D&D 3E/3.5 Ben Riggs shares Sunless Citadel sales numbers

Alphastream

Adventurer
These 3E numbers are not good. Even the 5E adventures with the slowest first year of sales had probably about 60k sales. And the earliest/slowest ones often picked up or held steady over time for most of a decade. Storm King, according to BookScan data, had a minimum of 20.5k sales, but to date 72.3k. And that's perhaps a quarter of all sales. (I should add that the highest-selling 5E adventure wasn't even at a full year of sales when it had 84k sales on BookScan, which is an incredible amount if that's a quarter or less of overall sales.)

We know 3E adventure sales were bad, because at the very beginning of 4E the design team was saying there would be few adventures because adventures don't sell well. I believe staff said something similar during 3E. 5E is the edition that seemed to crack the code on how to create adventures with big sales. A lot of it is simply to have a fantastic and popular edition, but they also were smart initially over how they marketed adventure seasons, how they included setting and player content, and various other strategies.
 

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
These 3E numbers are not good. Even the 5E adventures with the slowest first year of sales had probably about 60k sales. And the earliest/slowest ones often picked up or held steady over time for most of a decade. Storm King, according to BookScan data, had a minimum of 20.5k sales, but to date 72.3k. And that's perhaps a quarter of all sales. (I should add that the highest-selling 5E adventure wasn't even at a full year of sales when it had 84k sales on BookScan, which is an incredible amount if that's a quarter or less of overall sales.)

We know 3E adventure sales were bad, because at the very beginning of 4E the design team was saying there would be few adventures because adventures don't sell well. I believe staff said something similar during 3E. 5E is the edition that seemed to crack the code on how to create adventures with big sales. A lot of it is simply to have a fantastic and popular edition, but they also were smart initially over how they marketed adventure seasons, how they included setting and player content, and various other strategies.
I guess there may be more perceived value foe a lot of customers in a big hardcover, as opposed to a softcover. Sunless Citadel was $9.95 on release, which is $18 and change in 2023 money. Which means that the Yawning Portal at Amazon prices right now ($24.99 as of this post) is way less than buying just Sunless Citadal and Forge of Furty were in 2000-2001. Heck, without considering 23 years of gnarly inflation, that's still only like $5 more for way more Adventures.
 
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Staffan

Legend
We know 3E adventure sales were bad, because at the very beginning of 4E the design team was saying there would be few adventures because adventures don't sell well. I believe staff said something similar during 3E. 5E is the edition that seemed to crack the code on how to create adventures with big sales. A lot of it is simply to have a fantastic and popular edition, but they also were smart initially over how they marketed adventure seasons, how they included setting and player content, and various other strategies.
It would be interesting to see sales for Red Hand of Doom compared to other adventures, as that (along with the stuff Paizo were doing over in Dungeon) was one of their first attempts at publishing a campaign rather than an adventure. That appears to be the code Paizo cracked with their adventure paths: a stand-alone adventure like, say, Heart of Nightfang Spire will have a very small potential audience while an adventure path promises a whole hecking campaign, and that's a much more appealing concept. Similarly, when I think of successful adventures released domestically, they are usually adventure series rather than stand-alones: The Konflux suite for old Drakar och Demoner and Undergångens Arvtagare for Mutant. I understand the Symbaroum series of combined adventures and sourcebooks (same recipe as Undergångens Arvtagare) is fairly successful as well.

It would also be interesting to see how 5e full campaigns fare against adventure anthologies sales-wise.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
It would also be interesting to see how 5e full campaigns fare against adventure anthologies sales-wise.

I would love to see this comparison.

I'm very much in the "I want shorter adventures I can string together, not a whole campaign" camp. But in practice I neither bought nor used the smaller adventures or anthologies when they were released, and I don't know anyone who did aside from collectors and completionists.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
First and foremost: why in the world would you not use the same colors for each product in the two graphs. That's maddening.

Second: I am surprised. Both Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury were well received and are well remembered. I owned most of these but I can't say I ever ran any of the others. Why did The Standing Stone sell so well?
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
It would also be interesting to see how 5e full campaigns fare against adventure anthologies sales-wise.
Well, we only have partial information (nothing for FLGS or Beyond sales), but here is what we do know, the top 3 are all Campaigns (Curse of Strahd, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and Drafon Heiat), but Yawning Portal and Saltmarsh so round out the top 5:

 

Staffan

Legend
I would love to see this comparison.

I'm very much in the "I want shorter adventures I can string together, not a whole campaign" camp. But in practice I neither bought nor used the smaller adventures or anthologies when they were released, and I don't know anyone who did aside from collectors and completionists.
My intuition (which of course has no solid scientific basis) is that individual adventures appeal to people who mostly roll their own but need an occasional quick fix. This immediately reduces the number of potential customers, because they are already predisposed to make their own adventures rather than buying them. But for a system like D&D, with its ridiculous power curve, it also has to be the right kind of quick fix – if you have a 10th level party, Forge of Fury isn't going to do you any good, so that further reduces the potential customer base. This can be somewhat ameliorated by bundling the adventures, but then we instead get "Why should I pay for eight adventures when I only want the one?"

Full campaigns, on the other hand, appeal more to us lazy bastards who prefer to buy prefab and not have to do much work to get things to run. I don't have any idea about the relative sizes of these categories, but the lazies are fundamentally more prone to buying things.

I remember that Monte Cook had some super-elementary adventures made for Numenera some time back, that were very short and to the point, designed specifically so you would be able to buy the adventure book over lunch and run the adventure that evening with zero prep. Now, Numenera is both a much flatter game than D&D and one that has less detail (particularly for monsters and NPCs) so I think it might be harder to do a similar product for D&D, but it'd still be interesting to see it tried.
 

Staffan

Legend
First and foremost: why in the world would you not use the same colors for each product in the two graphs. That's maddening.

Second: I am surprised. Both Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury were well received and are well remembered. I owned most of these but I can't say I ever ran any of the others. Why did The Standing Stone sell so well?
These are specifically 2001 numbers. I expect Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury had most of their sales in 2000.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I remember Deep Horizon being panned (15 HD size large underdark anti drow batfolk) but I played through Standing Stones and Heartfang Spire and really had a blast in both.
I ran both Standing Stone and Nightfang Spire - in fact I've actually used Standing Stone multiple times via reskinning (I've even run it twice for the same group - once in 3e and once in 13th age - and they didn't realize it was the same adventure at its core until I told them later). Bastion of Broken Souls is also good for an epic-level dungeon crawl experience (needs some tweaking but what high-level adventure doesn't?) Deep Horizon and the other higher level one that I can't remember were definitely not as useful for me as the rest of the series was.

It is a bit shocking to see the actual numbers on things like the 32 page core AP modules. I had no basis for estimating any numbers on such things while the general estimate for D&D players was as far as I can remember a couple million.
I'd like to see what the 2000 numbers were for the ones that were out then. I would bet that Sunless Citadel had huge sales and then each successive adventure stepped down a bit. Did Speaker In Dreams actually come out in December of 2000? I know the publication date everywhere lists it as 2001 but I'm not sure why Standing Stone would have 10k more copies sold than Speaker in Dreams did.
 

Voadam

Legend
My intuition (which of course has no solid scientific basis) is that individual adventures appeal to people who mostly roll their own but need an occasional quick fix. This immediately reduces the number of potential customers, because they are already predisposed to make their own adventures rather than buying them. But for a system like D&D, with its ridiculous power curve, it also has to be the right kind of quick fix – if you have a 10th level party, Forge of Fury isn't going to do you any good, so that further reduces the potential customer base. This can be somewhat ameliorated by bundling the adventures, but then we instead get "Why should I pay for eight adventures when I only want the one?"

Full campaigns, on the other hand, appeal more to us lazy bastards who prefer to buy prefab and not have to do much work to get things to run. I don't have any idea about the relative sizes of these categories, but the lazies are fundamentally more prone to buying things.
I don't know, I 95% run published modules over making up my own stuff from scratch and I have gotten and used a bunch of individual short ones. I am probably more drawn to module trilogies and big modules and have probably used more adventure paths in the last two decades than individual short modules, but I have definitely seen a 32 page module cover with a pyramid and a party fighting a mummified blue dragon and gone "yes I want that."

Particularly for one shots, short notice DMing, and play by email games shorter self contained strongly themed stuff is great.

I know that for 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder I ran:

Adventure Paths:
Iron Gods (3 modules so far)
Carrion Crown (2 modules and 2 support modules)
Reign of Winter (3 modules)

Trilogies/big modules:
Freeport Trilogy
Dungeon Crawl Classics 14 Dungeon Interludes

Individual Modules:
Lord of the Iron Fortress
Demon God's Fane
Burning Plague
The Crypt of St. Bethesda
J5 Crucible of Chaos
 

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