Friday, June 22, 2012

My Warhammer 40k Experiences

Torrens Purgare - The Leaders: Scout Sergeant, Devastator Squad Sergeant,
Tactical Squad Leader, Tactical Squad Sergeant, Apothecary
I read recently that there's a new 6th Edition of Warhammer 40k coming out soon. This, plus the 40k one-shot RPG game that my friend Jeff Franz has been threatening to run for the past few months has had me thinking about my previous experience with playing 40k - specifically, the miniatures war game.

Back in the early 90s, I went through a bit of a gaming rediscovery. I had been out of gaming for a bit, having not found a good role-playing group. I'd kept up a bit during this lag by reading Dragon and following a bit what was going on in 2nd Edition AD&D, but for the most part, I'd stopped playing any kind of games. 

Around this time, I got laid off from my first job out of college - an ad agency gig at a place called Foote, Cone & Belding. They let me go the day before Halloween, and I knew that I was going to have trouble finding a job during the 4th Quarter because few companies hire during that time. Most of them are trying to save money from October - December, not spend it.  In any event, I did hit the pavement to try to find another job, but was unsuccessful until the end of January of the following year.  During my three-month downtime, I re-discovered my love of games, particularly Magic: The Gathering, which had just come out and also Warhammer 40k.

The Captain. This was a conversion
I did. That flag and his checker-
board shoulder armor were a
total pain.
One of my closest friends at the time worked in the grocery business, but on the night shift, so he would come over to my parents' place during the day, where I still lived at home.

[As an aside, one thing you would need to know about advertising is that the pay is completely dismal for junior-level employees, so most people advertising I knew back then either lived at home and had money to go out and afford a car payment, or they squeezed into an overpriced Westside apartment with three friends and had to eat peanut butter sandwiches every day.]

So my buddy Mike would come over to my parents' place, where he introduced me to MTG and also 40k. I'd never played a miniatures wargame before, but I remember having seen ads for it and I knew a little about the setting. Mike taught me the rules and I quickly bought the main rulebook and some figures on my rapidly filling-up credit card, and we spend almost the entirety of the next three months painting figures and talking about how cool our armies were going to be. 

Mike was an incredibly quick, and talented, painter and in what seemed like no time, he had several different armies all painted up - Space Marines, Chaos Marines, some Tyrannids and Genestealers, and Eldar.

Display Case: In Front - Devastator Squad and Apothecary.
Behind - Various unpainted Space Marines.
I chose Space Marines and decided to create my own chapter, as this process seemed to somewhat satisfy my lack of role-playing. By creating my own chapter, I could develop their history, the names and backgrounds of the key personnel, their color scheme, and everything else that went along with it. 

I named my guys the "Torrens Purgare", which was a vague attempt at a semi-Latin sounding name that I translated as "The Storm that Purges." The different divisions were Tacticus (tactical), Devastare (devastators), and Terminare (terminators). I didn't have any assasult troops, so I never translated that, and I eventually did have some scouts and a dreadnaught, but by that time I'd kind of given up on the faux-Latin thing. 

The Display Case (actually an
old watch display case from a
grocery store).
I can't seem to find all of my background notes, but I do remember that I had them as an offshoot of the Dark Angels, which I thought was a pretty cool chapter back then. When the different Space Marine chapter books came out, I bought them all, and I remember being annoyed that the Ultramarines and Space Wolves came out first, and then for some reason they combined the Blood Angels and the Dark Angels into one book, even though the chapters were totally different. 

I also picked up a bunch of painting guides and one really cool book on how to do custom conversions - like sawing off pieces from one miniatures to attach to another. I really loved that book - it had some really awesome customized figures, and I even tried my hand at it, going to far as to get a pin drill and a bunch of different saws and a vice and all that. My painting jobs were slow and tedious and I never did quite get a handled on mixing my paint so that it wasn't gloppy.  But, I did like the process of painting - even after going back to work full-time and eventually moving out of the house, I brought my miniatures and paints with me, and would stay up late at night after work to paint. I found it very soothing and relaxing - while painting something that small, you get so focused that you can entirely forget that you hate your boss or that the rent is due. 

My old-school Dreadnaught
At one time I was so into painting that when traveling for business, I would bring a small padded container of figures with me, along with files, paints, and brushes, and carry it onto the plane with me. I always got stopped, but this was way before 9/11, so I was allowed to bring the files onto the plane. I figured out later that the screeners stopped me mainly because they were curious about what was inside more than actually thinking that I was trying to bring something on the plane that I shouldn't have been.

Once i got to my hotel, I would set up my figures and paints on the desk and after either ordering room service or eating dinner in the hotel bar, I'd stay up late again watching TV and painting my Space Marines. 

One thing that I didn't like about Warhammer 40k was the actual game play, however. I found setting up the figures to get ready for a battle to be very tedious, and also something that, if you didn't do it often (which I didn't), meant that you could totally make mistakes that meant your army was going to suck. Then, as how, I had a tendency to go for armies (or PCs, or NPCs, or cards, etc.) that looked cool or sounded cool or had a theme, versus something that was going to be effective.

Close-Up of Scout Sergeant
The last time that I actually played 40k, it took us over 45 minutes to set up the terrain and our armies, and after the first turn I was so far out of the game that there was no way I was going to recover.  Around this time, the edition of the game changes, and Games Workshop came out with all sorts of new, fancy figures for every single type of character in the game. In the "old days", if you wanted a Space Marine Apothecary, you grabbed a tactical marine, painted him white, and you were good to go. Now they had a separate Apothecary figure, and while at the time I thought it was cool, after a little while I kind of decided that I hated the constant changing of the figures and I missed some of the more "wild and wooly" days where players had to be a big more creative in crafting a specific figure for their armies. I guess it's probably a bit like what OSR types feel about the more modern versions of D&D - too many splatbooks and not enough "make it up as you go along."

Despite my dislike of the game, I love the setting and I still like the idea of painting figures, even though all of my miniatures are back at my parents' house. I went there a few weeks ago and snapped the photos I've posted here, mainly because there was some talk for a while that I might try to play one of the Torrens Purgare in Jeff's 40k game.  I've decided to play a straight-up Dark Angel instead, and I'm really looking forward to diving back into the 40k universe in a role-playing game rather than a wargame.  I'll post about the results after the game happens. 

Tech Marine on Bike
What are your experiences with playing 40k and painting miniatures in general?


Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Listening: "Mean to Me" (Etta Jones)
Drinking: We're having some tasty Zinfandel with dinner, and I'm considering what kind of pre-dinner cocktail I'm going to make. I'm thinking a martini, which of course is always made with gin. A "vodka martini" is not a martini. It's called a kangaroo (not kidding) and if you drink that, you should really just cowboy up and have a real martini.

Scout Squad with Captain.
In the back on the right, you can see part of my Dark Elf Bloodbowl team.





Tactical Squad.
In the back, you can see part of my Skaven Bloodbowl team.
Terminator Squad in various stages of painting.
Imperial Assassin. My buddy Mike
painted this for me as a gift one year.
You can get a sense of how much better
he is at painting than I am.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Daddy's Visit to Free RPG Day 2012

As pretty much all of you know, this past Saturday was Free RPG Day.  I didn't get to attend last year, which is the first year I heard about this event, because my local game store (which is about two blocks from my house) didn't participate.  I'm not quite sure why.  The event also typically falls on the weekend of my wife's birthday, and as I recall, last year we had a party for her that day with some friends and I wasn't able to sneak out.

This year, all of the stars aligned for me.  After realizing that Free RPG Day was once again upon us, I went to the Free RPG Day website so I could find out who was participating. Once again, I learned to my dismay that my local game store, Game Empire, was not going to participate in this year's event. Just like last year, I went onto Game Empire's Facebook page to confirm if they were participating, and if not, why not. Just like last year, I was ignored. 

A word of advice from somebody who is in the marketing field - social media is a communication tool, which means that you need to communicate with it. Note that communication does not mean "leave a lot of posts that I hope people are interested in" but rather "Engage with people who have taken the time to 'like' my company and use the power of social media to find out what they're interested in and chat with them about what they want. And, if someone asks me a question, answer them, even if the answer is 'Sorry, we're not participating this year, but we hope you'll come to our next RPG Meet-Up Day'."

Back on the Free RPG Day website, I found the store closest to me that was participating - Emerald Knight Comics & Games in Burbank. Now, Burbank isn't that far away from me, but it's about a 20+ minute drive in no traffic, and weighing my options, I normally wouldn't have driven that far just to score a free RPG book that most likely wasn't even a full book but rather a "quickstart rules" or something. 

In this case, as luck would have it, I was asked by my wife to pick up my sister-in-law at the airport while my wife got her hair done that day. This was a "big" birthday for my wife, so her sister flew into town to celebrate, and she flew into... Burbank Airport!

So, not only was I going to be able to go to Free RPG Day, but because I was going to drag my sister-in-law with me, I was going to be able to snag two free items. 

I'll do a more in-depth review of both Game Empire and Emerald Knight Comics & Games as part of my "Game Store Memories" later, but in short, I was quite happy with Emerald Knights. The store was very clean with professional staff who greeted us immediately on entering, showed us the table of RPG Day swag, and invited us to stay and head upstairs for the various game demos they were running. I chatted a bit with one guy about how long they'd been in business, and also asked about any beginner Pathfinder games they might run for my nephew, who is 13.  It turns out that they have a "Pathfinder for Beginners" game every Thursday night that starts a new group on the first Thursday of the month. 

For myself, I picked up the DCC Adventure and the Pathfinder Adventure. Well, technically my sister-in-law picked up the Pathfinder one, but she kindly let me keep it, despite her sarcastic claims on the ride home that she just had to "...learn more about the Dawn of the Scarlet Sun!"

I haven't had a chance yet to read either product, but I've heard some good things about the DCC Adventure. Even though I don't own the rulebook yet, I read the free beta-test, and I'm sure there will be some ideas I can steal.  

Here's the odd thing, though - some of the Free RPG items this year were what we'd call old-school or OSR games - Dungeon Crawl Classics, Castles & Crusades, etc. However, when I asked another young woman behind the counter if they carried any old-school games like Labyrinth Lord or Mutant Future, she looked at me oddly and said, "No, we don't."

However, the next day, on Father's Day, after breakfast with my wife, daughter, and sister-in-law, I walked up the street with my daughter to Game Empire and found that, although they didn't participate in Free RPG Day, they were carrying the new Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG rulebook (although that is the only old-school game aside from Castles & Crusades that they carry).

Why can't I find a game store that carries these old school games?  I've even asked the store owner at Game Empire and he said it just related to distributors and who they order from. I don't want him to special order the games for me - I can do that myself, and for cheaper. What I would like is to have them available so I can flip through them and buy them as an impulse purchase. 

In any event, I was happy to be able to go to Free RPG Day this year, and to discover a new game store (that also sells comics and some cool t-shirts - score!), so I will definitely be heading back to Emerald Knights in Burbank. And, I already told my sister about their Pathfinder for Beginners game night, so hopefully my nephew will be able to go to that soon.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Just finished a glass of 2009 Sancerre after lunch
Listening: "Sea Song" by Tears for Fears

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Looking for RPG System Recommendations

Last week, I made over at Google+, wherein I asked for some recommendations and advice regarding what system to use for an upcoming game. Erik over at Tenkar's Tavern gave me some good advice to use Labyrinth Lord, which was much appreciated. 

I'd like to open up the commentary a bit more, so for those of you who don't use Google Plus, here's the post I left (slightly edited for this blog post):

Going to be running old-school AD&D Module [name/title redacted since my players read my blog] for my Friday night "beer and pretzels" RPG group, and I'm looking for suggestions from you guys as to what system to use.

Some systems we're considering, and the background:

1) PATHFINDER: Everyone in the group is familiar with Pathfinder and all but one of them are currently playing in at least one other Pathfinder game. They liked it from a player's perspective due to the amount of customization, but agree that it's a bit of a pain for a DM to run. I'm comfortable running it and at this point, it's probably the rules system I'm the most familiar with. However, it would mean a lot of conversions of the module, which I'm not looking forward to.

2) OSRIC: They've all played in an OSRIC game that I ran before for Module S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Two of them really don't care what system we use, and thought it was fun. One guy is more of a "storyteller" type of player who rarely gets into the rules and how they work. Another guy is not a long-time RPG player like the rest of us, and he frankly got very confused after having tried to figure out Pathfinder, and then saw everything was different in OSRIC (Descending AC, saving throws, sometimes wanting to roll high versus sometimes rolling low, using attack table matrices rather than Base Attack Bonus vs. AC, etc.).  He was very confused.  Another guy pretty much disliked the system and favored many of the changes made to the game in the 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder vein. On the plus side for using OSRIC, it means almost no converting for me.

3) Labyrinth Lord: The guy above who disliked 1E/OSRIC is curious to try Labyrinth Lord given its more open-ended, free-wheeling nature. He's heard good things about the system. I've never played LL but I did play B/X back in the day and still have my Moldvay box set I could use. On the downside, it means yet another ruleset these guys have to try to learn, although from what I remember it's not all THAT different from OSRIC, but from the DM standpoint I seem to remember it's more "anything goes" and making decisions on the fly versus looking them up in a rulebook.  On the positive side, it means a lot less conversion work versus converting to something like Pathfinder.
4) Dungeon World. The same player as above (the one who doesn't like OSRIC but it curious about Labyrinth Lord) has also mentioned Dungeon World to me, and after reading a review on RPG.net, I'm really interested in this one.  The cons are that it's a completely new system, whereas at least the systems above us the standard D&D names and abilities and stuff. So, for the few less-than-hardcore gamers in the group, I'm not sure how they'd feel about having to learn yet a new system. It also means needing to buy a new game and try to get the rules into the hands of the players. On the pro side, I love learning and playing new systems, and some of the mechanics sound really neat to me. I'm also intrigued by the idea that the GM doesn't roll dice - he just decides what happens based on what the players roll.  Anyone have experience with this game?

5) Savage Worlds. We've played a Weird War 2 game and a few Realms of Cthulhu games with this system, so the players are comfortable with it (the guy who got confused with OSRIC really liked it, due to its simplicity and limited numbers tracking).  On the con side, this would take a HUGE amount of conversion work.

6) D&D Next. I haven't downloaded the playtest yet, but then thought this might be a good way for us to test out how the rules work with a truly old-school adventure.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on which system you think I should use.

Thanks for your comments and suggestions!

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "I Get Along Without You Very Well" by Chet Baker
Drinking: NOTHING (my water has been turned off while our sprinklers get repaired)

Monday, June 11, 2012

I'm Featured in an RPG Adventure! (aka: Review: The Veiled Invocation)

Yes, it's true. Yours truly has been featured in a really cool old-school RPG adventure written by all around cool cat Dylan Hartwell, from the excellent Digital Orc blog.

I "met" Dylan online shortly after I started up my blog, and we quickly found that we had a lot in common, including raising small children while trying to keep up with our gaming, and also a love of good craft beer. 

One way in which we've diverged over the past few months is that somehow, Dylan has managed to keep up his rather prolific blogging activities, whereas mine have fallen off pretty dramatically. And not only has Dylan kept up his blogging on pretty much a daily basis, but he's also focused his efforts almost strictly on producing material to be used in-game for old-school role-players. His Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz is a fun short adventure perfect for an evening beer-and-pretzels game (I'm most likely going to running it for my Friday Night group soon).

For his newest adventure, Dylan offers up The Veiled Invocation, a 28-page PDF adventure (including the obligatory license at the end) that's structured to take a group of adventurers from 1st through 6th level. It involves an adventuring group being hired to find six missing pages of an ancient magical tome, which are scattered across a large area and in the hands of some interesting characters, many of whom don't know the value of the pages they hold. 

Dylan's original artwork is always a great addition to his publications - they have an old school quality, but the style purely belongs to Dylan. He's not copying anyone.  You can see more examples of his artwork on his blog, and they also creep up from time to time in other old-school adventures and sourcebooks that are published in our community. 

Part of what makes the Veiled Invocation so much fun is the inclusion of NPCs that are based on real people that Dylan has met (either in person or online) through his blog. Many of the names will be familiar - Tim Shorts, Matthew Schmeer, Eric Campbell, Nick Kalagias, and your humble author. Dylan held a "contest" of sorts on his blog, inviting people to write to him with a profile of an NPC.

My character is called Tartin the Semi-Mighty, and you can see Dylan's illustration of him above, with the ad he created to promote his adventure. Dylan took my notes and crafted a fully fleshed out character, and one that I'm curious to see how people interact with during their adventures in recovering the lost pages from the Veiled Invocation.

Another cool thing Dylan includes are a lot of new, unique monsters for his adventure, from the feline Ghilleopards to the Simiandros (sentient spider-monkeys).  I personally would like to have seen some illustrations of some of these new monsters, but I do realize that Dylan put a lot of work into illustrating all of the NPCs he created, along with maps and lots of player-aid illustrations at the end of the adventure, so he may be saving some of his time to do the illustrations for his next adventure. 

Dylan also pays homage to the old-school adventures of our youth by including some interesting and fun mathematical puzzles at the beginning of the adventure that will require player, rather than character, ingenuity to solve.

The adventure is very open-ended, in that the framework for the adventure is provided (recover the lost pages of the book for an aging wizard), along with descriptions of the different characters that each hold a page, as well as outlines of various locations including a large manor house, a mine, and a port town. It's noted in the adventure that the pages can be recovered in any order, and there are plenty of side-adventures hinted at, particularly in the motivations of the NPCs, so that this compact adventure could end up providing adventuring opportunities for several levels of play.

Other stats you may want to know are below. I'm going to steal a bit of the format that James Maliszewski uses when he reviews titles in the form of his "Buy this if..." and "Don't buy this if..." summaries.

  • Title: The Veiled Invocation
  • Author: Dylan Hartwell
  • System: Labyrinth Lord (but can easily be adapted to any old-school class-and-level fantasy RPG)
  • Levels: Character levels 1-6
  • Layout: Standard two-column format, with a font that is large enough to be read easily without straining the eyes.
  • Price: $2.99 for a 28-page PDF (including two pages of the Open Game License)
  • Buy This If: You enjoy fun, clever, well-written, and open-ended old-school style fantasy adventures with original artwork and hand-drawn (but professional) maps. 
  • Don't Buy This If: You prefer a more "structured" adventure where everything is planned out ahead of time.

You can buy The Veiled Invocation here.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "Summertime" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Drinking: A glass of 2009 Sonoma County Zinfandel





Friday, June 1, 2012

Game Stores: The Last Grenadier

The store, looking a bit nicer than during my last visit.
Background: The Lack of Game Stores
About a year after having been first exposed to D&D back when I was in Junior High School in Sandy, UT, I received my first issue of Dragon magazine, and that's when I started to discover the concept of the "game store." We didn't have any true game stores in Sandy, a small suburb, or even in Salt Lake City at the time, back in the mid-1980s. I've written about the few stores I could find before: GEMCO and other Chain Department Stores, a weird counter-culture store called Cosmic Aeroplane, and a combination toy/hobby store called Hammond's.

None of these really lived up to my perception of what a game store should be, which would be one that carried a complete line of every product I saw advertised in Dragon magazine - not only D&D stuff by TSR, but also other TSR stuff like Gamma World, Top Secret, and Gang Busters, and also things like Space Opera, Aftermath, Middle Earth Role-Playing, and RoleMaster.

I saw ads for game stores in Dragon like the Complete Strategist back on the East Coast, which I knew I would never be able to visit since my family never traveled to that part of the country, or the Last Grenadier, which was in this mythical land called Burbank, which to me meant "Hollywood" and also a place I would probably never visit since, back then, all of our family vacations were either to Reno, where my grandma lived, or to one of the mountain states where my dad traveled for business (mostly Colorado, as I recall).

I was living in a wasteland of game stores and I had this feeling that every day that went by, all of the cool stuff that was there was being purchased by more fortunate gamers who lived closer.

The Plot Thickens: We Move to Southern California
In the Winter of my sophomore year of high school in Utah, my dad came home from work one day and said that he was being transferred. They gave him his choice of Alaska or Southern California, and he wisely chose Southern California (after discussing it with my mom).  At the time, I was devastated, because I had a couple of really good friends (Chris and Troy), and it had taken me five years to really get to know them. There was also this girl that I had a tremendous crush on that I thought maybe I would have a chance with, if of course I could work up the courage to ask her out, although I wasn't quite sure what we would do since I didn't have a car or even a license, and this was, after all, Utah, so it's not like there was an abundance of cool places to hang out.  But that wasn't the point. I had been crushing on this girl since the 7th grade.

Our time in Utah was also the longest that we had lived anywhere - five years in total.  My dad's job transferred him every two to three years or so, but things slowed down after the move to Utah and I felt kind of settled in.

In any event, the transfer was a done deal, so I eventually had to get over my objections and make the best of it. My dad did his best to help, going out early to Southern California and finding me a soccer team, scouting out some local DeMolay chapters (a youth group to which I belonged), and also finding a decent comic book shop near where we eventually moved, a little suburb of Los Angeles, about thirty miles northeast or so, called La Verne.

The one thing he didn't find was a game store.

I Visit The Last Grenadier for the First Time
This was around 1986.  Fast-forward about four years or so, and I'm dating this girl and trying to keep up with gaming, even though my last active group had been two years prior when we spent Summer playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying.  But, I have an itch to have my own copy of the rulebook, because I'm continuing to work on developing my own campaign world and I thought I could steal a bunch of ideas for it. I pull out my yellow pages phone book (can you even imagine doing that these days?) and look up "hobby stores" and see an ad for the mythical "Last Grenadier" - the store I'd seen all those years before in an ad in Dragon magazine. I called them up and asked if they had a copy of the Warhammer rulebook, which they did, and my girlfriend and I drove all the way from La Verne to Burbank, which back then seemed like it was really far away even though it was only about 25 minutes.

I entered the store and for the first time finally knew what a real game store was like. The entire store was devoted to nothing but games - no comics, no toys, just games. (I should quickly point out that this was at one of their previous locations - the one on Olive, as I remember, in the heart of Burbank). The windows had cool displays of miniatures, and the store just felt so huge - racks and racks of RPGs and wargames, by all of the companies I had read about but never seen - FASA, FGU, Games Workshop, ICE... I felt like I could stay in there forever and still not see everything. They also had a pretty big section of used games.

My girlfriend at the time was definitely not a gamer and this was not her scene at all, so after a short 15 minutes or so, I agreed to stop browsing.  One of the employees came over and asked if he could help me, and I asked if he might happen to have a used copy of the Warhammer rulebook, which it turns out that they did.  I was still in college at the time and living on a shoestring budget, so saving an extra $10 for a used copy was a huge benefit to me. I remember as the guy was ringing up my purchase that someone else, a manager I suppose, came over and asked the guy why I was buying a used copy. At this point, I realized that the manager guy must have been the guy I spoke with on the phone when I had called ahead to see if they had the game in stock. He ended up scolding the employee right in front of me, essentially chastising him for providing me with a used copy of the game instead of a new copy. That one single incident definitely put a negative ending tone to what had otherwise been the single greatest game store experience I'd ever had up to that point in my life.

That was, unfortunately, the only time I visited the Last Grenadier at that location. During my last few years of college, my family moved to another L.A. suburb called Chino Hills, which was about fifteen minutes South of La Verne, which meant that a trip to Burbank would now take 35 minutes instead of 20.  Also, being in college, I still had no discretionary income and was not actively gaming at the time. My gaming purchases were just renewing my subscription to Dragon magazine every year, and the occasional 2E "Complete" splatbook, which I could get at the Waldenbooks at our local mall.  A few years later, I discovered another great game store very close to us in Diamond Bar called "All-Star Games" (the subject of a future post).

A Return Visit More Than 20 Years Later
Recently, just about a year and a half or so ago, I decided to go back to the Last Grenadier. It'd been 20 years since my last visit all that time ago when I was in college.  I knew the store was still around because, of all things, a few years ago Wil Wheaton had been interviewed by some online magazine and asked about his recommendations for a "geek tour of Los Angeles" and Wil mentioned the Last Grenadier as a shop that he had visited.

I tried looking them up, but the store (at the time) didn't even have its own website. It took me forever but I finally tracked down a review on Yelp and found the store hours and, more importantly, the address, which had changed since I'd last visited. I drove over in the middle of a weekday afternoon and literally drove by the place about three times before I saw it. It's now in a tiny little storefront in a not-so-great part of Burbank, and as I recall there was no sign out front (or, at least, not one that I could see).

Inside was one older guy behind the counter speaking with another older guy (and I'm in my early 40s, so when I say "older" I mean like late 50s or early 60s) about... something. Military history? Politics? I wasn't quite sure, but they were having quite a heated discussion. The rest of the store was devoid of people but was absolutely jam-packed with really janky, old bookshelves filled with musty volumes of what appeared to be previous library copies of books on military history.  I've never seen that many military history books in my life, but I'm pretty sure not one of them was a "new" copy.  They were all well-used and giving off that faint mildew smell of books that have gotten too damp.

Down the center of the store, past the bookshelves and reaching all the way to the back, was a long table that looked like it had, at one time, been used for gaming, but which was now just piled with a random assortment of games both old and new, mostly wargames and some strategic board games.  Lower shelves toward the back of the store held their remaining stock of the once-massive RPG collection, now mostly taken over by 3.5-era WotC stuff along with a bunch of 3rd Party d20 material, almost all of which I had seen before.

There was a complete lack of organization, so not only were the products from one company scattered liberally throughout the entire back section of the store, but products from completely different decades sat right next to each other on the shelves.  I really wanted to take a few pictures with my cellphone but I just knew that the loud "clicking" sound would attract the attention of the guy behind the counter and it would be obvious that I was taking the pictures for the sole purpose of putting them on the Internet later with captions that read, "Can you believe this place is still in business?"

I spent a good hour going through their stock, hoping to uncover a lost treasure of RPG goodness from my youth, but the older material was all stuff that he been in wide circulation, even back in Utah. Even their collection of older copies of Dragon magazine proved to only consist of issues in the 100s and 200s, all of which I already had, having been a subscriber since issue #90. 

The man behind the counter never stopped his discussion to greet me or ask if I was looking for anything in particular.  I got the feeling that somehow, after years of working there, he must have developed a sixth sense where he could size-up a potential customer as soon as the person hit the door and could tell in an instant whether the person was just there to browse or whether he was going to buy anything. I felt kind of bad that I didn't buy anything, but there was truly nothing there that I wanted.

I had gone back to the Last Grenadier hoping to see another glimpse of that awesome game store that I'd visited all those years ago, and to fine some ancient RPG treasure to bring home. I failed on both accounts. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "Bull Back Nova" by Wilco
Drinking: About to go have a beer at lunch with the fellas. Hopefully a Stone Smoked Porter.


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