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D&D – History and Growth [Corrected & Reposted]

Bigger & Better or Bloated & Bollocks?

The graphic below shows how the D&D rules have got larger and more unwieldy between 1974 and today.

D&D History and Growth

(Click for larger image)

D&D has grown from three small books totaling 110 pages to a monster of a game with over 8300 pages in the 3.5 edition. 4th Edition has (including planned releases) over 2200 pages already and by one prediction, could top 10,000 pages. Has all this extra material made a better a game? Or is the sudden increase in page count more to do with TSR, then Wizards and then Hasbro simply wanting to make more money?

The graph shows the number of pages TSR / Wizards / Hasbro have produced in the core and supplementary rules. The line & dot graph shows the pages per year with its peak in 2004 at nearly 2,500 pages in that one year. The large blocks show the total page count per edition, averaged over its lifetime. Additional comments highlight significant milestones in D&D and TSR’s history.

Method & Madness

In order to assess how large each game system was, some judgement was required as to which books to count. The general guide was how may books would a GM need to own in order to deal with any character class, equipment or magic a player’s character may have been allowed by another GM. Campaign settings are not included because it is not unreasonable for a GM to tell a player that spells from Greyhawk or character classes from Forgotten Realms are not allowed in their game. Similarly, books such as Draconomicon or undead themed books have been left out because again, it is not unreasonable for a GM to exclude them wholesale from his or her campaign. On the other hand, books like Races of Destiny and Book of Exulted Deeds are included because they provide a generic expansion to core races and classes.

This distinction is not clear cut. For the original D&D I have included the Blackmoor and Greyhawk campaign settings because they introduced key character classes such as Monks and Assassins. Some supplementary books have been included in one edition and left out of another because I felt that those books had or hadn’t included a lot that was relevant to a general D&D game. I also do not own all the books so a lot of decisions were made based on what information I could find on Wikipedia and Amazon. A full list of what is included can be found at the end of this post.

Reasons & Results

The original intent of this graph was in response to the massive amount of rule books Wizards are producing for 4e (see D&D – The Year Ahead). By comparing 4e to previous editions I expected to see how much Wizards and Hasbro are exploiting D&D fans.

As it happens, the 3.5 edition saw the largest amount of pages produced in one year and the highest average over the product’s lifetime. Though 4e is the second largest and could easy outstrip 3.5 if Hasbro set their mind to it. What is clear is that between the 1st and 2nd edition, there was a huge jump in the number of rule books produced and that the general trend is for large systems with shorter life spans. The projected lifespan and size of 4e is based on the average lifespan of previous editions (6 years) and how much of their total content was produced in the first two years (34%). This is probably kind on 4e as my gut feeling is that 4e will last no more than five years and have a total output similar to the 3.5 edition.

Does this graph show that D&D is a bloated rip-off? No. Cheaper production costs mean that the makers can fill the book with more artwork and appendixes summerising key rules. But neither does this graph show that bigger means better. Original D&D was printed in an A5 format with half the surface area of later editions so it had less than half the rules than this graph shows. Was it any less fun because of it slimness? If Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson had made the original edition as large as 4e, would it have caught on the way that it did? Or would it be simply too big and too expensive?

Original D&D

Original Boxed Set (1974), Greyhawk (1975), Blackmoor (1975), Eldritch Wizardry (1976), Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes (1976), Swords & Spells (1976)

AD&D

Monster Manual (1977), Players Handbook (1978), Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979), Deities & Demigods (Legends & Lore) (1980), Fiend Folio (1981), Monster Manual II (1983), Unearthed Arcarna (1985), Oriental Adventures (1985), Wilderness Survival Guide (1986), Dungeoneer’s survival guide (1986), Manual of the Planes (1987)

2nd Edition

Dungeon Master’s Guide (1989), Players Handbook (1989), Monstrous Compendium Volume 1(1989), Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989), PHBR1: The Complete Fighter’s Handbook (1989), Legends & Lore (1990), DMGR1: Campaign Source Book & Catacomb Guide (1990), DMGR2: Castle Guide (1990), PHBR3: The Complete Priest’s Handbook (1990), PHBR4: The Complete Wizard’s Handbook (1990), Tome of Magic (1990), DMGR3: Arms and Equipment Guide (1990), PHBR5: The Complete Psionics Handbook (1991), PHBR6: The Complete Book of Dwarves (1991), DMGR4: Monster Mythology (1992), PHBR7: The Complete Bard’s Handbook, Monstrous Manual (1993), DMGR5: Creative Campaigning (1993), Book of Artifacts (1993), PHBR8: The Complete Book of Elves (1993),
PHBR9: The Complete Book of Gnomes & Halflings (1993), PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993), PHBR11: The Complete Ranger’s Handbook (1993), Monstrous Compendium, 1994 Annual, volume 1 (1994), DMGR6: Complete Book of Villains (1994), The Complete Paladin’s Handbook (1994), The Complete Druid’s Handbook (1994), Encyclopedia Magica, Volume I (1994), Encyclopedia Magica, Volume II (1994), DM’s Option: High-Level Campaigns (1995), Player’s Option: Combat & Tactics (1995), The Complete Barbarian’s Handbook (1995), The Complete Barbarian’s Handbook (1995), Encyclopedia Magica, Volume III (1995), Encyclopedia Magica, Volume IV (1995), Monstrous Compendium, 1995 Annual, volume 2 (1995), The Complete Book of Necromancers (1995),
Sages and Specialists (1995), Wizard’s Spell Compendium, Volume 1 (1996), Monstrous Compendium, 1996 Annual, volume 3 (1996), Of Ships and the Sea (1997), Player’s Option: Skills & Powers (1997), Player’s Option: Spells & Magic (1997), Wizard’s Spell Compendium, Volume 2 (1997), Wizard’s Spell Compendium, Volume 3 (1998), Wizard’s Spell Compendium, Volume 4 (1998), Monstrous Compendium, 1997 Annual, volume 4 (1998), Priest’s Spell Compendium, Volume 1 (1999), Priest’s Spell Compendium, Volume 2 (1999), Priest’s Spell Compendium, Volume 3(1999)

3rd Edition

Monster Manual (2000), Players Handbook (2000), Dungeon Master’s Guide (2000), Hero Builder’s Guidebook (2000), Psionics Handbook (2000), Defenders of the Faith: A Guidebook to Clerics and Paladins (2001), Manual of the Planes (2001), Oriental Adventures (2001), Sword and Fist: A Guidebook to Fighters and Monks (2001), Tome and Blood: A Guidebook to Wizards and Sorcerers (2001), Enemies and Allies (2001), Song and Silence: A Guidebook to Bards and Rogues (2001), Book of Vile Darkness (2002), Monster Manual 2 (2002), Masters of the Wild: A Guidebook to Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers (2002), Deities & Demigods (2002), Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook (2002), Epic Level Handbook (2002), Fiend Folio (2003), Arms & Equipment Guide (2003), Savage Species (2003)

3.5 Edition

Monster Manual (2003), Players Handbook (2003), Dungeon Master’s Guide (2003), The Complete Warrior (2003), Book of Exalted Deeds (2003), Planar Handbook (2004), Monster Manual III (2004), Libris Mortis: Book of the Undead (2004), Complete Arcane (2004), Races of Stone (2004), Expanded Psionics Handbook (2004), Races of Destiny (2004), Frostburn (2004), Heroes of Battle (2004), The Complete Divine (2004), Unearthed Arcana (2004), Players Handbook II (2004), Dungeon Master’s Guide II (2005), The Complete Adventurer (2005), Heroes of Horror (2005), Magic of Incarnum (2005), D&D Spell Compendium (2005), Sandstorm (2005), Races of the Wild (2005), Weapons of Legacy (2005), Stormwrack (2005), Monster Manual IV (2006), Cityscape (2006), Tome of Battle (2006), Tome of Magic (2006), Complete Mage (2006), Complete Psonics (2006), Complete Scoundrel (2007), Dungeonscape (2007), Elder Evils (2007), Examplars of Evil (2007), Magic Item Compendium (2007), Monster Manual V (2007), Complete Champion (2007), Rules Compendium (2007)

4th Edition

Monster Manual (2008), Players Handbook (2008), Dungeon Master’s Guide (2008), Adventurer’s Vault (2008), Martial Power (2008), Manual of the Planes (2008), Open Grave (2009), Players Handbook 2 (2009), Arcane Power (2009), Monster Manual 2 (2009)

15 thoughts on “D&D – History and Growth [Corrected & Reposted]

  1. J

    The good thing is that you’re never required to buy anything past the core rulebooks to play. And if you’re willing to improvise, all you really need is the PHB. You might even argue that even the DMG is redundant.

    For my gaming group, it boils down to what people are willing to buy and what the DM is willing to allow.

  2. KenHR

    Just a pedantic point…the first TSR fiction produced was Saga of Old City by Gygax in…1983?

    Great chart and accompanying post, though!

  3. Rachel

    And yet I note that even without counting setting-related stuff and adventures 2e had more books then the combined 3es. I suppose that’s one thing to say in favor of 3.x, its supplements were a little broader in scope.

    Rachel´s last blog post..Trick or treat

  4. Jeff Rients

    This is yeoman work, but I can’t help but notice the omission of the Basic, Basic/Expert, BECMI line of D&D.

    “You might even argue that even the DMG is redundant.”

    J, I take it you’ve never read the 1st edition DMG.

    Jeff Rients´s last blog post..Freaked. Out.

  5. admin

    Jeff -

    I wanted to include the basic version but decided not to because:

    a) I was interested in how 4e was shaping up compared to it AD&D lineage

    b) The number of different versions would of made it difficult to display the data cleanly on the graph

    Chris

  6. James Hutchings

    True…although it’s also true that the ‘cost per page’ has gone down pretty dramatically. Once you allow for inflation, the original box set cost about as much as 2 of the 3 core books of 4th edition.

  7. KenHR

    d’oh! Sorry…my bad. I was going by memory of when I bought the book…I bought it when it first came out (Walden’s had a display in the entrance) and I thought I had gotten it much earlier than that….

  8. AllisterH

    Er, WOTC isn’t actually producing that much material.

    http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/264393-road-not-taken-what-if-there-had-been-no-d-d-4th-edition.html

    Echohawk went throgh EVERY product produced and compared them on a handy dandy graph.

    4e is on the low end of D&D production.

    The difference being that unlike TSR, WOTC only produces 1 or 2 products per month but it heavily advertises it. This is in direct contrast with TSR where it was quite easy to miss new D&D material

    1. Chris

      Sorry, but mine and Echohawk’s graphs have completely different objectives and cannot be compared.

      My graph is about the size of the game system as an approximation of the number of rules and complexity of the game. Echohawk’s is about products published.

      Echohawk’s graph also has some flaws. Primarily he has not indicated exactly what he is counting as a D&D Product. Is he including each D&D Miniatures and does each blister pack as a separate product? What about D&D fiction? And where has this data come from? A graph is only as good as the data it represents and we have no way of knowing what data was used. He is also counting all products equally and personally, I don’t think a 240 page hardback rule book selling for $25 should be considered equal to a $5 DM’s shield.

      This is why I tried to limited my graph to rule books as an attempt to measure the size of a the rule system through different editions. This is not an exact science and as I note above, it is sometimes hard to split supplements from campaign settings. However the graph does fulfill its purpose of showing roughly how big the actual game system was.

      What neither graph tells us, is one of the most interesting questions about D&D game products. The balance between rule books/supplements and adventures/campaigns.

      As far as I can tell, there has been a steady trend to increase the number of rule books and reduce the number of adventures published. This I think is the major tragedy of the last few years. A focus on the rules rather than the elements of the game that require imagination.

      1. Echohawk

        I’m never sure if it is polite to comment on a four year old thread. It begs the question if, fifty years from now, people will be stumbling over long-forgotten corners of the Internet and commenting on threads that are decades rather than just years old. (My take: Yes, probably.)

        Anyway, I just stumbled onto this discussion whilst searching for something else entirely. Those happen to be my graphs that AllisterH linked to above, and I found Chris’s analysis of D&D’s rules bloat an interesting read. (Plus it has a graph! Any well-researched article on D&D that includes a graph deserves a thumbs up.)

        Chris is completely right that we’re graphing completely different things. In terms of the raw number of D&D products produced, 2nd edition beats any other era without any doubt. But in terms of the quantity of rules, I agree with Chris’s analysis that there was a sharp jump between 1st and 2nd edition and another similar jump between 2nd edition and D&D 3.*.

        I’d probably put BECMI in between 1e and 2e, but Chris is right that it would be hard to decide what to count there. The BECMI product line spans 1977-1994, more or less, concurrently with all of 1e and a big chunk of 2e. However, there weren’t terribly many rule books printed during this time, more of the products were adventures.

        I think that 4e is probably about the same level as 3.*, maybe actually a bit less. The 4e hardcovers take up one bookshelf, while the 3.* ones take two, but that includes more campaign-setting specific books. Of course, I haven’t done any sort of proper analysis of this; those are just educated guesses.

        For the record — hello, people from fifty years in the future! — my count of products in those graphs didn’t include miniatures, novels or magazines. I counted only printed game products. The source data is gigantic spreadsheet of D&D products I’ve built up over many years. Googling “echohawk monster index” should lead you to a page with a 2008 version of that file. Come to think of it, that file includes a categorisation of each product as an accessory/adventure/rulebook so it could probably be used to look at the balance between adventures and rules per edition, which Chris queried.

        It’s interesting to me that D&D Next seems to be swinging heavily back to a lighter rules system (so far). A significant portion of the playtest packets are adventures converted to work with D&D Next or updated monster stat blocks so that older adventures can be adapted on the fly. It will be interesting to see how rules heavy the product schedule becomes after the core system is released.

  9. AllisterH

    Sorry for now coming back to you…

    Then your method is deeply flawed as well since you don’t count campaign stuff which you admitted.

    For example, in 2nd edition, there were the Van Richten Guides released for Ravenloft – the material in it is pretty much the EXACT same type of crunch/fluff as Libris Mortis (3e) and Open Grave (4e), however it is not listed in your tables.

    Similarly, books like Faith & Avatars (incredibly crunch heavy) and things like the Planescape products are not listed even though the 1e version (Manual of the Planes) and the 3e and 4e versions (Planar Handbook and Manual of the Planes respectively) are listed

    What you’re ignoring I think is how much of the material in the 2e era was split into campaign settings contrasted with WOTC who generally speaking, try to generalize so that it has a wider audience (The Van Richten guides are a prime example….There really was no reason why they weren’t general D&D products – they did list some Ravenloft specific rules but by and large, they are a GREAT resource for ANY 2e DM)

  10. Chris

    My methodology is valid as I’m trying to measure what can be considered part of the “core” game. Anything published in a campaign supplement is considered non-core.

    The logic behind this, is that it is not unreasonable for a GM to arbitrarily prevent players using material from a Ravenloft book when playing a Forgotten Realms campaign. However most GMs would accept material from a Martial Power book regardless of the campaign setting being used.

    I’m under no illusion that the list of what I’ve included / excluded is perfect. As I noted, I’ve not read every book published so inevitably there will be some mistakes. However the level of accuracy is good enough to make a comparison across the different versions of D&D which is the intent of the graph.

    By my calculation 3rd Ed published five times more material than 2e. Even allowing a much broader criteria for what to allow in each editions, it is inconceivable that 2e comes anywhere close to the size of 3e.

    That said, if you think differently and wish to produce your own graph based on your own criteria, I would love to see it and would happily host it here on the 6d6.

  11. Brett Sprangel

    I did not start playing until the beginning of 1st Edition, but I remember the energy of the game back then and it was fantastic. It was exciting. And it was fun. I still play most weekends (Sunday afternoons and early evenings) but I must say that some of that energy is gone. We actually use 3.5 Ed. Rules, since I had so much invested in the game and it was my opiniion that 4th Ed. was no improvement (my favorite is 2nd Ed. AD&D).

    This may because I have gotten old — I’m 54 now and not in the best physical shape, but I think a lot of it is the game. They have tried to copy the computer game format and it just doesn’t translate to table top gaming very well. Plus they are beyond greedy, not invested in the value of the game itself and more about what the next quarter profits will be rather than trying to produce an awesome game.

    I personally blame Bill Slavicsek for a lot of the problems at TSR / WotC / Hasbro because he has always been more about immediate profits (and saving his job) than he has been about producing a good game. As Director of RPG R&D he is also always about the “new thing and F*** the old thing” which in my opinion, is what ruined AD&D.

    Brett Sprangel

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