D&D General Ed Greenwood's $5K Contract To Sell The Forgotten Realms

D&D historian Ben Riggs has a copy of Ed Greenwood's original Forgotten Realms contract and spends a few words covering it, calling it "The best $5,000 D&D Spent". The setting was sold to TSR for $4,000 in 1987, with another $1,000 for comsulting services.

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Ed Greenwood, the creator of the Realms, said he never regretted the decision to sell the property to TSR, the first company to make D&D. The five grand he made was $4,000 for the Realms itself, and then $1,000 for services as a design consultant. (That’s $13,000 in 2022 dollars).

 
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darjr

I crit!
I have to disagree, Dragon and Dungeon had fantastic content, much of it legendary and went on to change the game and make luminaries in the hobby etc.

Yes it was also a vehicle for marketing and adds. More so later than earlier, imho.

I liked Dragon+ and it had a few great things too, especially the art! However I think it was much much more a marketing and advertising tool than Dragon and Dungeon magazines.

A strange one too, cause it’s target audience seemed to be those already sold on D&D.
 
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Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
It’s kinda weird that folks in this thread think $5k was any kind of a good deal or anything more than a pittance considering the kind of gross revenue TSR was doing in that period.
I did contract work for the Conan RPG with Mongoose in 2004-2005 and was getting paid about $5K for 64 pages of material so yeah, this number seems low. But the mid-eighties were different back then, and the idea that D&D would go way beyond being its own cottage industry seemed like a pipe dream. That said....I was also under the impression that TSR was essentially in financial trouble near constantly, which was why all the publisher returns on product tanked them just a few years later. OTOH I guess a lot of those troubles didn't start until closer to 1990, when the model of pumping out endless product was adopted, followed by the card game craze and crash.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
TSR was taking a bit of a risk at the time. Neither they nor Ed knew how popular and profitable the Forgotten Realms would be. If FR had flopped big time, today we would be saying how Ed made out like a bandit.
True, FR succeeded where Greyhawk, as a counterpoint, ultimately failed. The weirdest thing WotC today could do would be to bring Greyhawk back in the 5E/One D&D era.
 

True, FR succeeded where Greyhawk, as a counterpoint, ultimately failed. The weirdest thing WotC today could do would be to bring Greyhawk back in the 5E/One D&D era.
not sure just how true that is. IIRC, Rigg's book has a chart showing that the WoG boxed set outsold every other boxed set, including FR. But... you have to consider that the FR also included a ton of books, modules, and companion boxed sets as well. Add those all together, and it's likely that FR did eventually outsell WoG. You also have to remember that Greyhawk failed partly because TSR wanted to get away from it after EGG was ousted, so it was a rather deliberate failure...
 

Assuming the pay in Canada for a librarian was comparable to America, in 1986 (ALA is missing data from 1987 for some reason), the mean salary for a librarian was $26,882. $5,000 is a pretty sizable chunk when put next to that. Also, I could be misremembering, but didn't they also give him a computer (no small thing in 1987)?

Pretty ludicrously low, but for a Librarian around 30, could be quite the windfall, at the right time.
 



ehren37

Legend
I have no love for what happened to the Realms with 4E. But my biggest complaint about the Realms is the static state that it seems Ed has always tried to maintain. That his primary characters he wrote for one time period must exist throughout all of the period and can never die, well that has always left a very bad taste in my mouth. Why must Halaster and Durnan be alive in the current timeline? Why do the same wizards, gods etc must revert back to the ones from the 1300's DR? Things should change, that makes the setting alive, more real and more interesting. IMO.
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pantsorama

Explorer
No idea why he didn't also request royalties. Or some measure of autonomy. I, for one, could never sell my creation without some level of authority and monetary gain.
TSR was "bitten on the butt" at least once before by royalty disputes, and that dispute did not release it's locked jaws easily. I would wager they would not go for a similar deal given thier recent experiences.

For example, Greyhawk had royalties attached to it, and TSR neglected the setting rather than pay royalties. Hell, they made a new version of D&D rather than pay royalties.

No, Greenwood probably did good when he didn't get royalties, given that he got to publish stuff using the name, and generally could still play in the FR sandbox. It's all counterfactual, so who knows really, but I do not think that the money TSR poured into the FR would have happened if they didn't own it all free and clear.
 
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TSR was "bitten on the butt" once before by royalty disputes. I would wager they would not go for a similar deal given recent experiences.

For example, Greyhawk had royalties attached to it, and TSR tanked the setting rather than pay royalties. Hell, they made a new version of D&D rather than pay royalties.

No, Greenwood probably did good when he didn't get royalties. It's all counterfactual, so who knows really, but I do not think that the money TSR poured into the FR would have happened if they didn't own it all free and clear.
As a writer who is yet to be published I laugh and laugh at people who insist they would not sell for X or Y but hold out for Z.

I know authors who have multi novels out and have to work at starbucks to get by. I do also know 2 writers who stopped doing there day jobs and live off there work... sort of 1 of them has a very successful wife to lean on.

If tomorrow I got a call from the last place I submitted (it's all done email really) offered to buy out my 8 novel pitch that goes with it for 5k... I would think I was being punked.

I believe in my writing (as I am sure ed did), but I make about double what ed was making in 86 87... and 5k would be a game changer in my life.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
not sure just how true that is. IIRC, Rigg's book has a chart showing that the WoG boxed set outsold every other boxed set, including FR. But... you have to consider that the FR also included a ton of books, modules, and companion boxed sets as well. Add those all together, and it's likely that FR did eventually outsell WoG. You also have to remember that Greyhawk failed partly because TSR wanted to get away from it after EGG was ousted, so it was a rather deliberate failure...
At the time, it may have been a major seller, but the brand was mishandled (likely due to issues with EGG) for years after that. WotC tried to earnestly make it the de facto setting for 3rd edition but for reasons I don't know that seemed to fail as well. The one thing I know is that today's newer crop of gamers know of Greyhawk only as a legacy setting, and a fairly difficult one to parse out when looked at in retrospective.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
I have no love for what happened to the Realms with 4E. But my biggest complaint about the Realms is the static state that it seems Ed has always tried to maintain. That his primary characters he wrote for one time period must exist throughout all of the period and can never die, well that has always left a very bad taste in my mouth. Why must Halaster and Durnan be alive in the current timeline? Why do the same wizards, gods etc must revert back to the ones from the 1300's DR? Things should change, that makes the setting alive, more real and more interesting. IMO.
I don't think most of that is due to Ed Greenwood's influence, but because of how TSR and then WotC changed their approach to the setting over time. All the really big changes during 4th edition, for example, were to try and simplify the FR and make it more accessible to new gamers, but in the process they turned a huge volume of novels and older content into legacy works that no longer tied to the current era of the Realms, and as a result I think they realized they had damaged their IP a bit. For better or worse many big name characters in FR are essentially name-recognition IP, so the real reason they got retconned back in to the post 5E Realms was to keep the IP functioning to casual Realm fans more than anything.

For me personally I made it a habit to ignore whatever TSR or WotC was doing with their worlds and stick to my own stuff (though I've made an exception for Ravenloft, Spelljammer and Planescape since those are broadly applicable). As a result, I am very happy not to have to scratch my head in horror at the constant and weird timeline revamps, retcons and resurrections that have been done to the Realms.
 


At the time, it may have been a major seller, but the brand was mishandled (likely due to issues with EGG) for years after that.
not just 'a major seller', but the largest boxed set seller TSR ever had. But yes, it definitely was mishandled after EGG was gone. First just ignored after FR was released, then retooled as From the Ashes, which AFAIK was not a great seller. The handful of source books (compared to FR) didn't sell well either. The Greyhawk novels didn't compare to the DL or FR ones, with nothing remotely as popular as the Drizzt ones. A question we'll never know the answer to is how WoG might have done if it had stayed the main source world of D&D....
 

WotC tried to earnestly make it the de facto setting for 3rd edition but for reasons I don't know that seemed to fail as well. The one thing I know is that today's newer crop of gamers know of Greyhawk only as a legacy setting, and a fairly difficult one to parse out when looked at in retrospective.
Well, they didn't try very hard, really. Namechecking the Greyhawk gods in the PHB, then throwing the whole thing over to the RPGA. The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer was a black and white softcover, released late and with little fanfare, and which looked perfunctory and cheap compared to the gorgeous (and excellent) FRCS.

I suspect WotC at the time thought that RPGA living games would have a much broader player base than they ended up having, and that a lot of the broader D&D player base were already much more familiar with Greyhawk than they actually were. Even then, it was a fairly opaque legacy setting to someone like me who got into D&D in the mid 90s (and even harder to learn about, because this was long before WotC were selling PDFs of old products on DMSGuild). Twenty years further on from that, with no meaningful new product support in the interim, it's basically apocrypha.
 

Staffan

Legend
Well, they didn't try very hard, really. Namechecking the Greyhawk gods in the PHB, then throwing the whole thing over to the RPGA. The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer was a black and white softcover, released late and with little fanfare, and which looked perfunctory and cheap compared to the gorgeous (and excellent) FRCS.
IIRC, it was released fairly early – late 2000, I think. But it was definitely not given the same love as the FRCS.

As I recall the discussion at the time, the idea was to make "Greyhawk lite" the core setting. The PHB references it, and so does various core material. For example, there are various prestige classes building on Greyhawk material, like Knight of the Great Kingdom, and the adventures released for core 3e are given Greyhawk geographical references when needed. But those references matter about as much as Bigby matters to the existence of Bigby's grasping hand – not much. Forgotten Realms, on the other hand, was meant to be the Deluxe setting. Plenty of sourcebooks with good production values (like full-color art), bespoke rule elements (feats, races, prestige classes, items, spells), and stuff like that.

Remember that one of the primary reasons Wizards had identified for TSR's issues was the proliferation of settings, which split the customer base into Forgotten Realms players, Birthright players, Dark Sun players, Planescape players, etc. instead of just D&D players. Something like Thri-kreen of Athas, while well-made, would be pretty much useless to a Ravenloft player. And that was something they wanted to avoid, which is why Forgotten Realms got almost all of the setting love (well, at least until Eberron came along).
 

pacnw.owlbear

Villager
I'm currently listening to Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs and oh boy, it is a fascinating tale. I'm just amazed D&D survived and became the phenomena that it is. TSR West, WTF were they thinking? I learned about the sale of the Forgotten Realms. That is what you call a helluva bargain. And how the second novel The Crystal Shard came to be out of a rushed Bob Salvatore coming up with a drow ranger on the fly during a phone conversation. Seriously, every D&D fan should read/listen to this book.
 

The history of TSR is pretty much filled with them succeeding in spite of themselves. D&D was such a lightning in a bottle thing, and they were able to keep going with poor business decision after poor business decision for years as a result.

I'm currently listening to Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs and oh boy, it is a fascinating tale. I'm just amazed D&D survived and became the phenomena that it is. TSR West, WTF were they thinking? I learned about the sale of the Forgotten Realms. That is what you call a helluva bargain. And how the second novel The Crystal Shard came to be out of a rushed Bob Salvatore coming up with a drow ranger on the fly during a phone conversation. Seriously, every D&D fan should read/listen to this book.
 

darjr

I crit!
The history of TSR is pretty much filled with them succeeding in spite of themselves. D&D was such a lightning in a bottle thing, and they were able to keep going with poor business decision after poor business decision for years as a result.
Yea. If only, right?

Though they had to go into business themselves. Believe it or not Gary couldn’t find a publisher willing to take a chance.
 

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