It’s probably a surprise to many younger gamers, but TSR products were widely available in “regular stores” back in the early to mid 1980s. These days, it is confined to surviving game stores, and large book stores like Barnes & Noble. The primary distribution of RPG stuff is online these last 10 years or so.
After my first exposure to D&D (recounted in a previous post), I of course went looking for someplace to buy my own D&D stuff. I didn’t have to look far – my primary source for most of the 1980s was the local Lloyd’s Supercenter, which was a regional chain in my area that started in the 1950s. (That’s a fascinating story in its own right – some info can be found here ( http://books.google.com/books?id=5XIBjF9srgAC&pg=PA42&lpg=PA42&dq=%22Edmund+S.+Lloyd%22&source=bl&ots=ZNmrssJh97&sig=Irq6R7hfZHq1e66GoztHRAgitOY&hl=en#v=onepage&q=%22Edmund%20S.%20Lloyd%22&f=false ).
I ended up at Lloyd’s every weekend, being drug along by my mother to do the shopping. Her mother actually worked there for several decades, as it was one of the area’s major employers for a long time. Usually I would get bored in the grocery section and ask to go look around the book dept. or toy dept., and being this was before everybody was super-paranoid about letting children out of their sight in public, that’s where I would go.
In 1982 a new section showed up in the book dept. near the science-fiction. A whole section of shelves just chock full of D&D stuff. There were 1981 Moldvay Basic Sets, the “new” Cook Expert Sets, dozens of copies of “modules”, strange little books with names like “Chainmail,” Dragon magazines, etc. It was really overwhelming to my 13 year-old mind to try to figure out where to start. (There were products from all 3 of TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons lines – what we now refer to as Original D&D, Advanced D&D, and Classic D&D. They were just all sort of right next to each other without any distinction as to what went with what.)
Anyway, after much pleading for an advance on my $5 / week allowance, I was able to get a “Basic Set” for the princely sum of I think it was $12. Over the next few years most of my allowance was spent in that aisle – sorry toy dept. but couldn’t afford as much LEGO anymore when there D&D stuff to buy! At some point more stuff started showing up – other TSR games such as Top Secret and Marvel Super Heroes, and stuff from other companies such as Mayfair’s Role Aides and ICE’s Middle-Earth Role Playing.
There were also other places that D&D and other gaming stuff showed up. I remember that Sear’s had a spinner rack of modules and game books in the same aisle as the Kenner Star Wars figures. I think that was the first place I ever spotted anything from Gamma World – but couldn’t afford it and besides it was not D&D.
In the same mall as Sear’s was a B. Dalton bookstore, which had a few RPG things show up as the 1980s progressed – I remember buying my first BattleTech stuff there. There was also a Book & Record shop, that was much more interesting to browse through the shelves and bins in the back aisle; pretty sure that was where I first found some copies of Strategy & Tactics and other SPI games.
Then there was the toy store on the lower level of that same mall – actually it was about the ONLY mall for 25 mile radius – that toy store was so awesome to a kid that it probably deserves it own post – it was an independent store that carried a LARGE assortment of educational and imported European toys – looking back it put most dedicated “hobby shops” that I later saw in their place. Can you say ” 3 ten-foot shelves full of Avalon Hill games? A dedicated display full of Judge’s Guild stuff (not that I could quite figure out that they went with D&D back then, so never bought any). About the only RPG things I ever remember buying there was Avalon Hill’s “Lords of Creation” and the 3 expansion modules. I did buy a couple AH boxed wargames as well.
The last place I remember getting RPG stuff in the 1980s was an independent bookstore on the other end of town. It only lasted a year or so I think. It had a shelf and a couple spinner racks full of gaming stuff. It was probably about 1986 or 1987 or so, as that was where I got “Cyborg Commando” (hey it had Gygax’s name on it! Setting concept awesome but rule mechanics – uhhh too much math.) and some other BattleTech stuff.
Of course once I went to my first game convention in 1989, that became my main source as all of my local sources went out of business by th early 1990s.
Still, compared to today, having SIX (6) local stores in a little city of 20000 people where you could get D&D and RPG stuff? It was truly “an age undreamed of” but I was too isolated from the greater gaming community to realize it at the time. If only I had a time machine and a few hundred dollars…