Gathering Imagination: Some Tips on Collecting TTRPGs

Over on my site I talked a bit about starting up the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games, and what I hoped to do with that project. While there will be a few different aspects to that work, the primary one will be the collecting and preserving of tabletop gaming materials. In the age of Ebay you might be forgiven for thinking that collecting these books would be as easy as scrolling, clicking, and buying. And to some extent that’s true, especially when you add in sites like Noble Knight Games, a site specializing in used TTRPG material. But you still have to know what you’re looking for, and do some research to not only find the right books to buy, but decide whether the books you’re buying are worth the asking price.

If you have thought about collecting classic TTRPG material, let me give you a few tips to help get you started in the right direction.

1. Make a Plan – This is the time to decide what you want to collect. The history of the TTRPG industry as we might recognize it goes back over forty years, with the influences on that industry stretching back even further. Many tens of thousands of books were published in that time, and if you’re just starting out, I would heartily recommend you narrow your focus. While the CLRG certainly plans to get everything it can, even I have a plan for what I want to collect first.

So for now make some choices. I’d recommend going with a game you really love, and seeing how much of its previous editions you can collect. Or focus your sights on one gaming company and go after everything they published. Narrowing your focus now will make the next steps we’ll discuss easier. Plus it will allow you to set smaller achievable goals in your collecting process; yes, you’re going to collect everything R. Talsorian Games ever published, but you can break that down by year and focus your efforts year by year.

A series of books I highly recommend to get you started is Designers & Dragons, by Shannon Applecline. This currently four volume set is a company-by-company history of the RPG industry, each volume spanning a decade of time and examining the companies which started in each decade. Each entry goes straight through to the company’s end, or talks about where they are at if still in business. I find it to be a fascinating read, and invaluable as a tool to start collecting classic RPG books. You can pick up the entire set on DriveThruRPG in ebook or print-on-demand.

2. Do the Research – Now that you have a focused goal in mind, this is the time to break out your inner wizard and dig in to some old-fashioned research. Well, maybe not that old-fashioned, as much of the initial information you want can be found online and in ebook form. A quick Google search of your game or company will turn up some places to start; maybe an official site if the company is still around, fan sites, a Wikipedia page, maybe even some items for sale on Ebay.

Speaking of Ebay, take a spin through there and see what’s available. This is a good way to gauge not only the overall availability of the books you want, but what other folks think they are worth. As you search, keep an eye out for any catalogues which might be for sale. Gaming companies often published catalogues of the games they planned to publish in a particular year, and these are invaluable for tracking down product you might have missed. If your first several Ebay purchase are just catalogues, it will be money well spent.

As mentioned before, Noble Knight Games is another great site for tracking down classic gaming material. They are a standard storefront, so unlike Ebay you won’t bid. If they have it in stock you just buy it, easy as that. Two features Noble Knight has that I love. First, if an item is out of stock you can add it to your wish list and you’ll be notified if it ever comes back. This can is like having a second set of eyes searching for your product, but it only works if they had it in stock in the first place; if they’ve never had it, it won’t be listed on their site. The second feature I love is their grading system. Noble Knight uses a pretty comprehensive quality grade, from Poor through to Mint, and this is helpful in deciding if the price being asked is worth it. Your mileage may vary, but I have yet to find them off in their quality estimation.

3. Take Stock of Your Resources – It goes without saying that your first big resource constraint will be money. Take a good hard look at your finances, and make a budget. Then stick to that budget, or at least know when you can safely go a bit over on occasion. There will definitely be times in a particularly heated Ebay bidding war that you’ll be tempted to just bid a little more, even though the price is already out of your range. I won’t tell you to never do that, but do be conscious that you can’t afford to do it often. This is where your plan comes in handy. Maybe instead of chasing that one pricey item, you can shift focus and pick up a few less expensive ones, that will bulk out your collection. No book is worth not being able to pay rent. Also, shipping will be a big factor in the cost of items. Books can be heavy and shipping, especially if it crosses a border, is expensive. If you factor in an additional +50% to the cost of the items when budgeting, you won’t be far off.

Your next resource constraint is storage space. As you start your collection may fit on one shelf in your living room. But depending on what you’re collecting you will eventually need more space. In a future article I’ll talk about managing environmental factors to protect your books, but for now you ideally want somewhere dry, temperature stable, and out of direct sunlight. Shelves are the standard choice for holding your collection, but the same companies that make longboxes for comic book collectors also make magazine sized shortboxes. These are well sized to hold gaming supplements, and are an economical (both in price and space) way to store a lot of books in a condensed area.

Next, see if you can find fellow collectors to help you out. Some of those sites you researched may be able to point you in the right direction, and taking a spin through places like Facebook and Meetup can be helpful as well. Most collector communities are filled with friendly folk willing to lend some advice or a helping hand. And often they’ll point out opportunities to you that they found in their searches; they may not collect Shadowrun material but they know you do, and they stumbled across a big collection up for grabs on Ebay. Of course, the next time you come across some classic Chaosium stuff that they might like, the hope is you’ll send them a note.

Okay, so you’ve got a plan, you’ve done your research, and your resources are in place. Let’s get collecting! In future articles we’ll talk about where to buy your first items, how to preserve and sometimes conserve your purchases, other collecting materials you might find useful, and so much more. It’s a rich and rewarding hobby that allows you a look at TTRPG history, which can inform how you game now. Stick around, and until next time, happy hunting!

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