AD&D Settings Sales Comparison 79-98

I know there have been a lot of these threads, and I'm holding off on any kind of overarching summary/compilation article until they're all in, but this one in particular jumped out at me. Again, this is from Ben Riggs, author of Slaying the Dragon, a history of TSR-era D&D, going out next month.


This graph shows a number of legacy settings and the total sales of their core setting product. Forgotten Realms is, of course, the top one. Interestingly, the other two settings that WotC has revisited in 5E -- Ravenloft and Spelljammer -- are near the bottom of the chart.

Ben says he will be providing the remaining settings tomorrow, and I'll update this post with those when he does.
  1. Forgotten Realms
  2. Greyhawk
  3. Dragonlance
  4. Ravenloft
  5. Dark Sun
  6. Spelljammer

settings.jpg
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
But the chart doesn’t show sales of the original Ravenloft module. Which was a huge seller, AFAIK.

A comparison of just the key boxed sets does tell us something, but it doesn’t really encompass the totality of consumer impressions for each setting.
Yeah, I think it's a tricky distinction.

Obviously Ravenloft, like Dragonlance, is a setting originally presented to consumers in module form. A smaller, more digestible package, and, at least in Ravenloft's case, one specifically designed to be compatible with your existing game. Playable as an isolated episode/adventure in the buyer's homebrew campaign, or game set in Greyhawk, the Realms, or wherever.

Folks buying a whole campaign setting book or boxed set are making more of an investment. Not just of cash, but of planned time and work to read and internalize the setting details, then to build their campaign in that setting and work to use the provided details, and make their own creative design and writing compatible with it.

Are we trying to measure "How many people found this setting cool enough to run an adventure set there"? Or "How many people found this setting appealing enough to want to run a whole campaign there, possibly committing years of real time to it"?
 

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Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
But the chart doesn’t show sales of the original Ravenloft module. Which was a huge seller, AFAIK.

A comparison of just the key boxed sets does tell us something, but it doesn’t really encompass the totality of consumer impressions for each setting.
I think it's important to note I6 Ravenloft came out in 1983. The boxed set didn't come out until 1990. So it makes sense the module had high sales #s but the setting did not, considering those above factors.
 

Reynard

Legend
But the chart doesn’t show sales of the original Ravenloft module. Which was a huge seller, AFAIK.

A comparison of just the key boxed sets does tell us something, but it doesn’t really encompass the totality of consumer impressions for each setting.
I don't think it is an achievable goal for any setting. Not only does each have tons of supplements, but how do you count Dungeon and Dragon articles focused on the settings?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I don't think it is an achievable goal for any setting. Not only does each have tons of supplements, but how do you count Dungeon and Dragon articles focused on the settings?

Agreed. The idea of "consumer impressions" is a bizarre one in this context. It also (IMO) would not correlate well with sales back then.

We've had previous discussions as to why sales of Basic (for example) did not correlate highly to playing Basic, especially given the difference in play that we can see at Conventions and in coverage in periodicals at the time.

I know that I had multiple copies of Basic (Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer) as well as Expert (Cook, Mentzer) and the B and X modules, yet never really though of "The Known World" or "Mystara" as settings until much later (and never ran a campaign in them). While my anecdote is not dispositive, I don't think it's that unusual for the 80s.
 

I wasn't expressing an opinion. there is huge amounts of data that shows that the CCG boom killed large numbers of TTRPGs as stores stopped ordering TTRPGs in order to sell CCGS, and the bust killed large numbers of stores. CCGs did far more damage than Vampire did.
Vampire's sales were not really impacted by the CCG boom. In fact, it almost entirely replaced the TTRPG market back then. Not only D&D sales were down, but other TTRPG as well. Heck, Role Master, Palladium books, Warhammer and many other almost disapear and other promising TTRPG simply vanished! That people bought more CCG than TTRPG was not a surprise. A market shift is always to be expected. But TSR's sales would have survived if Vampire had not come around. Yes the pond was smaller, but D&D's quasi monopoly was literally gutted by Vampire.
 

Agreed. The idea of "consumer impressions" is a bizarre one in this context. It also (IMO) would not correlate well with sales back then.

We've had previous discussions as to why sales of Basic (for example) did not correlate highly to playing Basic, especially given the difference in play that we can see at Conventions and in coverage in periodicals at the time.

I know that I had multiple copies of Basic (Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer) as well as Expert (Cook, Mentzer) and the B and X modules, yet never really though of "The Known World" or "Mystara" as settings until much later (and never ran a campaign in them). While my anecdote is not dispositive, I don't think it's that unusual for the 80s.
I have the same impression. Modules would be used with either game. No one thought of B2 as basic exclusively (or any other module for that matter). It is only around the Companion and Master box set that adventures started to appear to be only for one system or the other (and even then, many would simply adapt the adventure to AD&D).
The reverse, however, was not always true. Most AD&D module would not be used with "Basic" in mind.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Vampire's sales were not really impacted by the CCG boom. In fact, it almost entirely replaced the TTRPG market back then. Not only D&D sales were down, but other TTRPG as well. Heck, Role Master, Palladium books, Warhammer and many other almost disapear and other promising TTRPG simply vanished! That people bought more CCG than TTRPG was not a surprise. A market shift is always to be expected. But TSR's sales would have survived if Vampire had not come around. Yes the pond was smaller, but D&D's quasi monopoly was literally gutted by Vampire.
Helldritch, is this your impression specific to your country? In the US Vampire and other "more adult" games definitely ate TSR's lunch to some extent, as D&D got derided as old fashioned compared to the Storyteller system, Shadowrun, and even more universal systems like GURPS. But CCGs were a tidal wave totally reshaping the hobby gaming market.
 

darjr

I crit!
In the US vampire sales beat D&D sales, but from what I understand, not by a lot.

So if TSR sales were depressed I don’t think those Vampire sales were basic level or maybe not even core book AD&D 1e levels.
 


Helldritch, is this your impression specific to your country? In the US Vampire and other "more adult" games definitely ate TSR's lunch to some extent, as D&D got derided as old fashioned compared to the Storyteller system, Shadowrun, and even more universal systems like GURPS, but CCGs were a tidal wave totally reshaping the hobby gaming market.
Probably due to my province (Quebec, Canada). Here, GURPS, Shadowrun became non existent. All that was left was Vampire and D&D and to some lesser extent, Warhammer, Palladium and a wee bit of other. Yes, the CCG took a large part. But CCG is not TTRPG. These are two distinct market. I know a lot of CCG players that never touched a RPG in their entire life. The reverse is quite rarer. Even I played MTG any my collection is quite fine. The two systems are not targeting the same audience but a person can have many interests. Those who were not in the Vampire fad went somewhere else. That is CCG. But the goal here is to compare TTRPG with TTRPG not with an other market.
 

Reynard

Legend
Probably due to my province (Quebec, Canada). Here, GURPS, Shadowrun became non existent. All that was left was Vampire and D&D and to some lesser extent, Warhammer, Palladium and a wee bit of other. Yes, the CCG took a large part. But CCG is not TTRPG. These are two distinct market. I know a lot of CCG players that never touched a RPG in their entire life. The reverse is quite rarer. Even I played MTG any my collection is quite fine. The two systems are not targeting the same audience but a person can have many interests. Those who were not in the Vampire fad went somewhere else. That is CCG. But the goal here is to compare TTRPG with TTRPG not with an other market.
I think you misunderstand. It isn't that CCGs stole the players, it is that CCGs stole the money normally used to purchase TTRPGs because they were substantially more profitable. RPG companies were suddenly unable to sell their stock, and many such companies used sales from one product to bankroll the printing of the next. Without those sales, the lines collapsed.
 

I think you misunderstand. It isn't that CCGs stole the players, it is that CCGs stole the money normally used to purchase TTRPGs because they were substantially more profitable. RPG companies were suddenly unable to sell their stock, and many such companies used sales from one product to bankroll the printing of the next. Without those sales, the lines collapsed.
That I understand. But this is a consumer shift. Those lost consumers are no longer in the hobby of TTRPG.
What we must compare is what those that stayed in the TTRPG industry decided to consume. TSR or Vampire? My money is on Vampire.
 

If that makes it a Mystara sale then all of the D&D core books are Greyhawk sales.
Well, I admit that the B/X and BECMI boxed sets are hybrid products: mostly rules, but also featuring the KW campaign setting (esp. the Expert boxes, but also setting info in all of them, such as Masters Set world map). So it’s a borderline call. I agree they are not exactly the same product category as the typical 1990s TSR campaign setting boxed sets. But on the other hand, they contained more setting info (e.g. world map) than, say, the GH bits in the OD&D, 1e, and 3e rulebooks. And for 6 years (from 1981 to 1987 when GAZ1 came out) those boxed sets were the only source for the KW campaign setting, other than adventure modules.

My point is that lining up a few key boxed sets and core books and calling that a “campaign setting” is a bit confusing, and “unfair “ to certain settings (eg missing GH Folio data, original RL module, DL War of the Lance modules, and Mystara’s various GAZes and split up boxed sets).

Because “campaign setting” has two meanings. Ben is using it in the sense of a few select “core products”. Okay, but the term can also encompass all products which featured that brand or which were tied into that world’s continuity.

Anyway, I’m glad for Bens research—I’m just saying that comparing a few narrowly defined “campaign settings” (i.e. core setting boxes/books) is just a start. The tip of the iceberg. Looking forward to more comprehensive, synthesized, and nuanced charts!

And yes, references to Greyhawk IP in OD&D, 1e, and 3e rulebooks do count as “consumer impressions”—that’s a nuanced metric i would like to see. Because the residual “consumer impressions” can be (and ought to be) tapped into for furture Wizards marketing. When those impressions (rather than just abstract sales categories) are taken into account, this leads to the recent 5e appearances of Warduke and the Kids from the Cartoon Show, and the “red box” 4e Starter Set. And Spelljammer.
 
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darjr

I crit!
I think you misunderstand. It isn't that CCGs stole the players, it is that CCGs stole the money normally used to purchase TTRPGs because they were substantially more profitable. RPG companies were suddenly unable to sell their stock, and many such companies used sales from one product to bankroll the printing of the next. Without those sales, the lines collapsed.
Yea all that. But also players. I remember games that failed because of repeated missed schedules and CCG events were part of the conflict. As well as when those games didn’t run folks got together and played ccgs and eventually just did that. Mainly because a DM wasn’t needed, IMHO.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Probably due to my province (Quebec, Canada). Here, GURPS, Shadowrun became non existent. All that was left was Vampire and D&D and to some lesser extent, Warhammer, Palladium and a wee bit of other. Yes, the CCG took a large part. But CCG is not TTRPG. These are two distinct market. I know a lot of CCG players that never touched a RPG in their entire life. The reverse is quite rarer. Even I played MTG any my collection is quite fine. The two systems are not targeting the same audience but a person can have many interests. Those who were not in the Vampire fad went somewhere else. That is CCG. But the goal here is to compare TTRPG with TTRPG not with an other market.
They are two markets - but being distinctly identifiable doesn't mean there isn't overlap both in end customer and intermediate customers - distributors and stores. And, since nobody's got infinite money, that's where the competition comes in.
Those RPGers who started picking up MTG were probably spending less on their RPG hobby than they would have in the absence of MTG. Maybe they were able to turn that around into spending more if they managed their speculation right by getting in early enough and turning around their boxes of alphas (like they all seemed to be doing at Gen Con when it was swamped with MTG speculators). But I suspect they were in the minority.
 

Reynard

Legend
That I understand. But this is a consumer shift. Those lost consumers are no longer in the hobby of TTRPG.
What we must compare is what those that stayed in the TTRPG industry decided to consume. TSR or Vampire? My money is on Vampire.
You're moving the goalposts.

Vampire was definitely popular and it definitely brought a lot of new people, especially women, into the hobby. On a quick search I wasn't able to uncover any actual comparison numbers, but I know they are out there somewhere. My recollection is that vampire outsold AD&D very briefly, before itself collapsing with the rest of the TTRPG industry in the late 90s.
 

darjr

I crit!
Well, I admit that the B/X and BECMI boxed sets are hybrid products: mostly rules, but also featuring the KW campaign setting (esp. the Expert boxes, but also setting info in all of them, such as Masters Set world map). So it’s a borderline call. I agree they are not exactly the same product category as the classic 1990s TSR campaign setting boxed sets. But on the other hand, they contained more setting info (e.g. world map) than, say, the GH bits the OD&D, 1e, and 3e rulebooks. And for 6 years (from 1981 to 1987 when GAZ1 came out) those boxed sets were the only source for the KW campaign setting, other than adventure modules.

My point is that lining up a few key boxed sets and core books and calling that a “campaign setting” is a bit confusing, and “unfair “ to certain settings (eg missing GH Folio data, original RL module, DL War of the Lance modules, and Mystara’s various GAZes and split up boxed sets).

Because “campaign setting” has two meanings. Ben is using it in the sense of a few select “core products”. Okay, but the term can also encompass all products which featured that brand or which were tied into that world’s continuity.

Anyway, I’m glad for Bens research—I’m just saying that comparing a few narrowly defined “campaign settings” (i.e. core setting boxes/books) is just a start. The tip of the iceberg. Looking forward to to more comprehensive, synthesized, and nuanced charts!

And yes, references to Greyhawk IP in OD&D, 1e, and 3e rulebooks do count as “consumer impressions”—that’s a nuanced metric i would like to see. Because the residual “consumer impressions” can be (and ought to be) tapped into for furture Wizards marketing. When those impressions (rather than just abstract sales categories) are taken into account, this leads to the recent 5e appearances of Warduke and the Kids from the Cartoon Show, and the “red box” 4e Starter Set. And Spelljammer.
Let me just say that I also VRY much appreciate the navel gazing.

And it got me thinking about putting these numbers based in ways like you elucidate.
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
You're moving the goalposts.

Vampire was definitely popular and it definitely brought a lot of new people, especially women, into the hobby. On a quick search I wasn't able to uncover any actual comparison numbers, but I know they are out there somewhere. My recollection is that vampire outsold AD&D very briefly, before itself collapsing with the rest of the TTRPG industry in the late 90s.
Vampire didn't need to outsell D&D as a whole, but it was significant enough that people who wanted to play in a gothic vampiry setting played that instead of Ravenloft. (well, not completely of course, but in large enough numbers to explain why sales of Ravenloft setting weren't nearly as high as the module 7 years earlier).
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And yes, references to Greyhawk IP in OD&D, 1e, and 3e rulebooks do count as “consumer impressions”—that’s a nuanced metric i would like to see. Because the residual “consumer impressions” can be (and ought to be) tapped into for furture Wizards marketing. When those impressions (rather than just abstract sales categories) are taken into account, this leads to the recent 5e appearances of Warduke and the Kids from the Cartoon Show, and the “red box” 4e Starter Set. And Spelljammer.

I understand what you're trying to do, but I disagree with it.

Look, as someone who loves to celebrate the past of D&D myself, I get the desire to see these things recirculated. And in terms of business ideas, reviving IP is the way to go.

....but.... we are not the target demographic of WoTC. At all. The number of "consumer impressions" that happened during the 80s (which is not the type of metric that is that easy to analyze) does not matter to the people who are starting to play 5e today.

The reason that we see, for example, Spelljammer is because the powers that be think they can modernize and sell it to a new generation. Because it is worthy of being revivified. Not because it had "consumer impressions" when it was available.

....which is why we haven't seen much on the Greyhawk or Mystara front. For various reasons, both are considered to be in competition with the main IP (Forgotten Realms). I think it is more likely we will see a Greyhawk release first, both because there is already an AP and because it's linked to the history (#50thanniversaryCONFIRMED!). But you don't need to juice the numbers for Mystara/Known World- you just need the people at Wizards to decide that there is a compelling case for bringing it back.*


*Arguably, the one thing arguing against it is that large parts of the setting relied on some real-world cultures, which is now seen as somewhat problematic.
 

They are two markets - but being distinctly identifiable doesn't mean there isn't overlap both in end customer and intermediate customers - distributors and stores. And, since nobody's got infinite money, that's where the competition comes in.
Those RPGers who started picking up MTG were probably spending less on their RPG hobby than they would have in the absence of MTG. Maybe they were able to turn that around into spending more if they managed their speculation right by getting in early enough and turning around their boxes of alphas (like they all seemed to be doing at Gen Con when it was swamped with MTG speculators). But I suspect they were in the minority.
And maybe a bit of those simply left the market and the TTRPG failed to make new recruits to compensate for those that left. Remember that many that were avid players in the '80s now were starting to make families and have kids of their own. Just take my example, my daughter was born 1996. Although I kept playing a game of TTRPG and one of CCG per week, I was no longer playing 5 or 6 games. And even though I kept my D&D group, I did spend a good chunk of it in Vampire when my D&D players had other business at hand. Heck, none of my friends playing CCG had any experiences in TTRPG. If I had to guess, CCG players were almost exclusive to TTRPG with a few exceptions. Maybe one in twenty CCG players were from the TTRPG? Maybe less but not really more.

I think here, that we are facing multiple causalities to the problems.
1) Old gamers switching to family matters.
2) Some gamers completely switching over to CCG
3) Failure to bring in new recruits to TTRPG
4) The fact that Vampire became so popular with those that were in the TTRPG means that the share of the lion that TSR used to have shrank in an unexpected way and TSR did not adjust fast enough. The same goes for many other TTRPG that were literally gutted in their sales.

Just putting the blame on CCG does not mean a lot.

If only CCG were responsible for the cave in of TTRPG, how do you explain the success of 3.xed? MTG was as popular as ever with sales stopped only by the sky with no signs of stopping. Yet, 3.xed became quite successful, enough that when D&D opted for a new edition, a third party company kept it alive and well. 3.xed became popular simply because many old RPGamers came back as their child were older and able to fend for themselves. And with these, new recruits were made. At that time, few RPGs were still in market and the Vampire fad had... faded.
 

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