Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Game Stores: The Mythical "Lost Game Shop"

When I started playing D&D back in the early 80s in Sandy, Utah, there really weren't too many "true" game stores.  My test back then of whether a game store was a true, real game store was whether it showed up as one of the retailers listed in an advertisement in Dragon magazine. Back in those days, many of the ads carried in Dragon (usually for miniature figures) listed the names of several game stores, by state, where you could buy the products shown in the ads. 

To say that none of the ads back then featured any stores in Utah is putting the matter lightly.  None of the "Mountain States" ever had stores listed in those ads - Colorado, Utah, Nevada... nothing.  I visited Nevada once in a while because my Grandma lived in Reno.  Where there any game shops there listed in the ads?  Nope.  My dad went to Colorado at least once a year for business, and my family often made a vacation out of it.  Surely Denver had a big game store I could visit while I was there?  Nope.  Or, if they did, somehow it wasn't listed in the ads in Dragon

As a reminder, this was before the Internet, of course, and people didn't just have access to random phone books for cities (or states) they didn't live in.  So, if you couldn't find it in your local yellow pages, you were pretty much out of luck.

Utah was pretty dry when it came to game shops.  Sure, we had Hammond's, and there was the eclectic Cosmic Aeroplane.  But, we didn't have an honest-to-goodness game shop that sold miniature figures.  That was sort of my second acid test of defining the mythical game shop: they had to sell miniature figures, and be featured in an ad in Dragon magazine.  To this day, I've actually only ever visited two stores, both in California, that match that definition. But, more on that later. 

So, around 1985 or so, I'd been playing D&D for two, maybe three years.  I had collected a few miscellaneous issues of Dragon magazine, mostly as gifts.  One of my first issues was #72, which featured the debut of a new official character class, the Cavalier.  This was a HUGE DEAL because, as the old-timers will remember, the only true "official" character classes up to that point were the ones in the Player's Handbook.  Dragon had published a ton of classes over the years, but they were always billed as "Non-Player Characters."  They weren't official.  But, here in issue #72 was a new class by the creator of the game himself, and he specifically said it was official.  Woo-hoo! 

Then, I started to read more and found out that he had written two other official classes - the Thief-Acrobat in issue #69 and, the one I really coveted, the Barbarian in issue #63.  I really wanted to get my hands on issue #63 and read that Barbarian class.  It sounded so cool.  But, none of the shops around me had the issue any longer.  It was more than a year old, and had sold out.  I checked Walden's, B. Dalton's, Hammond's, and even made a special trip to Cosmic Aeroplane.  Nothing.  No issue #63.

That Summer of '85, my mom, sister, and I went to visit my Grandma in Reno while my dad was on a business trip.  Part of the trip involved heading over to Northern California, where we had used to live, for a little mini-vacation.  We were heading to Sacramento and going to spend some time going through Sutter's Mill and checking out the State Capital building.  But, I was excited about something much cooler - there was a store in Sacramento, called the Dragon's Den I believe, that was listed in an ad in Dragon magazine!  And they sold miniature figures!  Surely they would have a copy of Issue #63 in some forgotten corner of the shop!

I brought my magazines with me that listed the ad, and then for "ease of reference", I jotted the store address and phone number down on a piece of paper that I folded and kept in my pocket for the entire trip.  I was finally going to get to visit a real game store!  

We spent a few days in the Central Valley of California, around Modesto (where I had lived for a while as a young kid) and then headed to Sacramento.  We did all of the touristy stuff my mom and grandma wanted to do.  And then my sister and I were subjected to one of the great horrors of our childhood - the fabric store.  My mom and grandma both loved to sew and stitch and needlepoint and cross-stitch and all that kind of stuff.  So, to them, finding a new fabric or sewing store in a different city was a very exciting adventure very much akin to my search for a real game shop.  They also had the feeling that they were going to find some new pattern, bolt of fabric, or string of lace that they could use to make.. something.  Most of those "somethings" never got made. 

After a day of being shuffled around to fabric store after fabric store, I had had it.  I knew we were leaving that day, and I wanted to go to the game store before we headed out of town. My mom had said that we would, but that we needed to be patient with my grandma because she was getting tired and didn't move as quickly as she used to. 

I got very agitated seeing the minutes and then the hours tick by, and my frustration was supported when it was eventually announced to my sister and me that we were leaving now to head back to Reno.  No other stops were coming.  I wouldn't be able to go to the Dragon's Den after all. 

I was crushed.  I was mad.  And I was hurt.  I felt that everyone knew how important this was to me, so how could they just so casually push it aside like it was no big deal?  I sulked for weeks after that, like a typical young teenager would do. 

I of course eventually got over the "betrayal", but to this day I never have acquired a physical copy of Dragon #63 with the barbarian class.  Oh, sure, I eventually got to see the class in Unearthed Arcana but it just wasn't the same.  I wasn't experiencing the class in the raw, unedited form it originally appeared in.  The sense of the quest was missing - being able to buy the class in a hardback book that was readily available at pretty much any book and toy store that year seemed like cheating. 

I also never got a chance later in life to visit the mythical Dragon's Den in Sacramento.  I have no idea if it's even still around.  But I suspect that if I were to visit, my reaction would be much the same as when I eventually picked up Unearthed Arcana to finally read the barbarian class description - a sense of being underwhelmed and sort of let-down.  I've put up the idea of the Dragon's Den so much in my imagination that no game shop ever could ever do it justice. 

That pretty much sums up many things in life, doesn't it?

Hanging: Home office on the laptop.
Drinking: Nothing.
Listening: "The End of the Game" by Sting


  1. Hey, nice post! Good to hear from you.

  2. Thanks, man! I know it's been forever. But I have been reading blogs and trying to keep up. I just finally got a chance to breathe and make a post.

    One thing I've noticed lately is that I mostly read blog posts on my iPad now, and that means I'm much less likely to comment, because I have "fat-finger" syndrome when trying to type on tablets or smart phones. But, I am still reading! You've been busy lately!

  3. I was lucky to have an awesome gaming store in my city, the sentry box, that was on a bus route past my house.

    I spent many hours in that dingy, dark gaming store.


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