Recently, I found myself in the unusual situation of having a couple of hundred dollars burning a hole in my pocket. After considering various responsible uses, I decided that I wanted to purchase some gaming supplies. I found all sorts of things online but I’m one of those weird folks that hates to pay shipping and prefers to physically examine something before purchasing it. So where do you go to find gaming supplies in stock?
I live in Corvallis, Oregon. It’s a college town of around 60,000 people. You would think there would be a number of choices. You would be wrong. We have one gaming shop, a hobby shop, and a comic book store. Wal-Mart, Target, and various book stores often have some books but that’s about it.
What Am I Looking For
The first step was to determine what I want. I have one of the original Chessex Battlemats (3′ x 4′). I’ve always rolled it up or folded it but never had anything to put it in. So first off, I want a cardboard or plastic tube to store it in.
Also, I lost my markers. Chessex mats are vinyl so you can’t use permanent markers or dry erase markers. You have to use wet erase markers. I want a number of colors: black, red, green, blue (at the least), in both fine tip and wide tip.
In addition to my Chessex mat, I want to try out a Gamemastery Flip-Mat. Plus I want to make my own mats. I already have various cartography programs so creating the artwork is something I can handle. I have a laminator so I can laminate some of the maps. Others I want to affix to heavy cardstock or chipboard and apply a self-adhesive plastic over the artwork. I’ve never seen cardstock as heavy as I’d like so I need some chipboard, laminate sheets, glue of some sort, and some self-adhesive clear plastic sheets. I already have a cutting surface and x-acto knives.
In addition to large map tiles, I want to make various size rooms, corridors, horses, carts, wagons, doors, chests, campfire, etc. As far as materials, that just involves more of the same. But all these small pieces will require something to store them in. For that matter, I don’t have anything to transport miniatures in. I’ll need an assortment of containers.
I have lots of dice but I’ve decided that I want to start building a collection of Game Science precision dice sets. Most people know them as “the dice with the blemishes”. True, they do have blemishes but even so, they are the highest quality dice on the market. For more detailed information on game science dice, and why they are better, check out this youtube video.
Lastly, there are a number of books I want to pick up. My current wish list is: Monster Manual III (available in two weeks), Manual of the Planes, The Plane Above, The Plane Below, Underdark, and Dungeon Delves. I’m also interested in looking at the dungeon tile books that WotC puts out. I suspect I can make better tiles on my own but I want to see what they have.
Okay. I have an idea what I’m looking for. Now I just need to find everything.
The Search Begins
The cardboard tube for the Chessex mat was easy. I ran by Kinko’s and for $4.50 they had exactly what wanted.
Expo vis-a-vis wet erase markers are listed as being available at office depot, staples, etc. I haven’t driven over to any of them yet but it sounds like those should be easy to come by. Laminate sheets, adhesives, and self-adhesive clear plastic sheets are readily available at office supply stores as well. No luck finding cardstock as heavy as I want though. Apparently, no one makes it that thick. So chipboard is what I need. Unfortunately, it isn’t carried by any local office supply stores or craft stores. I did, however, find a good price on a Pack of 25 sheets (8.5″ x 11″) at Amazon.
That leaves containers, Flip-Mats, books, and dice. I would think that these items would be the easiest to find. Wrong again. *Sigh*
First, I tried the gaming shop. Pegasus Games turned out to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop, sharing a building with the bus depot. There are lots of tables covered with home-made 3D terrain but arranged in such a way that it was obvious that the entire shop was his workspace; clearly little or no gaming actually takes place there. All told, he probably had less than $1000 worth of inventory in the store. Other than a fair selection of warhammer miniatures (sadly no reaper minis), it looked like the end of a going-out-of-business sale.
It was no wonder why. The owner was there (he has no employees; just friends that hang out) and I talked with him a bit. After telling him what I was looking for, I discovered that he knew almost nothing about the products used for gaming. He had never heard of Flip-Mats, Gamemastery, or Game Science dice. He attempted to look them up, even though I said I wasn’t interested in ordering them, but never was able to find any of what I asked for. He did carry a couple of 4e books but none that I was looking for. Again, he offered to order them for me (at cover price while Amazon offers free shipping on orders over $25 and cuts the price considerably).
Sadly, our one and only gaming shop is a complete joke.
Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics
Next, I tried the comic book store. Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics was far larger, well-established, and had many shelves of D&D books, old and new. They had many of the ones I wanted, but again at cover price. I can’t really complain, they need to make a profit. But money’s tight and Amazon has better deals.
The owner, Matt, was very knowledgeable and familiar with Gamemastery Flip-Mats and Game Science dice. Unfortunately, he was out of mats and he had stopped carrying Game Science dice. Apparently, people unfamiliar with those dice were turned off by the blemish and returned them frequently enough that it was too big a headache to carry them. Disappointing but understandable.
Discouraged, I moved on to the hobby store. Trump’s Hobbies is very big on model planes and such. Mention Dungeons & Dragons and they can’t get away from you fast enough. They do carry a variety of books but mostly 3rd party books and odd ones at that. I cornered one guy long enough to discover that they do not carry dice or gaming mats of any kind.
As I was leaving the store, I could almost hear him praying for the soul of the poor devil-worshipping D&D player.
There is a small town on either side of Corvallis. Philomath has absolutely nothing remotely related to gaming. Albany used to have a store called Fantasy Knights. Unfortunately, the original owner (who built it into a thriving business) sold it a year ago and the new owner ran it more as a free gaming center than as a business and it shut down some time ago.
Eugene is an hour south and Salem is an hour north. Both are considerably larger than Corvallis. Both have a couple of gaming stores. I’ve been to one in Salem and two in Eugene (the largest and most recommended). All three carry a bit more inventory but still offer, imo, a very meager selection.
I found one style of Gamemastery Flip-Mat (out of a dozen or so and the least desirable), a few sets of Game Science dice (not the colors I was looking for), and half the books I wanted (again at cover price).
Of all the stores I visited, I found one small miniature case and two huge suitcase-size carrying cases. Nothing was remotely close to what I am looking for. I checked out the websites for the local office supply stores and visited Fred Meyer and the two local craft stores. No one in the area carries anything suitable for map tile storage.
Portland is over 100 miles away. But they have a number of large hobby and gaming stores that sound promising. Plus there is an IKEA up there that should have a better selection of storage containers. On the way, in Tigard, there is supposed to be a huge store that specializes in nothing but storage containers. If I can run down the name, I’ll search them out.
As I said earlier, I prefer to pick up a product and examine it before I purchase it. One, it saves shipping (although sometimes shipping costs can be avoided). Two, returns (if necessary) are easier and you don’t have to pay return shipping. Three, you can notice things that aren’t necessarily obvious on-line.
For instance, Amazon lists all of the WotC 4e books. They all look the same (with different artwork) online. Then I noticed that one of these books was listed as “softcover”. Up until that point, I thought it was a hardcover book. They look identical. After checking, I found that a number of what I thought were hardcover books weren’t. It’s not a big deal, but that’s something that is obvious in person but not so obvious on-line.
How often do you pay attention to the number of pages when looking at a book on-line? When I was in one of the stores, I picked up a hardcover book and it was about a 1/4″ thick! They wanted $20 for what was essentially a magazine in a hardcover. I don’t remember which book it was but I would have been very upset if I had ordered it online and expected a substantial book only to receive that tiny pamphlet in the mail.
Maybe I’m not a very savvy on-line shopper. Maybe I’m too critical. But I’m much happier when I can walk into a store and buy what I want.
I don’t have much choice in the matter. There are some supplies I can buy here in town. I’ll take a road trip and see if I can find some of the rest in Portland. But there are a number of items that I have no choice but to buy on-line and hope there isn’t a problem.
However it works out though, I’m very excited about getting some new gaming supplies!