Monday, March 18, 2019

Philadelphia Sales and What I Got There

One of the local department stores we had when I was growing up was Philadelphia Sales. The one I went to most as a kid was not the Binghamton location (shown to the left); we went to the Endicott store because it was closer. I can still smell the dueling aromas of fresh buttered popcorn and animal feed that would hit you as soon as you walked in the door.

I don't even know if they sold animal feed.

Philadelphia Sales had a nice toy department (I think I got my first He-Man there), was a good place to get cheap Chuck Taylors, and had a lot of discount clothes--which was helpful when there wasn't a lot of money to go around. 

(Although, it did seem like a lot of the pants they sold did have legs of varying lengths.)

I don't remember ever seeing any role-playing game stuff on the shelves of the toy department or wherever they kept the books, but there was a jumble-sale series of folding tables that held deeply discounted goods over toward the fitting rooms on the right side of the first floor. Occasionally I'd find an rpg supplement among the mess of tchotchkes and torn packages, but never the core books to go with them. These were some of my first game books.

Starspawn of Volturnus
Prior to getting my hands on this, I don't think I was really too aware that there were any rpgs in the world aside from D&D. The game we were playing was a Frankenstein's Monster made up of Basic D&D and AD&D hardcovers inherited from older siblings and parents, stuff we found in the back of old drug stores, and whatever was on the shelves of Waldenbooks and Coles in the mall. I'm pretty sure Starspawn of Volturnus got added to that mix piecemeal; we can no idea how Star Frontiers was supposed to work, so we cannibalized it for parts.

Conan: The Buccaneer
This module introduced the word "buccaneer" into my vocabulary and caused much wonderment among us because the included pre-generated characters were differentiated by talents and flaws. That seemed revolutionary and mind-altering at the time; it hinted that not all 5th level fighters had to be the same character, mechanically speaking. Again, we had no frame of reference for the Conan game, but this one was easier to incorporate into the mix of our games. 

Secret Wars
This one was beyond our ability to loot, so it pushed us toward another vital step in the lives of young gamers: even though we didn't have access to the Marvel Super Heroes rules, it inspired us to kit-bash a rules system together around the numbers it gave us to work with. We definitely didn't arrive at the color-coded table that we were meant to use. I think we came up with some sort of roll-under percentile system based on the ability scores given in the module.

I think this one did get reused as a D&D adventure, possibly as a sequel to Dungeonland. Either way, this adventure gave me a life-long distrust of both gingers and men in bow ties.

Not pictured, but I also scored a copy of Left Hand of Darkness off those discount tables as a teenager, so Philly Sales continued to serve up the good stuff right up until it closed its doors.