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I came across this post on the blog Monsters & Manuals about the campaign setting Yoon-Suin and its units sold since being published. It's interesting to read for someone who's entertaining the idea of publishing something themselves, but it leads to a few questions. Yoon-Suin is near the bottom of Page 7 (out of 10 pages of 50 items each) on Drive-thru RPG's website when you search for things tagged OSR and sort by popularity, but I'm not sure how linked popularity is to actual sales numbers. It leads to a few questions about the average sales of adventure modules and campaign settings.

What is the average number of units sold for modules and settings in the OSR (separately listed if possible)? If these numbers aren't known directly, can they be ballparked?

What about the average units sold for relatively well known publishers in the OSR, such as Sine-Nomine, Goodman Games, or LotFP? If these averages aren't known, can they too, be estimated?

If any of these numbers aren't known and can't even be estimated, why can't they be estimated?

I want the units sold, not necessarily the gross or profit made. I'm well aware this is a niche of a niche of a niche and am primarily concerned about how many people these products reach as opposed to how much money will be made. I'm also interested in what factors cause units to sell more (better known publisher/author, art, system compatibility, price point) although these are nowhere near necessary for a good, acceptable answer.

The more specifics offered, the better; ideally an accepted answer would contain answers to all of the above and the rationale behind said answers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Some privately owned companies do publish their sales numbers, but not many. Although this question may not be answerable because of a dearth of information, if that information did become available we'd be able to clearly vote on answers within the Stack paradigm. It's not too broad or opinion-based, it's just one of those questions which will probably never get answered and the Stack's just fine with that. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Feb 14 '16 at 0:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ What problem are you trying to solve with this? I can't imagine knowing the average will help, since surely how well any particular supplement sells is largely dependant on the popularity of the OSR system it's written for. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 4 '16 at 3:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe The problem I'm trying to solve is knowing how many people I would reach if I were to publish a module or setting. Below a certain threshold, it might be worth considering alternative means of publication or figuring out a way to drive those numbers up; the average of the OSR is a way of testing the waters. Your comment about adventures published for an OSR system being related to that systems popularity I don't actually believe is true; most of these systems are close enough that their modules are cross-compatible and they appeal to the same audience. This is a quirk of the OSR. \$\endgroup\$ – WrongOnTheInternet Mar 4 '16 at 22:36
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You're asking one of the hardest questions in the industry. Tabletop game publishers are very reluctant to release firm figures, being very skittish about appearing as 'weak'; this problem has plagued the industry since I got in in the early 90s, and doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. Also, the numbers you report are self-reported, which is not ideal. However, we can infer that it's a tiny subniche of a niche market from several different sources:

First, ICv2, the trade magazine of the industry, has reported the total volume of trade done in the RPG industry is $25 million in 2015. (This is actually an increase of $10 million over 2014.) No matter how good an OSR game does, this is the upper cap.

Second, no 'indie' game is in the top five.

So, if they're not breaking ground in the major games market, let's check RPGNow (another brand of DriveThruRPG); OSR games like Labyrinth Lord have made major headway there. Sorting the OSR category by popularity, we see that the best seller for a game tagged as OSR is OSRIC Unearthed, which RPGNow marks as an Electrum Seller. As an Electrum seller, it has sold at least 250 copies, but not 500 copies (to make Gold).

Finally, let's check their top 100, which scales games over time. The highest-ranking game is Guardians, #29 in the Hot 100. What does that mean? Well, this blogpost by 6d6 Games reveals that their game, which reached the position of #13 in RPGNow's Top 100, made it up to 38 sales. The numbers are not directly comparable (since it's sales-over-time, and the figures are from different years), but it illustrates the size of the OSR market.

That said, if you want to make your OSR games, there is an alternative - crowdfunding. The most successful OSR game on Kickstarter right now is The Black Hack, which reached 604 backers.

So no matter which way you cut it, us old-school murderhobos are a rareified breed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answers questions about game rules, but fails to consider a few things: a large portion of retroclone systems are available completely for free directly from the companies websites (Labyrinth Lord, LotFP, OSRIC, S&W), often only lacking art or some descriptive text. Second, I'm asking about Adventures or Settings, not rules systems themselves. I have reason to believe that the sales of adventures and campaign settings are outside the norm for the industry, given the general cross-compatibility of these systems. I appreciate your answer though; the #13 position and 38 sales is helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – WrongOnTheInternet Mar 4 '16 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ All my criticisms aside, this is still a very helpful answer. The number of backers for The Black Hack is illuminating, as is the general size of the OSR compared to the size of the industry as a whole. \$\endgroup\$ – WrongOnTheInternet Mar 4 '16 at 22:30
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Thanks to publishing on DriveThruRPG, I now have a very concrete idea of how many units of an adventure are sold, and how that influences popularity.

I've "sold" (most of these were free downloads) 95 units on DTRPG. Specifically out of the OSR Adventures, my module is 222 out of 655, or pretty neatly in the top 33%. Popularity seems to be a function mostly of total units sold, but also partially of monthly units sold, since it hasn't moved from its position in two weeks.

My sales numbers mostly came in the first week of publishing, with occasional spikes from promotion on other boards, but I'm pretty much in the long tail (two months later).

From here, I can ballpark the number of OSR adventures sold (on DTRPG alone) to be about 100, at least for the median. The most popular adventures and settings likely sell more than ten times as many units as the middle 50%. I estimate this based on the current #4 adventure Maze of the Blue Medusa being sold out on its print run of 3000 copies. Further, the lower end, almost down to the bottom 10%, has about a 50~ unit difference between it and the top 33%. I know this because I was in that bottom 10% for most of the first two months my module was available.

It's worth noting that out of the top 50 adventures for sale on DTRPG, the vast majority them come from more established authors and publishers. There are a few that come from fairly new publishers, so the process isn't entirely without hope for those unknowns.

It's fairly clear that most of these adventures see at least a few downloads, but the numbers rarely break higher than a few hundred. The graph is heavily skewed toward the most popular titles.


On July 26th, my module was at 226 with a few more sales. On July 30th, my module had dropped to 340 at 101 sales. On August 1st, my module jumped up to 210 with 102 sales. It appears that the new time interval changes the positioning a great deal.

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