I got into role-playing games in the mid-Eighties, well after the hobby’s faddish push into mainstream culture had come and gone. As far as my peers were concerned, it was a done deal to be spoken of in the past tense and I considered myself lucky when I stumbled across a handful of hold-out enthusiasts in my freshman year.
As the fandom shrunk, so did the shelf space dedicated to the hobby by mass market retailers. Aisle-long displays contracted into endcap afterthoughts for whatever unsold inventory remained. My copy of the “red box” D&D Basic Set came from the clearance aisle of the local Osco Drug and my Dungeon Master’s Guide was a ten dollar discovery found beneath a copy of Axis & Allies in the boardgame aisle of a dying Child World store in Medford.
By the latter half of 1989, even these remnant efforts would be abandoned and the field ceded entirely to specialty shops and the occasional mall bookstore. Toys R Us claimed the space for the more lucrative and evergreen realm of VHS-based boardgames, while Kay-Bee opted to shed its left-over RPG-related stock in a deeply discounted mass dumping.
Regardless what it said about the health of the industry as a whole, it was glorious from the perspective of a cash-strapped teenager. I remember it like it was yesterday — bin after bin packed with various TSR products going for a buck or two.
I hauled off as much as I could reasonably afford before heading home and informing my buddy Damian about the windfall to be had. By the time we made it back there a couple of days later, nearly all of it — apart from a few Endless Quest paperbacks — was gone. My guess is that the owners of the local game shops got wind of the sale and rushed out to top of their own inventories on the cheap while removing a threat to their own profit margins. (The suspicious palimpsest of price tags I’d occasionally find on some modules — as late as the mid-1990s — supported my theory.)
For all the excitement about my big score, I remember very little about the specifics. The problem with bulk-purchase binges is that the awe-inspiring volume tends to drown out any detailed appreciation for the individual items involved. (See also: the P2P free-for-all of the previous decade or any given Steam sale.) The hoarding impulse isn’t conducive to savoring one’s fare.
I can only recall two of the items in any detail. One was Quagmire!, a basic D&D module about a trio of shell-shaped cities sinking into a swamp. The other was the Avengers Assembled! sourcebook for the Marvel Super Heroes RPG, purchased on behalf of Lil Bro.
There were also some other D&D modules (whose names I’ve forgotten) I picked up because they included cut-out cardboard models of buildings and ruins suitable for my early dabblings with Warhammer 40k.
None of it was bought with direct use in mind, which also explains why few of the details stuck over time. I was pretty much over AD&D at the time, but the dazzling effect of fire-sale prices and my ongoing search for inspirational material for my Warhammer Fantasy Role Play runs got the better of me. Many of the maps — and a few of the recontextualized encounters — ended up getting folded into various WFRP campaigns of mine for the next half a decade and my sheaf of notes contains several loose pages pulled from that titanic haul.
The Avengers’ sourcebook only saw use as a handy ipecac, thanks to the Starfox entry.