D&D General 2E Setting Product lines

Mercurius

Legend
Yesterday I was going to respond to someone in a thread about current setting coverage, but forgot which thread it was in, so decided to just start a new thread -- and with a pretty chart!

One of the things that struck me when I was going over 2E's vast number of books (as an ongoing project to do similar charts to my 5E one, that some of you might have seen) is that it essentially had separate product lines for each setting. Meaning, unlike today where 5E is published as a single product line - which was the same as in 4E - 2E (and to a lesser extent, 3.5) was published with "sub-lines" for each setting. This is illustrated by the brand of the setting, each with their distinct logo.

In 5E, most settings are "one and done" - at least so far, the exceptions being the Forgotten Realms and Exandria, and I suppose Ravenloft. But even those either have a setting and adventure (Ravenloft, Exandria) or one regional setting/splat hybrid and only adventures, but no setting expansions (FR - at least thus far).

This approach of a setting line really started in the late 80s -- 1987, to be exact -- with the beginnings of the Forgotten Realms books (the gray box and first two FR supplements), as well as on the BECMI side of things with the first four gazetteers. 1988 followed with the Kara-Tur box set -- now officially part of the Realms -- plus three more FR books, and the City System box set, as well as six more Known World/Mystara gazetteers.

Before that, there were sprinklings of setting products, but no real setting expansions. The default setting for D&D, both OD&D and 1E, had been Greyhawk, but there were no setting books published beyond the Folio (1980) and World of Greyhawk box set (1983); even the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover (1988) wasn't really a setting book, but more of a splat.

There was also a bit of Dragonlance material, but beyond a few products -- DL5: Dragons of Mystery (1984), and somewhat Dragonlance Adventures (1987), all of it was adventures.

So the so-called "Golden Age of Settings" began in 1987, and exploded with 2E. And with 2E, the settings became distinct lines, which is illustrated in the chart below:

Screen Shot 2022-05-31 at 12.24.52 PM.png


Take especial notice of that last light blue row - those are the number of settings that received some kind of support in each year. It was never less than 3, with as many as 8 in four different years (1992-94, '98) and 6+ between 1990-96.

(As a side note, I made some judgement calls with the color assignments - but regardless of quibbling over whether a given year was "huge" or "major," the basic principle holds: the darker the color, the more support a product line received. Furthermore, the numbers are as accurate as possible - while there may be some mistakes, I think they're close enough to serve the point of this thread. ALSO: This only includes 2E products, not BECMI, which had Mystara setting books from 1987-93).

What is striking is the sheer number of products. The Realms (93 products) received by far the most support, then Ravenloft (64), and then a handful received a similar amount: Dark Sun (32), Dragonlance (30), Planescape (30), Birthright (29), and Greyhawk (27), with Spelljammer (20) a bit behind, and everything else significantly less.

Lankhmar is interesting, because it received a steady 1-3 adventures for five out of six years in 1990-95, then a setting book in '96, which I believe was an update of the 1985 2E book.

In terms of product lines in 2E, we could categorize them like so:

Flagship setting line: Forgotten Realms
Secondary/themed line: Ravenloft
Major lines: Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Planescape, Birthright
Minor lines: Lankhmar, Al-Qadim, Mystara
One-shots: Council of Wyrms, Jakandor, Diablo II

Meaning, the flagship was the kitchen sink setting, with the secondary setting being highly theme-specific, then half a dozen major lines and a half dozen more minor lines and one-shots that explored different styles and themes of game play.

As I mentioned, WotC continued this somewhat in 3E, but much trimmed down, mostly to two major lines: Forgotten Realms and later Eberron, with a few others sprinkled in: Greyhawk, Rokugan in Oriental Adventures, and Ghostwalk. 4E shifted again, with one major setting book released in its first three years, and each supplemented by another hardcover, plus adventures set in Nentir Vale, and a few later FR books.

5E's approach seems to mix that of 1E and 4E, eschewing the more in-depth approaches of 2E and 3E. But it also seems to have a bit of 2E in that they're published a wider range of settings than 1E or 4E, exploring different themes and styles of settings.
 

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gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
While you could call Masque of the Red Death, a Ravenloft derived setting - I'd call that a separate setting, since it's based on real world Earth, and it was created during 2e.
 


Mercurius

Legend
This was what I was talking about (the thread, fyi, was Chris Perkins and Ray Winninger Interview Discussing Spelljammer and Product Development). In AD&D settings were absolutely product lines, and it split up their fanbase.
Sort of, yes. But again, some of the specifics I mentioned were lacking: setting supplements beyond a very few, and the same kind of branding of distinct product lines. There were Greyhawk adventures, the DL series, a few odds and ends, but not really "setting product lines" in a meaningful way.
5e is up to 7 supported settings, with 2 more out in a few months, and 2 additional settings being teased.
Yes, but they aren't "supported" in the same way, unless you consider DM's Guild support - but that is really just crowd-sourcing. Most of them are one-and-done, with a few having an adventure added on.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I'd certainly like to have been a fly on the wall and find out why Lankhmar got such long-standing support - I mean, it goes all the way back to content in Deities & Demigods in 1E. Not that it's bad (I have all the books), I'm just curious why there was such a push for books on it up until the final boxed set. I mean, it's got more content than even the Buck Rogers game got, and I doubt there's anyone who started D&D post 2E who knows about Lankhmar (and even then, back in 1E/2E no one I knew was familiar with any of the books).
 


My hope is that one day in the next 5 years or so, WotC begins to pick up DMs Guild products, give them a new coat of paint, and sells them and gives the creators their dues. This is the only way IMO that I think product lines can really work — either a studio is dedicated to a product line, or WotC uses its first-party powers to shine light on the third party work done on the DMs Guild.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Sort of, yes. But again, some of the specifics I mentioned were lacking: setting supplements beyond a very few, and the same kind of branding of distinct product lines. There were Greyhawk adventures, the DL series, a few odds and ends, but not really "setting product lines" in a meaningful way.

Yes, but they aren't "supported" in the same way, unless you consider DM's Guild support - but that is really just crowd-sourcing. Most of them are one-and-done, with a few having an adventure added on.
DMsGuild is such a game changer that I'd hesitate to compare it directly: the cultural and economic context is radically different. I wouldn't say that what 2E era TSR was putting out was necessarily more polished game content than much of the DMsGuild.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
I'd certainly like to have been a fly on the wall and find out why Lankhmar got such long-standing support - I mean, it goes all the way back to content in Deities & Demigods in 1E. Not that it's bad (I have all the books), I'm just curious why there was such a push for books on it up until the final boxed set. I mean, it's got more content than even the Buck Rogers game got, and I doubt there's anyone who started D&D post 2E who knows about Lankhmar (and even then, back in 1E/2E no one I knew was familiar with any of the books).
Well, it's central to the development of the very genre that D&D emulates, and on top of that Fritz Leiber was under pretty extreme financial duress in his old age, so the license was available for sale.
 

I think they write every 5e book so that all you need to play is the core 3. Whereas, in 2e, the adventures for, say, Planescape, would reference the setting box set (and possibly the expansion box sets) for necessary information. Not only that, but there was a meta plot to follow! This sort of thing appeals to enthusiasts and completionists, but confuses casual players.
 

TwiceBorn2

Adventurer
I think they write every 5e book so that all you need to play is the core 3. Whereas, in 2e, the adventures for, say, Planescape, would reference the setting box set (and possibly the expansion box sets) for necessary information. Not only that, but there was a meta plot to follow! This sort of thing appeals to enthusiasts and completionists, but confuses casual players.
And also turns off casual players with limited budgets...
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Yes, but they aren't "supported" in the same way, unless you consider DM's Guild support - but that is really just crowd-sourcing. Most of them are one-and-done, with a few having an adventure added on.
My point is, this is a feature, not a bug. They aren't fracturing their fanbase anymore by creating dozens of mutually exclusive supplements anymore. The 5e setting books all have content that anyone can use. They aren't putting out dozens of lore-dump FR or Greyhawk that nobody will buy except for their respective setting diehards.
 

Mercurius

Legend
My point is, this is a feature, not a bug. They aren't fracturing their fanbase anymore by creating dozens of mutually exclusive supplements anymore. The 5e setting books all have content that anyone can use. They aren't putting out dozens of lore-dump FR or Greyhawk that nobody will buy except for their respective setting diehards.
Oh, I agree. It is obviously intentional and, as I think I implied, it seems like they've combined the best elements of previous editions: The diversity of worlds of 2E, the production value of 3E/4E, and the minimalism of 1E (as far as setting material is concerned).
 

Echohawk

Shirokinukatsukami fan
Yeah. That makes me think that someone at TSR really liked Lankhmar. Or it could just be that it was part of their shotgun and more-is-better approach to publication.
I seem to recall reading somewhere [citation needed], that publishing new products with a certain frequency was a requirement for TSR to keep the Lankhmar licence. That doesn't explain the gap in 1994, unless the requirement wasn't necessarily based on a calendar year. It does explain the pretty low quality of some of those releases.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I seem to recall reading somewhere [citation needed], that publishing new products with a certain frequency was a requirement for TSR to keep the Lankhmar licence. That doesn't explain the gap in 1994, unless the requirement wasn't necessarily based on a calendar year. It does explain the pretty low quality of some of those releases.
That could make sense. I wonder if the license went back all the way to TSR's founding? I remember that Leiber was involved directly with TSR at the beginning, and attended a few D&D conventions in the 70s, and TSR originally adapted a board game about Lankhmar for publication in '76.


Before that, there were sprinklings of setting products, but no real setting expansions. The default setting for D&D, both OD&D and 1E, had been Greyhawk, but there were no setting books published beyond the Folio (1980) and World of Greyhawk box set (1983); even the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover (1988) wasn't really a setting book, but more of a splat.
I think Greyhawk Adventures is still more of a setting book than a splat. There are some rules expansions in there, like zero-level characters, but as I recall most of the book is still about places and NPCs in the setting.
 

Interesting analysis. But I think the context of why such was being done, and more importantly the impacts it had on the game and company is of critical importance to keep in mind.

In short, 2E was a "bad" business model and was probably a "technique" to exploit their publishing deal. I hope it is not adopted for 5E.
 

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