Basic D&D Was Selling 600,000+/Year At One Point

Recently Ben Riggs shared some sales figures of AD&D 1st Edition. Now he has shared figures for Basic D&D from 1979-1995, and during the early 80s is was selling 500-700K copies per year. Ben Riggs' book, Slaying the Dragon, which is a history of TSR-era D&D, comes out soon, and you can pre-order your copy now. https://read.macmillan.com/lp/slaying-the-dragon/ You can compare these...

Recently Ben Riggs shared some sales figures of AD&D 1st Edition. Now he has shared figures for Basic D&D from 1979-1995, and during the early 80s is was selling 500-700K copies per year.

Ben Riggs' book, Slaying the Dragon, which is a history of TSR-era D&D, comes out soon, and you can pre-order your copy now.


bdndyr.jpg


You can compare these figures to those of AD&D 1E in the same period. Basic D&D sold higher than AD&D's PHB and DMG combined for 4 years running, again in the early 80s.

anbd.jpg


If you take a look at the overall sales from 1979-1995, here are the two beside each other (again, this is just PHB and DMG, so it doesn't include the Monster Manual, Unearthed Arcana, etc.)

combo.jpg


More actual D&D sales numbers!

Below you will find the sales numbers of Basic D&D, and then two charts comparing those to the sales of AD&D 1st edition. For those who don’t know, early in its life, the tree of D&D was split in half. On the one side there was D&D, an RPG designed to bring beginners into the game. It was simpler, and didn’t try to have rules for everything.
On the other side there was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax’s attempt to throw a net around the world and then shove it into rulebooks. The game was so detailed that it provided rules on how Armor Class changed depending on what hand your PC held their shield in. (It may also have been an attempt to cut D&D co-creator Dave Arneson out of royalties…)

I am frankly shocked at how well Basic D&D sold. Having discovered AD&D 2nd edition in the 90s, I thought of “Dungeons & Dragons” as a sort of baby game of mashed peas and steamed potatoes. It was for people not ready for the full meal that was AD&D. (I have since learned how wrong I was to dismiss the beauty of what Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Cook, et al created for us in those wondrous BECMI boxed sets…)

I figured that Basic D&D was just a series of intro products, but over its lifetime, it actually outsold AD&D 1st edition. (Partly because 1st edition was replaced by 2nd edition in 1989. I’ll start rolling out the 2nd ed numbers tomorrow FYI.) These numbers would explain why in a 1980 Dragon article Gygax spoke of AD&D not being “abandoned.”
Still, between 1980 and 1984, Basic outsold AD&D. The strong numbers for Basic D&D prompt a few questions. Where was the strength of the brand? Were these two lines of products in competition with each other? Was one “real” D&D? And why did TSR stop supporting Basic D&D in the 90s?

The only one of those questions I will hazard is the last one. A source told me that because TSR CEO Lorraine Williams did not want to generate royalties for Gary Gygax or Dave Arneson, Basic D&D was left to wither on the vine.

I will also say this: TSR will die in 1997 of a thousand cuts, but the one underlying all of them was a failure of the company to grow its customer base. TSR wanted its D&D players to migrate over to AD&D, but what if they didn’t? What if they wanted to keep playing D&D, and TSR simply stopped making the product they wanted to buy? What if TSR walked away from what may have been hundreds of thousands of customers because of a sort of personal vendetta?

Tomorrow, I’ll post numbers for 2nd edition AD&D, and comparisons for it with Basic and 1st edition.

And if you don’t know, I have a book of D&D history coming out in a couple weeks. If you find me interesting, you can preorder in the first comment below!

Also, I'll post raw sales numbers below for the interested.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
The surprising part to me is that Basic fell off of a cliff in 1984. I knew that happened to AD&D, but I thought Basic was carrying TSR. Now I see that thus was a real year of crisis.

Did Mentzer BECMI kill Basic...?

O. M. G.

I was just coming here to make that as a joke.

Evidence don't lie. Frank killed Basic.

And Bargle was framed.

#JusticeforBargle
 

Zardnaar

Legend
The surprising part to me is that Basic fell off of a cliff in 1984. I knew that happened to AD&D, but I thought Basic was carrying TSR. Now I see that this was a real year of crisis.

Did Mentzer BECMI kill Basic...?

No even as late as 1991 the black box sold hundreds of thousands of boxes.

It's mostly perception AD&D got the glory. I pointed this out years ago when people were going up WotC claims 5E was the greatest but never revealed that criteria. 5E starter sold 800k just over one years worth of Basic.

Even now we don't know if they were referring to units sold, money made money not adjusted for inflation etc.

The red box pre 5E was the biggest selling D&D item ever but exact numbers are unknown.

Basic has various items as well eg B/X, Red box, black box each one sold huge numbers way higher than 3E or 4E phb total.
 







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