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

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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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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

I am assuming that mid 90s bump in Lankhmar is the orange box starter set?

Underrated in my opinion. But probably didn't sell well as I picked up one about 10 years ago for cheap still shrink-wraped.
 

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Pauper

That guy, who does that thing.
Does this mean we'll finally get a remastered and culturally appropriate Kara-Tur setting again?
Not sure why this would be a priority, when Legend of the Five Rings exists.

As unimpressed as I am personally with Spelljammer as a setting, seeing how popular it was in its original release, plus that there is very little out there, even today, that resembles it (maybe Space: 1899?) goes a long way to explaining why WotC would bring the setting back.

--
Pauper
 

Hussar

Legend
I would think that the primary reason that spelljammer is getting the nod is because unlike other settings, there doesn’t seem to be this group of gate keeping super fans who will scream from the mountaintops about how every little change is ruining the setting, DnD is dead and anyone who disagrees isn’t really a fan

In other words SJmmer doesn’t have this mass of toxic fans.
 

SakanaSensei

Adventurer
I would think that the primary reason that spelljammer is getting the nod is because unlike other settings, there doesn’t seem to be this group of gate keeping super fans who will scream from the mountaintops about how every little change is ruining the setting, DnD is dead and anyone who disagrees isn’t really a fan

In other words SJmmer doesn’t have this mass of toxic fans.
Idk man, have you SEEN the number of comments about how WotC changing the Phlogiston and Crystal Spheres into things that functionally work the same way but have different names is ABSOLUTELY RUINING THE SETTING HOW DARE YOU?
 

ENWorldUser

Explorer
Any records of overseas sales?
Basic Set (Mentzer) was incredibly popular outside of the USA. It was the only D&D book we could buy in my city outside of specialist RPG stores.
In my own country there were zero distributor returns due to very large shipping costs. Unsold books were heavily discounted. (According to 1 local source who sold D&D in the mid to late 90's)
 

ENWorldUser

Explorer
The setting sales don't surprise me at all.
Anything revised included WSE's that put the original buyers off.
Red Steel was the 3rd iteration of that area after X series plain Savage Coast, and peaked with the popular Princess Ark series in Dragon Mag.
BECMI/RC Mystara fans didn't follow through to the Karameikos boxed set and Red Steel as a whole.
Do you have the RC sales? The Basic Set new peak in 91 looks like it was the Black version.
 

Hussar

Legend
Idk man, have you SEEN the number of comments about how WotC changing the Phlogiston and Crystal Spheres into things that functionally work the same way but have different names is ABSOLUTELY RUINING THE SETTING HOW DARE YOU?
No. To be honest, I actually haven't. Other than a couple of minor cries, I've hardly seen any resistance to the new Spelljammer. But, maybe I'm just not looking in the right places.

But, compared to the absolute freakout when WotC tried to change the Planes in 4e? Yeah, not even close.
 

Playmobil Dragonlance conf... oh, wait, wrong threat!

Now I wonder if the new title for OA should be something like "Isekai Adventures", or "Isekai & Xuanhuan". Let's rembember today manga is being sold better than superheroes comics, in the Western market itself.

Red Steel/Savage Coast could enjoy a second oportunity in the future, or at least some spiritual succesor as Spelljammer spin-off. But here the game designers would need a lot of work about the mutations and superpowers. But also it could work as a first step for a new edition of Gamma World. Lots of things from this could be recycled and retold for a rebooted version of Red Steel. And fantasy+pirates is a popular subgenre now thanks Jack Parrow and company.

I imagine Hollow World as an artificial demiplane created by gods as a mixture of "theme park + museum" and a "backup in the space-time continium" to avoid paradoxes by possible chronomancers and time-travelers.

Dragonlance needs the option of alternate timelines to allow fandom more creative freedom to write their fanart stories.
 


teitan

Legend
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

View attachment 254234

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.

View attachment 254238View attachment 254239View attachment 254240View attachment 254241View attachment 254242View attachment 254245View attachment 254246View attachment 254247View attachment 254248View attachment 254249View attachment 254250View attachment 254251View attachment 254252View attachment 254253View attachment 254254
There goes that whole no one likes Greyhawk argument people love to throw out there. Second most popular.
 


Reynard

Legend
There goes that whole no one likes Greyhawk argument people love to throw out there. Second most popular.
I wonder how it compared in the 3E era (the last time it was published). That would probably be of much greater interest to WotC now, as to whether to lean into Greyhawk.
 

MGibster

Legend
Really the most surprising thing on that chart is that Planescape didn't sell better. I guess I wasn't the only one left wholly unimpressed by it (aside from DiTerlizzi's exquisite art, anyway).
I missed out on Planescape in the 1990s. What kept me away was the weird looking art and I had no interested in the planes. But when I looked at Planescape a few years ago, I realized just how beautiful the art really was and what a great place Sigil was to adventure.
 

teitan

Legend
I appreciate the research. But research is open to comments, suggestions, and enquiry. That's not just "nit-picking."

Okay, then what is the "core setting material" for Mystara? The AD&D Karameikos boxed set? (!) A product which arrived at the very, very end of a 15-year product run, spanning hundreds of campaign setting books? It's cool to see the Karameikos boxed set numbers. But still.

Other "core setting material" not on the chart (yet): Hollow World, Champions of Mystara (Voyage of the Princess Ark), Time of the Dragon (Taladas), Hordelands. All boxed sets. Also the original Ravenloft module and the GAZetteer series were "core setting material".



What are you, the book agent? How do you know what's in the book?

Anyway, Ben's doing great work.
It’s obvious it is AD&D settings.
 

MGibster

Legend
nteresting! I didn't expect Oriental Adventures to be the third best-selling setting, beating Dragonlance.
Not that I expect WotC to bring the setting back, but still a nice bit of D&D history.
I didn't expect OA to be #3 either. Back in 1985, OA was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, and despite the problems I can see with the book now, I still think it's one of the best 1st edition AD&D books ever published. While I'm not surprised the book sold well, I didn't think it'd make it so high on the list. I thought for sure Dragonlance would have beaten it.
 

teitan

Legend
I wonder how it compared in the 3E era (the last time it was published). That would probably be of much greater interest to WotC now, as to whether to lean into Greyhawk.
The 3e era saw 2 products, the D&D Gazeteer and the LGG. Both were OOP by the time 3.5 rolled around and essentially rendered as useless as Song & Silence or Tome & Blood. The Living Greyhawk campaign was very popular until the end of the 3.x era. The real gauge for WOTC is Saltmarsh in the same way that CoS was for Ravenloft. If Saltmarsh was huge (and it seems to have been) then they may carry that over to a setting book (and they probably are for the anniversary).

The surprise is more that people love to dump on Greyhawk as being “not popular” when it really seems to have actually been… it was Gary’s baby when you look at this data. By the time Carl’s work came out it was dying off for sure but they’d emphasized the Realms and pushed out intentionally bad GH products like their Castle Greyhawk and was it “Puppets” or something? So bad.

These sales numbers just show that it was more popular, than some of the popularly believed to be more successful settings like Dark Sun or Ravenloft. It was more successful than Dragonlance. Very surprising to see.
 

teitan

Legend
Not sure why this would be a priority, when Legend of the Five Rings exists.

As unimpressed as I am personally with Spelljammer as a setting, seeing how popular it was in its original release, plus that there is very little out there, even today, that resembles it (maybe Space: 1899?) goes a long way to explaining why WotC would bring the setting back.

--
Pauper
The initial release was popular but it ranked fast. It was not around long at all. I think it was 15 months or something between the boxed set and the final product coming out. It was very quickly shelved.
 


teitan

Legend
I would think that the primary reason that spelljammer is getting the nod is because unlike other settings, there doesn’t seem to be this group of gate keeping super fans who will scream from the mountaintops about how every little change is ruining the setting, DnD is dead and anyone who disagrees isn’t really a fan

In other words SJmmer doesn’t have this mass of toxic fans.
That’s because Newjammer looks infinitely better than the I’ll conceived concepts of Oldjammer. I’m actually enticed by Newjammer and I’m a huge Starfinder fan and didn’t see a real need for Newjammer.
 

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