NOTE: Due to circumstances connected to the Covid-19 pandemic, the physical location for Weird Realms is temporarily closed. You can still order online through their website.
Roadworthy Retailers: Weird Realms
By Thorin Thompson
The backbone of any gaming community is its friendly local game store (FLGS). If you’re passing through Cleveland, OH, do yourself a favor and swing by one of the best and nerdiest stores in town run by Beckett Warren called Weird Realms!
Weird Realms, which opened in 2016, carries a wide range of games, comics, and collectibles. The store has an extensive selection of OSR offerings, 3rd party products, and indie story games to delight even the crustiest of Grognards!
I sat down to chat with Beckett recently to gather a little more insight on himself and the store he runs.
So how did Weird Realms come about?
Beckett: Well I had been doing junk sales and markets, etc., for I don’t know… roughly 10 years before opening the store. When my dad passed, I sold his house and cashed out the pension to start this place. Which maybe wasn’t the smartest move… I should have just kept it and had a place to live. [He laughs!]
You’ve got to follow your passion!
Yeah, well I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons since I was seven years old, so it and the other TTRPGs are the main reason I wanted to open the store. Even though I spend most of my time sorting through Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering Cards… [He chuckles a little before sighing]. That’s little soul-crushing and mind-numbing, but it is what it is!
Was it your father who got you into the Dungeons & Dragons?
No, he got me into other cool stuff though! He was always fascinated by my interest in role-playing games, but he wasn’t really into games. He enjoyed storytelling and stuff like that. Oddly, his parents were into board games.
So what was your first experience with RPGs?
In the neighborhood I lived in there were these kids across the street. Every summer we would watch Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome at their house, and one summer they showed me their Dungeons & Dragons books. When I looked through the books I saw all these demons and monsters in it and I was like, “Whoa, these are pretty cool but scary!” The way they explained to me was something like this: “You can play as a guy, who just walks around wearing Ninja garb and kills people with throwing stars! It’s awesome!” And I was like, “WHOOAA!”
So when I finally got to play my character was a blue dragon, y’know because you didn’t want to be a gold dragon because they’re lawful and just want to help everybody, but the blue dragons were neutral and could do whatever they wanted. Anyways, that was my initial explanation/intro to Dungeons & Dragons. To me though it was always through this weird sort of Mad Max lens, and it just sounded like the coolest s***!
So then I asked my parents to buy it for me and my dad’s reply was, “I heard that game makes kids go crazy and kill their friends in the sewer.” And it was like, “I promise I won’t kill my friends in the sewer Dad!” Of course, my dad was just messing with me, but that’s when I finally got the Mentzer Redbox.
Nice! So how did you decide on the name Weird Realms?
So originally it was gonna be called Evil Gnome Games. I was talking to a friend of mine, John Grimer, who did a lot of artwork for the shop, and was talking about this D&D campaign we played called The Evil Gnome Campaign and I said something like, “Evil gnome games, best days of my life,” which he thought was hysterical. So I got the website and established the corporate name, etc., and then Gnome Games sends me a cease and desist letter stating they have a trademark on anything with “gnome” and “games” in it…
Long story short… we had to change the name, but I think in the end it was for the best because Weird Realms, which my wife thought of, is the better name.
Tell me about that sick mural in your store? How big is that thing?
The mural is 8’x16’ and it came about because Jake repaints old furniture with crazy psychedelic genre work, and is an accomplished mural painter. So I was like, “Dude! I’m opening a store, and I can I have it be a showroom for some of your pieces.” And he replied, “Dude! Why don’t I do a mural for you!” And I was like, “That would be rad!”
So when he began working on the mural he asked what I wanted on it and I just said something cool and left it to his imagination. The only thing I said is that it definitely needed to have a guy shooting lasers from middle fingers! But mostly Jake came upon it on his own from us talking about what the store would be about while we worked on the buildout together.
What’s your favorite part of running a game store?
I think I’ve created an interesting and inclusive space for neighborhood kids who (and this always seems to happen when I need to hear it most) come in and say, “Wow I can’t believe a place like exists in our neighborhood,” or something to that extent and that’s really cool.
Also getting to look at that sweet mural every day is also pretty great. For the first couple of months after we opened the store I would just sit and stare at that thing.
Plus running a store game as opposed to a game with friends is something special. I’ve met a bunch of interesting people I probably wouldn’t have otherwise and they’ve become my friends.
You carry a lot of Goodman Games stock, third party publishers, etc., how did you first learn about Dungeon Crawl Classics?
Probably would have been 2013 maybe at Con on the Cob, which is a convention outside of Cleveland. I remember seeing the Dungeon Crawl Classics modules from the 3rd Edition days and reading the part about NPCs only being meant to be killed. That originally turned me off as I thought it was more of a combat-oriented strategy type game, like Warhammer or something. And then when they were putting out stuff for 4th Edition was like, “BLAH,” y’know?
Fast forward to Gen Con 2015, I had checked out the rulebook and poked around a little bit on Google Plus about it, so I signed up for whatever game I could get into, which ended up being the Enter the Dagon tournament ran by Harley Stroh. My first reaction was, “Holy crap this is great!” That night I was walking through the Embassy Suites lobby and Doug Kovacs was running Catastrophe Island and invited me to the game. From then on I was sold and had to pick up some of the 3rd party zines at the booth the next day, in particular, Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad and Black Sun Death Crawl.
So you were instantly converted, a true acolyte of DCC RPG!
Pretty much immediately yeah, like Road to Damascus converted!
I guess you play a lot of DCC or MCC in the store?
Yeah, I run a weekly DCC every Thursday. We recently finished the adventure Fae Hard by James A. Pozenel, Jr. We’ve had Jeff Goad (Spellburn & Appendix N Bookclub podcasts) run some games for Origins Tournament Prep, and Doug Kovas has come out a few times to run some games like Meat Planet and Escape From Punjar.
Have you written any 3rd party material yourself?
Todd Jakubisin and I wrote a system-neutral RPG adventure called Halflings and the Hive, which is currently out-of-stock. I’ve also released a comic based on Lord Dunsany’s 51 Tales called “Charon.”
Very cool! I’ll have to check those out! So I hear you take a different approach to running your store?
Yeah, I try to run it like a record store I guess. I mean I do sell records… but I try to find unique 3rd party published products and other unique gaming material. A few bands have played at the shop, so I guess that differentiates it from other nerd stores. For example, a month ago we did a playthrough of DCC with a D&D metal band called Throne of Iron!
No one showed up, unfortunately, so it was just me running the band members through Portal Under the Stars while a bunch of people played Yu-Gi-Oh… but they had fun!
Do you attend many conventions?
I’ve run a booth at U-Con in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Bash Con in Toledo, Ohio and then Con-on-the-Cob in Richfield, OH. Those are pretty much the main ones and I seem to do pretty well at those.
Do you do trade-ins?
Yeah, we do. We have used RPG books, an Appendix N section (both new and used as well as an audiobook). I’ve taken an ax for trade! This guy made it with an arc welder and he traded it for, you guessed it… Yu Gi Oh! cards! So basically to anyone reading this: Whatever crap you think you can bring to the store do it! The worst-case scenario is I’ll just tell you no! [He laughs!]
Is all your inventory on your website or is it mainly in store?
I’m currently in the process of getting the website properly stocked. I started with DCC and the next batch will be OSR products, so be on the lookout for that!
Well, Beckett, it’s been a pleasure! I’m looking forward to checking out the store one day!
Thanks, dude! Take it easy!