Recently, our FLGC (favorite local gaming store) celebrated its first birthday in our community. My family had been without a truly favorite local gaming store for a while after the owner of our favorite store (a non-gamer) caused major shuffles in our favorite staff members before the small store chain got caught in the cross-hairs of the recession and some competition opened up. None of the new options really clicked with us, and when we moved to a still developing suburb, the nearest store wasn’t really convenient to us either.
Until a year ago. A friend tagged me in a social media post announcing the opening of a gaming store actually in our community, so our whole geeky family headed down to check it out on opening day. It’s a smaller store but still holds both play space and merchandise. As we stepped into the doors for the first time, I had no idea how significant a space that store would become to us.
The owner, J, friendly and enthusiastic, let us know about the events he was planning to run including groups of D&D for middle and high school kids. No local store had ever run consistent events for kids from my recollection. A was excited about getting a D&D group of his own (I had run some things for the kids but nothing on a consistent campaign basis), especially since COVID had hit the social activities hard, and his friend group from elementary school was doing a natural split of kids who were devoted to team sports and kids who liked more geeky hobbies. Eager to support a new and awesome local business, our kids both picked up Pokémon cards, if I recall correctly, while I picked up a wet pallet to feed my newly acquired terrain painting habit.
It was a short time later that we were back when J announced sign-ups for the D&D groups and A got to join his first regular D&D group. We would be back numerous times during the summer since A was there weekly. By July, J started up a Pokémon League for kids where they could learn to build decks, play, and do fair trades. Suddenly we were there on Friday afternoons as well and I learned to play Pokémon along with my kids eventually earning the title of Pokémom. It was a fun way to bond with the kids over a hobby they really enjoy, and another mom I know from Tae-Kwon Do brought her kid and has also earned Pokémom status. W started to learn to play and had other kids to hang out with, and A took to learning to play well enough that J started setting him up to play against some of his shop pros. (If he beats enough of them, he gets to take on J and earn the right to compete with the adults. Yes, this feels very battle the Gym Leader to us too.)
Word had gotten to me that there might be an older elementary group for D&D, and I inquired with J since W really needed a group of his own too. A not only had his store group but his middle school club group too, and W felt a bit left out. It turned out that there wasn’t a group for that age range, and that was when I said some very fateful words to J:
“Would you like one?”
And that is the origin story of how I ended up becoming a proper DM after two decades of having been a player who had dabbled in some one-shots. W got a place in the group, and bit by bit, J and I recruited some kids and parents to take part in my favorite thing to run for kids: D&D 5e-compatible Animal Adventures. Our group of Awakened cats and dogs went on a series of adventures as I started learning how to be a DM and how to make a complex game accessible for kids as young as first graders. What I lacked in DM experience and 5e experience (my group had been playing Pathfinder as well as other systems like Tales From the Loop for a bit) I made up for with my experience with kids.
It was hugely fun. I found myself looking forward to sessions even when my depression was having a rough go of things, and painting little animal minis and fun items to add to scenes always left the kids especially excited. A number of kids were getting to play with their parents, which started to make D&D a real family thing. The kid that didn’t have a parent at my table was still taking the joy home to a sibling who already played and two parents who were getting pulled into the hobby. I loved my group so much, I did the only reasonable thing.
I asked J for another. My second group was granted.
We’ve got a little shuffling now as some of my players are aging up into a middle school group, but I get to keep all my players, which I am excited about because they’re such a fun group of kiddos. My soon-to-be middle schoolers are getting to be in one group I’m going to run Ghosts of Saltmarsh for. My other group is combining the younger kids to continue their adventures with their Awakened cats and dogs until such time as we end that story and I run Animal Adventures: The Faraway Sea for them. (I foresee the potential for enough red panda-based characters that I might be able to nickname that group Pandamonium or Pandapocalypse and I am 100% here for that.) Not going to lie, wrapping up storylines for two of those characters tugged on the feels pretty decently even though I knew I’d still get to keep the players.
The thing is, I never would have gotten this chance if it wasn’t for having our favorite local gaming store. One of my favorite things was watching those kids make memories, seeing them share this hobby with their families, and hearing them talk about the game at home at times. I’m the sort of DM that believes I’m creating an adventure for my players, and those moments where one of them is clever enough that I need to make up a mechanic on the fly—we had some great Home Alone-inspired moments during a siege—or they cleverly use a spell in a way I had not anticipated are some of the moments that I absolutely love the best. I get excited to paint new things for them (I am very proud of that ghost mini), and I hope to keep adding bigger and better things (I have a ship in printing progress right now).
Your local gaming store can’t compete with Amazon prices (that’s just a simple fact), but Amazon didn’t teach my kids how to play Pokémon either, J and his store did. Amazon didn’t grant me the play space with two groups of fun kids and their dads. Amazon didn’t make the memories of villains thwarted cleverly, of the time I DM cackled and one dad going “Oh no” turned into one of our players breaking into that “Oh No” song used on social media reels to the high amusement of us all. Amazon did not provide delightfully awful puns and saving throw results that saved the day. Amazon did not give me the chance to go full former theater kid imitating small yappy dogs, angry cat sounds, a big bad dragging out its death like Paul Reubens in the Buffy movie, or an NPC that keeps changing the details of a story every time you hear it to make himself sound more and more heroic. J and his store gave us those moments.
So if you have an FLGS that’s as awesome as ours, go buy your games, your paints, your brushes, and your books from them. If they don’t have something, see if they can order it for you so they get the credit for it. If there are gaming stores in your area, make sure to check them out. One of them just might become your FLGS.