing stuff up for it, I was inspired and it's all new and shiny to me. I started writing it up for Swords & Wizardry Complete, used Delving Deeper as another sourcebook for inspiration and played one session of Labyrinth Lord there, so I am pretty sure it works for any OSR game, or the original D&D (or AD&D) game. This was the elevator pitch emailed to my players-

My primary working thesis is that I want this to feel like 1970’s D&D, something I was only there for the tail end of. So I jumped in and did some research on 0e and it’s retroclones Swords & Wizardry and Delving Deeper.

What I came out of that with was that 0e was just as much about science fantasy as it was about swords and sorcery, there are Androids, Cyborgs and Robots on the monster lists. Gygax, Arneson and crew didn’t limit themselves to just standard fantasy fare. “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” was not a fluke, it was fairly standard for the game at the time. So too was the almost forgotten art of the (mostly randomly designed) mega-dungeon.

There is a strong “Arthurian” vibe to the overland encounters. Randomly you will almost certainly be challenged to a joust by some knight or other noble, just to prove yourself. There is an entire separate rules section covering jousting, something pretty much lacking from later editions.
Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” was a much larger influence than Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”; all Gygax seems to have lifted from Tolkien’s work were the Hobbits, Ring-Wraiths and Ents. Honestly, pulp fantasy and sci-fi elements are practically exuded from the games metaphorical pores.
Early D&D was set in a post-apocalyptic world, not necessarily post-nuclear holocaust (although it could be), but like a fantasy version of Europe in the period immediately after the fall of the Western Roman empire.

In retrospect, my own style of DMing tends to amplify the weird, post-apocalyptic tone of early D&D.
So I started working on a campaign world that would reflect these ideas and I first came up with the city of Dusk, then Helltown. Here, in this setting, you will find Sir Thomas Mallory, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, an abundance of pulp era science fiction and a curious bit of actual history. Feudal lords and noble knights abound in the rural areas, evil priests and sorcerers scheme everywhere, the cities are invariably decadent and corrupt, noble savages batter the ramparts of civilization, but so too do armies of Undead, and the lands between the civilized areas are untamed, howling, primeval wilderness filled with nature spirits, savages, monstrous creatures and demonic hordes. “

Would you play a game in this setting?

Anyway, it's been a lot of fun to write stuff for, and I think that stuff I wrote for this setting would need not too much tweaking to fit most people's campaigns. So the only thing stopping me from starting my new blog now is lack of a cool name. I am wracking my brain to find something that says something that reflect both my personality and the flavor I am going for. No more ramblings; concise, content oriented, OSR.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Final Blog Post?

I have finally entered the end stages of moving to my new home in Waverly, NY. This has been a long and somewhat tiring process that involved staying for nearly a month at my in-law's house while we waited for our new house to open up, followed by 2 trips back to Oswego county to get our stuff from storage. We still have some stuff up there at the property we own, but it's all stuff I can wait another couple of weeks or so to get. The important stuff is here, and we're slowly unpacking it and setting things up properly.

I haven't had any of my gaming stuff until now, nor have I had my computer set up until recently, so I haven't worked on anything game related (or played any games) for some time. I have been kind of itching to write something, right before I moved I banged out a bunch of character classes for Samurai! (my AD&D OA homage).

I have also been thinking about retiring this blog and starting another, more focused blog. I have a couple of reasons for this- 1st, this blog hasn't seen a lot of action for a few years, since my sister died and I'd hate to have it just be me coming back every 6 months or so to try and restart it. 2Nd, I am at a different place in my life now than I was when I was writing this blog. I had 3 kids at home, a semi-regular gaming group of fairly consistent regular players and I'd been living in the same area for the better part of my life. I was still kind of active as an SCA heavy fighter. Now I have 1 kid at home full-time, and she's going to start college next year. I don't have any gaming buddies within easy driving distance, and I really only know my wife's family here (and not all of them- I discovered that my mail carrier is my wife's uncle, her father's younger brother, today when he dropped off a package). I am much more focused on creating gaming content than I was before, most of my old blog posts are reminiscing about the good old days, seeing what cool stuff I got in the mail and after game reports.

I am thinking about having a new blog that is really heavy on the game content, stuff you can take and drop into an existing campaign for the most part- magic items, encounters, NPCs, locations, etc. I have a lot more experience writing now than I did then and my lovely wife Mona is on-board to illustrate anything I write up. I might start a 1-page zine like Christian even, although I haven't decided yet. I mostly want to get some content flowing through my blog so I can try new stuff out before I polish it up for release through Great Khan Games on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow. I also have some new campaign ideas I'd like to present for people to use since it doesn't look terribly likely that I'll be DMing anytime soon. I hate to see good ideas go to waste.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Today's Sohei


Sohei are warrior monks who often serve as soldiers and guards for large monasteries. Sohei are less mystically inclined than Shugenja, but make up for it by being more martial by far. Sohei may wear any armor and use any weapons. A Sohei must have Strength and Wisdom scores in excess of 13. A Sohei must be Lawfully aligned. A Sohei receives bonus spells for high Wisdom as if he were a Shugenja.

Experience Points                            Experience Level                      Hit Dice
0-2000                                                            1                                    1d8
2001-4000                                                      2                                    2d8
4001-7000                                                      3                                    3d8
7001-13000                                                    4                                    4d8
13001-24000                                                  5                                    5d8
24001-48000                                                  6                                    6d8
48001-85000                                                  7                                    7d8
85001-150000                                                8                                    8d8
150001-350000                                              9                                    9d8
350001+                                                        10                                   10d8

Sohei Spells by Level-
Sohei Level                                               Spell Level
                                                                   1 2 3 4 5
1st                                                                                    - - - - -
2nd                                                              1 - - - -
3rd                                                               2 - - - -
4th                                                                                    2 1 - - -
5th                                                               3 2 - - -
6th                                                                                    3 2 1 - -
7th                                                               4 2 2 - -
8th                                                               4 3 2 1 -
9th                                                                                    4 3 3 2 -
10th                                                             5 3 3 2 1

Sohei abilities-
At 1st level a Sohei may designate a “chosen” weapon, with which he will receive both a +1 to hit and a +1 to Damage when using this weapon. Starting at 2nd level a Sohei may meditate, entering a state of deep concentration in which he refocuses and regains his energies. 1 hour of meditation is as restful as 2 hours of sleep, and as such a Sohei may go without sleep for as many days as he has levels, provided he has the opportunity to meditate for at least 4 hours per day. While meditating a Sohei is oblivious to all but the most extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst do not affect him. He is, however fully aware of his surroundings, and thus suffers penalties to neither surprise or initiative rolls. Starting at 3rd level a Sohei, through his religious training, practice and meditation, may once per day, for a period of 1 turn (10 combat rounds), enter a combat frenzy. During this frenzied state the Sohei adds +1 to his initiative rolls, +1 to his AC, gains 1 extra attack per round, increases his movement rate by 3”/round, gains an additional +1 to his attack, Damage and saving throw rolls. Additionally the Sohei can dodge or deflect missile weapons on a successful Reflex save. Starting at level 5 a Sohei can fight on well past normal human endurance- beyond the 0 hit point threshold fighting into the negatives until he reaches either a negative hit point total exceeding his Constitution score or -10, whichever is greater, for as long as there are enemies present to fight. Note that this may well cause a Sohei to die as he strikes the killing blow on his last adversary. Starting at 6th level a Sohei receives a commission from his monastery to command a detachment of from 10-30 novice Sohei (Level 1). They are his to command and train to further the political and religious ends of his monastic superiors. Casualties among them will be replaced over time, unless the entire detachment is lost, in which case the monastery will have lost faith in the PC Sohei's ability to command and/or train troops properly. Every level after 6th (7-10) the Sohei will receive 1d10 more novice Sohei. These Sohei are considered followers for all purposes, and are fanatically loyal troops.

Sohei have certain religious restrictions they must adhere to; they are forbidden to eat meat, or indulge in excesses of certain behaviors, such as drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, gambling, etc. The exact details of each Sohei's religious restrictions will be determined by the DM.

Sohei may come from any social class/caste but are not required to roll on the Family, Ancestry or Birth Right tables, in fact it is very common for Sohei to forsake their familial connections in favor of devotion to their monasteries. Sohei do track honor normally though, as their behavior is a reflection upon their monastery.

As a design note, I am deliberately limiting all of the classes in Samurai! (my OA simulacra) to level 10. I am also deliberately leaving the higher level/Domain game aspect out of my player supplement and saving it for my DM's supplement. I am consciously starting the “Domain” game on a smaller scale at the middle levels, and scaling it upwards to it's best (most prestigious) point at level 9. I have also decided to just max all of the classes out at 10d(Hit Die Type) instead of 9dx+? Depending on class. While I am using the 1st edition AD&D Oriental Adventures book as my primary inspiration, I am not slavishly adhering to it. I am producing these classes currently to be “more” compatible with AD&D/OSRIC, but I am trying out some new, original stuff here at home and in my notes waiting for some testing. For instance I have added a skill system based on the roll of 2d6+skill# vs. target difficulty, but it's not ready for prime time yet. I also have replaced the original, somewhat odd Birth Rank table with a straight 3d6 roll which indicates your family's general wealth and position in this somewhat Confucian Caste oriented society. This also is still being tinkered with, mostly with regard to how it affects starting equipment and money.

As I noted in my last blog post, I am also in the middle of moving, so I am trying to type some of this stuff up from handwritten notes, and stuff that never even made it to the paper from my head, so I don't lose or forget anything. I lost the several years worth OA stuff I had completed earlier this year when I accidentally overwrote (formatted) my hard drive and had not bothered to keep too many (or any current) back-ups. This doesn't bother me as much as I'd've thought just because it let me take a new look at things, and decide to make some different design decisions with the rewrite.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Getting Ready to Move.

I am getting ready to move to the Waverly, NY-Sayre PA area and I will be looking for some new gaming buddies in a couple of weeks. Also, I have a partially wooded 1 acre lot in Oswego county (Town of New Haven) for sale, these two things are related, if you are interested in either, let me know.

And now, my current build of the Kensei

The Kensei is a weapon master, usually a master of the sword, as implied by the name of the class,
although any melee weapon can be their focus. An unsurprised Kensei can make a melee attack before rolling initiative. A Kensei that fells an opponent may immediately make another attack against an opponent in melee range. A Kensei has a d10 for hit points. A Kensei is required to have Strength and Dexterity scores of not less than 12, and a Wisdom of at least 14. A Kensei adds his Wisdom bonus to his AC and as an attack bonus. A Kensei must have a Lawful alignment. Only Human, Spirit Folk or Hengeyokai may become Kensei.

Experience Points                       Experience Level            Hit Dice
0-3000                                                 1                                  1d10
3001-5500                                           2                                  2d10
5501-10000                                         3                                  3d10
10001-22000                                       4                                  4d10
22001-44000                                       5                                  5d10
44001-88000                                       6                                  6d10
88001-150000                                     7                                  7d10
150001-250000                                   8                                  8d10
250001-500000                                   9                                  9d10
500001+                                             10                                 9d10+2

Kensei bonuses- Once per day for every level the Kensei has achieved, he may focus his attunement to his chosen weapon to deliver maximum damage with a single strike, he must announce this before he rolls to hit. +1 initiative bonus, increases to +2 at level 5 and +3 at level 9. Wisdom bonus to AC,
additional +1 AC bonus at levels 3, 6 and 9. Starting at level 3 a Kensei may meditate, entering a state of deep concentration in which he refocuses and regains his energies. 1 hour of meditation is as restful as 2 hours of sleep, and as such a Kensei may go without sleep for as many days as he has levels, provided he has the opportunity to meditate for at least 4 hours per day. While meditating a Kensei is oblivious to all but the most extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst do not affect him. He is, however fully aware of his surroundings, and thus suffers penalties to neither surprise or initiative rolls. Starting at level 6 a Kensei is surprised only on a roll of 1. Starting at level 7 students will begin to seek a Kensei out, 1d4 every level. When a Kensei's student levels up the Kensei makes a morale check, if the check is passed the student stays with the Kensei to continue learning, if it is failed they move on. As such, they are not really followers, but not Henchmen or Hirelings either. Students require no pay, and will perform many menial duties (cooking, cleaning, etc.) for their master in return for their training. These students may be of any Warrior class (Bushi, Samurai, Kensei), but are more likely to stay if they are Kensei. At level 9 the Kensei gains the whirlwind attack, where he focuses his power and launches into a blindingly fast series of attacks where he gets a single attack vs. every enemy within his weapons range or 10', whichever is greater.

Kensei restrictions- A Kensei may wear only light armor, and if he does he loses any Class and/or
Wisdom based AC bonuses. A Kensei must practice with his chosen weapon for at least 1 hour per day, every day or lose his Class based abilities, fighting as a Bushi of equal level, until the missing hours are made up. Starting at level 5 (to gain level 5), a Kensei must seek out a higher level Kensei and defeat him in a duel to rise in level. These duels are (mostly) non-lethal in nature, but the details are up to the DM. If a Kensei loses the duel, he is reduced in experience points to the minimum necessary for his current level, ie. a 4th level Kensei losing his first "level-up" duel, would drop to 10001 experience points.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

This is the direction I am heading with the Samurai


A Samurai is a warrior of the upper classes and a follower of the code of Bushido. A Samurai is required to have a 9 or better in Strength, Dexterity and Constitution, and a 13 or better in both Intelligence and Wisdom. Clearly not every warrior born to the upper classes is actually a true Samurai. Samurai must have a Lawful alignment. Samurai are expected to be proficient with both Katana and Daikyu, and may elect to specialize in one or the other. The Katana and Wakizashi, known as the Daisho together, are the mark of a Samurai's rank and status. Every person born into their birth rank is entitled to wear the Daisho, but few of those that are not Samurai, Kensei or Bushi choose to, it is an implicit acceptance of challenges to one's honor. Only Humans or Spirit Folk may become Samurai, and they must be of the appropriate birth rank to do so.

A Samurai may wear any type of armor and use any non-ninja weapon.

Samurai have several class abilities that grow in power as they increase in level. Starting at 2nd level a Samurai adds +1 to his damage dice, increasing by a further +1 every 3rd level thereafter. So the progression is +1 at 2nd level, +2 at 5th level, +3 at 8th level. Starting at 3rd level a Samurai gains a +1 to Will Saves every other level, so +1 at 3rd level, +2 at 5th level, +3 at 7th level, +4 at 9th level. A Samurai becomes immune to fear at 6th level. A Samurai gains the ability to cause Fear in creatures with 1HD or less, subject to a Will Save, at level 8.

Experience Points Experience Level Hit Dice
0-2500 1 1d10
2501-5000 2 2d10
5001-10000 3 3d10
10001-18000 4 4d10
18001-36500 5 5d10
36501-75000 6 6d10
75001-135000 7 7d10
135001-235000 8 8d10
235001-400000 9 9d10
400001+ 10 9d10+2

Samurai are required to roll on the Ancestry, Family and Birth Right tables, and track Honor as normal. Samurai must adhere to the code of Bushido, typified by these eight virtues:

  • Righteousness
  • Courage
  • Benevolence
  • Respect
  • Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Self Control
  • And also, these associated virtues-
    • Filial Piety
    • Fraternal Respect

A little something I've been working on


The Shugenja is both a priest and a sorcerer. They are the primary spell casting class in Samurai! A Shugenja might be a solitary hermit, a temple priest, a village holy man, or a court wizard. All Shugenja must be Good aligned. Only Humans and Hengeyokai may become Shugenja. Most adventuring Shugenja are the magic wielding equivalent of Samurai, acting as the magical protectors of their lord's domains, and rooting out evil in the empire. Wisdom is the prime requisite of the Shugenja, and a Shugenja with a Wisdom score of 15 or better receives a 10% bonus to experience points. They also receive bonus spells for high wisdom as a Cleric.

Experience Points    Experience Level    Hit Dice
0-1500                               1                          1d6
1501-3000                         2                          2d6
3001-5500                         3                          3d6
5501-11000                       4                          4d6
11001-22000                     5                          5d6
22001-44000                     6                          6d6
44001-90000                     7                          7d6
90001-150000                   8                          8d6
150001-300000                 9                          9d6
300001+                           10                         9d6+1

Shugenja Spells by Level
Shugenja Level 1 2 3 4 5
1                        1 -  -  - -
2                        2 -  -  - -
3                        3 -  -  - -
4                        3 1 -  - -
5                        3 2 -  - -
6                        4 2 1 - -
7                        4 3 2 - -
8                        4 3 2 1 -
9                        5 3 2 2 -
10                      5 4 2 2 1
Shugenja may choose spells from either the Cleric or the Magic-User lists*

Shugenja turn undead as a Cleric of the equal level. Shugenja receive a +3 to Will based saves. Shugenja may use any weapons and are restricted to light armor. Some Shugenja renounce their family ties and thus are not required to roll on the Family, Ancestry or Birth Right tables. Shugenja calculate Honor as normal.

*This is until I create a spell list specifically for the Shugenja. Their magics tend to be either Elemental or Spirit based.

I forgot Blogger likes to destroy formatting, but I fixed it so it kind of looks like it did when I wrote it.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


I had a dream this morning I was playing Europa (the WW II mega board game), which was kind of odd, because I haven't played it since maybe 1991; but the even weirder part is that it's the second time this week I have dreamt I was playing it.

I don't even have a copy of any game in the series anymore. So I took this as a sign that I might want to play some serious large scale hex and counter wargaming, and thus, did a search on Ebay to find a copy of one of the Europa series of games. Being as how they are massive games, I was pretty happy when I found a few copies of some titles in the series really reasonably priced, and even a little surprised when I found some copies at right around their list price from back in the day.

I ran through three variations on the search to make certain I could net the greatest number of results- Europa, GRD and GDW (the latter two being the companies that produced the game). None of the searches were perfect, each came back with a variety of results for things I wasn't looking for- Fortress Europa (a fine game in it's own right), GRD apparently did get around to publishing their Pacific/East Asian version of the game, and a First World War game too.

I was surprised though by two things though when I did the GDW search. First, Frank Chadwick's name is attached to a whole lot of games I played when I was young and second, and possibly related, is that I played a lot more GDW stuff than I ever really realized. Traveller was my first non-D&D RPG, and while I didn't play it a lot (I didn't own the game), I have pretty fond memories of it. GDW's “Tet Offensive” and “Stand & Die: The Battle of Borodino 1941” taunted younger me from the shelves at Twilight book and Game because they looked awesome and I couldn't reasonably afford them with my 1991 salary. Command Decision was the first miniatures wargame I ever owned. Dragon Magazine insured that I would purchase and play “Twilight:2000”, it's numerous accessories and, eventually, it's second edition (and it's 2.5 edition); to this day it's the best game I never played enough of. “The Blue Max” was pretty much a guarantee for playing with my best friend Darryl's dad (Big Darryl) because of our “Dawn Patrol” addiction. “Space 1889” was maybe the coolest RPG I never bought or played, it's on my bucket list. They published Gary Gygax's “Dangerous Journeys”, which was kind of ballsy considering the vindictive giant that TSR was at the time. I read Challenge magazine after I stopped reading Dragon. I remember playing “Air Superiority” with Big Darryl too.

This is just a list of GDW products that I spotted reading through 3/4s of a page on an Ebay search. I am sure there would be more if I found an actual catalog and looked through it.

edit- it turns out that wikipedia has a list of their games here and it is even more of a trip down memory lane- "Harpoon", "En Garde" and more.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

June 6th 1944 D-Day

71 years ago today Allied forces invaded Normandy. That's 25 years before I was born, but I grew up knowing that WW II was the good war, the Nazis were bad guys and we won.

I have gamed WW II a lot. I probably started as a kid just playing at war with my friends. I also played with toy soldiers with my friends, and we almost always fought WW II. When I started wargaming I played a lot of WW II games, and when I play wargames these days, it still almost always a WW II game. Axis & Allies, 3rd Reich, Soldiers, Hitler's War, Squad Leader, Up Front, Europa, no matter what the scale or complexity I've pretty much played it. My first foray into miniatures wargaming was with HO scale WW II minis, and I still have a pretty good sized collection of 28mm WW II stuff for Bolt Action and my B/X WW II hack. Opponents being more difficult to find as I get older, I play out WW II on my PC. I've played a handful of first person shooters and RTS games set during WW II, but mostly I play the kind of games I'd play if I had an opponent here at my house- essentially computerized board games. I loved Panzer General back in the day, and I play it's spiritual descendant Panzer Corps still today. Just yesterday I played Front Line: Road to Moscow for a while.

But WW II was more than just a setting for some of my favorite games. My paternal grandfather, a hal dozen or so great-uncles, 3 of my uncles and one of my aunts, and more cousins than I can count served in the US armed forces during WW II. One of my great-uncles died in North Africa, leaving my father's first cousin fatherless. Most of them were enlisted, a couple were officers. Some never saw combat, most did. My father's first cousin was seriously wounded and captured in Italy. My mother's oldest brother came back with malaria that would regularly flare up until the day he died. They were pilots, sailors, ambulance drivers and mostly infantrymen. They fought in every theater of the war that had US troops.

WW II loomed large over my childhood. My parents were both born during the war. My grandfather taught me to fight and shoot using the same techniques that he taught young GIs how to kill Germans. A lady that lived around the corner, with kids not much older than me, was a holocaust survivor. My elementary school bus driver had been pressed into the Hitler Youth as a kid in Lithuania. My wife's grandfather had served as an infantryman in the 28th division during the battle of the bulge, his wife, her grandmother was an army nurse during the war.

I think it's odd that in the US we have Memorial Day, commemorating the end of the Civil War, and Veteran's Day for WW I; but nothing particular for WW II. We remember, some of us anyway, D-Day and Pearl Harbor Day, maybe V-E Day or V-J day, but there isn't a national holiday commemorating the end of mankind's most destructive conflict, a conflict that ushered in the atomic era and catapulted the US to superpower status.

Most of my relatives that fought in that war are dead now. I guess it makes sense, it was 70+ years ago. I am middle-aged now, and they were all pretty old when I was a kid. I really miss them though. They loved Roosevelt and the New Deal, because they lived through the depression. They loved America as you only can when there is serious sacrifice involved. They weren't perfect, but they were, by and large, pretty decent folks. This being one of those remembered anniversarys, I am thinking about them.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Petty Gods

At the risk of just copying what everyone else (or so it seems) has already posted- Petty Gods: Revised and Expanded edition has been released into the wild. You can get the free PDF here, or the at cost premium softcover here, or the at cost case-wrap hardback here.

I am particularly pleased and proud because my lovely wife Mona has two illustrations in the book:

Timothy Brannan's Nox-

and Syla-

Meaning that she shares art credits in the same volume as the legendary Erol Otus.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Some thoughts on my 500th post

I tend to write down (or type out these days) partially thought out ideas and revisit them from time to time to see whether or not they still have merit, or if they need more polishing. Mostly this is just campaign notes and no one else ever sees them, sometimes they are rules ideas for my various unfinished works using the D&D rule set as base-line, universal gaming system covering a multitude of genres (thanks go out to Kevin Crawford, James Spahn, (and TSR) at least, off the top of my head, for proof of concept), but sometimes they become blog posts. My last blog post was number 499, and I thought I should have something special for number 500.

My first thought was some sort of retrospective, after all, it's taken me a long, long time to make it to 500 posts. I have considered just killing the blog in it's entirety in the past, but I've posted a lot of good stuff in there with the personal stuff and the filler-esque mail call type posts. I've weighed in on some of the issues of the day in the OSR, put up some really interesting ideas and felt a sense of community via my blog, and others out there that made me feel like I was part of something special, if only to a select few people. Plus, it's always disappointing when an OSR blog goes away. So I kept it up, even though I've had very few posts over the last few years.

Then I thought maybe I'd run a contest. I started doing that right before my sister died, and tried to keep some momentum up, but I faltered there and eventually failed. So I figured if I announced a contest now, I'd be fighting against my own reputation and it seems a little contrived at this point.

So I thought maybe some new gaming content? But my purely content posts have never been frequent, and were, if not poorly received, received little in the way of fanfare or comment.

Ultimately I decided to just post some of my thoughts that I'd been saving up, looking back at and trying to figure out what to do with, so here they are.


Swords & Wizardry Whitebox
Swords & Wizardry Core
Swords & Wizardry Complete
Full Metal Platemail
Delving Deeper
Iron Falcon

Holmes Basic-
Prentice Blueholme Rules

Basic Fantasy
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Labyrinth Lord
-Realms of Crawling Chaos
-Red Tide
-An Echo Resounding
Scarlet Heroes
Silent Legions
Starships & Spacemen

1st Edition AD&D-
I buy a lot of retroclones in print, I prefer to read books as opposed to pdfs on a screen. I usually buy them, look through them when I first get them, then give them an in depth read through only later, sometimes months or even years later. My wife says I have a retroclone addiction, maybe she's right. Some I get because I don't have the original game, like Swords & Wizardry (especially WhiteBox) and Delving Deeper for OD&D. I also keep buying games that emulate games that I own and play (or played at some time in the past), like OSRIC and Prentice Blueholme; and I have bought games that emulate games that I really didn't own or play back in the day, despite my owning the original, like Labyrinth Lord for B/X D&D. I also keep buying retroclones that have excellent production values like pretty much everything from Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

I have a lot of stuff for LotFP, over half or their catalogue in fact, including both Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown, just because I like where they are taking the game and they are so well made. I have a bunch of Labyrinth Lord compatible stuff too, for many of the same reasons. Kevin Crawford's work is inspired, and I like what he's done to and for B/X.

I have played S&W a couple of time is all though, and LL just once. Why? Some of them I've never played, hell, most of them- although I did use DD in conjunction with S&W for a game once. Scarlet Heroes I keep meaning to try out with my wife, because we both have the time now, but stuff just keeps happening, and I guess both of us are less than fully motivated.

My Campaign and Gaming Aesthetic or “One DM's Manifesto”-

I want to run a D&D or AD&D or clone of either for a group of people. Over the years my circle of friends that game has shrunk to really small levels. My wife, my kids (really just Ember, and John when he's home from college), a couple of adult friends and one younger guy that started gaming with my oldest daughter. I keep trying to recruit more, but I live in a pretty rural area and the weather sucks for roughly ½ the year. Keeping regular gaming going has been, and remains, a serious challenge. Scheduling alone is a serious game killer. I don't want to be too nostalgic for the good old days, but both making friends and finding potential gamers was so much easier back when I was young and the worst scheduling conflict, school, was shared by 90% of the group. There were times when I could not fit everyone around a single pretty large table, now I have trouble filling the seats at a card table on a regular basis. Anyway, a larger, more regular group would be nice, I really prefer campaign play to one-shots.

My primary influences for DMing are Robert E.Howard's Conan stories and their lesser derivatives, including Marvel Comics, and Glenn Cook's Black Company series. Secondary, but still important and in no particular order, are Katherine Kerr's Deverry series, Beowulf, Arthurian tales from a variety of authors (and I really loved the film Excalibur), the original Star Wars trilogy, Norse Mythology, Greco-Roman Mythology, Star Trek and History. Then we have a much larger body of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I like themes of good versus evil, and I like good, heroic characters in my games.

I prefer to use humans as the real monsters, and I like unique monsters when I do use them. Hordes of humanoids are so Tolkien and so 1980s. That, and a few other things make me a fan of LotFP.

I like actual role playing, people who speak in character and use their character's stated motivations for committing to a course of action. I like for their to be interaction between players and between players and the world. I don't like it when players complain about the “constraints” of the alignment system or try to rationalize or retcon their actions to not be an alignment breach. Alignment is a simple short hand for a character's world view and a role-playing tool.

Conversely, I like the mortality rate of early editions, it keeps players on their toes. I like people that use hirelings and retainers as God and Gary intended. I like players that use their brains to solve issues within the game.

The use of good tactics, clever spell use, and good resource management are good things that make me happy. There is a certain level of meta-gaming that I expect and maybe require from my players. D&D is the direct descendant of wargaming, and I feel we should both respect and embrace those roots. That said, gaming the system, finding the cheats and loop-holes annoys me.

I like the gold for XP mechanic, it keeps the game from devolving into a slug-fest. Not every encounter needs to be a combat encounter, managing to get the reward without wasting resources (Hit Points, Spells, Magic Items, etc) should be encouraged, not that a good combat isn't fun too.

The campaign should, ultimately, have an arc that leads to an end game. Strongholds, Domains, what-have-you are the end of the game. A PC should be able to become a political/military force in the world. You should be playing to win, even though “winning” is a long way off and is (usually) a cooperative thing.

I have never been a huge fan of Magic, I think it should be rare and wonderful, or the realm of the irredeemably corrupt. Pacts with evil forces, elder gods and the like are where most magic comes from in my mind. Good magic is the work of a very few uncorrupted wizards or that of the good people of the church. I like my Clerics to be Templar/Van Helsing hybrids rather than heal-bots and my Paladins (in games that have them) to be the chosen champions of the forces of good and light.

I don't like, and usually ban, evil characters. Rarely are they played well, and even when they are, that's not the kind of game I want to play. One time I saw a Lawful Evil ½ Orc Fighter/Assassin that wasn't a complete and total waste of time/campaign killer. The odds are against anyone that wants to be a bad guy in my campaigns even making it through the door.

I dislike when players complain about the game system being used, it's not about the rules, it's about the game. I use D&D in it's various forms, because I am extremely comfortable with it. I am the GM, I need to know the rules. You, as a player, need only be familiar with them to the point where you can play, at least at first, rules mastery is unnecessary in a player.

Vancian magic, it's a thing; argue about it's “realism” all you want, I don't have an issue with it. I think players that complain about having to choose their spells in advance are just not terribly good at playing spell-casters at best, and whiners at worst. I hate a whiner. Spell-casters are not my first choice when I am a player, but I have played them quite successfully in the past, sometimes just to show it could be done.

Demi-humans, semi-humans and humanoids. I am not a fan of them, I get that it's just not D&D to some people without them. I have, rarely, banned them and run a solely human campaign in the past, usually in a historical setting where they would have been inappropriate. I would happily play in a more “Swords & Sorcery” setting without any non-human PCs too. Dwarves, Elves, Halflings and Humans adventuring together is too Tolkien for my tastes these days.

I like a coherent setting. My Garnia campaign setting has been cooking for over 30 years now, not every element is suited to my current gaming tastes, but it is coherent as all get out, and I know it like the back of my hand- including apocryphal and alternate timelines.

I like randomness. I like it in character generation, 3d6 in order, play the character you roll. I'll tolerate 4d6 drop the lowest, arrange as desired, but I'd prefer that players play the PC they rolled, rather than the PC they dreamed up and then had to settle for (stat wise); coming to the table without preconceptions about what character you'll play is a plus there.

I like randomness for encounters too. I am not a fan of tailoring the world to the “challenge level” of the PCs, I think that players need to recognize that there are some things that you should run from. If you are a 3rd level party, even if you have a reasonable number of NPCs along in support roles, you should probably not expect to survive the onslaught of the hordes of Orcus en masse.

Situational modifiers- if I give you a number to aim for, the odds are good that I have already figured them in. I know the rules, I have over 30 years in the DM's seat, there is probably not a lot of advice I am going to need and you are just slowing down the action.

Also, not a fan of rules-lawyers. If you want a bunch of nit-picky BS play 3.x or Pathfinder; my D&D, and it's house rules and rulings, has the weight of experience and tradition behind it.

I like wilderness or overland adventures, hex-crawls even, but they are not static. I believe in a living campaign world. I usually have some primary movers and shakers in the world that will keep on doing their thing too, regardless of PC actions, unless those actions interact with the PCs or one of the other forces in the setting. This isn't to say that I am against dungeons, just that they are less common in my games than elsewhere, and they might be just ruined castles or abandoned mines. I like short, succinct location based adventures more than mega-dungeons.

Site based adventures are cool too. A site based adventure in my campaign might be a commando style raid on a castle, or infiltrating a thieves guild, or it could be an entrance to the hollow world or a trek to a lost city in a swamp or jungle somewhere.

My adventures often have a political bent to them. Politics and court intrigue happen, if not often, at least regularly. When I start a campaign I generally have an idea, and sometimes I completely map out, the major and minor factions in play, what their various agenda are, how they compete with each other and what the odds are of any given plot coming to fruition. Then the PCs are added to the equation.

When I figure out what a faction is, I figure out it's leader, it's goals, it's resources and it's allies. Is the faction overt or covert? Some factions have sub-factions, a good example being different orders within the same religion. My current project has the Duke (Political, Military Power, Wealthy, Overt), The Thieves Guild (Subversive, Wealthy, Covert) and the Dwarves (Racial, Wealthy, Seemingly Harmless) vying for power over a wealthy trading center. The Thieves Guild and the Dwarves are somewhat allied, with the Dwarves having completely infiltrated the Thieves Guild and subverted it subtly towards their own goals. The Duke's faction is unaware that the Dwarves are working as a group towards their own goals, or that they have infiltrated the Thieves Guild so thoroughly, and they consider the Thieves Guild to be less powerful than it really is. The Thieves Guild is more or less happy with the status quo in the city and enjoys having brought the Dwarven community so completely under their control. Clearly, the obvious power in town is the Dukes, digging around some will reveal the influence of the Thieves Guild, but you'd have to be pretty deep to even notice the Dwarves doing anything nefarious.

Minor factions, like the various church orders or the smuggling ring, support or are used by the bigger, more powerful factions. Some are involved with more than one faction, like the merchants, who support the Duke primarily, but have to deal with the Thieves Guild. Some factions are concentrated, usually the powerful ones, some are diffuse, like the merchants, who are a collection of like minded individuals more than an organized group. Maybe one day they'll organize and then they'll wield real power.

Factions might be powerful in one area and weak in another. The Duke is powerful throughout the duchy, the Thieves Guild primarily in the city. Factions might believe they are more powerful than they actually are, like the Duke in a barony contemplating rebellion.