Pens, Paper and Pretzels

Pens, Paper and Pretzels
Tabletop Gaming and the Hypnic Jerk

Russ Pitts | 10 Jul 2007 15:54
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"When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them." - Daryl Zero, The Zero Effect

It was hard to find unless you knew where to look. Tucked away in a cramped loft, Perfidium Books (names have been changed to protect the secret locations of Eternal Lore) was a dimly-lit, claustrophobic den of gaming iniquity, its shelves lined with books, dice, cards and puzzles - arcana from nearly a decade of tabletop gaming retail - and the wizened wizards manning the store would hardly acknowledge your existence unless they knew you. It was a place for insiders only, and as far as the insiders were concerned, everyone was an outsider.

It wasn't always this way. In the early days of tabletop gaming, when game clubs born of college basements, long winter nights and too much enthusiasm had spawned conventions, tournaments and an overriding feeling of goodwill toward all who carried a bag of dice, stores like Perfidium threw wide their doors, and all comers were welcome.

Alternately called "hobby" or "game" stores, these shops sold the accoutrement of our second lives: the games that occupied our minds, the books from which we gained the knowledge to play them and the dice, miniatures, maps and miscellaneous money sinks which in some way or another made the entire experience more visceral, more real. The people minding the stores were gods. To converse with them and hear their tales (dark, lonely nights playing Dungeons & Dragons in the campus steam tunnels, navigating the Ethereal Plane with a half-dragon sidekick, meeting a girl at a convention) was ecstasy.

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There was one such store in the town where I grew up, wedged between a supermarket and a discount barber. They promoted walk-in games of D&D. You carried your dice with you when you stopped by on the off chance you'd be pulled into a game just by saying hello. Inside were rows of dice, sorted by color, in candy bins, alongside the acrylic paints we used to color our pewter miniatures. It was library quiet, punctuated with the occasional burst of laughter. The smell was a heady mix of fresh plastic and not-so-fresh clothes, and the hours I lost there are countless.

Years ago, I couldn't walk into this store without walking out with at least a pocketful of dice - an affliction that plagues me to this day - and I'd frequently spend what little money I had on nothing more than modules, books and dreams. But more often I'd venture to the hobby store just to share in the collective excitement of being a part of something, and marvel at the thought that there were others like me. But things changed, (as they are wont to do). As I got older, I found new things with which to occupy my time, and so, unfortunately, did the rest of the world.

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