A Trip to Dragon's Lair, a Local Gaming Store



Last week, my wife and I headed over to Omaha, Nebraska and went to what used to be a favorite store of mine called Dragon’s Lair. Now, back in the day this was a Gaming Store! The walls were covered in little miniature single packs, the shelves were lined with titles from all the different RPG lines, adult board games unique to specialty stores, new RPG books as well as Used RPG books as they’d always buy the books, regardless of condition. It was actually cool to buy a used module from them and look at the modifications done by the original owner. They sold hex paper, play mats, and all of the other supplies that Dungeon Masters used, as well as having fancy tables for players to come over and play battle games like Warhammer and such, or even just space so that people could sit down and play D&D if they wanted to. This was the place to go! The owner was a gamer, and he wasn’t the only show in town. If you look at old Dragon Magazines you can find a place advertised in Omaha called Star Realms, which was even larger! But Star Realms was miss-managed and collapsed, and Dragon’s Lair is still around.

On the side, they sold Comic books, but the emphasis was Table Top Role Playing Games. The owner was a gamer. Even as late as a few years ago he was personally running a 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. I don’t know if that campaign is still going on. Granted, he, as well as the rest of us, is much older than we used to be. Younger people are now working the counters, and the emphasis seems to be comic books, super heroes, and card games. Card games: I never understood them. The game of Magic the Gathering was popular back in the day, but I thought that it was stupid even then, and just a way for a company to make money from suckers. Imagine my shock and horror when the company that sold Magic the Gathering purchased Dungeons and Dragons! I still don’t get that hero clicks stuff, any game with some RARE thing which is only rare because a company decided that it would be, makes no sense to me, but people eat it up! I guess that I never was a collector, well, I never used to consider myself a collector, but it would appear that I am now.

A couple of years ago, the original Dragon’s Lair had burned down, so now they have moved and the store is actually much bigger! However I am dismayed at just how little they have. Comic books, card games, and large boxes of Warhammer crap that everybody knows isn’t worth the price of the plastic garbage in them. They still sell the modern war game materials, that I don’t play. They do have a selection of adult board games, but the bread and butter has always been the RPG materials. They have the two current leaders, 5e and Pathfinder, but the rest of the stuff has been consolidated into two display boxes that had formally been reserved for comic books, and the system is a mess. I went through that entire thing and found no AD&D material what so ever. NONE! Not even other system neutral material or anything remotely interesting to me.

Granted, they had two copies of Dungeon Crawl Classics available, as well as a full set of Castles & Crusades, but I don’t have the money, nor the player interest to get into a new system. We already made our investments into gaming years ago when we still had disposable income, but now I have to buy school clothes for two kids, work on projects around the house, and be a grown-up. I had a few bucks to spend and I was hoping to find something at the old gaming shop and I found nothing! Not even so much as a new set of dice that I liked.

What does this tell me? Well of course the online stores have taken a huge bite out of the book market. Why shop at a store when you can shop at home? Well, I don’t always like shopping at home. I’m paranoid when it comes to credit cards and know just how easy it is to become a victim of fraud, especially on the used book market. A brick and mortar store is very attractive to me.  It also tells me that both editions of AD&D are hot right now, and I am competing with locals to acquire materials. This isn’t collectable materials, this stuff isn’t rare. TSR saturated a market, and most of the books are still alive and well.

There is a RPG renaissance going on, but I’ll be honest; I’m not a part of it. I don’t play 2e because it is a thing right now, I play it because I bought into the system and simply never stopped. I didn’t get bored with it, when I did stop playing it was because life got too busy, it had nothing to do with the system. Once everyone got to a point where we had the time and energy to play again, we picked it right back up. But, I’ve gotten side-tracked.

Dragon’s Lair! There is still a lot of system neutral products that are being released. Where are they? It makes more sense to release stuff like that, what with every table playing a different system, there is a market for that. Back in the day Gygax would get so angry at 3rd party leeches that he’d yell at us all through Dragon Magazine. Some of these products were really shoddy and crummy, but some of these products were really really good too! Where are these things? They are still being made, but are they for sell at one of the midwests only gaming shop? NO! Instead of selling Gaming Products, Dragon’s Lair now sells COLLECTABLES. Over-priced garbage that serves no other purpose but to sale it, games that’s values are decidedly manufactured, overly polished products produced by insane people who expect the consumer to make up for their inability to stick to a realistic budget, old RIFTS books that have sat on that shelf since they came out back in the 80’s and you can’t pay people to take them they suck that bad.

When asked where all of the AD&D stuff is, the kid working the counter started getting scared. He led me over to the shelf where HASBRO was nice enough to print over produced reproductions of every book that users don’t need and at a price that is comparable to buying all of the original Core books plus some DM material and still have enough money for Cheetoes.

I represent a very large market of gamers, and there is nothing for me at Dragon’s Lair anymore. Nothing! Not an old module, not an extra copy of a book, not a little metal man that I can paint, not even so much as a scrap of hex paper, NOTHING! It was a wasted trip, and I had money burning in my pocket, but there was nothing! I would have even bought one of those funny little pencils with a fuzzy head! It was sad.  


12 comments:

Kuseru Satsujin said...

Yeah, even the Game Shoppe isn't really an RPG store, just a bloated tabletop game store anymore.

Max-Steel said...

It's sad but there's nothing for you in that shop because selling tabletop RPG's its bad, bad business.

I pity any seller trying to run a shop without selling Magic, Warhammer or any other "collectible" that you so cheerfully despise

Ripper X said...

It's not bad bad business. I don't expect them to ONLY sell RPG's but they didn't even have the basics. It wouldn't hurt them to sell some stuff that is currently on the market, just a small sampling is fine. If it sells, GREAT! Buy more! If it doesn't, then it will no doubt be picked up by somebody sooner or later.

They've got to do what they've got to do. They didn't stay open all of these years without selling Magic and other collectables, but the reason why they opened, their bread and butter, is no longer represented.

Brooser Bear said...

I have come to conclusion that game shops are as bad at doing business as Gygax was. We have a premiere game store in NYC, called the Compleat Strategist. It must be a profitable business, since the same sales staff that worked there when I was in high school, still works there 30 years later. In its heyday before internet, it was a Dragon's treasure trove of role playing and role playing related materials, a lot of which we did not hear at all, stuff that wasn't advertised in the Dragon Magazine. Now the store is a shadow of its former self if you can find and buy your materials on the internet. They must be franchisees to the rpg publishing industry, since they only carry CURRENT titles. Furthermore, they used to carry books of interest to DM, not specifically related to the gaming hobby. It was pricey, but once in a while I would spend 20 or 30 bucks on an interesting title. Now these books are gone. Only what's in the publisher's catalog, and why should I buy from them, if I can buy the same title cheaper on line? I talked to some of them, and I am not sure of they rally can't see outside the rpg publisher's job or are simply doing their job as employees marketing what is given to them.

Ripper X said...

The Complete Strategist was a very famous store! The internet has improved many aspects of our lives, but like anything, there are great costs.

It is hard to describe what the world was like to our children. The joy and triumph of finally locating an out-of-print book that had taken months, sometimes years of looking. I think that we were exposed to more as well; often we'd go to a book store not knowing what we'd walk out with. I could spend all day browsing books, they weren't tailored to things that it knew that I liked, and that is it. I already know that I like it, but I might like stuff that I don't know about even more!

You listen to us talk and it sounds like we are complaining about something that's been gone for 80 years. BACK IN MY DAY!!!! WE USED TO RESPECT OUR ELDERS! No we didn't, that's why we got beat so much.

Brooser Bear said...

American culture and society evolves as much in a single generation (about 20 years) as it takes the rest of the world 4 generations (about 80 years). The consequence of this change is that US has the largest population of misfits and eccentrics, a result of having the largest number of people whose world was made totally obsolete by the rapid rate of change.

1980's is my favorite decade, for its alienness and mystery. As much probably, because I turned 13 in 1980, and we moved to New York City from a small northern town deep in the lumber country, population less than 800. The Mayor was jumping out of his skin to put Pop. 850 on the town sign. The world was unknown. My head was spinning from Blade Runner and Escape From New York. Down the street from the movie theater was one of the first video stores. VCR was a luxury none of my friends had, and something called Beta was also available for rent. The street was called Northern Boulevard and it ran towards the Manhattan Skyline. It had the weedy abandoned feel of the 1970's urban blight and the video store owner painted the wall next to the store entrance as if the Manhattan skyline was nuked and the Northern Boulevard was abandoned and cratered with shelling. Same weeds, though. That's what drew me into the shop to see what he was selling, because I couldn't figure out what a Video Store was. After that, I would hang out at his store and he would tell me what the different movies were about (I would bring a VCR tape box to him and he would tell me the movie). I can't remember which came first - he closed the store, or we moved to Suburbia in 1983.

Virtual instantaneity of Internet came at a price. One of those was Chinatown. In the days before Internet, we would ride the commuter train to Manhattan. There was Gyro II, the only greasy spoon joint in town serving genuine Greek gyros, shish kabobs and homemade potato chips they called the Greek Fries. I love Gyros (pronounced Gheeros'), and they'd also sell me a giant can of beer along with the Everything On It platter that I ordered up. After that it was a leisurely walk Downtown to Chinatown Canal Street. Nowadays, after all the globalization, these shops sell all the cheap merchandize from China you can buy everywhere else, back in the 1980's there were no throngs of tourists, and you can get really original stuff in their shops. Things like butterfly knives and throwing knives, books on survivalism and martial arts, they had the best army surplus store, AND they had a D&D shop! It was on Mott Street above a Chinese bakery, and they had a lot less merchandise than the 'Strategist, but what they had in Chinatown, 'Strategist did not carry. They were the first ones to carry 3D plastic pieces to do a layout of your dungeon on your game table, like what you saw in the ET the movie, but they had it practically the same tome as the movie came out. You bought the stuff and then you sat in the bakery below and drank in the cheap and plentiful hot tea with those heavenly custard buns with the sweet topping (Chinese call Pineapple (for the appearance, not the flavor)) and those egg custard tarts. And nearby was a large arcade, where one of the videogames was a glassed in cage with a live chicken, that played tic-tac-toe with you. It was either 50 cents or 4 quarters, and if you beat the chicken, you got a free game. I beat the chicken only once in a while, and never twice in a row.

The Internet made the world a lot less mysterious and at the same time a lot less real. I think that I am glad I didn't have it growing up and my parents banned TV in my household.

Ripper X said...

I had a friend who passed away a few years ago who spent the 60's living in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I could listen to him talk all day long!

I often think about the early days of the web, before it became such a sterile environment, back when it still belonged to the people. . . . well, different people. The Internet had a culture as well, back before every home had a PC. Those damned WEBTV people went and ruined everything! Maybe that is why I relate to old westerns so much; they are about men who tamed the west and ended up making a world where they themselves did not belong. Perhaps many people feel that way?

Brooser Bear said...

I didn't get a PC until late 1980's. I didn't get on the Internet until the year 2000. I got on it because I had one true pen pal, who got Internet and suggested that e-mailing would be better than snail mail. So, I missed the early internet and was only vaguely aware of it. I knew some stuff about phone hacking and was a fan of Paladin Press and other stuff advertised on Maximumrocknroll zine, but the phone stuff made little sense to me (unlike guns and bombs) until I watched Wargames the Matthew Broderick film.

Ripper X said...

I don't think that ANYONE knew just how dangerous hackers could be until the movie Wargames. I got into the culture in the 90's, a group of us had started a server that hosted for those that had been kicked off corporate servers do to content. We kept a lot of that stuff on the surface web for years, but now it's all gone and hidden on the dark web where, unfortunately, it can't offend anybody anymore. It was fun while it lasted! God forbid people are allowed to think for themselves!

Brooser Bear said...

That must have been AWESOME! If not illegal, what kind of stuff were you posting that got you guys banned from corporate servers? Dark Web. I gotta visit it sometime.

Ripper X said...

We didn't get banned, we offered free web space for sites that had been. We didn't agree with a lot of the content, but we did believe that the creators had the right to say it. Religious nuts, racist pigs, satanic cultists, dead things . . . lots of dead things! We were big supporters of impure thoughts, and alternative ways of thinking. Explorers of the taboo! And today I'm running a PG blog about tabletop gaming, which is rather funny when you think about it.

I'd stay away from the Dark Web, Brooser. Dark Net is just a fancy term for not indexed by search engines, and while there are sites that have been banned by Google for being too offensive or legally sketchy, the most common reason is that the websites are coded maliciously. It isn't all that safe on the surface web, but it is really bad under it. There is a lot of risk involved, and very little pay off.

Martin Aaby said...

I live in the 2nd largest city in Denmark. There is one well-known "nerd-store" that has two departments. RPG-stuff and paintball stuff. The RPG-side is mostly filled with LARPG-stuff like foam-swords and warhammer miniatures. There are a couple of shelves but only with pathfinder, 5th edition DnD and some Star Wars rulebooks. They barely have any dice; one big jar of random dice and then sets of 6-sided for warhammer.

The clerk was nice to refer me to a different store, and I had found my slice of nostalgic paradise. It was way smaller, but there were a lot more people. Mostly because they had a gaming-room for old consoles (ps1, n64, snes, etc) and a table for magic: the gathering. What they also have are packed shelves of every ruleset of DnD ever released. All used, but many can be found in mint condition, all half the price of a new 5th edition book would cost and even some extra stuff like a DM-screen and whole adventure-box-sets. I was almost jumping up and down in happiness.

The store is small, but it's a little slice of heaven. I just had to go on a little adventure of the beaten path and ask around.

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