TSR settings sales numbers from Ben Riggs, starting with Lankmar, Maztica, Al-Qadim and Planescape!

darjr

I crit!
Red Steel.

Behold the lowest sales for any D&D setting published by TSR, Red Steel! (I would take this moment to point out that one of the motifs of late TSR is that the quality of the product had nothing to do with its sales.)

But yes, those first-year sales are less than 20,000 units. A mere 17,986 copies sold.

Next, we will look at the last of TSR’s minor settings, Birthright!

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
Red Steel.

Behold the lowest sales for any D&D setting published by TSR, Red Steel! (I would take this moment to point out that one of the motifs of late TSR is that the quality of the product had nothing to do with its sales.)

But yes, those first-year sales are less than 20,000 units. A mere 17,986 copies sold.

Next, we will look at the last of TSR’s minor settings, Birthright!

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Did he ever drop any other Mystara stuff.
 



Jer

Legend
Supporter
Red Steel.
Ouch.

Not only are the first year sales less than 20K - with the returns in the following years it actually sold fewer units in its lifetime than it did in the first year - fewer than 17K units. And yet TSR was apparently planning to do a revised Savage Coast setting for some reason that Wizards eventually released the manuscripts for onto the web. So weird.

He's also posted the Birthright numbers on twitter now - it did better than Red Steel, not as good as Planescape.

Did I miss the Karameikos Boxed set?
 

Also, another detail, and that is on quality of the products.

The Forgotten Realms campaign setting is one that I own, the old AD&D one. That book bangs. It is super useful, with a lot of plots and adventure hooks and actual hexes with naughty word in it to do. But, let's look at Dark Sun. Dark Sun is very, very hard to use. The monster books are 10/10 imo, but the setting itself gives you nothing but broad strokes. FR campaign gives you both broad strokes (easy to fill in if you've read lord of the rings) and microstrokes (actual immedietly gamable information like fully developed hexes).

Meanwhile, Dark Sun, Planescape, both of whose box sets I own, just don't give you enough material to use their very alien settings. It takes a lot more effort to engage with these settings and to produce a game than it does the Forgotten Realms. This, to me, makes the FR feel like a higher quality gaming product, and it allows FR as a setting to grow a lot faster as well (especially coupled with the endless amount of novels being pumped out for it).

If Dark Sun and the other niche settings had tried to solve this very difficult-to-solve puzzle of making hyper gameable content to make their niche products more functional, the lifetime sells may look a pretty picture different. This is all hypothetical, and I could be totally wrong, but I do consider this problem of "Usable setting" vs "Alien setting" a part of the narrative in the data.

One last note...I tried to run Planescape two years ago. Extremely difficult to do. I was basically inventing everything, from cultures to environs to settings, because those books really only give you barebones materials.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
That said, still surprised that Spelljammer outsold Planescape. Kind of makes sense though. Fantasy -> Space -> Weird Mysticism probably tracks to how mainstream tastes are in movies, shows, books, comics, etc too.
There's also the environment to consider, not just content. Spelljammer was released in 1989. That was fairly quickly followed by Ravenloft, Mazteca, Dark Sun, Al Qadim, and that's just by TSR. From other companies, you've got Magic and Vampire. By the time Planescape comes up, ALL of those are out before it.
I don't know about the rest of you who remember those days, but there was NO WAY for me to keep up with all of them and the 2e Complete Handbooks as well as pay my rent (shocking, I know).
 

vecna00

Speculation Specialist Wizard
Birthright!

Behold, the sales for the last setting to be published by TSR before it was purchased by Wizards of the Coast, Birthright!

Next, I will publish a comprehensive graph of TSR setting sales covering totals sold from ‘79 to ‘99


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I wonder if that bump in sales came from the video game. I'm not sure exactly when it came out though.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I don't know about the rest of you who remember those days, but there was NO WAY for me to keep up with all of them and the 2e Complete Handbooks as well as pay my rent (shocking, I know).

On the plus side, that's better than today.

Today, a person can't pay rent ... because they can't pay rent.

Renting-an-Apartment-Negotiate.gif


I'm sure there are younger people today who are looking at this, shaking their heads and saying, "Wait.... people used to be able to pay rent AND have a disposable income? When was this magical time????"
 

That’s really funny to me. Despite all the nose-in-the-air nonsense a lot of Planescape fans did and looking down at Spelljammer...Spelljammer actually outsold Planescape.
Spelljammer is just more accessible than Planescape. You can just go from some standard D&D play to jumping on this cool magical ship and shooting off into 'space' and doing whatever, and then maybe you just come back. I mean, yes, you could just use Planescape as more or less a kind of super detailed MotP, but it introduced a LOT of fairly significant cosmology and whatnot, whereas Spelljammer is just kind of out there in its own realm and its easy enough to pick and choose what you use. So I think SJ is the more accessible of the two, overall.
 

Well, it's a weird situation where TSR's financial practices demanded a constant firehouse of product, which means needing to constantly push the boundaries. The creative side dealt with this very well, constantly finding new and more out there stuff to explore...but the audience shrinks the farther out you get, and the firehouse release strategy actually discourages sales. The 5E slow and steady approach has really worked to grow the audience over time, organically.
part of the problem though was that as time went on the overall product quality deteriorated, particularly in the last 4-5 years. A lot of what was put out after 1993 or so was just crap. It wasn't well edited, playtesting was non-existent, and they clearly weren't doing good market research. So the worse their fortunes got, the less likely it was they were going to put out something that would right the ship. I think they were just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something would stick. However, even when/if they had a decent product, how could they even get it to market anymore? By 1996 it was going to be virtually impossible to get stuff printed and distributed in any quantity, so there was no real possibility of a recovery at that point, whatever they put out in the last couple of years was basically just a last dying gasp.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I wonder if that bump in sales came from the video game. I'm not sure exactly when it came out though.
That bump in sales is after Wizards bought TSR's assets. I suspect it came from actually having the money and staff to actually fulfill the orders that were coming in rather than anything to do with Birthright's marketing per se.

One thing we don't know from these numbers is how many orders there were rather than how many sales were made. Those sales numbers in 1997 are wonky and I strongly suspect it's because of the bankruptcy and TSR shutting down for a while. So I wouldn't trust that bump to be anything more than Wizards fulfilling the back orders that TSR had once they were able to.
 

Meanwhile, people who prefer to approach D&D as a canvas for a lot of weird ideas they have or similar concepts likely resonated very strongly with the non-trad settings of Planescape, Spelljammer, and Dark Sun. These "outside the box" fantasy ideas showed them more ways to do things they had never imagined, whereas most consumers (and I'm pulling this all straight out of my ass) likely are just happy making stories/experiences with just the tools given, no more and no less.
I think your basically right in terms of most people didn't really need or 'get' PS or SJ, but DS is a different story. It clearly falls into the 'swords and sandals' kind of fiction category and is pretty easily identifiable with anyone who read Gor, Conan, Barsoom, etc. back in the day (or Fred Saberhagen stuff). D&D cites those sources quite clearly and thus I don't think DS was much of a departure at all. Beyond that it was pushed as being kind of a more hard-core setting where the PCs would be tough, but survival would be HARD by default. That appealed a lot to many D&D players, a sort of slightly reformulated meat grinder with more story and slightly more heroic themes. PS and SJ by contrast are just 'out there', they don't relate to ANY fiction I know of at all, really.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
Ouch.

Not only are the first year sales less than 20K - with the returns in the following years it actually sold fewer units in its lifetime than it did in the first year - fewer than 17K units. And yet TSR was apparently planning to do a revised Savage Coast setting for some reason that Wizards eventually released the manuscripts for onto the web. So weird.

He's also posted the Birthright numbers on twitter now - it did better than Red Steel, not as good as Planescape.

Did I miss the Karameikos Boxed set?
TSR finance side apparently never gave the creative side any sales feedback. They didn't care what they made, as long as the advances kept coming from Random House.

Stan! has reported thinking that DL Saga was a huge success from inside the creative team right up until he meeting at WotC where the creative team was given the years old sales numbers for the first time.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
On the plus side, that's better than today.

Today, a person can't pay rent ... because they can't pay rent.

Renting-an-Apartment-Negotiate.gif


I'm sure there are younger people today who are looking at this, shaking their heads and saying, "Wait.... people used to be able to pay rent AND have a disposable income? When was this magical time????"

Here a boxed set or phb was about a weeks rent in a student flat.

Think I paid $45 NZD for phb in 95, $40 for Tales of the Lance 1996.

Friends rent was $40 a room 1996 student allowance was $150.

Now a phb full price is about half a weeks rent. Normal inflation marginally cheaper vs inflation rate, alot cheaper for minimum wage types.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Here a boxed set or phb was about a weeks rent in a student flat.

Think I paid $45 NZD for phb in 95, $49 for Tales of the Lance 1996.

Friends rent was $40 a room 1996 student allowance was $150.

So ... how are home prices and rent prices doin' in that imaginary land of New Zealandia?

....don't think you've mentioned that..... :p
 

darjr

I crit!
Compiled setting numbers. I’ll update the op but should there be a separate thread? Maybe link all these in there? Close em?

Behold the cumulative sales for every AD&D setting from 1979 to 1999!

Earlier settings did not just sell better. They sold EXPONENTIALLY better. Not to take anything away from Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, but it pains me to see the Planescape and Ravenloft numbers. I LOVED those settings, and I’m surprised they didn’t do better.

Have you preordered my book on D&D history, Slaying the Dragon, yet? THIS IS THE LAST DAY TO PREORDER! If you preorder now, you get a free Jeff Easley bookplate! This offer ends IN HOURS, so take advantage of it now! Link below!

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