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.


6 responses to “Monday Lab: Distribution and globalism”

  1. Where I bought RPGs from 1975

    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. 

    • Uh oh. Not … quite.

      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

      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.


    • It’d be greatly valuable to

      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!

  2. I am too young for this.

    A bit after 2000 there were Finnish and translated games at Ylöjärvi library and even more at Tampere/Tammerfors library, as well as English games (including Over the edge, Hero wars and Rune, in addition to what one would expect). Fantasiapelit sold roleplaying games, dice and other stuff.

    I think the earliest occurences of roleplaying in Finland were a bit before 1980. Year 1982 attested from a person who was involved; Wikipedia suggests play in 1987 by Tudeer brothers who started importing games later. In both cases someone had been in USA or order a copy from there via post.

    It was possible to buy some version of D&D (red box?) in 1985 and a computer magazine Mikrobitti increased awareness then. Miekka ja magia, a Finnish dungeoncrawling roleplaying game, was published in 1987. A (poor) translation of D&D was published in 1988.

    The process seems to be one of personal connections at first and then broader circulation fanned via a computer games magazine.

  3. I’m discovering this post, thanks to Tommi.

    My contact with RPG in Belgium was in 1990-1991 by two means: an introductory box of “Das Schwarze Auge” brought by my cousin who was living in Duisburg, and the Make-Your-Own-Adventure books owned by my mother’s boyfriend of that time. Those books were published by one of the biggest french publishing company of Pocket format books, “Folio”, in the kid edition “Folio Juniors”.

    The Dark Eye was published in that format by another of the biggest publisher, Gallimard, as a serie of two pocket books, including the GM guide and a player guide.

    Those books were sold in any book shop and in the book section of supermarkets. I was particularly hooked by the Lone Wolf serie. This is how I met another kid in class at 10yo, Nicolas, who was reading those books too, but hooked on different series, so we traded the books.

    There was a board game & RPG book shop near our school. My friend Nicolas bought Blood bowl, Battle Master, Space Hulk and HeroQuest and we started playing those. We developed a culture of playing those board games with classmates at birthday parties. We also met a lot to play computer game (and trade the copies), so a typical meeting session would be two people playing blood bowl in one room, two other playing Battle Masters or Heroquest, and two of them in the computers, with some meeting in between to talk about it, the change.

    Then, at the Game shop, Nicolas bought the D&D Black box and we played it at his birthday, but we were a bit frustrated to not enjoy the feeling of reading the Make your own adventures book, but we had this group of 5 friends trading Make-Your-Own-Adventure books and playing Heroquest. Nicolas had the Dark Eye Folio Gallimard Books and we tried an adventure, then he bought the first printing of the Advanced Dungeon & Dragons 2nd Edition book at the same shop.

    We played once. I don’t know why, but I think Nicolas got fascinated by the French Call of Cthulhu (4th edition) cover :

    He bought the integral volume of Lovecraft at Robert Laffond editions, and a typical meeting session was now: a mandatory reading of a specific Lovecraft short story, then playing the published adventures from the 4th edition book, the Arkham County, Dunwich and Kingsport (the three supplements he had bought). Sometimes the mandatory reading was collective, with someone reading to the other. We met all day, like from 10 to 16.

    Every other contact with RPG would be by the small Game shop and based on what they had. I also remember that though we didn’t play D&D, we were avid readers of the french translation of Dungeon Magazine.

    It took five years to make contact with a RPG club, in 1996. They were mainly playing Warhammer, with some of them also playing Vampire the Masquerade and sometimes ADD 2nd (Dragonlance was out and I remember only one guy wanting to play it, ignored by all others). I also remember that there a lot of short multi-sessions games of others games: Flashing Blades, Bushido, french RPG. That was the only gaming club I knew about.

    At that point, there were 3 new RPG shops, mainly focused on RPG with a bit of merchandising and board games or mini.

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