Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One More Delve Back In Time...

James M's post last Friday and all the subsequent responses has brought to mind the early days of the hobby.

I know many of you were around during the first few moments after the Big Bang of the birth of fantasy role-playing games. Those of you so called Grognards may remember some of this quite well. The rest of you please sit back and enjoy the ride down memory lane as I give you my picture of my first experience seeing the game.

Growing up we had a great hobby shop near us that us kids could bike to or easily stop off at on the way home from school. It was called The Hobbyist and it had your usual plastic model kits and accessories, model rockets, and model trains. A couple of doors down we had a great little book store called The Book End that sold classic silver age marvel comics for only a few dollars (those same comics are now worth 10 times or more that amount). Another few doors down soon opened a used book store, a record shop and coming soon was one of the Chicagoland's original comic shops; Moondogs.

Pretty much heaven on earth for any kid.

All these shops were privately owned, no big corporate chain stores. These were the mom and pop stores that we hear talked about so much these days.

The Hobbyist was run by a Mr. Bill Wright and one or two assistants whom I can't quite remember, I think one might've been his son. Bill Wright was a great guy and ran a great little shop. He was always friendly to us kids coming in and hanging out at his store even though we didn't really have much money to buy anything.

After school we'd all stop over there or ride our bikes over on the weekends.

One day, while popping in after school I noticed this colorful and fantastic new box on the shelf squeezed in with other traditional hobby magazines. It had a giant red dragon sitting on a pile of gold, jewels and other treasure. Standing in front of the dragon was undoubtedly a wizard holding a torch and a magic wand and across from him some type of knight. The title on the box was Dungeons & Dragons, the original Adult Fantasy Role Playing game for 3 or more players. Basic set with introductory module.

I never before saw this in any hobby shop and was amazed by this box cover. It struck a chord within my imagination that still vibrates to this day. I had no idea what this was. It was a game, without a doubt, but what kind of game with a dragon and wizard. And what the heck was 'Role-playing'? It wasn't in your typical Parker Brothers box either. It was strange and I left mulling this over. And that name…Dungeons & Dragons!

I would return again and again to The Hobbyist to just stare and wonder at this game box, not having enough money to purchase it (I believe it was $10). But what was odd, was that almost every time I would stop in at the shop, which was quite frequent, another item would appear on the shelf. These items had fantastic covers of swords and fantasy. Some small packages began appearing with tiny unpainted figures, supposedly for these games I surmised. Next, games about the world wars and Napoleon showed up in larger boxes than that Dungeons & Dragons and others still which depicted more fantasy creatures and monsters and some kind of War with a Ring.

I became obsessed with this new game and all these other things that kept appearing around it as did my younger brother and our friends. I would talk about this with my parents trying to explain what this was and leaving them confused, I'm sure. I left obvious hints that this would be something that I would want for, first my birthday and then later Christmas. It wouldn't be until that holiday season when I would receive my 'gateway' game.

Week after week more and more of these games began showing up until they began to take up a larger portion of the Hobbyist floor space. It wasn't long until the Models began to take up less and less space and within a short year they were all crammed into a small 10 X 10 area leaving almost the whole store filled with Role-playing games, war games, dice, minis, paints and gaming accessories. The Hobbyist truly became a gaming store, one of the first if not the first in the Chicagoland Area. This was circa 1977-78.

The Hobbyist along with all of those great little shops where I spent all my hours and allowances have long since vanished but I can still see in my minds eye all those new and fascinating games staring at me on the shelves.

Being the obsessive graphic designer I put the below image together of all that I can remember seeing on the shelf in those early months before the rpg hobby really exploded. All of these covers to all of these games and publications were wonderful to gaze at during this innocent time of our favorite hobby.



  1. Great stuff! I wish I could re-create the look of our old hobby shop, it was truly a melange of disparate games.

  2. That is pretty neat! Yeah I have similar memories of the good ol Hobby shops.

  3. Where'd you grow up? I know of both the Hobbyist and Moondog (in Vernon Hills).

  4. Grew up mostly in Schaumburg where The Hobbyist was. I don't know what ever happened to it, maybe it moved to Vernon Hills? Any idea if that is connected to the original shop?

    Moondogs first opened in Des Plains I think around '76 or '77. The Moondogs in Schaumburg opened aroun 80 or 81. After that it became a bigger local chain. I know there was one downtown near Tower Records but closed in the late 90's

  5. I consulted with a friend and he says yes there was a Moondogs in Schaumburg, not in Vernon Hills (I was mistaken about that). "The Hobbyist" however must have been a franchise or some-such as there was a "The Hobbyist" in Vernon Hills (it was in a Walgreens plaza). It was only around for a few years (early 80s) and then vanished. The other scenario could be that they weren't really a franchise and maybe they simply moved to Schaumburg? Was a great place to buy Ral Partha minis though.

  6. Yes, the early 80's was the peek of the Hobbyist. I know the store was still open in Schaumburg during that time. If I recall, I think they did open a second shop in Vernon Hills. So it may, perhaps at one time, have been run by the same owners. Next time I'm in Chicago I'll make an effort to stop by there.