D&D General TSR D&D sales numbers compiled by Benjamin Riggs

D&D historian Ben Riggs--author of the upcoming Slaying the Dragon, which is a history of TSR-era (not that TSR, the real one) D&D--compiled some sales figures of AD&D 1st Edition's Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide from 1979-1990.

Behold! Some actual D&D sales numbers!

While working on my book #SlayingtheDragon I got a ton of primary source documents containing sales data for D&D. With the book coming out, I've been looking for a way to get that data out into the wide world. I'm going to start making charts, and simply posting them. If people want the raw data, I can post that too, but obviously, charts are prettier.

I'm starting with AD&D 1st ed Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. You'll notice a crash in the mid-80s, and then the sales peter out with the release of 2nd edition.

The sales point to a fact that I believe hasn't been given enough play in our hobby. Namely, TSR was in a tight spot when Lorraine Williams took over the company from Gary Gygax. If it weren't for Lorraine, D&D may have died in the mid-80s.

Just an idea for your consideration...

Oh, and if you haven't preordered my book on D&D history yet, I'll put a link in the comments.

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Go get his book! It’s going to be interesting!

 
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Reynard

Legend
Okay, I'm wracking my age-rattled brain trying to remember - what happened in '84 for such a huge drop (that was a year after the Mentzer BECMI release, right?), and the spike in '91 (Black box?)?

Coincedentally, '84 was 8th grade for me as I remember, and that was the year I got my AD&D books as a "graduation" present - with the Easley covers, from Toys'R'Us of all places.
Market saturation. There were only so many potential customers.
 

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Sacrosanct

Legend
The revised 2e with new art didn't give the edition any boost -
The art in the revised 2e black books was awful. It was a completely new direction from previous art, and not in a good way. In hindsight, it's clear they were not hiring the same quality of artists due to costs. IMO, it was the worst interior art in the core books from any other edition. For example, from the PHB:

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WTH with the hand on the cover?
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1657318478969.png
 
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Jer

Legend
Supporter
Okay, I'm wracking my age-rattled brain trying to remember - what happened in '84 for such a huge drop (that was a year after the Mentzer BECMI release, right?), and the spike in '91 (Black box?)?
The spike in '91 was absolutely the Black Box - new Basic set, new sales to people who already owned an old Basic set.

The '84 drop off I think might just be the end of the fad. AD&D 1e had the exact same kind of drop for '84.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
So it looks like, if I'm reading the graphs right, 2e had one year of peak level sales reminiscent of its early 80s heights, and then sales settled back to where they were in 1985 - which was at least a boost over where they were for the 3 years before the new edition was released. The revised 2e with new art didn't give the edition any boost - arguably it might have kept it at that 1985 level of sales for an extra year but then sales tanked even lower the year before bankruptcy.

With these numbers too you can see why they decided to phase out Basic/Expert D&D when they decided to just have one D&D edition to support. To be sure I'd love to see D&D Rules Cyclopedia numbers if he has them - in 1991 they released a new Basic Set (Black Box) and the Rules Cyclopedia collecting all of the BECM modules of BECMI into a single book. Would love to see how that compared to 2e, though I'm betting that 2e outsold the RC.
You can actually see the Basic bump in 1991 in the comparison chart for 1E, 2E, and Basic. It almost reached the third year numbers for 2E, but not quite.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Okay, I'm wracking my age-rattled brain trying to remember - what happened in '84 for such a huge drop (that was a year after the Mentzer BECMI release, right?), and the spike in '91 (Black box?)?

Coincedentally, '84 was 8th grade for me as I remember, and that was the year I got my AD&D books as a "graduation" present - with the Easley covers, from Toys'R'Us of all places.
1983 was when BADD formed and started their campaign.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Although, I think Steve Winter's Forward in the Black 2e book is telling. Even then, there was a lot of pushback from fans from having another edition because they didn't want the game they beloved from changing. Such a big deal, Steve felt the need to call it out in bold.

1657318803154.png
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Although, I think Steve Winter's Forward in the Black 2e book is telling. Even then, there was a lot of pushback from fans from having another edition because they didn't want the game they beloved from changing. Such a big deal, Steve felt the need to call it out in bold.
It's funny - I didn't read that even at the time as a worry that AD&D was changing - I read it as a pre-emptive defense against accusations that the new revised edition was a cash grab by TSR. Probably because I knew so many people who considered second edition to be a cash grab by TSR already.
 


The art in the revised 2e black books was awful. It was a completely new direction from previous art, and not in a good way. In hindsight, it's clear they were not hiring the same quality of artists due to costs. IMO, it was the worst interior art in the core books from any other edition. For example, from the PHB:

View attachment 253012

WTH with the hand on the cover?
View attachment 253013

View attachment 253014

View attachment 253015
View attachment 253016

I don't actually think any of that art is significantly worse than previous versions of the Players Handbook. Some of the 1E core book art is down right terrible. 2nd editions main money-saving measure when it came to art was reusing it. Seriously, sometimes I saw the same piece in several books, trading cards and computer game boxes.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
View attachment 253016

I don't actually think any of that art is significantly worse than previous versions of the Players Handbook. Some of the 1E core book art is down right terrible. 2nd editions main money-saving measure when it came to art was reusing it. Seriously, sometimes I saw the same piece in several books, trading cards and computer game boxes.
The 1e art, while I disagree it was awful because at least it had flavor to it as opposed to a washed-out muddy piece like those I posted, also happened when the company was just growing out of the White Box. So at least it has that excuse for it. But the black books came out 20 years AFTER the company started. Look at the art in the original 2e books. And the material being released up until that point. That's what makes it the worst for me, because they made a shift in art direction for the worse. 1e didn't do that, because it was at least an improvement over what came previously (OD&D). I remember getting those book and actually liking the Alchemist font style, but immediately put off by the art. It was completely substandard to what they were putting out to that point.
 

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