Monday evening, I found myself browsing through Crow Bookshop on Church St. As part of my used book browsing routine, I always hit the science fiction and fantasy section, as well as the game shelf. I don’t often find anything, but it’s a habit that’s paid off in the past. This time, I found a very nice copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, the game lovingly spoken of by so many role-players. I’m not usually one to play the “it was so cheap, I couldn’t pass it up” card, but I gave away my TMNT books a couple years back — which I had bought as part of my “buy everything that someone, anyone ever may have recommended” phase, which thankfully ended quickly — and frankly, came to regret doing so. I’m a hoarder, I know, but they’re books, damnit.
So for seven bucks, I bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness. This copy even has a character sheet in the back, making it a sort of upgrade from the last copy I owned. Now, will I use this copy? If I take my own medicine, then yes, I should. The members of my role-playing group — currently stalled on Broken Spokes for scheduling reasons, surprise, surprise — are Palladium players from back in the day, so I think they would take to a Ninja Turtles game readily. In fact, I can imagine a proposed one-shot spinning out from there, but that wouldn’t stop the endemic scheduling issues.
A lot of my role-playing library came from used book stores or online equivalents like eBay. There’s a Barnes & Noble over in South Burlington with a used books section that, for whatever reason, was a veritable spring of role-playing material. I picked up a lot of Mage: the Ascension and other White Wolf titles there for cheap. I discovered Changeling: the Dreaming because its brightly colored spine caught my eye from the bottom shelf.
Maybe it has to do with being near the local university, pulling in students looking to dump a load of books for quick cash. Whatever the reason, that place was a gold mine, once this discerning shopper realized the trick was to comb through the over-sized shelf in the science fiction and fantasy section, where all the graphic novels, trade paperbacks and role-playing books were tossed together. Often there would be caches of books from a particular game line, as though someone chose to wash their hands completely of In Nomine or whatever.
I don’t cruise the used book stores as I once did. Part of that is portion of the book-selling industry largely shifted online in the last ten years. The local shop with stacks of battered paperbacks have a hard time competing with online sellers for all the usual reasons: overhead costs, variety of inventory and so on.
My buying habits changed, too. Two years or so into the role-playing hobby, I realized I was buying a lot of books, reading them once and then shelving them. I didn’t have a role-playing group at the time and was feeding my desire for hobby-related stimulus by amassing a frankly useless library of role-playing material. I mean “useless” in the sense I couldn’t possibly utilize all the material in a meaningful fashion, beyond superficially skimming plot seeds and character ideas for use in whatever game I happened to run, which I wasn’t even doing at the time.
I’m a lot pickier these days. I still try to buy used when I can, though. A couple months after a book’s release, the odds are some unhappy role-player’s going to offload it on eBay, RPG.net’s trade and sales forum or some other similar venue. As long as I’m patient, and I typically am because I’ve played the “gotta have it now!” role enough to know it’s not worth the fleeting glow of getting something on the first day of release, then I can let other people find out what the game’s really like and then make a more informed decision.
Of course, there are still the times when I impulsively buy Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness because it’s on the shelf and I let the book hoarding tendency override my sensible consumer tendency. It’s an on-going struggle.