My first addiction was model trains, HO gauge engines and layouts that I was forever redesigning. Because I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, the need for new boxcars and Plasticville edifices led me without fail to a mid-sized indie shop in the Graceland Shopping Center called Hobbyland.
What I didn’t know until the summer between sixth and seventh grades was that Hobbyland had also begun to carry, mixed in with the how-to guides on paper airplanes and WW II tank models, peculiar tomes that hinted at inexplicable mysteries: Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry.
To enter Hobbyland in those early years of my next addiction was to experience, in its most literal form, the marvelous. Forget about the trains, planes, and automobiles. The real heartbeat of the place turned out to be the display-rack bookshelves, gray-painted, not numerous.
You remember. You recall how those early D&D books were so peculiar, so thrown-together, more like pamphlets and broadsides than the sort of book that sat on your parents’ shelves at home. Greyhawk, etc., would have sat well with quackery advertising (phrenology, anyone?) or the meditations of theosophists or Doctor Dee.
Best of all, most crucially, they promised something that the world at large seemed perhaps to lack: actual magic. Their very existence made patent genuine enchantments. The real thing, unavailable elsewhere (school, church, home) lurked between the covers, waiting, only a page flip away.
And the smell of them, that first edition of The Players Handbook in particular. It smelled (and smells, to this day) like mimeograph ink. (Those of a certain age need only recall their elementary school offices to know exactly that scent.) I have that same copy still, and when I open it… ah, history.
In writing up these thoughts, I had expected to discover that Hobbyland would be gone, swallowed up by unknown changes in ownership and our collective, foolish dependence on the predictability of chain stores, but as it turns out, it’s expanded from one to three locations and remains in business still.
But they don’t carry role-playing paraphernalia any more, at least not if their website is to be believed, and that, my friends, is a tragic loss. Those were heady moments, those early explorations of the D&D lore, an encounter with possibility: limitless, unknown, and tantalizing. To rifle the pages and contextualize the sometimes lurid cover art with the derring-do that awaited inside… bliss.
In short, the original Hobbyland was a temple, one to which I returned many times as I added rulebooks to my shelves and dice to my dice bag (purple velvet, a Seagram’s cast-off from a favorite aunt).
So this is me, raising a heartfelt, grateful glass (cabernet, tonight) to memories and turning points and those odd little shops that dared to stock the “gateway drugs” of fantasy role-playing, the tomes that brought gaming into my life –– and, I’ll wager, yours.
To which shop around the corner would you lift a glass?
‘Til next time.
Mark Rigney has published In the Wake Of Sister Blue along with three stories in the Black Gate Online Fiction library: ”The Trade,” “The Find,” and “The Keystone.” Tangent called the tales “Reminiscent of the old sword & sorcery classics… once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I highly recommend the complete trilogy.”
Away from Black Gate, he is the author of the supernatural quartet, The Skates, Sleeping Bear, Check-Out Time, and Bonesy, all published by Samhain and featuring his semi-dynamic duo of Renner & Quist. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Lightspeed, Unlikely Story, Betwixt, Black Static, The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, Realms of Fantasy, Witness, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Talebones, Not One Of Us, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and many more. His author’s page at Goodreads can be found here, and his website is markrigney.net.