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)


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)