• When D&D Was a Toy

    From Ubiquitous@21:1/5 to All on Sat Aug 4 11:13:29 2018
    XPost: alt.games.adnd, rec.games.frp.dnd, rec.games.frp.misc

    Dungeons & Dragons is so popular these days that it tops best-selling
    book lists, but there was a time when D&D was viewed more as a toy than
    a book. So which is it?

    A Toy?

    Dungeons & Dragon's original target audience was wargamers, which co-
    creator Gary Gygax knew well. As the game grew in popularity its
    audience expanded, accelerated by the release of Basic Dungeons &
    Dragons. Dr. J. Eric Holmes contacted Gygax with a proposal:

    When Tactical Studies Rules published the first DUNGEONS &
    DRAGONS rule sets, the three little books in brown covers,
    they were intended to guide people who were already playing.
    As a guide to learning the game, they were incomprehensible ...
    When I edited the rules prior to the first edition of the D&D
    Basic Set, it was to help the thousands (now millions) of
    people who wanted to play the game and didn’t know how to get
    started. Gary Gygax acknowledged that some sort of beginner’s
    book was badly needed, and he encouraged me to go ahead with

    This decision paid off. By 1976 TSR has sold ten thousand copies of the
    basic rules, with the likelihood of ten times that thanks to sharing
    and photocopying. Shannon Appelcline explains just how well it was
    selling by 1978 in Designers & Dragons:

    The result was a best-seller that got out into the mass market,
    just as Holmes hoped. By the end of 1978, Gygax said it was
    selling 4,000 copies a month — precisely what OD&D had sold in
    all of 1974 and 1975. Within three years, Gygax would talk
    about there being “500,000 D&D players” thanks to the Basic

    That "mass market" included toy stores in the early 80s D&D was carried
    by toy stores, as explained on a RPG.net thread:

    By '82 and '83, you could find TSR games next to Monopoly in
    department stores and some discount stores, and my little town
    got it's first dedicated game store. It was a real, massive
    80s fad, like Pac-Man, or Rubik's cube. Around '85, the same
    local Kay-Bee was selling off big stacks of TSR box sets for
    $2, like Dawn Patrol, Top Secret, Gang Busters, and the 1981
    Gamma World 1st edition reprint. Oh, and liquidations of stuff
    like AD&D monster cards, and action figures, and the boardgames
    like Snits' Revenge and Awful Green Things.

    D&D would go on to create its own toy franchise, announcing its Toy,
    Hobby & Gift Division in January 1983 at the Hobby Industries of
    America Show.

    A Book?

    D&D didn't just appear in the now-defunct toy stores like KB Toys and
    Toys R' Us, but also in defunct book stores like Waldenbooks. TSR
    negotiated an exclusive book with Random House, as Ewalt explains in Of
    Dice and Men:

    In 1981, Gygax made a distribution deal with Random House,
    the biggest publisher in the U.S., putting the game into tens
    of thousands of bookstores. TSR followed up the deal with more
    kid-friendly products: a revision of 1977’s Basic Set, the
    beginner’s game that covered character levels 1 through 3;
    and its first follow-up, the Expert Set, covering levels 4
    through 14.

    Just as the company branched out into toys, it also branched out into
    fiction, and had come to increasingly rely upon sales of its fiction
    line to prop up the rest of the company. It worked for a while, until
    the downturn in 1996:

    But at the end of 1996, the market collapsed, and TSR’s
    distributor, Random House, returned millions of dollars’
    worth of unsold hardcover books. On the hook to refund Random
    House, TSR entered 1997 over $30 million in debt, and with
    no cash to publish or ship new products.

    Appelcline picks up the thread:

    It was the book trade, however, that was the final straw.
    Random House had been fronting TSR loans against book sales
    for some time. Meanwhile, TSR’s book sales had sunk over the
    years. They were seeing less and less actual cash from the
    book trade because more money was going to pay off their
    unpaid loans. Trying to get ahead of this debt was the main
    factor behind TSR making a big push into the book trade in
    1996. This push included sending massive reorders of Dragon
    Dice into book stores and increasing hardcover publication
    from 2 books a year to 12. Both of these expansions flopped,
    and because bookstore sales are ultimately returnable, TSR
    was the one left holding the bag. As 1996 ended Random House
    informed TSR that they’d be returning about a third of TSR’s
    products — several million dollars’ worth.

    When TSR fell behind on its payment to its logistics company, they
    locked down all of TSR's products and refused to print more. TSR was in
    debt without enough product to buy its way out. These losses eventually
    ended up causing TSR to sell to Wizards of the Coast. The book trade,
    that had so massively expanded TSR's reach, nearly destroyed it.

    Does it Matter?

    The book industry has changed since TSR was sold. The few remaining
    bookstore chains, like Barnes & Noble, have expanded their tabletop
    game offerings considerably, including board, card, and miniature
    games. But however D&D may be found in bookstores, sales data suggests
    the game sells well. D&D books has topped the Wall Street Journal's
    non-fiction best-seller list, Amazon's Science Fiction & Fantasy
    category, the New York Times' Games and Activities list, Publisher's
    Weekly's hardcover non-fiction list, and USA Today's best-selling
    books. Xanathar's Guide to Everything became the fastest-selling D&D
    book in the game's history.

    Given all these accolades, it's easy to surmise that D&D is more book
    than toy. And yet, the game was inducted into the National Toy Hall of
    Fame in 2016:

    In the 1970s, serious war game players Gary Gygax and Dave
    Arneson added the concept of role-playing to the strategy
    games they enjoyed. They thus created an entirely new way to
    play, allowing older gamers to immerse themselves in fantasy
    worlds not unlike children’s imaginative play. The game soon
    became popular, and other firms published similar games built
    upon related mechanics but often employing different fantasy
    settings, from historic battlefields to outer space. Dungeons
    & Dragons (D&D) and its imitators actually changed the nature
    of play.

    In the end, D&D is more than just a toy or a book, fiction or non-
    fiction. It's all these things and something else entirely that
    "actually changed the nature of play."

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