D&D General As of 1998, 4,007,685 people played AD&D in the US, as estimated by Ben Riggs.

darjr

I crit!
Welcome to the most speculative and controversial post in my series thus far!

I hypothesize that as of 1998, 4,007,685 people played AD&D.

Here’s how I interpreted sales data to reach that figure.

I would posit it was impossible to run AD&D without the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Therefore sales of the DMG can show us the maximum number of POTENTIAL DUNGEON MASTERS.

The chart below shows us how many DMGs were sold for the three different versions of AD&D released between 1979 and 1998. In addition to showing the sales collapse between editions, it tells us that a total of 2,023,194 DMGs were sold.

Now, how many of those DMGs were people rebuying the book? 148,412 copies of the revised DMG were sold. Let’s assume all of those were rebuys. The second edition DMG sold 543,414. Let’s say half of those were rebuys.

2,023,194 Total DMGs - 271,707 2nd Ed Rebuys - 128,412 Revised Rebuys = 1,603,075 DMG owners

Now how many of those buyers actually ran the game? Feel free to make your own guess, but I’m going to be conservative and say only 50% of buyers actually ran the game. Rounding down, that leaves us with 801,537 theoretical DMs.

Let’s also conservatively assume that each of those DMs ran game for four players at least once. That would mean that between ‘79 and ‘98 4,007,685 played AD&D.

And since we’re having fun, let’s point out that last year Wizards of the Coast said that 50 million people had “experienced” Dungeons & Dragons. Just for fun, I charted my hypothetical number against WoTC’s experienced number to show growth in the industry. It’s kinda crazy.

Note, this does not include Basic D&D players. Tomorrow, I’m going to go deep on Basic D&D in an effort to make some guesses on their player base.

So that’s how I’d run the numbers, but of course feel free to point out any flaws in my logic and play with the data yourself to get a different figure.

If you find me interesting, my book on D&D history, Slaying the Dragon, is out now. Pick it up anywhere books are sold, or use the link below!


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Sounds about right-ish for me.
I know I was the exception but in the early 90s up to 2000, I was running 6 groups (actually a bit more since some were every two weeks, but this is an average per week). So yeah, most DM were having one or two groups.

But, most group that I saw were 5 or 6 players strong. And in this, putting only 4 players is a bit on the low side IMHO. Of course it may vary but putting an average of 5 would be much more closer to reality. That 4 players base came with late 3.xed and 4ed as combat in the high levels were slowing to crawl in 3.xed and would drag on forever in 4ed. This means that it might be closer to 5 million players than your estimated 4 millions.
 


darjr

I crit!
LOL. Wow. What an absurdly terrible assumption.

A lot of people not only did, but had to...because the MM and PHB were released first. MM released in 1977. PHB released in 1978. DMG released in 1979. People played AD&D before 1979.
Considering that the rules for AD&D combat and many other things were in the DMG those without it were playing some form of D&D, not AD&D.

But I do agree that lots of people did and could play D&D without a copy of the DMG.
 



LOL. Wow. What an absurdly terrible assumption.

A lot of people not only did, but had to...because the MM and PHB were released first. MM released in 1977. PHB released in 1978. DMG released in 1979. People played AD&D before 1979.
Yep, but he's talking circa end of the '90s.
This means that already, the habit of having the DMG was there. I do think that it is a good measure.
Otherwise, should we use the PHB? If so, I had two, but almost none of my 42-45 players at that time had any. (and not all DMs had as many players as I had at these times.). It would be very hard to evaluate from PHB alone.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
This means that already, the habit of having the DMG was there. I do think that it is a good measure.
It's a good measure of books sold, yes. But there's no real way to extrapolate that out to how many people played. Anyone can make a guess but they're all about as equally valid in that they're all equally wrong.
Otherwise, should we use the PHB? If so, I had two, but almost none of my 42-45 players at that time had any. (and not all DMs had as many players as I had at these times.). It would be very hard to evaluate from PHB alone.
Right? And on the other side of that coin in our group of 6-8 everyone had their own copy of the PHB and we had 3 DMs who each had their own copy of the DMG.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Lots of speculation there. I had groups ranging in size from 2 players up to 10 regulars, and at least 5 different groups of players from 80’-98’, probably adding up to about 35 people or so - not counting Con games. People were also loaning the books around (I lent my brother my DMG so he could run his separate group, for example), and some “outgrew” or quit the game and sold off their books to others (I picked up my Mentzer basic books at a flea market, for example).

I was also one of those crazies who bought all the starters and versions of the PHB,MM & DMG [except the original covers] that came out, even the “revised” copies. That right there is 3 DMGs, a rules Enclyclopedia, and 7 basic sets (Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Black Box, First Quest, Intro to 2nd Ed. & Fast Play).

I’d be curious to see how RPGA memberships stack up against these numbers too.
 


It's a good measure of books sold, yes. But there's no real way to extrapolate that out to how many people played. Anyone can make a guess but they're all about as equally valid in that they're all equally wrong.

Right? And on the other side of that coin in our group of 6-8 everyone had their own copy of the PHB and we had 3 DMs who each had their own copy of the DMG.
And were these DMs played only with you and your group or did they have groups of their own? I guess the later is probably true and thus, DMG are much more closer to help us in the estimation of players than the PHB figures are.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
And were these DMs played only with you and your group or did they have groups of their own? I guess the later is probably true and thus, DMG are much more closer to help us in the estimation of players than the PHB figures are.
Nope. They rotated running games for our group. None of them had outside groups to run for.

There's a whole mountain of assumptions Ben's making to arrive at those numbers. Here's a small, partial list of things Ben's guess can't possibly account for. Second-hand books. Gifted books. Shared books. Photocopies. Second copies. Groups with multiple DMGs. Collectors who didn't play.

There are so many variables that it's basically impossible to make anything approaching an accurate guess. If TSR and/or WotC conducted surveys those numbers are likely more accurate. But books sold, plus weird assumptions, plus back-of-napkin math...does not equal number of players.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
He does say guess, several times. It’s a swag to start a discussion. Kinda the reason this place exists?
Right. So here we are discussing things. Only trouble is a lot of people take what Ben says as gospel, so there's not much discussion to be had. Ben makes a statement, a lot of people just believe him, and anyone who says "wait a minute" is then argued with. That's not really a discussion. The start of any discussion cannot be "this person is right."
 

darjr

I crit!
Right. So here we are discussing things. Only trouble is a lot of people take what Ben says as gospel, so there's not much discussion to be had. Ben makes a statement, a lot of people just believe him, and anyone who says "wait a minute" is then argued with. That's not really a discussion. The start of any discussion cannot be "this person is right."
It’s not so much that your saying “wait a minute” it’s the implied sense of condescension. At least it seems that way to me.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
Welcome to the most speculative and controversial post in my series thus far!
Got that right.
I hypothesize that as of 1998, 4,007,685 people played AD&D.
Yikes.
Here’s how I interpreted sales data to reach that figure.

I would posit it was impossible to run AD&D without the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Therefore sales of the DMG can show us the maximum number of POTENTIAL DUNGEON MASTERS.
Utterly terrible assumption with no basis in fact.
The chart below shows us how many DMGs were sold for the three different versions of AD&D released between 1979 and 1998. In addition to showing the sales collapse between editions, it tells us that a total of 2,023,194 DMGs were sold.
As reported by you, with zero corroborating evidence. But, okay...sure.
Now, how many of those DMGs were people rebuying the book?
Literally no way to know without asking them.
148,412 copies of the revised DMG were sold. Let’s assume all of those were rebuys.
An utterly atrocious assumption to make with no basis in fact.
The second edition DMG sold 543,414. Let’s say half of those were rebuys.
Again, an utterly atrocious assumption with no basis in fact.
2,023,194 Total DMGs - 271,707 2nd Ed Rebuys - 128,412 Revised Rebuys = 1,603,075 DMG owners
More terrible assumptions with no basis in fact, but eyeballing the math...it looks right. At least that's something.
Now how many of those buyers actually ran the game? Feel free to make your own guess, but I’m going to be conservative and say only 50% of buyers actually ran the game. Rounding down, that leaves us with 801,537 theoretical DMs.
Again, a terrible assumption with no support. But the math checks out.
Let’s also conservatively assume that each of those DMs ran game for four players at least once.
Sigh. Another baseless assumption that's impossible to corroborate.
That would mean that between ‘79 and ‘98 4,007,685 played AD&D.
Wild guess.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
To many assumptions.

My groups for example were 5 or 6 players and people came and went so I probably played AD&D with 20 odd individuals.

They weren't all active players but they experienced it.

I suspect not much has changed.

I remember WotC claiming 6 million players 1999 or so. They probably just attached a number of players to each dmg perhaps including the floaters.
 

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