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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BenRiggs

Explorer
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.
I do have Cyclopedia numbers! These are 91-95

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Disappointingly low for what may be the single best volume of D&D rules ever released, but one of the themes of TSR in the 90s is the quality of the product often did not result in good sales.
 

Reynard

Legend
I do have Cyclopedia numbers! These are 91-95

View attachment 253062

Disappointingly low for what may be the single best volume of D&D rules ever released, but one of the themes of TSR in the 90s is the quality of the product often did not result in good sales.
The early 90s is when CRPGs and home consoles really came into their own, so I am not surprised you see a big drop off. Money was definitely going elsewhere. What I wonder is if there is anyway to know whether actually playing D&D dropped off similarly. After all, unlike PC or video games, those books bought back in '85 were still perfectly usable.
 

BenRiggs

Explorer
The early 90s is when CRPGs and home consoles really came into their own, so I am not surprised you see a big drop off. Money was definitely going elsewhere. What I wonder is if there is anyway to know whether actually playing D&D dropped off similarly. After all, unlike PC or video games, those books bought back in '85 were still perfectly usable.
According to WoTC's marketing survey after purchasing TSR, they found that D&D was something that people still played, but it had ceased to be a business. People didn't see a need to keep buying books, in other words.
 

Reynard

Legend
According to WoTC's marketing survey after purchasing TSR, they found that D&D was something that people still played, but it had ceased to be a business. People didn't see a need to keep buying books, in other words.
I'm sure that's cyclical. The current growth isn't any more permanent than the 80s growth was. Ill be curious to see how WotC handles it differently than they did 20 years ago (3.5) or TSR did 40 years ago.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I do have Cyclopedia numbers! These are 91-95

View attachment 253062

Disappointingly low for what may be the single best volume of D&D rules ever released, but one of the themes of TSR in the 90s is the quality of the product often did not result in good sales.
Holy cow, that's actually pretty shocking. Do you have any knowledge about 5E numbers and how they compare, or is your info strictly TSR era?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So, quick question. What are those basic numbers for? The main line box sets? The entire basic lines, accessories and modules included? Or what? Seems odd to compare the main 2-3 AD&D books with the entire basic line if that’s what’s happening.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
So, quick question. What are those basic numbers for? The main line box sets? The entire basic lines, accessories and modules included? Or what? Seems odd to compare the main 2-3 AD&D books with the entire basic line if that’s what’s happening.
Just the Basic Set in the United States, so none of the accessories, even the Expert Set.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Holy cow, that's actually pretty shocking. Do you have any knowledge about 5E numbers and how they compare, or is your info strictly TSR era?

Not surprising there's a reason RC costs so much relative to say a 1E phb.

None of this information is super original. Rough numbers have been known for years and/or reflected in secondary market.

People weren't paying attention, believed it or were pushing an agenda.

Eg 2E has outsold most modern editions but its seen as a "failure" because TSR went under or 3.0 outsold it for a year or two.
 
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