From Forgotten Realms to Red Steel: Here's That Full D&D Setting Sales Chart

Whether this will end a thousand internet arguments or fuel another thousand, Ben Riggs, author of Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons, has finally published the combined chart of cumulative sales for every AD&D setting from 1979 to 1999.

Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Oriental Adventures, and Dragonlance lead the pack. The least selling setting was Red Steel in 1994. There was a clear decline in sales of all settings from 1989 onwards, so that's not necessary a comment on quality. Planescape, certainly a cult favourite, sold surprisingly few copies.


In order, the best-selling settings were:
  1. Forgotten Realms
  2. Greyhawk
  3. Oriental Adventures
  4. Dragonlance
  5. Ravenloft
  6. Dark Sun
  7. Spelljammer
  8. Lankhmar
  9. Al-Qadim
  10. Planescape
  11. Birthright
  12. Maztica
  13. Karameikos
  14. Red Steel

dndsales.jpg


These stats were compiled as part of his research into his book, Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons, which you should totally buy.


Let's dive into some individual sales charts! Note, these are for the primary setting product, not for additional adventures, supplements, etc.

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lankhmar.jpg
darksun.jpg
ravenloft.jpg
realms.jpg
dragonlance.jpg
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greyhawk.jpg
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Earlier I guess. What are the big changes for 5e Ravenloft? I've heard itbwasn't considered a great conversion?
Personally, I think 5e Ravenloft is much better, but I was never a big fan of the 2e original, so I'm biased.

5e leans into the fact that the domains are meant to be staged dioramas that turn on when the PCs arrive; there's no real reason for Ravenloft as a whole to be a coherent, holistic world.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm not clear on what you mean. It was their wheelhouse -- Gary played Braunstein and other domain-centered play.

Playing a game doesn't mean designing it is in your wheelhouse.

That's what he expected people to do with their characters* once they hit high level.

I see a bunch of folks asserting this, but no quotes from the man stating that he expected folks to actually go to another game.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Personally, I think 5e Ravenloft is much better, but I was never a big fan of the 2e original, so I'm biased.

5e leans into the fact that the domains are meant to be staged dioramas that turn on when the PCs arrive; there's no real reason for Ravenloft as a whole to be a coherent, holistic world.
There's no reason "for you" for Ravenloft ri be coherent. To me, however, the story of the setting was deeply damaged.

My feelings on this issue are on record, though, and I'm not going to clutter this thread with them.
 


Von Ether

Legend
Yeah there’s a danger here in giving too much credence to criticism. Raven loft is an unparalleled success in 5e. Massively popular. So popular that they actually went back to the well for a second book. Nothing in 5e has gotten two books.

So I’d say that despite some grumbling, 5e rave loft is a smashing success.

But again sure there are some setting specific mechanics in Dark Sun. Although, again stuff like weapon breakage and whatnot is part of the overall post apocalyptic theme.

Like was said, it’s the story of a setting that really sets a setting apart.
It seems that the true heart of the discussion is that different people are using the word, "tone," to mean different things.

Like GH, FR, and DL all share similar themes but have different atmospheres or moods. While the other D&D settings have wildly different themes AND different moods. (and if someone wants to come up with even more accurate terms, I'll take them.)

LOL! In that respect, Greyhawk and Eberron are closer cousins where things are more morally gray and the shadow of past wars darken today, along with the threat of forces trying to start a new war on the horizon that will offer more misery than honor.

Intelligent construct soldiers with no country or Intelligent swords fighting a forgotten war makes me think that the only thing stopping more GH players from checking out Eberron is the magi-punk ascetic and nostalgia. And gaming is high subjective and ascetic so #nobadwrongfun for both GH fans and Eberron fans. I'm just saying a GH GM could play up a lot of the great Eberron pieces that get lost in the also wonderful pulpy shuffle.
 
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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
There's no reason "for you" for Ravenloft ri be coherent. To me, however, the story of the setting was deeply damaged.

My feelings on this issue are on record, though, and I'm not going to clutter this thread with them.
Any statement I make (or really, anyone makes), should be assumed to be my opinion only. The fact that I don't think Ravenloft needs to be coherent doesn't impact your beliefs otherwise.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I'm not clear on what you mean. It was their wheelhouse -- Gary played Braunstein and other domain-centered play. That's what he expected people to do with their characters* once they hit high level. Once he realized that it wasn't wargamers, but instead mostly high school and college kids new to the scene who were picking up D&D, he could have made similar rules (or even bought/licensed Braunstein).
*if anything, I think this notion that you were supposed to play them as leaders and rulers gets overblown, and oftentimes that was just the explanation of what they did when you retired them.
A couple of points of historical clarification.

I don't know whether Gary ever played any of the Braunstein derivatives, but as far as I'm aware he's definitely not recorded as playing the original. That was Dave Arneson and a bunch of the Twin Cities gamers.

The original Braunstein wasn't a domain management game. It was a scenario set in a Napoleonic-era Prussian town (named Braunstein) where each of the players was given an individual person as a role- like the mayor, the head of the local cavalry unit, a student agitator, etc. Very similar to a modern Live Action Roleplaying Game of the sort the Society for Interactive Literature started running at sci-fi cons in 1983. Each character Dave Wesely assigned had goals to achieve. I believe he initially anticipated that the individual characters scenario would inform the setup of an army-scale wargame scenario to follow, based on what the players did, but in practice everyone enjoyed the individual character play so much they didn't even get to the wargame.

Subsequent "Braunsteins" followed, with different settings, the name being kind of generified. One of the most famous examples being the banana republic game set in a South or Central American country on the brink of revolution, where Dave Arneson (assigned a "peaceful revolutionary" role with a goal of distributing leaflets to other revolutionaries, and more for getting them to other civilians) famously tricked other players into thinking his character was a CIA agent, ended the game flying out of the country on a helicopter with most of the country's treasury, and, reminded that he got points for distributing the leaflets, said something like "Oh yeah, I dump those out the side door, so they rain over the town."


To my recollection, Dave Arneson first described his idea for the game that became Blackmoor as "a medieval-style Braunstein game" in his Corner of the Tabletop newsletter, when advertising that he'd be running it and looking for players.

While OD&D is definitely written to support the idea of high-level Fighting Men claiming domains, building castles and clearing the area around them of monsters, and receiving tax income, I'm not sure how much of that Gary actually did that way. I do believe that such play was characteristic of Dave Arneson's original Blackmoor, where players often controlled factions and larger forces, and a certain amount of oppositional play was common, and probably was adjudicated using Chainmail or other wargame rules for the battles, though I don't have much documentation on that. I expect there's more detail on that in the doc film Secrets of Blackmoor, but I still haven't watched it.

I agree with you, though, that it's a little strange that TSR didn't come up with and publish some more rules for running a domain some time after the 1974 set gave us (pretty bare bones) parameters, given that AD&D continued to imply that this would be common of high level play, and added in all those charts of what kind of followers would be attracted to PCs once they hit name level, and basic details in the PH about what kind of strongholds the different classes could build. The D&D Companion set more or less covered that base in 1984, but only for the subsidiary product line. I don't think there was ever anything similar for AD&D.

Right, but it is still one property. I mean, I don't want to dismiss the power of one IP (after all, 300 made hoplites and spear-soldiers cool again for TTRPGs almost solo), but in general it takes a lot more than that to make a fad or trend.

Manga and Anime are completely different things whose relevance to the discussion I don't understand. They happen to be Japanese initiated art forms/movements, but that's not the same thing as the (centered on the) 80s western martial artist/ninja fad. There are sometimes martial artists or ninjas in Manga and Anime, but not consistently or I'd say even most of the time.


I'm not clear on what you mean. It was their wheelhouse -- Gary played Braunstein and other domain-centered play. That's what he expected people to do with their characters* once they hit high level. Once he realized that it wasn't wargamers, but instead mostly high school and college kids new to the scene who were picking up D&D, he could have made similar rules (or even bought/licensed Braunstein).
*if anything, I think this notion that you were supposed to play them as leaders and rulers gets overblown, and oftentimes that was just the explanation of what they did when you retired them.

Exactly what the old school sensibilities 5e has are really up to interpretation. IMO, 5e could be hammered into place to do this, but to really make it the same beast as bitd Greyhawk era dungeon crawling, a lot would have to be modified. Stuff like eliminate light cantrips, make treasure obtained the XP metric, makes sessions end when you left the dungeon to rest, and so forth.

Exactly what the old school sensibilities 5e has are really up to interpretation. IMO, 5e could be hammered into place to do this, but to really make it the same beast as bitd Greyhawk era dungeon crawling, a lot would have to be modified. Stuff like eliminate light cantrips, make treasure obtained the XP metric, makes sessions end when you left the dungeon to rest, and so forth.
Right. I don't think we'd want WotC to try to make it "the same beast". But with a few tweaks (like maybe removing light cantrips, and definitely adding a dungeon exploring play procedure) we could fairly easily have a new version which pays homage to the old while leaving behind elements which players quickly abandoned as frustrating and tiresome (like the combination of player mapping based on DM description along with teleporters and similar shenanigans to frustrate mappers).
 
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Reynard

Legend
Thanks for that link. It was a fun read.
 

Playing a game doesn't mean designing it is in your wheelhouse.
True, and maybe it was just put off since no one (Gygax, Arneson, Perren, etc.) wanted to build the thing. Still, they were learning all of this as they went along. If they saw this need, they certainly had a road map to making an attempt (they certainly didn't hit it out of the park with all the things they attempted).
I see a bunch of folks asserting this, but no quotes from the man stating that he expected folks to actually go to another game.
You're right. This is conjecture people are making based on what he himself was doing*. If he did not intend people to switch games, then the sparseness of rule structure within D&D for that part of the level range all the more of an issue (I guess pointing towards my other speculation above: that this is overblown and you really were just 'supposed' to retire the character and say they were being a ruler and general).
*playing Chainmail battles, Braunstein city game, and proto-D&D dungeon crawls in the same world/scenario.

I guess my primary point/thin I am wondering is -- assuming they realized that the buyer base for D&D wasn't all people just like them (something I think all think they realized, as they have talked about the high-schoolers and non-wargaming college kids buying the game), and realized that people were playing into the post-name-level range (certainly the forward to GD&H suggests they realized this), why did it take 10-11 years (whenever C in BECMI came out) for there to be any Followers & Fortifications rules past who you get and the costs of building castles? It just seems like a disconnect (mind you, the whole thread here is highlighting the disconnect TSR had with its' base).
 

Reynard

Legend
why did it take 10-11 years (whenever C in BECMI came out) for there to be any Followers & Fortifications rules past who you get and the costs of building castles? It just seems like a disconnect (mind you, the whole thread here is highlighting the disconnect TSR had with its' base).
Followers are in the 1978 AD&D PHB at least and I think in the OD&D rules as well. It did not take until Companion. Companion just formalized the domain managements and mass battle rules that has been bouncing around half written.
 

A couple of points of historical clarification.

I don't know whether Gary ever played any of the Braunstein derivatives, but as far as I'm aware he's definitely not recorded as playing the original. That was Dave Arneson and a bunch of the Twin Cities gamers.

The original Braunstein wasn't a domain management game. It was a scenario set in a Napoleonic-era Prussian town (named Braunstein) where each of the players was given an individual person as a role- like the mayor, the head of the local cavalry unit, a student agitator, etc. Very similar to a modern Live Action Roleplaying Game of the sort the Society for Interactive Literature started running at sci-fi cons in 1983. Each character Dave Wesely assigned had goals to achieve. I believe he initially anticipated that the individual characters scenario would inform the setup of an army-scale wargame scenario to follow, based on what the players did, but in practice everyone enjoyed the individual character play so much they didn't even get to the wargame.

Subsequent "Braunsteins" followed, with different settings, the name being kind of generified. One of the most famous examples being the banana republic game set in a South or Central American country on the brink of revolution, where Dave Arneson (assigned a "peaceful revolutionary" role with a goal of distributing leaflets to other revolutionaries, and more for getting them to other civilians) famously tricked other players into thinking his character was a CIA agent, ended the game flying out of the country on a helicopter with a suitcase full of money, and, reminded that he got points for distributing the leaflets, said something like "Oh yeah, I dump those out the side door, so they rain over the town."


To my recollection, Dave Arneson first described his idea for the game that became Blackmoor as "a medieval-style Braunstein game" in his Corner of the Tabletop newsletter, when advertising that he'd be running it and looking for players.

While OD&D is definitely written to support the idea of high-level Fighting Men claiming domans, building castles and clearing the area around them of monsters, and receiving tax income, I'm not sure how much of that Gary actually did that way. I do believe that such play was characteristic of Dave Arneson's original Blackmoor, where players often controlled factions and larger forces, and a certain amount of oppositional play was common, and probably was adjudicated using Chainmail or other wargame rules for the battles, though I don't have much documentation on that. I expect there's more detail on that in the doc film Secrets of Blackmoor, but I still haven't watched it.

I agree with you, though, that it's a little strange that TSR didn't come up with and publish some more rules for running a domain some time after the 1974 set gave us (pretty bare bones) parameters, given that AD&D continued to imply that this would be common of high level play, and added in all those charts of what kind of followers would be attracted to PCs once they hit name level, and basic details in the PH about what kind of strongholds the different classes could build.
Right. Thank you for the clarification. I was being fast and lose with the individuals and the terminology. Some of it could have been Braunstein (or "Braunsteins"), and it wasn't all Gary (I was mostly focusing on him because he was in charge of the direction of the published game in this era). Some of it could have been Chainmail (your followers were largely troops after all). Some of it could be who knows what that wasn't consistent or hasn't made it into the larger narrative. Or it could be nothing (and what they really did at name level was retire, that's my second conjecture point).

I agree with you, though, that it's a little strange that TSR didn't come up with and publish some more rules for running a domain some time after the 1974 set gave us (pretty bare bones) parameters, given that AD&D continued to imply that this would be common of high level play, and added in all those charts of what kind of followers would be attracted to PCs once they hit name level, and basic details in the PH about what kind of strongholds the different classes could build.
Yes, this is the meat of my point -- regardless of what the actual 'it' consisted of (domain management or wars or whatever), followers and a vague suggestion that you should do something with them is what fighters got while magic users kept getting spells. This survived past the point where TSR learned the demographics of who was buying the game, and that they were playing their characters past name level.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
While OD&D is definitely written to support the idea of high-level Fighting Men claiming domans, building castles and clearing the area around them of monsters, and receiving tax income, I'm not sure how much of that Gary actually did that way.
I think those rules were meant to be aspirational. As in "some day your character will have enough money and power to stop mucking around in holes in the ground grubbing for gold and be a king". The Conan arc. I also suspect that they were aspirational for Gygax in the sense that he probably had every intention at one point of writing those rules eventually, but then the "mucking around in holes in the ground grubbing for gold" game got to be so popular and lucrative that he focused on expanding that until the brand got so lucrative that he ran off to California to do the TSR Entertainment thing.

Like another project that Gygax abandoned and wasn't able to complete (cough Temple of Elemental Evil) Frank Mentzer came in and provided the rules that had been promised and he put them into the Companion Set. But by that point AD&D and D&D had divided into separate game lines, the Companion rules were tied to the "perceived as for kids (at least in the US)" D&D side of the game, and so AD&D players mostly just didn't know that they existed - and those who did know they existed thought of them more as the endgame of a game they didn't play.
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Right. Thank you for the clarification. I was being fast and lose with the individuals and the terminology. Some of it could have been Braunstein (or "Braunsteins"), and it wasn't all Gary (I was mostly focusing on him because he was in charge of the direction of the published game in this era). Some of it could have been Chainmail (your followers were largely troops after all). Some of it could be who knows what that wasn't consistent or hasn't made it into the larger narrative. Or it could be nothing (and what they really did at name level was retire, that's my second conjecture point).
Which is kind of a funny thing, because we do have some documented snippets of Gary and Rob Kuntz' campaign, and we know that characters did get up to the teens of levels but continue adventuring. There is also documentation showing things like, e.g., Rob's character Robilar built his own castle and had (IIRC) two green dragons he mastered as followers/mounts. Robilar also had an army of orcish followers he used to help him in the Tomb of Horrors. So clearly they were doing both in their own games- continuing to adventure at high level (instead of retiring) and doing some domain play, but not publishing a system for the latter.

Yes, this is the meat of my point -- regardless of what the actual 'it' consisted of (domain management or wars or whatever), followers and a vague suggestion that you should do something with them is what fighters got while magic users kept getting spells. This survived past the point where TSR learned the demographics of who was buying the game, and that they were playing their characters past name level.

I think those rules were meant to be aspirational. As in "some day your character will have enough money and power to stop mucking around in holes in the ground grubbing for gold and be a king". The Conan arc. I also suspect that they were aspirational for Gygax in the sense that he probably had every intention at one point of writing those rules eventually, but then the "mucking around in holes in the ground grubbing for gold" game got to be so popular and lucrative that he focused on expanding that until the brand got so lucrative that he ran off to California to do the TSR Entertainment thing.

Like another project that Gygax abandoned and wasn't able to complete (cough Temple of Elemental Evil) Frank Mentzer came in and provided the rules that had been promised and he put them into the Companion Set. But by that point AD&D and D&D had divided into separate game lines, the Companion rules were tied to the "perceived as for kids (at least in the US)" D&D side of the game, and so AD&D players mostly just didn't know that they existed - and those who did know they existed thought of them more as the endgame of a game they didn't play.
I suspect Jer is right. That they intended domain rulership to be part of what high level PCs did, but they had all these younger and non-wargamer players coming in (the sci-fi folks, like Lee Gold's crew in CA, were into it as of the first year) and making up more of the player base than veteran wargamers, and focused more on support for adventuring.

I would guess that they did all the domain management & wargame play more ad hoc, informed by their prior experience with the Castle & Crusade Society, where they were accustomed to running factions with a titular lord as head to occasionally RP as.

Still a little odd that they never fleshed out the domain management stuff into actual published rules until Mentzer got to it, but then, OTOH, maybe no one else in the company saw it as a real marketable thing. We know Gary published/wrote very little D&D material after 1980; mostly just a few modules in the years after.

 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah, I'm going to echo one of your earlier posts. I strongly disagree, but I'm not gonna argue about it.
You would need to change 5e, but it would be a minor change. You'd have to ditch passive skills, especially perception. That way players would have to direct you to exactly where they are searching for secret doors and traps, rather than just noticing them as they walk. Unless you're an elf!
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
You would need to change 5e, but it would be a minor change. You'd have to ditch passive skills, especially perception. That way players would have to direct you to exactly where they are searching for secret doors and traps, rather than just noticing them as they walk. Unless you're an elf!
You don't even have to do that, as @iserith 's procedures show.
 

Fair enough. The domain management rules and mass combat rules did not appear out of the ether, though. People are doing it in various ways before (and after!) it was formalized.
I must not be making myself clear, cause that was at least partly my point.
Which is kind of a funny thing, because we do have some documented snippets of Gary and Rob Kuntz' campaign, and we know that characters did get up to the teens of levels but continue adventuring. There is also documentation showing things like, e.g., Rob's character Robilar built his own castle and had (IIRC) two green dragons he mastered as followers/mounts. Robilar also had an army of orcish followers he used to help him in the Tomb of Horrors. So clearly they were doing both in their own games- continuing to adventure at high level (instead of retiring) and doing some domain play, but not publishing a system for the latter.
That does sidle things away from the 'actually you just retired and said you led armies' theory. I would have been surprised if there was perfect consistency on any of this bitd (any more than there is now, I suppose). After a while of wanting to run armies, you want to clear dungeons; after a while of that, running armies sounds like fun. Interesting how my initial games as a kid, where eventually you ended up with castles and pet dragons (minus the eventual princess girlfriends, but I imagine Kuntz wasn't 8-12 at the time) was not far off how they ended up playing. :p
I suspect Jer is right. That they intended domain rulership to be part of what high level PCs did, but they had all these younger and non-wargamer players coming in (the sci-fi folks, like Lee Gold's crew in CA, were into it as of the first year) and making up more of the player base than veteran wargamers, and focused more on support for adventuring.
Which is part of the two-pronged confusion -- on one hand, even if rulership wasn't what everyone wanted, they could have made something between '74 and '84 (and anything for AD&D before Birthright), even as an optional supplement (they certainly put out niche material). On the other, if they were instead focusing on these other players, why did they not put out more stuff for post-name levels? Sure some 9-14 modules, but like some supplemental rules for people who didn't want to do the followers bit.
I would guess that they did all the domain management & wargame play more ad hoc, informed by their prior experience with the Castle & Crusade Society, where they were accustomed to running factions with a titular lord as head to occasionally RP as.
That is what I meant earlier, perhaps mis-attributing it to Braunstein.
Still a little odd that they never fleshed out the domain management stuff into actual published rules until Mentzer got to it, but then, OTOH, maybe no one else in the company saw it as a real marketable thing. We know Gary published/wrote very little D&D material after 1980; mostly just a few modules in the years after.
Given the early... frustration they had with people trying to take the game in directions they didn't like, it really seems like something like this would have made it into the oD&D supplement line. Like, instead of Gods, Demigods and Heroes. That's the timeframe where I really think it is missing from the logical timeline. Of course, yes, the logical actual explanation is: they didn't release it instead of GD&H, they released GD&H. Why didn't they release it next? No one got around to it until its' time had already passed.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Any statement I make (or really, anyone makes), should be assumed to be my opinion only. The fact that I don't think Ravenloft needs to be coherent doesn't impact your beliefs otherwise.
I wanted to make it clear to folks new to the issue that your opinion was not the only one on the subject.
 

Yeah there’s a danger here in giving too much credence to criticism. Raven loft is an unparalleled success in 5e. Massively popular. So popular that they actually went back to the well for a second book. Nothing in 5e has gotten two books.

So I’d say that despite some grumbling, 5e rave loft is a smashing success.

But again sure there are some setting specific mechanics in Dark Sun. Although, again stuff like weapon breakage and whatnot is part of the overall post apocalyptic theme.

Like was said, it’s the story of a setting that really sets a setting apart.

We know FR is getting revisit in 2024.
 

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