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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darksun.jpg
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dragonlance.jpg
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

In all seriousness (IMHO of course):

1. Greyhawk's #2, eh? I wonder why there's so little interest in bringing it out now--the fans just aged out?

2. OA is #3. I know there are all the concerns about cultural appropriation, but seems like Hasbro (unlike indie developers) has enough money to hire enough people with cultural competence in Japan (or at least enough to satisfy American activists?) to pull off a pseudo-Japanese setting at least. I do wonder if concerns about the portrayal of fantasy-China (Shou Lung in the old setting?) might slip into a Sino-American kerfluffle with someone taking something out of context and the Chinese government actually getting offended and starting an international incident. (Same problem with al-Qadim, only more so. And Maztica, plus it was never that popular.)

3. I guess Lankhmar doesn't have the modern fanbase, but I'm curious to see if there are real attempts at urban fantasy. I guess they have the rights to Waterdeep.

4. I'm surprised nobody tried to bring back Planescape--I'm guessing the actual 17th-century slang and piercings and spiky hair look too 90s? Maybe that's exactly what will sell it in a few years when 90s nostalgia gets going.

5. Birthright--no way they're bringing that back. Genetically determined powers and kingdoms are going to sound way too white nationalist (yes, I know this is perfectly normal premodern thinking around the world historically, I'm talking about the way it's going to come off).

6. Spelljammer probably had (as other people said) enough of an obscure fanbase to not start flame wars and little enough material they could give it their own stamp.

7. Why don't they bring back Dark Sun? The Brom pics (Brom did as much for our view of Dark Sun as DiTerlizzi did for Planescape, and they both played a huge role in creating my view at least of the setting and giving it a unified artistic vision) look too Frazetta-y and toxically masculine? You could easily make muscular nonbinary and female warriors too. I'm guessing psionics were so divisive they figured it wasn't a good bet.

1. Greyhawk had a complete monopoly for a long time years so it's numbers were misleading.

2. WotC has tons of cultural consultants, including 3 or 4 East Asian writers on Radiant Citadel (it has a fantasy Thailand, China, and Japan, maybe one other), and several South Asian (Indian), writers on the book too, and Middle Eastern (Persian). Plus the crew who worked on Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. In fact I susect the only reason Kamigawa didn't get a D&D book is because something is planned for Kara Tur. Btw OA is a MITHIRIL BESTSELLER, and Kara Tur is PLATINIUM BESTSELLER, so the setting is as popular as ever.

3. Urban Fantasy they have Waterdeep, Baldur's Gate, Ravnica, Radiant Citadel, and probably next year Sigil.

4. The Planescape lingo and attidude was annoying,but Planescape Torment was glorious.

5. Silly

6. They don't give a crap about fan out cries or rage as long as they keep o. making tons of money, they only care when things fall apart.

7. Psionics isn't solved. The rest I'm not even touching.
 
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SakanaSensei

Adventurer
Your understating how fundlemental the charges to the setting are, it now blurs the line between Spelljammer and Planescape to nearly none existent. I like the change, but mostly because I hate trying to spell Phligizon, blasted word, Astral Plane I can spell just fine.
I understand the differences just fine, on an intellectual level. But my players are going to see “fly to the edges of this system, transfer to the fantasy hyperspace equivalent, maybe see some stuff go down then pop back out into your destination.”

Basically, the whole thing reeks of distinction without a difference because play experience isn’t going to change much if at all. And discussion spaces around this game in particular seem to be lousy with distinctions without differences.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
7. Why don't they bring back Dark Sun?
They did. Up until Ravenloft it was the only non-FR TSR setting that Wizards had done an updated book for (unless you count Gamma World I guess) - except it was for 4e so I assume many folks have forgotten it existed.

(Updated book because of course Star Drive and Star Frontiers both got a kinda-sorta update with d20 Future, but not a full setting update).
 

I understand the differences just fine, on an intellectual level. But my players are going to see “fly to the edges of this system, transfer to the fantasy hyperspace equivalent, maybe see some stuff go down then pop back out into your destination.”

Basically, the whole thing reeks of distinction without a difference because play experience isn’t going to change much if at all. And discussion spaces around this game in particular seem to be lousy with distinctions without differences.


When your players get lost in the Astral Plane and their Spelljammer ends up in Hell your players will care about the difference.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
LOL! Out on the socials, there's a bit envy/competition. "Well, we don't know the whole story about setting X, if only they had included (modules, setting guides, etc.), we'd get the true story about my (obvious pet setting.)"
Agreed, and I'm no exception (Mystara is my pet favorite). I'm not really driven by competition or envy, though. I'm being propelled along by pure curiosity.
 

Hussar

Legend
It was a much shorter section and not the focus of the book. Dragonlance adventures was designed to sell a setting. OA was a rules supplement with an example setting but it’s included so TSR considered it a setting book.

That’s a fairly fair way of looking at it.

After all, most people who bought DL Adventures were likely already setting fans. The modules and the novels preceded DLA by some time.

OA otoh had no such lead up. It was presented more or less as a complete product in and of itself. The OA modules and other stuff all came out afterwards.

They have an almost opposite history.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
When your players get lost in the Astral Plane and their Spelljammer ends up in Hell your players will care about the difference.
And they will thank you for it.

Come on - the visual of a Spelljammer flying through space and into Hell is just too good. I think that I now either have a campaign concept or a metal album cover in my head that I'm going to need to figure out what to do with...
 

SakanaSensei

Adventurer
And they will thank you for it.

Come on - the visual of a Spelljammer flying through space and into Hell is just too good. I think that I now either have a campaign concept or a metal album cover in my head that I'm going to need to figure out what to do with...
I'm with you on "that sounds super cool, so why would there be complaints?"

But I also take some issue with the "you're totally wrong, this is a big difference that you can't see because you don't know enough and you'll be sorry, you'll see!" tone of the original message, here. Like, why do we have to be so confrontational over something so minor?

And if you don't want to have your players deal with Outer Plane stuff while using the Astral as a go-between, just... don't? It's really not hard.
 


I'm with you on "that sounds super cool, so why would there be complaints?"

But I also take some issue with the "you're totally wrong, this is a big difference that you can't see because you don't know enough and you'll be sorry, you'll see!" tone of the original message, here. Like, why do we have to be so confrontational over something so minor?

And if you don't want to have your players deal with Outer Plane stuff while using the Astral as a go-between, just... don't? It's really not hard.


Never said I'd complain, just pointing out it's a much more serious change then maybe it appeared at first glance.
 

If funny that the broader FR (including Kara Tur, Faerun, Al Qadim, Maztica) occupies so many slots. One can't help wondering if TSR hadn't gone under, how many more Forgotten Realms expansions would we have gotten?
 


If funny that the broader FR (including Kara Tur, Faerun, Al Qadim, Maztica) occupies so many slots. One can't help wondering if TSR hadn't gone under, how many more Forgotten Realms expansions would we have gotten?
We are still waiting on a treatment for Osse (oversized FR "Australia"), Katashaka (FR "South America"), Anchorome (FR "North America") (although small parts of each were sort of covered in Maztica, the "Central America" analog), and Laerakon (which was "visiting" Toril during 4th ed).
 


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).

The 2nd most surprising? The popularity of Oriental Adventures. I knew it was big, but I never thought it was THAT big.
Although we never knew anything about the numbers or even advertising for the game back then, this directly matches my friends' and our group's purchases. We were just teenagers, but apparently we were the "market." ;)
 

DorkForge

Explorer
As a person that started playing in 5E here's why I don't really have any interest in Greyhawk as a property:

It's just a fantasy setting, or at least, that's what it comes across as.

Eberron, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Dark Sun etc. are all dramatically different from a typical fantasy setting, they have gimmicks and novelties that set them apart and draw interest. Whilst there is a touch of Greyhawk in 5e, I'd wager that most players didn't notice and don't care, Saltmarsh being set there is just a bit of 'neat' trivia to me personally, it doesn't fundamentally change the experience.

That said, should they choose to sell Greyhawk stuff it will sell well, not because of Grognards with disposable income, but because 5e sells well.
 

Von Ether

Legend
As a person that started playing in 5E here's why I don't really have any interest in Greyhawk as a property:

It's just a fantasy setting, or at least, that's what it comes across as.

Eberron, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Dark Sun etc. are all dramatically different from a typical fantasy setting, they have gimmicks and novelties that set them apart and draw interest. Whilst there is a touch of Greyhawk in 5e, I'd wager that most players didn't notice and don't care, Saltmarsh being set there is just a bit of 'neat' trivia to me personally, it doesn't fundamentally change the experience.

That said, should they choose to sell Greyhawk stuff it will sell well, not because of Grognards with disposable income, but because 5e sells well.

And even then, WotC pitched 5e Ravenloft as gothic fantasy and 5e Eberron as Noir Fantasy.

I totally get that viewpoint to the point since the aughts I haven't bought anything Greyhawk/Dragon Lance/Forgotten Realms even as retro PDF. They are all too vanilla for me.

For the fans, though, there are nuances:
Greyhawk is more old school swords and sorcery where things are tough and the villains tougher, though some may say GH has gotten more vanilla over time.

Dragon Lance is more romanticized fantasy with knights, evil dragons, and love triangles

Forgotten Realms is now it's own beast. Part high fantasy, part pulpy fantasy, party superheros, part Earth cultural analog. With that big of an umbrella, though, you can fit the adventures you want to run in the other two setting in FR.
 
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Ben Riggs here!
These numbers are taken from internal company documents I've been given. As such, they are apparently what the company considered settings. Your points are well taken. But I'm a historian at the mercy of what data has trickled down to us from the past. There's tons of data I don't have. Everything in your post for example. Also, I have no data on the vast majority of novels, and the vast majority of adventures.
Ben, thanks for replying! Right, I mistakenly pictured that you had a gigantic spreadsheet with, like, sales numbers for every product published in the 80s and 90s. So I was perplexed why some products were highlighted in the charts and some weren’t. But yeah, Im glad you shared what you did. I look forward to the book!
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
As a person that started playing in 5E here's why I don't really have any interest in Greyhawk as a property:

It's just a fantasy setting, or at least, that's what it comes across as.

Eberron, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Dark Sun etc. are all dramatically different from a typical fantasy setting, they have gimmicks and novelties that set them apart and draw interest. Whilst there is a touch of Greyhawk in 5e, I'd wager that most players didn't notice and don't care, Saltmarsh being set there is just a bit of 'neat' trivia to me personally, it doesn't fundamentally change the experience.

That said, should they choose to sell Greyhawk stuff it will sell well, not because of Grognards with disposable income, but because 5e sells well.
That's exactly why it is such a popular Setting, same as Forgotten Realms and Exandria. Gimmicks are not as useful for game proposal as generic material is.
 

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