The Alphastream Game Design Blog

D&D 5E’s Top-Selling Settings, Sourcebooks, and Accessories

How well did the Multiverse sell?

How do the sales of 5E settings, sourcebooks, and accessories compare to adventures? Let’s take a look at the BookScan data and find out. Because, while adventures historically are thought of as selling poorly, settings and sourcebooks have been said to sell well.

Now, in truth, looking at data provided by Ben Riggs, I find that 1E and 2E sales of adventures are often on par with 1E/2E setting books and sourcebooks. 4E deliberately tried to publish fewer adventures and more sourcebooks (think Player’s Handbook 2 and 3, or Psionic Power, or Adventurers Vault 2). The 5E strategy is different, as we shall see.

If you have not seen the previous two articles in this series, I recommend starting there, then coming back to this article.

Surprise 1: The Top Settings: Eberron and SCAG

The top setting book is the oldest… the not-particularly-highly-regarded Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide with 162k sales. It does cover Forgotten Realms and was sold at a time when there were few releases, but it continues to sell reasonably well. If you argue that D&D should abandon the Sword Coast, the high sales for this book suggest otherwise.

The second on the list is Eberron with 142k sales, and it also has the best indicators in the graphs we created on our Patreon Discord. Wildemount does well, as does Ravnica and Van Richten’s. It is worth noting that the Tal’Dorei book on BookScan is the Green Ronin one, which all told does extremely well for being a third-party product. (Click any image in this blog to see a larger version.)

The top five are true settings and are comparable in sales to adventures. SCAG is higher than any adventure. Eberron is just 5k sales below the top adventure, CoS. Wildemount is just 4k shy of the second adventure, Dragon Heist. If we take the top 10 on each list, the top 10 adventures have 984k sales, the top 10 settings have 930k sales. This may rank as a surprise for some, but it may help explain the continued emphasis on adventures or settings as adventures.

Spelljammer is arguably both an adventure and setting and I included it on both lists. Many on this list include an adventure, and we could perhaps argue that CoS was the Ravenloft setting default until Van Richten’s showed up five years later. In truth, most D&D products try to offer a bit of everything (sourcebook, setting, adventure). Is ToA not a Chult setting book, with character options and magic items and monsters?

The Top Sourcebooks

For the above reasons, it is hard to pin down what is truly a sourcebook in the 5E era. I’ve argued that we have just a few in 5E – far fewer than previous editions. (Take Ravenloft, for example. In the 2E era, it saw an astounding 9 boxed sets, 1 hardcover book, 4 monster products, and 24 accessories, for a total of 38 total setting and sourcebook products. There were also 26 2E Ravenloft adventures. Yeah, that is not how 5E approaches a setting. In ten years of 5E we had one adventure that doubled as setting, Curse of Strahd, then a luxury reprint of that same adventure, and finally the first true Ravenloft setting book, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.)

Okay, so back to 5E’s top sourcebooks. Xanathar’s is the amazing hit, with 522k sales. And Tasha’s sold an unbelievable 125k in the first 4 weeks (Xanathar’s sold 72k in that period)! It and Volo’s are very close in total sales with 347 and 341k. It is interesting that Tasha’s has not overtaken Xanathar’s! In 2023, the year-to-date sales are essentially equal, so if Tasha’s does catch up it won’t be anytime soon. It is also interesting that these books continue to sell really well, but WotC plans on replacing them after the 2024 update is released.

Even spots 4-7 are very strong, all above 100k sales. I can’t explain Van Richten’s being lower than most, because to me it’s one of the finest of all 5E products. Maybe it speaks to why D&D usually doesn’t go deep on any one setting. Interest seems to quickly decline in further products.

Update, Oct 2023: Ex-D&D team lead Ray Winninger said on Twitter “VRGtR most certainly did not sell poorly. I admire what Alphastream is trying to do, but there are serious holes in his data.” No question that there are holes, but which ones is he seeing? I asked. He said a few things we already know: “Hi! Digital is a huge hole; there is also intermittent AMZN participation in Bookscan (particularly in COVID times), hobby and mass channels, and non-US English language.” He adds, “Up until I left WotC, virtually every (non-licensed) 5E book set a new sales record in its particular category. (ie. the audience as growing ever larger.) I’m aware of two exceptions, one on my watch. I doubt that’s still true.”

The most likely explanation is that the intermittent BookScan data likely particularly under counts Van Richten’s initial sales. Perhaps digital sales were strong as well. If Ray is right that every book outsold similar books of its type, then VR could have had the first-year sales higher than Wildemount or Eberron? If so, that would lift Van Richten’s to the top 20 5E products in terms of sales.

Ray Winninger adds, “Something else for you to think about for your estimates: the alt covers don’t really show up in Bookscan at all. (They’re available exclusively to hobby.) That’s 10s of 1000s of additional sales in the first week. (Exact number increased over time).” “Also, DDB growth may have slowed, but it grew like a weed for years. It’s a very sizable chunk of the biz.”

This is interesting, because 10’s of thousands of sales for alt covers would indeed bolster those sales. But, in theory, should do so at similar ratios to how the products are selling. So, it shouldn’t impact Van Richten specifically, but rather be another way in which BookScan is a smaller part of the pie than it would be for traditional publishing for the products with alt covers. To me, the big news here is that gaming stores are selling 10s of thousands of alt covers. That’s a huge boost to overall sales for very little work, making D&D even more profitable. And, it means stores are very much still a vital source of sales just on the basis of alt covers!

Surprise 2: Multiverse Fizzles

If you weren’t particularly pleased with Mordenkainen’s Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, this data seems to say you aren’t alone. It sells poorly compared to the original Volo’s and to Fizban’s (released seven months prior). I had heard store owners complain that the Rules Expansion Set did not sell well, and that certainly seems to be the case. In January to July of 2023 three times as many people bought the original Volo’s (despite being technically out of print) than the revised gift set. Furthermore, the gift set does worse than several 3E products (in green). Now, we could argue that the high price point is equivalent to three or so regular sourcebooks… which still puts the gift set 8th on the above list and still last compared to all other 5E sourcebooks.

On the patreon Discord we discussed whether One D&D, or even Tasha’s or Multiverse changes, could have resulted in the decline in sales. Could the changes to the foundation of 5E be eroding confidence and hurting sales? I don’t personally think so, but we lack the data to be sure.

We don’t have 10 sourcebooks to compare to the top 10 adventures or settings, but we don’t need them. Just the top three sourcebooks beat the combined 10 from the other categories! Sourcebooks, at least under the 5E strategy, are almost as strong as core books. With, of course, the exception of the multiverse updates.

The Top Accessories

The top accessories on BookScan are led by the second DM’s screen and the D&D Character Sheets, with 212k and 130k sales. After that, it is a drop to 41.6k and below and we see a mix of licensed and even 4E products. Not much news here, though it is worth noting that many of these items are selling more copies than Call of the Netherdeep and Radiant Citadel. Some of these accessories can be much cheaper to create and publish than adventure or setting books. 

The BookScan data also has about 22 items that I considered to be Non-Gaming. All of these are licensed products created by another company. By far the biggest is the Heroes’ Feast cookbook with 207k sales. In second is the Art & Arcana visual history book with 81k (and the deluxe version in 16th place for another 21k sales). Non-gaming products include children’s and young reader books, novels, Stranger Things and Rick and Morty graphic novels, movie books, and the like. All told, the 22 products add up to 911k in sales on BookScan (which may be the majority of these kinds of sales). That is more than double all of the Critical Role BookScan novel and book sales. It is also bigger than the total BookScan D&D totals for Accessories. And, of course, it is a significant advantage the D&D brand has, to have such a strong non-gaming. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on this in an upcoming article.

Check out my review of D&D Beyond’s new Maps VTT!

7 comments on “D&D 5E’s Top-Selling Settings, Sourcebooks, and Accessories

  1. ...m...
    October 2, 2023

    …where does mordenkainen’s tome of foes stack against the other sourcebooks?..

    • Alphastream
      October 3, 2023

      See my comment to another similar question. My guess is that it simply was somehow not part of this data set, perhaps due to search terms or how the product is flagged. It would take someone with BookScan access to look it up and share that data.

  2. OZ_DM
    October 2, 2023

    At the end of this series you will have to take a punt as to what you think (based on data) the release schedule (by book type) will be for 2024 to 2026 inclsuive. WOTC plans a few years ahead so it would be a fun comparison to write against as you go along and at the end.

    • Alphastream
      October 3, 2023

      Oh, that would be fun! But I can’t even imagine what it will be like. Maybe I’ll try just for fun. Off the top of my head, I could see them shifting from one primary book to a better planned quarterly schedule, with two of those being major promotions/primary releases. The other two would be secondary. Something like the equivalent of in one year launching Storm King and ToA, plus Fizban’s and Tasha’s. Then, around that, some additional things (an intro starter set, an adventure anthology/compilation like Keys, a setting like Ravnica). Perhaps 8 solid D&D products per year. I will note that this is not the strategy I think is best, not at all!

      • OZ_DM
        October 4, 2023

        I think you should have a go using Sly’s Flourish Hazy Dungeon Master 8-step Professional Prognostication Program.

        This is what I came up with using this method:

        1. Review the Characters – add feats, and munchkin powers (new 2024 PHB)

        2.Create a Strong Start – combats needs monsters (new 2024 Monster Manual)

        3. Outline the Potential Scenes (oh a toolkit! – new 2024 DMG)

        4. Define Secrets and Clues (Hmm a 2024 adventure about the Wizards of Thay)

        5. Develop Fantastic Locations – A settling sourcebook adventure – (maybe no one will notice if we slip out the Dark Sun Setting – we mostly got away with an unnecessary plotline about incest in Rime of the Frostmaiden – so cannibalism is fine).

        6. Define Secrets and Clues – Surely Volo’s got something else hidden or perhaps I could pinch something from Xanathar, Mordenkein or Tasha’s and sell it again (Player focused option and expansion book).

        7. Outline important NPCs – Melf is the most famous wizard we haven’t trotted out – perhaps a slipcase box set of magic, abberations and a short adventure with a fancy DM screen.

        8. Choose Relevent Monsters – We have a book about dragons and giants – I know lets make a book all about the Flumph

        If it works Go with the Gods – or basketball!

  3. blueace
    October 3, 2023

    Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is not in the top 100 ?
    I do not know what is #78, but I didn’t see the book in all your charts…

    • Alphastream
      October 3, 2023

      It did not show up in the BookScan charts the show shared on screen. I did notice it’s absence, and my assumption is it did well but just was absent from the data set. There is no way it had under 15k sales (the bottom of what was shared) and I feel good I didn’t miss anything in the top or middle areas (above 30k). 78th on the charts was a 3E era book, Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies!

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This entry was posted on October 2, 2023 by and tagged , .


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