Monthly Archives: September 2012

Where I found D&D and RPG stuff in the 1980s

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 ( ).

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…

Categories: D&D, Gaming | Tags: , , ,

My first D&D session -1982

Guess I should start at the beginning.

It was the spring of 1982 (best as I can recall).

I was in the 7th grade; about 13 years old.

I got invited to play Dungeons & Dragons with the smart kids during study hall.

Study hall at the time was held in Mr. Ingber’s math classroom. Looking back, I guess you could say Mr. Ingber was sort of a nerd.

There was a bookshelf FULL of science-fiction paperbacks in the room, as well as one of the school’s new Commodore PET computers. (This was as best I can tell the predecessor of the Commodore 64; the programs were loaded from an audio cassette tape.)

Since I did not get along with some of the other kids, I preferred to spend study hall reading some SF novel or playing a text-parser adventure game on the computer (it was about a haunted house I think).

One day, all the smart boys took over the big table in the back corner. I was kind of ignoring them as usual, reading some book.

One boy came over to me and asked me to come and play a game with them. I guess I was little hesitant, as I just was not used to being invited into things other kids were doing.

Anyway, I was drug over, plopped into a seat along with a couple more new recruits, handed a “spare character” and given a set of brief instructions. Basically, they amounted to “Stay in the middle of the group and stay alive until we need help. When it’s your turn, tell XXX (the person who was the party caller – it was at least 10 people playing) what you want to do and he will tell the DM.”

I soon found out they were off to explore and loot some place called “The Shrine of Chaos.” The core group of boys had obviously been playing for some time outside of school hours, as there were characters up to “6th Level” – whatever that meant. Whatever. My job was to hide behind the stronger characters until they got into a big battle, and then come out swinging (I think the character I had was a 2nd or maybe 3rd level fighter).

Honestly, I really don’t remember much of that session, I was just trying to absorb what was going on and not mess up. I do remember something about a bunch of skeletons and then some evil guys.

The thing I remember the most was this: Once the last of the evil guys had fallen, a few of the group went to explore a bit more. Generally, everybody’s guard was down as we had beaten the top bad guys of the place. The boy who had invited me to play had his 6th Level Fighter move up to where he saw some “shapely female legs” around a corner.

Being a bunch of 13 year old boys, we figured we had to rescue a captured damsel or something. The 6th level Fighter rounded the corner, and got to roll something called a “saving throw.” He failed, and was turned to stone by a medusa. (I betcha know which module this was right?)

The medusa was promptly chopped into bits by some other characters and treasure and experience were handed out to the survivors.

I had to give the spare character back to the boy whose Fighter had been turned to stone.

What an hour. (Yes it was all done in a 1 hour study hall period!)

When I got home that afternoon, I got out a page of notebook paper and drew a bunch of squares and rectangles all connected together. I made up some notes about “a goblin” “an ogre” and so on, and made notes how many “hits” it took to kill them. The I got a couple six-sided dice out of a boardgame and went through my own crude dungeon with my own crude rules based upon what I remembered.

That was the only time I got to play with those guys. It was near the end of the school year, and they had beaten the module.

But my life was forever changed.

Categories: D&D, Gaming | Tags: , , , ,

Blog at