RPG shopping related anxiety in Leicester

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RPG shopping related anxiety in Leicester

Billiam Babble

Apologies, that I haven't been following everyone's threads for a while - I swear Yahoo keeps redirecting everything to "spam". I'll catch up in a bit, promise.

Okay, I'm cross posting this from my blog, so I apologise for leaving some of my affiliate links and adverts in, but I felt that some of the UK gamers here might relate a little to my dithering in city shops.

Highs and Lows of the currently not playing collector gamer shopping in the city

3.5e Reprints (at Wizards').  I know!
I still don't believe it either...
What does it mean?!
The AD&D reprints tore a hole in time..
There's so many things happening in the RPG publishing industry it's hard to keep up, point at, deride, link to or generally comment upon.  I doubt anything I could say about D&D3.5 (or was it just 3? surely not) being reprinted that hasn't been said on the forums and by better bloggers than I.  Although I'm still amazed it's happening.  Never underestimate consumer power, or the maths.

Picking up the Pathfinder Beginner Box in a shop today, perhaps I was voting again for that d20/3e way of playing.  To be honest, that was a long way from my mind.  I've been "coming out" recently as more of a collector and reader of games (designing aside) than an actual player.  I'm telling myself that it's okay for rule books to sit on my shelves for nearly forever, and that even if you own 100 systems from across the decades that it's also okay just to only ever play one system.  I'm currently without a face-to-face gaming group, but these does not deny me the delight in choosing the play-out-of-box gateway game.  I'm pretty sure that Pathfinder BB doesn't have the infamous Attacks of Opportunity rules which used to put me off teaching D&D to new players - but this might be a hang-over from wanting to write simple solo game texts for fighter types.  Maybe that was because my earliest love was for the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (where complex magic or skills would be limited to special guest rules - even Sorcery! feels like that to me). Attacks of Opportunity would multiply the number of paragraphs somewhat.  I'm also stat-lazy.  The idea that a T&T dungeon can be prepared in minutes with a handful or Monster Ratings, SR vs traps and a sprinkling of treasure appeals to me immensely.  Of course, ten minutes into a game I'd probably start house-ruling and filling out attribute packed stat blocks for monsters (-when I was young DM/GM/Ref I wish that I'd had more confidence to make a system my own -nowadays I'd improvise and house rule myself stupid).  So, I guess, I have a real soft spot for boxes with abridged rules, tiles and figures.  Boxed games used to seem less threatening to non RPG players.  Imagine if Monpoly was published as three hardbacked books, where you had to make your own board and provide counters?   And perhaps maybe you and your nan had to learn a bit about real estate economics before picking up the little hat and that silly dog ...  Maybe D&D and Pathfinder look like that to newbie players. Time for a family-christmas-friendly box.

It's still true that there's a few concept leaps for new players to be had with boxed RPGs, but at least there's a board of sorts with good guys and bad guy counters.  I think what I'm trying to say is part of my shopping pleasure is derive buying something that isn't too challenging to imagine in play, it's familiar (i.e like 70s-early 90s RPG without dice pools, narrative mechanics, or CCG style cards) and has shiny pretty things - dice, counters, figures, and a battlemat - all of which can be cannibalised for other systems (mwhahaha - it's not a "game" it's a "resource").   At some point I'm pretty sure that my 'Ashardalon set will become hybridised with my Warhammer Quest game played using a system not too dissimilar to Basic D&D (of course!) - and that might be just a randomised solo game for myself(!)  To be honest,  I reckon that if I lost the internet for a week or went on a rainy holiday I would be building something like that out of plastic bottle tops and cereal card - because let's face it, inspiration always strikes when you're at least a hundred miles away from your games cupboard / shelve unit / walk-in Gygax Shrine. Okay, digressing slightly...  

So there I am in the middle of the mighty city Leicester (King Lear's City - no really, "Lei-Cester" that's what they tell us).  This is a happy accident since some training for work that morning was to be had in a place other than my poky home town.  Real training means a day out. ;)  I used to travel to Leicester and Nottingham as a teen exclusively to buy RPGs in both boxes and book form.  This seemed like a fairly big deal because the rest of the time I used to be outraged if I couldn't buy anything in my local highstreet - I still do (commercially spoilt for choice as a child, perhaps?).  Ironically/Aptly we've have now a Games Workshop in my home town, but it's half a lifetime since GW stocked RPGs that I want to read or play.  Teen years behind me, I don't feel the need to travel to the cities any more - Amazon and other web stores magically transport games to me, but I still associate Leicester with those little instant treats.  So it was fairly depressing to find that the large Waterstones (a bookstore) didn't have any D&D books near it's paltry selection of graphic novels, and in terms of complete systems, Forbidden Planet only had one copy of Death Watch or Dark Heresy - one of those, I forget which.  In fact in Forbidden Planet it was as if a rep for Fantasy Flight Games had bumped off reps from the other companies.  At least I was able to actually look at the back of a copy of the new edition of Descent: Journeys in the yadda yadda, and actually hold a copy of Super Dungeon Explore (I'll be honest, the tile art, looks terrible!  But then I'm Inked Adventures monochrome-fine-ink-biassed...)  That big posh incarnation of Talisman still intrigues me, with its figures and coins, but the Crown of Command ending still sucks.  There was a shelf of Munchkin spoofy games, and some sort of zombie-dice game.  There was lonely pad of hex-paper.  Hex-paper? :o  Keep browsing.  Never been sure about Wiz-War...   Magic expansion packs, so many booster packs, next to the comics and those strange ghostly white freaky no-face paintable dolls.  Even the Star Wars toys in the retro-Kenner boxes didn't grab me (my nostalgia gland was only aching for RPG rule sets).

I'd managed to find some 80's Fighting Fantasy books in a charity shop half an hour previously, so maybe I should have just cut my losses and got (Warlock of Firetop Mountain -first cover- and Seven Serpents - jagged banner top, not bad, I know, thanks for asking).  I hovered near the dice, and marvelled at the presence of women staff and customers and the lack of BO smell which is almost nostalgic for me.  Yes, buy the dice.  They are the consolation prize for gamers who can't find what they want.

Depression was setting in.  This was as good as RPG shopping in Leicester city centre was going to get, and my head-voice rattled out a mantra along the lines of "You don't even have a gaming group -20 minutes on Ebay will be more satisfying than this- what are you doing?"   Even the excitement of dissolve-in-mouth gem dice is lost on me now.

I picked up two tubes of polys - matt yellow and red - like the ones from the cover of Dicing with Dragons. :)  I scanned the boxes again. Descent, Talisman and SDE and those big glossy Cthulhu games by FFG- but they were in the £60-70 range.  I think there was a Star Wars mini vehicles space game as well - with a pathetic number of three fighters (come on FFG, you drug dealers!).  I swear many of the prices are literally dollar for pound.  Oh dear.  But there it sat, friendly and familiar, the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box for around £25.

No really, PF BB is just so very scrummy.
(a prior drool soaked post)

Perhaps it would make a perfect
Christmas present for jaded players
and collectors who need to rediscover
the magical learning process. ;)
Why not?  I have quite a collection of D&D "introductory" games to compare it to.  Even if it's never played I can set up a museum showing the similarities and differences of pamphlet rules, floor plans and figures or counters over the decades.  Not a bad idea, since "serious" gamers will often skip beginner/primer sets and go straight to core rulebooks and boxed games have a shorter longevity-durability (4 year lifespan, Roy... no, don't burn it...!).  Although at the time, as with the dice, the Beginner Box felt like a "consolation" purchase.  Later on, I was extremely happy that I'd bought it.  It's a beautiful and complete game, not just a glorified advert for the brand.  Having come to the Pathfinder relatively late, it'll slot in nicely with my new Core rules and Bestiary.

At the counter there were some sealed HeroClix boxes.  One mystery hero per box? ... Not today, thanks.  I'm sure a couple of years ago, this very same shop still had plastic D&D pre-painted minis at least.  Oh well. Tap in the pin number and wait for the receipt.

So by now I was again cursing the Bricks n Mortar campaigns which ask me to support my local book shops and gaming stores.  Maybe I just need to start reading comics - by which I mean the really new stuff - just for some sort of shelf-to-self-validation in those high-street temples to geekery. 

My dirty, shameful, guilty £18
purchase from Games Workshop
Even this man cannot survive on
cardboard scenery alone.
I must have been hating myself, because on the way back to the train station I found myself in Games Workshop.
I mean, come on, really?   Again the sales-"which army do you collect?"-staff was a young woman - and the shop didn't smell too bad - maybe women players inspire better hygiene in young men?

Why was I in there?  It was the buildings, I think.  The scenery - those twisty house forts, and before I knew it, I was buying some Lord of the Rings ruins (... of Osgiliath) which I took peculiar pride in saying that I would be using as an interior piece for a "dungeon" ... Bearing in mind that their Balin's Tomb / Mines of Moria set is barely a doorway and some pillars and that's the closest that GW dare to go underground interiors since Dungeonbowl and Necromunda (hang on, did Mordheim have any underground settings?).

I mumbled something about Warhammer Quest and observed that White Dwarf magazine had changed their title font (quite the follower of current events, aren't I?).  Sometimes it's worth checking that the staff know their history.  Make them earn the commission, I say, check that they watched the induction video which might have mentioned Wh'Quest somewhen after Space Crusade... and long after the Great Purge of the Imported Games.  Then she did something clever, she mentioned that GW "didn't always make the best games" (wha-? *Ackbar*  It's a trap!) and perhaps I'd like to read about FFG's Relic board game, which, y'know, was a bit like Talisman.  (You had me at "board game", damnit).

It's very curious this cosying up of GW to FFG. So I said something pithy, which I regret, about FFG taking old games and adding a shed load of cards (which they do), but she forgave me (or didn't see it as a criticism of hallowed FFG, purveyors of glossy heavy boxes) I think because the customer is always ... allowed to be opinionated ... (and she knew that beyond the safety of GW cult, with their Flesh colour washes, grass flock, Dark Eldar and Necrons, she was probably out of her depth...).  Damn, I seem to have some serious issues.  My apologies.

I bought the ruins and the new-look White Dwarf and quickly left without so much of a cursory scan of those new-fangled resin-cast figures.   Things move too quickly, and the mantle of game system related alienation hangs heavy on me, maybe the OSR-ers are right: Why buy mainstream when you already own your favourite systems or can download a well written facsimile?

I felt a bit dirty, like I'd betrayed myself.  At least it wasn't the GW shop in my hometown - no-one knew me here.  Don't shit where you eat, as they say.  (Not that I've ever actually defecated on a tabletop battle between the Imperial Guard and those spiky Tyranids, and besides, I think food isn't allowed into GW shops)  My crack-habit chaos figure bankruptcy days are over!  Leicester had failed me a little.  I had expected more for my sweaty pennies.   I went for instant purchases in real shops.  Cities are supposed to be better than this!  Take my money goddamnit!   

Reality sucks.  Pass me the iPad and turn on one-click buying.

In all, with better perspective the following day, I decided that I was pretty fond of my new purchases - the Pathfinder Beginner Box especially.  The shiny lacquer on this is that there's even a soloplay game to help me through my contradictory, mostly solitary, existence of collecting and designing for group-play games.  The dice? Well, you can never have too many dice - those yellows and reds make a nice addition to the pile in the Dice Mugs.  The LotR ruins can go into that box marked "Rainy Day Mental Enthusiasm Projects" - for the days which scare my friends when they see me unshaven, maps drawn on the bath tiles and hemmed in by 3D model dungeons covering the carpet...  The best kind of days. :)

The new-look White Dwarf? - Well, I always need something to read in the bathroom.