OSR: How To Become A Hundredaire On DriveThruRPG

I've got 4 products up for sale on DriveThruRPG. In order of publication date, they are:
Tomb of the Serpent Kings is a free PDF and an at-cost print on demand copy, so it doesn't really count. The Megaposts contain links to reviews, supplemental information, etc.

Anyway, people sometimes ask how the books are doing. Here's a look behind the curtain. I'm going to be as blunt and transparent as possible about sales figures. I think this kind of analysis is important. If you publish stuff, consider giving it a shot.

If you want to actually make money, read Cecil Howe/Swordpeddler's article How To Become A Godzillionaire On Drivethrurpg. The title of this article is a loving reference. Notable advice that I do not follow:

  • I don't pay for ads.
  • I don't use PPP for anything.
  • I don't do sales or bundles. You want the thing? Pay for the thing. You want the thing cheaper? No thing for you!
I'm not in this for fat stacks of cash. Ideally, each book pays for its own costs and provides enough money to start work on the next project. In practice... well, you'll see. I'm mostly in it to make things exist. If you want my advice on writing and designing a book, check out this post.

Sales Per Month

Here's a breakdown of sales per book per month. Fairly useless at this point, except to show that sales usually start high and drop off, with an intermittent spike. More on that spike later.
Since the Tomb of the Serpent Kings free PDF massively skews everything, I'm going to leave it off for all future charts.

Cumulative Sales Per Month

Ah, that's better. Flat line = few sales, steep line = increase in sales.
For ease of use, here's the charts split out by Print and PDF. It's sort of amazing that there are only 21 print copies of Kidnap the Archpriest out in the wild, and only 38 copies of all books (not counting Tomb of the Serpent Kings).

Total Cumulative Sales Per Month (with comments)

Here's the most interesting chart. With print+PDF sales combined some trends become clear. I've added a little star whenever a Questing Beast review came out; there's a spike in sales, but it almost immediately returns to normal.
Cents per word is estimated. The total, across all paid books, is ~6.5 cents a word.

You can compare rates per word to the rates on this site, and note that those rates don't include image editing, layout, and locating editors, artists, etc. If you factor in time (or blogging) you'd probably be better off (financially) sticking a magnet on a pole and going through storm drains for loose change.

Book-Specific Notes

Kidnap the Archpriest
The bestseller by far, but why? It fills a niche. 5E's attempt at a heist... isn't; Kidnap the Archpriest does a much better job, and seems to get regularly brought up whenever heists are under discussion. The art also helps. Let's face it, Luka would be worth hiring for an RPG project even if his art was photocopies of old publicity stills with black marker moustaches because he's Got Reach. Luckily for everyone, his art is amazing. The sneering Archpriest on the cover is probably responsible for 50% of all sales.

This was a passion project. It didn't exist and I wanted it to exist; making money was incidental. Two contributors (Dan D and Dunkey Halton) were paid up front for their work. This is why you never take a percentage of the profits unless you're absolutely certain the book will make a profit; if they'd cut a royalty deal they'd still (14 months after release!) be waiting to make the rate they were paid up front.

Tomb of the Serpent Kings

There are still revisions I'd like to make if we ever do a new version, but I think it's a solid book as-is. It's certainly my most famous work. Like Kidnap the Archpriest, it fills a niche. I'm not sure how many downloads go through the Megapost vs. DriveThruRPG, but it's still fairly successful: 4,100 PDF downloads and 141 print copies.

Magical Murder Mansion

Costs for this book were lower than expected thanks to the generosity of the artist (gooooo Frenden!), but playtesting and writing time was much higher than expected. The whole thing was revised several times before ever it ever saw an editor. It's the most tested module I've produced to date. While I think MMM fills a niche (a modernized and easy-to-run funhouse dungeon), I suspect demand for that kind of dungeon is lower than expected. Either that, or the book just hasn't found a following yet. I suspect the demise of G+ has made launching a new book much harder. Twitter and Discord are poor substitutes.


Because DriveThruRPG doesn't allow external links, it's hard for a buyer to get a detailed sense of what a book contains. The Megaposts help, but only if the buyer searches for them. If you write a review, consider sticking some excerpts on DriveThruRPG.

★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ Reviews
Kidnap the Archpriest 17 1

Epochrypha 3

Tomb of the Serpent Kings 26 6 1
2 5
Magical Murder Mansion 3

Tomb of the Serpent Kings has the highest number of reviews and ratings by far. If I had to guess, it's because of the negative reviews. If people really like a product and see it's rated 5 stars, they might not bother to add a rating. But if people really like a product and see it's got a few 1 star reviews they disagree with, they might rate it highly "to balance things out". Who knows.


When it's charted out like this, it's clear how small this side of the industry really is. Kidnap the Archpriest is a gold bestseller. The other books are silver. Retweeting "pay authors" or "support indie publishers" is free; don't expect those people to turn up when the hat gets passed around.

It's also rather alarming that I've only made ~1,000 paid sales on DriveThruRPG.. and then managed to get 569 Kickstarter backers for a new project. That seems... not right somehow.

Anyway, hopefully the charts help. If you've got questions, ask away.


  1. Hi !
    As to why there are not that much prints of KtA and Epochrypha (can't tell for MMM, haven't bought it), I suggest that your low page count modules with B/W art get mostly printed at home / at work / in a copy shop as it is cheaper than a book (+ portage) you'll end up writing on anyways.

    1. Oh for sure. They're deliberately designed to be printed at home. I'm just surprised people aren't lazier, I guess. :D

  2. Thanks for sharing this ... most enlightening

  3. Regarding the ~1k DTRPG purchases vs. KS backers: Were you expecting more backers, or fewer? MIR seems like a fundamentally different kind of product than your other works (long-form, whole campaign/setting, deluxe physical format tiers). Maybe it represents a new market for you?

    1. Oh, far fewer. It's a different kind of product for sure, which also suggested it wouldn't have a lot of overlap with people who'd purchased very focused dungeons. So that was kind of surprising.

    2. As someone who Kickstarted MIR but hasn't bought your dungeons, I find I like buying stuff I can grab setting or world ideas from more then stuff where I grab adventures or dungeons whole cloth.

    3. This means you have a small dedicated fan base. That's great news !

    4. Another statistic that might be relevant here is how much readers your blog has. I can say for myself that I interact with things you make through this blog foremost and DriveThruRPG secondarily. I also think that MIR strikes several niches. On one side it's tagline of pre-apocalypse is relevant with the current zeitgeist and people have been applying industrial and scientific thinking to D&D magic for years now in various parts of the rpg community. Things like the Tippyverse and portable hole arrow have been around for a while. Ebberon has magi-tech but it's stable and lacks both the opportunity for tinkering and the existential threat that MIR's premise is built around.

    5. You have to build a following before a KS works, I think (unless your product is so amazeball everyone on earth wants it). That's how Mathew Coleville did it - he had a substantial loyal following on YouTube, and his KS went BOOM. I think bloggings suits our personality and material we like to produce, but video is where it's at now, for mass appeal.

  4. Also, thank you for posting this data. It's a useful contribution to an otherwise murky field. I hope others are in a position to follow suit.

  5. Well, congratulations on selling what you have! I can't offer much useful data as all of my DTRPG stuff is published by other people and I just get a percentage.

  6. 6.5 cents per word. Got it.

  7. Thanks for posting this! As someone who's often daydreamed about self-publishing, it's really helpful.

  8. I am one of the 21 who has a copy of Archpriest on their bookshelf :)

  9. And I'm another. I wouldn't always bother, but I thought this deserved it.

  10. I think that's something Stuart Marshall says about publishing, at least in the old school gaming niches, "you too can be a hundredaire!" :)
    As someone interested in data, PR and marketing (in purely a novice not professional pov) and really interested in all things old school, particularly D&D but I'm intrigued by it all, so I really dig this post. Thank you!!