Publishing and distribution of RPG material has become a whole lot easier in the recent years, especially because of the Internet. Though this is in many ways great for roleplayers, it has some downsides. Where have all the good rpg stores gone?
When I was growing up there was one store here in Reykjavik, Iceland, that specialized in roleplaying goods. How I loved going there and I could spend hours just browsing through shelves stacked with different roleplaying books and chatting to other roleplayers.
The store served as much as a community center as it was a store. Later, the store added collectible card games, then comics, then some more and every time the roleplaying department got smaller and smaller.
Today, you can only find limited collection of books for sale in this otherwise great store, and from what I hear most Icelandic roleplayers buy their books online. I must admit, this saddens me, because I feel that a good rpg store supports its community just as much as the community supports it. And that is something that this store here in Iceland has always done, e.g. offering roleplayers a place to play and sponsoring roleplaying conventions.
What makes a good rpg store?
Whenever I go abroad I hunt for stores that sell roleplaying books. I am an avid collector of books, to my wife’s great dismay. I love to enter a store and the first thing that greats me is the smell of rpg books, new and old, and a clerk wearing faded Star Wars t-shirt that has probably been washed a few times to often and was a great fit all these years ago. There’s just some homely feeling to it.
What I like the most and actively seek out when I visit these store is to discover something new. Be it a new miniature for D&D, an old hard-to-find module or even a new system I haven’t heard about, I don’t care. For me it’s about the discovery. Having knowledgeable clerks who are eager to spread the roleplaying gospel also makes a huge difference, but just spending an hour (with my wife playfully rolling her eyes and making fun of her nerd husband) browsing through shelves of roleplaying books can easily make my day. Yes, I’m simple like that.
But where have they gone?
There are still few around. Though many stores I’ve visited recently have become more like the one here in Iceland, i.e. becoming more like the Forbidden Planet stores – stores that offer plethora of gaming and nerd products, but not excelling nor specializing in one genre – there are a few hidden gems out there.
The Compleat Strategist in New York is fantastic. If you have time to spare while visiting Manhattan, make sure you pay them a visit. You will find stacks upon stacks of both old and new roleplaying games, be it commercial high-sellers or obscure, not-as-known games, the Compleat Strategist has it all.
If you’re in London I can recommend a visit to the Orc’s Nest. There you can also find a huge array of different games and some of the most obscure games I’ve ever seen I found there. As with the Compleat Strategist, make sure you’ve got time on your hands.
For most parts though, from what I’ve learned from speaking to players both here in Iceland and online, many are buying roleplay books online nowadays, often directly from publishers. As much as I love the Internet, I sometimes feel a bit a saddened by this fact.
I always feel nostalgic entering a good rpg store and perhaps that’s just my problem, I guess that if these stores are getting fewer and further apart, it simply means that the buyer behavior is changing. And the stores need to adapt.
It still bothers me though, entering a store that states that it’s selling rpgs and the only games you find are D&D and Pathfinder, with a book or two from other systems and the clerks don’t know much about these games, other than D&D and Pathfinder seem to sell well.
I’ll continue searching for good rpg stores when I’m abroad, treasuring every find. I like to support these stores, because I believe that they play a huge part in spreading the word. I hope you do too.