Ode to a FLGS: On the closing of Killer Rabbit Comics and Games

Last week, Killer Rabbit Comics and Games–my friendly local game store (FLGS) in South Burlington, VT–closed. The store opened around the time I moved to Vermont and became a big part of my life. It was the venue for my D&D sessions, my comic source, and–I hope it’s not too bold to say this–I became friends with its owners. I wanted to commemorate its passing with a few thoughts on why it was so great and the important role FGLS’ play in our communities.

When we first moved to Vermont, I set out to find a gaming and comic home. As if on cue, I saw a notice about a new store opening, Killer Rabbit Comic and Gaming. I missed the grand opening, but my family and I went a week later. We chatted with the owners; I mentioned I had been trying to find D&D players and they said they could pass along names to me.

Over time it became a central part of my life. I went in every week for my comic books, and checked out other recommendations the owners had. I reached out to a few of their customers who said they were interested in D&D and organized my first session up here. We held the sessions at Killer Rabbit, which was more welcoming than a stranger’s house.  That initial group continued through a few campaigns, and I also started another group to run a multi-level dungeon I was creating.

But Killer Rabbit mattered in other ways. The owners remembered their customers’ names; having just moved to a new state after spending ten years somewhere else, that helped me feel at home. I took my two year old daughter along, and she became a fan; she started picking out her own kids’ comic books and can now recognize Batman, Spider-man and Superman. And the D&D sessions at Killer Rabbit made the stress of a new job a little easier.

So Killer Rabbit was great, but I don’t think it’s unique.

Soon after I started a job in Washington, DC, I realized a comics store–Big Planet Comics–was close enough I could get there over lunch. When that job ended up being kind of unpleasant, my weekly comics run helped me get through it.

Additionally, while I was in graduate school in DC, Labyrinth Games and Puzzles opened up. I would do some writing at a nearby coffee shop (now closed), then stop by Labyrinth for a new game. A lot of my collection of Lovecraftian games are from this store. Then, when 5th edition D&D came out, I signed up for one of their weekly Adventurers’ League sessions. The randomly-assembled group at my table clicked, and we continued playing on our own after the season ended. This group continued up until I left DC (and may still be going on). Through this group I was exposed to other RPGs, (Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars games and Shadowrun).  These strangers–whose only connection to me was D&D–ended up being friends, cheering the birth of my daughter and commiserating with me about my job.

I can honestly say my life is better because of my local comics and games stores. I would still have my family and my job, both of which I love, but I would lack the richness a hobby community brings. And I haven’t even gotten into the value of discovering new games and comics, which you just can’t do by searching online.

Yet, as we all now, these stores are threatened. I did all my comics and game shopping at Killer Rabbit, but I really didn’t spend that much money there. And a lot of my purchases were one time things; once I had my 5th edition rulebooks (purchased from Labyrinth) I didn’t need much else to play. The gaming tables were free, even though I encouraged players to patronize the store. But a lot of my players turned to Amazon, as I’m sure did many of the people I saw browsing without buying while I was hanging out. I understand the need to save money, but it does hurt these stores.

So what can we do to help? The most obvious thing to do is to be customers. Resist buying Settlers of Catan when you’re browsing Barnes and Noble; wait till you can visit your FLGS. If your budget can take the higher non-Amazon price, buy it in person (I think it’s more fun to pick it up at a store, personally).

But I think it goes beyond just focusing our shopping. We need to attach a value to the intangible benefits of these stores and compensate them accordingly.

First, just buy a little more than you would otherwise. I spent more on comics than I planned to each month, because I noticed a new comic I wanted to try or the owners suggested something. The value I placed on the store made me willing to do that.

Second, establish norms for gaming groups. Ask players to buy something whenever you have a session at a FLGS. Yes, this can put a burden on players, but it’s better than not having a venue for gaming (which is what I’m facing now).

Money is tight all around; I definitely spend a lot less on games and comics than I want. But think about how much money we spend at bars, or restaurants, or other luxuries. We could easily structure our budget to have a “FLGS support” line time.

In closing, I admit a lot of this is driven by my own guilt. As much as I loved the store, I don’t think I did enough to support it. Maybe, in retrospect, I should have written this a year ago.

POSTSCRIPT: I know I’ve said I was going to post my Sunless Citadel walkthrough this week. The store closing made me change my schedule, and I’ll have that up next week.

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Why I’m not a fan of Shadowrun/Two types of players

I was initially going to call this just “Issues with Shadowrun,” but to be honest if I don’t like a game as popular and influential as Shadowrun the issue is probably with me, not the game. That got me thinking about what became the real theme of this post.

It all started when a former gaming group tried to play Shadowrun. We created characters, started running the intro adventure, and it went nowhere. I spent days customizing my character (a ninja-type investigator/infiltrator) and learning the rules for evasion and using my grapping hook. And I never used any of them, as we spent our entire session debating rules as one person tried have his technomancer create sprits. We spent so much time on the rules of the game we never really had a chance to become immersed in it. (If you’ve never played Shadowrun and have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s fine, it’s just complicated Shadowrun stuff).

I complained on our group chat channel and we never played again. So I was annoyed that I spent tons of time on a character for a game I wasn’t excited about in the first place and then never really got to use.

At first I decided the issue, as I said, was with Shadowrun. It is a very complex game. There are different rules for semi-automatic, burst fire and fully-automatic guns. There are complicated rules for hacking into computer networks or using magic. And, to be fair, by mixing magic, complicated combat and technology the game has a bit of the most difficult to learn parts of other game systems. As a huge fan of D&D 5e I didn’t see why Shadowrun couldn’t be simplified along the lines of 5e’s advantage/disadvantage modifier system.

But then I thought about how much time I spent on my character, mostly after I’d closed my door to my office and kept glancing worriedly at the window to see if anyone was looking in (in a previous job, I am a very dutiful worker now). It was kind of cool to have such a complex, customizable process and I could see how someone could get lost in the very detailed rules for every aspect of the game.

So maybe there are just two types of players. Some of us get really excited about immersing ourselves in an abstract alternate world. We like coming up with character backstories, acting out what the character would do, writing blog posts about their history and personality (ahem). Others of us love the mechanics of translating adventures—combat, exploration, investigation—into dice rolls. Realizing that a burst fire from a machine pistol would do more damage but be less accurate, and seeing how this affects the number of and modifiers to your dice pool, is pretty cool.

Some games are geared towards the immersive. I think the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games fall into this category, as the dice rolls lend themselves to narrative story-telling and slightly abstract action. And then Shadowrun would be—as one of my former group members called it—more “crunchy.” In my opinion, D&D is the perfect blend of the two.

The challenge, then, is finding the right game for the different players in your group or being open to disagreement about your direction, as mine was after I whined about Shadowrun.