I wrote a post much like this before, called Random Memories of the Very Old Days. But I got to visit my friend, editor, and five-time writing partner Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch this weekend, and we were chatting about what it was like getting gaming stuff when we started out gaming.
So here are some more random memories.
You Got What Was Available. Pretty much, what was in the stores nearby was what you had to choose from.
Not all stores would order stuff for you - and for me, being a pre-teen gamer, "you" did not include "me." The first place I recall ordering stuff for me was what is now Timewarp Comics & Games. Otherwise, it was what was on the shelves. They ordered stuff in, and it sat there until it was purchased. People didn't necessarily differentiate between Basic, Expert, original D&D, and AD&D. So it was all jumbled together, and there wasn't any clear attempt at maintaining a line.
This could be good - I got Eldritch Wizardy, the now-called OD&D supplement, for a few bucks off the shelf of a gaming store. AFAIK that was my first OD&D purchase, followed closely by Blackmoor. Now I have them all.
This could be very good - Ogre and Car Wars were prominently displayed and easy to get.
This could also be very bad - I never saw a single Judge's Guild product until much later, although I remember ads for them in Dragon magazine. We saw Role-Aids stuff, but I wasn't (and still basically am not) terribly impressed by them. They weren't "official" either, would meant we couldn't point to any external authority to justify using them. That was important either as a young kid trying to convince other young kids your rules were the right rules, or when dealing with the occasional older kids who didn't want to game with you either.* Not only that, but I got Fiend Folio before the Monster Manual, at least partly because the Jamesway I bought it at didn't have the Monster Manual. I wanted it more, but I also didn't have the other one around - I remember being really excited to get to take a look at my uncle's copy much later on. It was this mythical tome.
Mail Order Hobby House - I ordered stuff from the Mail Order Hobby House starting sometime later. I'd save up, make the order up, get my mom to write a check for the amount, and send away and wait 4-6 weeks for the stuff I ordered to show up. No drop shipped or POD or Amazon Prime in those days. Sometimes it would come with a refund because stuff wasn't available. Sometimes it would come with a bill because something increased in price since I ordered it. I vaguely recall not paying them $1.~ I owed near the end, or not getting that amount back in overpaying - I can't recall which.
Dragon Ads - Another way to get stuff was mail order from companies advertising in Dragon. I have a couple issues with stuff cut out for that reason. That's how I got my back issues, although I ordered too late to get Dragon #69 (with the Astral Plane adventure featuring Githyanki) and got a refund check for that issue. I also got at least one SJG supplement that way, but for the life I me I can't recall which one. It might have been GEV, maybe. Or Shockwave.
Pre-Painted Minis. I don't know who was doing them, but you used to be able to get four figure packs of pre-painted lead minis. I have what's left of one wizard, now, who I re-painted all blue with enamel paint at some point. I don't know why, either - maybe they didn't seal right and the paint flecked off? Who knows? I tended to mistreat my toys.
That's your random old memories for today.
* If the gaming blog-o-sphere seems a little high school sometimes, with cliques and name calling and spite posting with the names filed off, it's still better than the pre-junior high stuff I lived through in actual reality. Gamers were marginal in school, and we marginalized each other. Hurrah for internecine conflict.
I think I've told the story about how my first scheduled settle-this-after-school fight was over gaming, with another gamer, right? No? Maybe some other time . . .