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Monday Lab: Distribution and globalism

Apologies for the buzzword ...

The idea here was to examine our respective region when we encountered role-playing, and to think about how role-playing got there, and in what form. It's only four people, representing two slightly different parts of Califoria divided as well by about six years (mid-70s vs. early 80s), the Netherlands at about the same time, and Argentina during the 1990s.

After finishing the conversation, I thought to myself, "Well, they can't all be good," but upon editing, I was surprised to find everything was really interesting. The contexts for what games were available in our regions, how games arrived at them, and what economic or cultural identity they held at the time, are extremely clear. I almost believe that these details of role-playing games could serve as a frightening indicator of large-scale international and financial relationships, per region.

Granted, we go off into different territory toward the end, but even that part makes more sense in context than I initially thought it would, during the conversation itself.

I know I always say this, but especially in this case: if you give this a listen, include yourself in it and comment here accordingly. I'd really like to know how role-playing games were sold when you first encountered them, where that was, which games were available or at least seemed "big," and then we can consider how these things may have arisen from mercantile circumstances of that moment.

Comments

Where I bought RPGs from 1975 through 2018

Do I understand your question to be: when did you first encounter role playing games and how were they sold in your area? If so, my answer is this:

I encountered White Box DnD around 1975 at the wargames club at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I was 14, but they let teens in to play. Someone in the club gave me a photostat of the three books. I suspect they were only available by mail order. I located polyhedral dice at an educational supply store.

In 1976,  I discovered that the club was now dominated by development of Chivalry and Sorcery and the main drivers of the club were the authors Ed Simbalist and Wolf Bacchus (also associated with the Society for  Creative Anachronism. I got photocopies of rules in development. 

The next year, 1977, I was sixteen, and I bought the print C&S from an SF bookstore on campus. On a trip through Nashville we stopped at a game store where I bought the boxed set of Empire of the Petal Throne (I never played it, though it was a beautiful game with vinyl color maps. I sold it about about 2010 for $90 -- I regret that a little now.)  

1979, I bought all three AD&D books from another SF bookstore downtown Edmonton.

1981, I bought Champions I from a game/video store.

1982, I bought 2nd ed DragonQuest from the same store.

By 1988, there was a dedicated comics/boardgame/rpg store in my neighborhood in urban Edmonton.

In the 2000s I bought most of my RPGs at a comic shop in Seattle.

About 2001 I was a Forge participant and subsequently bought a lot of games in PDF. Now it's mostly Drivethrurpg and PDF format, with rare exceptions. 

Ron Edwards's picture

Uh oh. Not … quite. Everything you wrote is relevant, but I need to head off a slew of comments full of nice but undirected testimonies.

OK, the important parts in your comment concern the 70s, your “first wave,” which also, as for me, happened to be actual first wave for the hobby. However, unlike me, you were much closer to the source, which I like to call the “D&D belt,” roughly Springfield, IL, to Madison, WI. Edmonton is culturally continuous with the northern sector of it, and I bet the wargaming community there was active at the convention and club get-togethers throughout the central midwest.

So those three titles and the club matter: first, how that photostat of the original publication (“white box” is misleading; only the 1978 reprint came in a white box) arrived at the University club. Given the date, it must have been taken from the first 1000 copies at GenCon 1974, because the new printing was a frantic rush that took a while to organize.

Second, that you were in on the ground floor of Chivalry & Sorcery, via the club. You definitely get a gold star for “I was there,” which I think is very cool, and we should do a follow-up video chat about it, to add to the Renaissance Right Here discussion. That discussion, as well as the Stand Alone Complex presentation, focuses on the absence of D&D as available product during the mid-1970s, and how RPG design blossomed but could not culturally compete with a mythical greatness that D&D, in its absence, was reported and accepted to have.

Third, let’s look at the stores. There’s the campus store for C&S in 1977, which I presume must have been directly due to the authors being at campus. But that wouldn’t be enough, probably – university bookstores are not prone to any student wandering up and asking them to carry their self-published title. So I speculate that a fellow gamer was employed there and able to influence ordering, as with what Herman and I were talking about for that period.

Then there’s the Nashville store. I want to know more about what sort of store, as the dedicated hobby gaming store in the mall sense, even the strip-mall sense, was not very common. Was it more like a hobby store back then, mostly about train sets, complicated airplane models, simple Star Trek and monster horror models, and military wargaming? I wonder who ordered EPT for it, and out of what catalogue, or perhaps returning from a convention?

To add a little anecdotal spice, it’s romantically possible that I’ve been there. On a road trip through Nashville in 1991, I stopped at a beat-up, slightly junky, but “still there!” game and bookstore, visible from the old highway that was integrated with the streets at that point. I bought some cool old stuff.

Remarkably, I also happen to have bought The Dragon and the George in a downtown Edmonton bookstore in 1976 or 1977 – might have been the same place where you got AD&D in 1979. They were widely distributed in terms of a role-playing game, that is, at all, but they weren’t in every bookstore in a given city.  

That one’s easier to understand as it fits with the generalized distribution I was talking about that D&D enjoyed.

I did not realize Edmonton was in a privileged position as far as the wargame community of the early 70s went! My memories of that time are limited by the fact that I was a teenager, understandably on the fringes of a group of university students, and rather naive to group politics. 

Yes, I suppose the stack that I acquired of thermal paper copies of the three D&D books must have pre-dated the white box version. I must have been in on the initial fever of D&D hitting the club. I didn't realize that. I do recall the game just transported me -- I didn't care much about mechanics, just the experience of ineracting with the imaginary world created lagely in my own head. My first exposure was like crack and I was always trying to get back to that. Funny, that I later got so caught up in fiddling with the mechanics of C&S character creation (and later, the tinkering with Hero system powers) that had nothing to do with what really jazzed me.

The campus bookstore where I found C&S was an indepentant store in the HUB -- a student housing/commercial mall. I believe that Wilf Backhaus, one of the C&S authors, taught at Uof A. Having consulted his wikipedia entry, I am reminded that I also saw a draft of Chevalier, which presaged C&S but never had a copy myself.

Incidentally, that store in Nashville where I found Empire of the Petal Throne also had a copy of En Garde! I looked at it, but it struck me more as a mechanical game about fencing than what I thought of as an RPG at the time, so I did not buy it. I recall that the store was actually inside an air-conditioned mall but I have no recollection of what else was in the store, just a kind of tunnel vision memory about EPT on a shelf and En Garde! in a rack nearby.

I'm happy to participate in a video reflection on early gaming, if that's what you're suggesting. Let me know what you're thinking. I can talk a little about the attitude of the club in those early days around the purpose of play. C&S play, in particular was tied in with some competitive elements of SCA that I never fully understood at the time -- and became victim too in fact.

 

Ron Edwards's picture

It'd be greatly valuable to discuss that shift from "Crack the Imagine Dragon" to "gee, how can I fiddle these points," especially in the context of SCA and then, of Champions. Send me an email via the Contact form at this site and we'll set it up!

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