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

They
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.
If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I was kind of wondering why Torment was so popular but they never resurrected the setting after 3e. Thanks for clarifying on 2.
 

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DorkForge

Explorer
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.
Generic fantasy doesn't really need multiple setttings nowadays, FR has that covered which is why I don't see a need for GH. I would strongly argue, however, that it is popular because of how it was the original setting more than anything else.

Exandria is popular because Critical Role is popular. They could publish anything and it would sell.
 

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.
Greyhawk has a bit of a “grimdark” “Warhammer” “amoral” “shades of grey” vibe which could be further drawn out in order to distinguish the setting. “WotC’s Mörk Borg.”
 


Reynard

Legend
Greyhawk has a bit of a “grimdark” “Warhammer” “amoral” “shades of grey” vibe which could be further drawn out in order to distinguish the setting. “WotC’s Mörk Borg.”
I for one am looking forward the absolute poopstorm that would occur if WotC actually did this. "You did WHAT to Greyhawk?!?"

If WotC really wanted to make GH relevant, they could do far worse than making it the D&D setting that really embraces the Old School style in 5E. Trim out the extraneous races and classes. Put class and level limits back in. Make equipment matter. Up the ante on resource management. Give the DM even more authority. Put it out in a boxed set or standalone book.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I for one am looking forward the absolute poopstorm that would occur if WotC actually did this. "You did WHAT to Greyhawk?!?"

If WotC really wanted to make GH relevant, they could do far worse than making it the D&D setting that really embraces the Old School style in 5E. Trim out the extraneous races and classes. Put class and level limits back in. Make equipment matter. Up the ante on resource management. Give the DM even more authority. Put it out in a boxed set or standalone book.
I'm in the camp that feels 5E already embraces "the Old School style" of play. To me, 5E feels a lot more retro than the previous three editions did.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
Generic fantasy doesn't really need multiple setttings nowadays, FR has that covered which is why I don't see a need for GH. I would strongly argue, however, that it is popular because of how it was the original setting more than anything else.

Exandria is popular because Critical Role is popular. They could publish anything and it would sell.
Critical Role's popularity is a Chicken and egg problem: I would say the friendly generic nature of the world that the wacky characters interact with is a big part of the secret sauce. People like generic fantasy, a lot.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I for one am looking forward the absolute poopstorm that would occur if WotC actually did this. "You did WHAT to Greyhawk?!?"

If WotC really wanted to make GH relevant, they could do far worse than making it the D&D setting that really embraces the Old School style in 5E. Trim out the extraneous races and classes. Put class and level limits back in. Make equipment matter. Up the ante on resource management. Give the DM even more authority. Put it out in a boxed set or standalone book.
I don't think you have to go crazy with it, but I do think using the Old School cred would be a logical part of the marketing. Play up the Swords & Sorcery a bit, as well as the grim foes, including legendary evils like Vecna and Iuz. Not Black Metal grim/funny, but focusing a bit more on warring states, the balance between good and evil being a bit more tilted in evil's favor in the Flanaess.

Doing a bit more with equipment and resource management, and putting real (but fairly lightweight) dungeon crawl procedures in the 5.5e books could synergize really well with a Greyhawk relaunch, including either a revamped Castle Greyhawk (if they can work out a reasonable deal with Gail Gygax) or a revamped Village of Hommlet and Temple of Elemental Evil, for iconic dungeon play.
 

As for distinguishing Mystara from Forgotten Realms, I’d lean into these themes:

1) Full-blown BECMI "red box" retro graphic design. Like how the 4E Starter Set did it, but with the BECMI fonts throughout. Elmore "Ancient Red" cover for the win!

2) D&D-meets-1980s-Cartoon-Action-Hour setting: He-Man and She-Ra meet Warduke meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or rather Tortles!)

3) D&D-meets-Marvel mutant-superheroes setting. The Red Curse has expanded throughout the world...and expanded into seven rainbow colors! (Blue Curse, Orange Curse, etc.). Seven different Inheritor (mutant) classes, modeled on existing OGL superhero archetypes. (BTW, I strongly suspect the AD&D "red letter" MYSTARA logo was partly inspired by the MARVEL logo.)

5) D&D-meet-furries setting: Tortles, Rakastas, and Lupins are core Mystaran races. They're present throughout the world, in nearly every city and village and culture. People don't even blink an eye. They're like the "animal people" you see in the background crowd scenes of Earth in Dragonball Z, like: "Oh, the police officer is a dog-man? I never noticed." Could add other animal-folk as well: Chameleon Folk, etc.

6) Rewind to 1000 AC. But somewhat reboot the continuity, just as WotC has done for all 5E worlds.

7) Bargle and Aleena as narrators: the "Mordenkainen", "Fizban" and "Tasha" of Mystara.

8) Fill out the whole world map, Hollow World map, and Invisible Moon map from the start. Why not? Let's get on with it! :)

9) 5E stats for all the Mystaran / BECMI monsters which haven't been covered in 5E yet.

10) Blackmoor relics (i.e. modern tech) can found as treasure throughout the setting.

11) Include "cosmic" level rules for Immortal play.

12) Hire writers and artists from the same Real World cultures to depict the Real World-based cultures of Mystara. Where there's an equivalent culture in the Radiant Citadel, tie their lore together, saying that they're connected via a portal. Of course, some "classic" depictions (e.g. GAZ10) will need to be heavily reconceived. But it can be done.

I posted a bunch of other thoughts on 5E Mystara here (back in 2018!): Mike Mearls tweet: Is the Known World of Mystara coming to 5e? (What's Cool About Mystara?)
 
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DorkForge

Explorer
Critical Role's popularity is a Chicken and egg problem: I would say the friendly generic nature of the world that the wacky characters interact with is a big part of the secret sauce. People like generic fantasy, a lot.
You can argue the merits of their world, but I'm not seeing the chicken and egg problem. People like watching a group of professional voice actors play D&D, I've never heard a fan rave about the world but plenty of them are happy to talk about their favourite character.

I don't think their success would have been weakened by playing in an established setting, for example.
 

MGibster

Legend
i remember playing Shogun in 86 when it came out. i never made the connection until now. 80's were also big with people buying throwing stars and other weapons of that market
Karate movies have never gone out of style, but there was a martial arts fad in the United States starting in the 70s and going into the 80s. Like the song said, everyone was Kung-Fu fighting, their hands were fast as lightning, and it was a little bit frightening. We had television shows like The Master starring Lee Van Cleef and Kung Fu starring David Carradine not to mention movies about ninjas, Kung-Fu fighters, and one armed boxers produced by in the United States and imported from China and Japan. I've always considered OA to be part of that fad.
 

They don't own Gary's CG maps & notes. They'd have to get the license from Gail, but it seems obvious to me that's she's been angling for that over the last 14 years. Now, it may be that they aren't willing to pay what she thinks it's worth, but if they were ever going to do it, the 50th anniversary seems like a logical time.

Hm. Snarf makes an excellent point. At first I was dubious, but I'm coming 'round to that way of thinking. A "Greyhawk 50th Anniversary" book would be like printing money. It's a no-brainer.
Here's why I don't think this is so: People played in Greyhawk. People did not play in the Castle Greyhawk megadungeon. I mean, sure, Luke and Ernie Gygax, Rob K, Geezer/Gronan, probably also Tim K, Alon Lucion, Jeff Key and a bunch of other individuals played in it (and, last time I checked, were people, some of whom even show up here now and again). However, for the most part the gamer base never got to see that castle (as it was never published).

Thus, people that are nostalgic for Greyhawk are nostalgic for the campaign setting (the one that, in total, is only somewhat linked to Gary's version, which itself is both larger and distinct from the megadungeon castle). For them, the name Castle Greyhawk is a draw, but it's not the setting which I think is what they really want.

There are, as well, people with no attachment to the Greyhawk world, but like the idea that this was something from one of the original game creators. For them, there will be some initial interest from such a sales announcement simply from what the thing is (although if there was a huge market for this, there would have been more buzz around the Castle Zyggag project back when it was in development, and I don't remember that being the case). That said, what they will get is either 1) a megadungeon designed around game principles wildly divorced from what the game evolved into even in the first couple years of existing (again I posit that more evolution took place within oD&D than between it and everything that came after it), or 2) something someone at WotC derived from Gary's notes but put their own interpretation on to make it fit modern game ideas (even OSR ones), kinda defeating the 'from Gary' aspect.
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.
Mystara always was an interesting beast -- a default setting for the basic-classic line once Gary wanted Greyhawk for AD&D, yet one learned precious little about it unless you partook in some of the highly optional accessories like Gazetteers, Dragon articles, or at the very least adventure modules. It would be interesting to see exactly how much impact it had and how much people bought new material to learn more about the implied world. Probably impossible to suss out, but an interesting idea.
I disagree. TSR reserved high levels for kingdom-building and keeping high-level they felt should be in the game but largely out of reach for PCs. After 9th level or so, you're supposed to re-focus your efforts on the big picture, and leave the life of an adventurer behind for the most part. That idea wasn't popular so it was gradually dropped, leaving us with the high level mess we have now.

With respect, in AD&D they gave you some followers, and told you jack about how to play kingdom building.
"They knew what to do with it, but didn't actually do it," seems an odd assertion.
Each of the TSR editions certainly suggested taht this was the post-name-level gameplay you were supposed to follow (if nothing else, few if any salient benefits to levelling for non-casters past a certain point suggested that you should find other things about which to get excited). However, excepting BECMI's domain management rules (which were probably too little, too late for most people and honestly are fine but not enough to sustain my interest in the game when actual domain-running games like Civilization exist in computer form and are purpose-built for the role), there never really was any support other than those followers and some prices for building castles. I understand the initial issue was that EGG assumed that everyone would just transition to Braunstein or Diplomacy or whatever system they had on their shelves (being avid wargamers and probably having a dozen), but it's odd that once it was clear that the average person to pick up A/D&D wouldn't be avid wargamers, why TSR didn't make their own or add such rules between ~'75 and '84.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Here's why I don't think this is so: People played in Greyhawk. People did not play in the Castle Greyhawk megadungeon. I mean, sure, Luke and Ernie Gygax, Rob K, Geezer/Gronan, probably also Tim K, Alon Lucion, Jeff Key and a bunch of other individuals played in it (and, last time I checked, were people, some of whom even show up here now and again). However, for the most part the gamer base never got to see that castle (as it was never published).

Thus, people that are nostalgic for Greyhawk are nostalgic for the campaign setting (the one that, in total, is only somewhat linked to Gary's version, which itself is both larger and distinct from the megadungeon castle). For them, the name Castle Greyhawk is a draw, but it's not the setting which I think is what they really want.

There are, as well, people with no attachment to the Greyhawk world, but like the idea that this was something from one of the original game creators. For them, there will be some initial interest from such a sales announcement simply from what the thing is (although if there was a huge market for this, there would have been more buzz around the Castle Zyggag project back when it was in development, and I don't remember that being the case). That said, what they will get is either 1) a megadungeon designed around game principles wildly divorced from what the game evolved into even in the first couple years of existing (again I posit that more evolution took place within oD&D than between it and everything that came after it), or 2) something someone at WotC derived from Gary's notes but put their own interpretation on to make it fit modern game ideas (even OSR ones), kinda defeating the 'from Gary' aspect.

Mystara always was an interesting beast -- a default setting for the basic-classic line once Gary wanted Greyhawk for AD&D, yet one learned precious little about it unless you partook in some of the highly optional accessories like Gazetteers, Dragon articles, or at the very least adventure modules. It would be interesting to see exactly how much impact it had and how much people bought new material to learn more about the implied world. Probably impossible to suss out, but an interesting idea.



Each of the TSR editions certainly suggested taht this was the post-name-level gameplay you were supposed to follow (if nothing else, few if any salient benefits to levelling for non-casters past a certain point suggested that you should find other things about which to get excited). However, excepting BECMI's domain management rules (which were probably too little, too late for most people and honestly are fine but not enough to sustain my interest in the game when actual domain-running games like Civilization exist in computer form and are purpose-built for the role), there never really was any support other than those followers and some prices for building castles. I understand the initial issue was that EGG assumed that everyone would just transition to Braunstein or Diplomacy or whatever system they had on their shelves (being avid wargamers and probably having a dozen), but it's odd that once it was clear that the average person to pick up A/D&D wouldn't be avid wargamers, why TSR didn't make their own or add such rules between ~'75 and '84.
I agree. Fortunately this oversight was eventually corrected.
 

Karate movies have never gone out of style, but there was a martial arts fad in the United States starting in the 70s and going into the 80s. Like the song said, everyone was Kung-Fu fighting, their hands were fast as lightning, and it was a little bit frightening. We had television shows like The Master starring Lee Van Cleef and Kung Fu starring David Carradine not to mention movies about ninjas, Kung-Fu fighters, and one armed boxers produced by in the United States and imported from China and Japan. I've always considered OA to be part of that fad.

It could be coming again with the likes of shows like Kobra Kai.
 

It could be coming again with the likes of shows like Kobra Kai.

It's always possible, but thus far it's one show. That so many people on this thread have been able to throw out so many disparate examples and have different ideas about which ones were the cause and which ones just followed the trend highlight just how much of it there was out there*. Kung Fu and The Master, the Carl Douglas song, The Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Chuck Norris/Jean-Claude van Damme/Steven Seagal, not just Ninja Gaidan but a half dozen or more similar video games each year for each system out there.
*Admittedly, across maybe almost 20 years from the mid-late 70s through the mid-90s

Mind you, it never really went away totally (more just subsumed into a broader mélange of action movies, Asian media, and general international entertainment), so of course it could come back as a discrete thing.
 

It's always possible, but thus far it's one show. That so many people on this thread have been able to throw out so many disparate examples and have different ideas about which ones were the cause and which ones just followed the trend highlight just how much of it there was out there*. Kung Fu and The Master, the Carl Douglas song, The Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Chuck Norris/Jean-Claude van Damme/Steven Seagal, not just Ninja Gaidan but a half dozen or more similar video games each year for each system out there.
*Admittedly, across maybe almost 20 years from the mid-late 70s through the mid-90s

Mind you, it never really went away totally (more just subsumed into a broader mélange of action movies, Asian media, and general international entertainment), so of course it could come back as a discrete thing.

For now, but there are plans for Kobra Kai spin offs, fans are taking about a Mr. Miyagi origin spin off.

And Manga and Anime have become huge in the west, with Manga out selling DC and Marvel.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
You can argue the merits of their world, but I'm not seeing the chicken and egg problem. People like watching a group of professional voice actors play D&D, I've never heard a fan rave about the world but plenty of them are happy to talk about their favourite character.

I don't think their success would have been weakened by playing in an established setting, for example.
I think it would have been weakened if they were playing a niche, gimmick Setting.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
, but it's odd that once it was clear that the average person to pick up A/D&D wouldn't be avid wargamers, why TSR didn't make their own or add such rules between ~'75 and '84.

I don't know.

Perhaps because they were, in fact, wargamers, and such a game was simply outside their wheelhouse?
 

Reynard

Legend
I don't think you have to go crazy with it, but I do think using the Old School cred would be a logical part of the marketing. Play up the Swords & Sorcery a bit, as well as the grim foes, including legendary evils like Vecna and Iuz. Not Black Metal grim/funny, but focusing a bit more on warring states, the balance between good and evil being a bit more tilted in evil's favor in the Flanaess.

Doing a bit more with equipment and resource management, and putting real (but fairly lightweight) dungeon crawl procedures in the 5.5e books could synergize really well with a Greyhawk relaunch, including either a revamped Castle Greyhawk (if they can work out a reasonable deal with Gail Gygax) or a revamped Village of Hommlet and Temple of Elemental Evil, for iconic dungeon play.
I don't understand why people are so against actually doing dungeon crawls correctly in 5e is. All the talk of "old school sensibilities" of 5e and the popularity of OSR and the suggestion of actually making an official Old School 5E thing and people just can't.

It's weird.
 

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