Sly Flourish's 2016 D&D Dungeon Master Survey Results

Mike Shea, otherwise known as Sly Flourish, held a survey over recent months to look at how Dungeons & Dragons DMs prepare and run their games. The results have now been released, and they make for some interesting reading. For example, most people play weekly for about four hours (as expected) with about an hour to two-hours preparation time. Over half play at home, about 10% in public, and about 20% play online. Over half use their own settings, 38% play in the Realms, and 5% in other D&D settings. Two thirds run their own adventures, with one third running published adventures. Check out Mike's full report (it's long!) for all the data!

Mike Shea, otherwise known as Sly Flourish, held a survey over recent months to look at how Dungeons & Dragons DMs prepare and run their games. The results have now been released, and they make for some interesting reading. For example, most people play weekly for about four hours (as expected) with about an hour to two-hours preparation time. Over half play at home, about 10% in public, and about 20% play online. Over half use their own settings, 38% play in the Realms, and 5% in other D&D settings. Two thirds run their own adventures, with one third running published adventures. Check out Mike's full report (it's long!) for all the data!

Some key points:

  • 6,600 respondents.
  • Most people play weekly for about four hours (as expected) with about an hour to two-hours preparation time.
  • Over half play at home, about 10% in public, and about 20% play online.
  • Over half use their own settings, 38% play in the Realms, and 5% in other D&D settings.
  • Two thirds run their own adventures, with one third running published adventures.
  • The Kobold Fight Club online encounter builder is the most used tool. Ahead of dice, apparently!

If you want to analysis the data yourself, you can do so here (CSV file).


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Ghost2020

Adventurer
Interesting theory, but in practice a group tends to pool and buy a book; they tried the player focused strategy with 3E, bit that appears to have been a losing tactic.

This survey has sampling issues, but it does seem to match some of the numbers WotC has provided, so it may be valid data.

I've been gaming for about 33 years. Dozens of groups and never once has a group pooled together to buy a book. Everyone was on their own to buy their own books and materials.
 

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Sacrosanct

Legend
I've been gaming for about 33 years. Dozens of groups and never once has a group pooled together to buy a book. Everyone was on their own to buy their own books and materials.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I've never seen it either in the past 35 years. Everyone owns their own PHB, and the people who DM own the DMG and MM. And some who don't DM also own those, but not as many.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I've never seen it either in the past 35 years. Everyone owns their own PHB, and the people who DM own the DMG and MM. And some who don't DM also own those, but not as many.

I've seen it happen, but mainly for one-shots in a new system. When I ran my first All Flesh Must Be Eaten, I bought one copy and the group used it to create characters, for example. Typically, if the game catches enough attention and interest in the group, others will pick it up for later runs.

The same was true for the start of my 3.5 D&D game. At the beginning, there were maybe a couple of PHBs on the table. When the game showed it had legs, more appeared.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Totally anecdotal, but my campaign is currently set in the Forgotten Realms because we're playing the PotA campaign and that is where that campaign is set. For the previous 3 campaigns we were playing in the World of Greyhawk. The sole reason for the world change was because the adventure.
Sure, but that's the kind of anecdote that tells them they don't need to start putting out other settings. If the bulk of people playing FR play there only because the adventures are set there, that just reinforces the idea that setting doesn't matter, and that adventures are the way to go.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
What makes you say that groups tend to pool and buy a book? You'd need another survey to determine that. Anecdotally, I've personally never seen that.
I haven't seen people "pool" their money and buy a book for the group as a whole, but I've definitely seen groups stagger their personal purchases, so that at least one member of the group has a copy for reference and everyone else can share. Bob gets Complete X, and Tim picks up Complete Y. That happened pretty often (in my groups, at least) during the 3.5 days.
 

I don't have access to the report at work: Are the response options exclusive, or could you choose more than one? I play in homebrew and FR (both Old Gray Box and 5e). I've played at home, at conventions, at in-store AL game nights, and online.

Why we keep seeing more APs than a some slaptbook baffles me.

The splatbook business model demands more overhead, offers declining sales as well as lower and declining profit margins, and simultaneously bloats the game, creating hurdles to new players and making it more difficult for DMs to run games and for the "brand" to offer a consistent experience. What's not to like? ;)

One idea might be to create a marketplace for fan-made material to fill the gap in the hobby, rather than forcing it into the business model. Maybe call it "DM's Guild" or something like that.

Except we don't know if the people that filled in the survey are a representative sample of the D&D playing population.

We simply don't know.

Very true. We can also probably be fairly certain that Wizards has better data and a better understanding of their business than we do. (That doesn't mean they'll never make mistakes, bad decisions, or simply decisions that don't work out, but they'll do it with better information and a better view of the business than we have.)

*) What we would like, of course, is for Hasbro to divest itself from D&D and give up on their Marvellian dreams for it. What we need is a small-time player to get the rights to the game. A small time player who does not operate in any "real" market such as collectibles, toys, movie deals or even boardgames. A small time player focused solely on rpgs, that can and will consider it a great deal to make books that appeal only to a fraction of a fraction of the (unrealistic) "complete market".

In other words, pretty much any other rpg company than WotC (while they're owned by Hasbro, that is).

Actually, "we" wouldn't like this at all. The game is healthier than it's been at any time since the early 80s fad phase, IMO. They haven't been perfect stewards (and of course "they" -- meaning the actual people involved, not just the company logo -- have turned over several times), but Wizards picked the game up out of the dustbin of impending bankruptcy, revitalized it, and extended a free license to it, now and for all time, leading to a wealth of 3e/d20 third-party products, the Old-School Renaissance, and now a new SRD and the DM's Guild. D&D in 2016 is more and better than I ever could have imagined twenty years ago.

"Small-time players focused solely on RPGs" do have rights to the game. Wizards gave that to them. Find one that's passionate about giving you the products you want, or, if you've identified a space that is going unfilled, produce pro-quality products that fill that need yourself. It's never been easier for those who "will consider it a great deal to make books that appeal only to a fraction of a fraction of the (unrealistic) 'complete market'."

It almost seems as though you specifically don't want some "small-time" company to produce these products and that you specifically do want Wizards to do it. ;)
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The last really big full scale survey of the RPG industry was undertaken by WotC over 15 years ago. It badly needs an update. They've never done market research on that scale since.
 

darjr

I crit!
I wonder if a luminary in the business would get the gumption to kickstart such a survey. Share results with the backers at different detail levels. I wonder if anyone would pay for such a thing.
 

The last really big full scale survey of the RPG industry was undertaken by WotC over 15 years ago. It badly needs an update. They've never done market research on that scale since.

Do you know that for a fact? It may be true, is probably true, but I was just curious if you had someone on record. I only have personal knowledge of analytics Hasbro/Wizards has released to the public. We do know the D&D team gathers copious qualitative/voice-of-the-customer data, and that's likely more actionable for the R&D team. Something like the 1999 survey is good for forum discussions. :)
 


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