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D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
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D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

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This is the 1981 edition of the D&D Basic Rulebook, which was sold as part of the boxed D&D Basic Set and also on its own. It was the first true standalone edition of what became "Basic D&D" as previous editions had instead been based on OD&D play.

Product History

The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules (1981), by Tom Moldvay, was the second edition of Basic D&D, with the previous edition created by J. Eric Holmes (1977). It was released in January 1981, leading off the year.

Holmes D&D. When Eric Holmes put together the original Basic D&D, his purpose was simply to clean up and organize the original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) along with some content from Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975).

He wanted to create a game that was easier to learn (as the original D&D was considered notoriously bad in that regard) and that could be better understand by the high school and junior high demographics, toward which the game was then trending. However, the expectation was that players would go on to the original D&D games from there. Basic D&D was never expected to be its own game system - at first.

Holmes' Basic Set was widely successful - sufficiently so that TSR was wary of sending its players on to the more challenging original D&D game or the more complex AD&D game (1977-79) game. Thus, as early as fall 1979, work began on an Expert Set that would allow the hundreds of thousands of players who had learned the game from Basic D&D to continue on, past the three levels available in that game.

A new version of the Basic Set was required for release with the Expert Set.

Moldvay D&D. Whereas Holmes' Basic D&D was mostly a matter of organization and explanation, Moldvay's Basic D&D also engaged in simplification. Thus, for example, there were no longer separate character classes and races. The twelve race-and-class combinations of Holmes' Basic D&D (including things such as the elven fighter/magic-user multiclass) became just seven classes in the new Basic D&D: clerics, dwarves, elves, fighters (which had still been "fighting men" under Holmes), halflings, magic-users, and thieves.

Moldvay's second edition also cleaned up character alignment, constrained spell choice, and even improved the layout of the book. All around, every effort was made to upgrade the game for starting players. As for the results, even former editor Holmes said, "I think the new Basic Set rules are an improvement over the first edition. Not a big quantum jump ahead, but better in a number of minor ways."

Moldvay's Basic D&D was enough of a change from the previous edition of the game that it was actually a "new edition" as it's understood in the modern roleplaying market, which was a pretty rare occurrence in the 70s or early 80s.

The Basic Set was (as planned) released simultaneously with the new Expert Set by David "Zeb" Cook, which expanded Basic D&D to levels 4-14. Gary Gygax mentioned a "Masters Set" around the same time, which was to cover levels 15-36, but that wouldn't appear during Basic D&D's second edition.

Color-Coding the Boxes. Some people like to classify the D&D boxes by color: This edition is thus the "magenta box," to differentiate it from the "red box" edition that would follow in 1983.

The Inevitable Adventure. Moldvay's Basic D&D was sold both as a standalone book and in a box with six dice and an adventure. The adventure was Gary Gygax's "B2: Keep on the Borderlands." Because of its inclusion in the Basic D&D set, "Keep" became the most-published RPG adventure ever, with a much-later estimate suggesting that there were 1.5 million copies of it made.

Mentzer D&D. Moldvay's D&D wasn't the final iteration of Basic D&D. It was replaced just two and a half years later by Frank Mentzer's third edition of Basic D&D. The goal was once more to make the game even easier to learn from the rulebooks. That version of D&D, often called BECMI, was the one that actually included Companion and Master sets, which supported levels 15-36 between them.

About the Creators. After his work on Basic D&D, Moldvay immediately moved on to producing adventures for the game system. One of his first tasks was to revise "B3: Palace of the Silver Princess," by Jean Wells, which had been recalled and pulped after its first printing.

About the Product Historian

This history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

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Reviews (18)
Discussions (15)
Customer avatar
Clayton S July 26, 2018 4:45 am UTC
use Lulu for POD, then you can all of the sets in one nice bigger book.
Customer avatar
Chad K September 21, 2018 9:45 pm UTC
How? its encrypted. LULU wouldnt take mine
Customer avatar
June 25, 2018 4:37 pm UTC
Customer avatar
Dennis E June 17, 2018 12:26 am UTC
So I bought this. Neat. Do I have permission to make a copy for my personal use?
Customer avatar
Aaron T June 07, 2018 8:40 pm UTC
I came here for the POD. Don't want the PDF. Want POD! RRRAAAWWWRRR!
Customer avatar
Chad K May 13, 2018 8:01 pm UTC
Make the Basic set POD! The Blue Expert set too !
Customer avatar
albert R May 09, 2018 7:10 pm UTC
WTH Wizards...why is this not in print already? Come on.
Customer avatar
James Z April 23, 2018 9:41 pm UTC
Could you make this POD or better still the 1991 version from Classic D&D box set. i know we have the Cyclopedia, but sometimes it's a little overkill. When all we want is a paperback rule book for basic play.
Customer avatar
March 30, 2018 5:08 pm UTC
I, too, would very much like to buy a POD (preferably saddle-stitched) copy of this. I suspect I'd end up buying one for myself, one for my wife, and an extra for any guests who lack a copy. I'd especially love a compiled/consolidated version, combining this with the B/X Expert Set in one book (paperback or hardcover), but yes, I know, that's going to happen. Still, POD for this book please!

Customer avatar
Chad K March 17, 2018 10:07 pm UTC
Make this POD !! and Expert too.
Customer avatar
Norbert L April 18, 2018 8:30 pm UTC
I want that too! Must have! Please, make it POD
Customer avatar
William H February 25, 2018 2:30 am UTC
I desperately want this and the corresponding Expert Rule Book from '81 as a hardcover. With the retro-love for Stranger Things, etc., a hardcover of this for aging Gen-Xers seems like a no-brianer. I'd potentially buy more than one.
Customer avatar
Steve B February 02, 2018 4:19 am UTC
I agree with some of the other comments...I would LOVE to see this as a hardbound print on demand.
Customer avatar
David B October 03, 2017 12:55 am UTC
is the original game available at all?
Customer avatar
Michael H April 20, 2017 11:46 pm UTC
Any chance of a print on demand version please?
Customer avatar
Andrew S February 12, 2017 10:20 am UTC
Will this be released as POD?
Customer avatar
Simon H August 24, 2016 12:16 pm UTC
My first RPG was Holmes. I progressed to AD&D but soon jumped ship to RuneQuest, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu and many others and sold all my D&D books. Since then most of my experience with D&D and similar games have been negative (with the exception of the D&D games at my current local game club, they’re a great bunch and I’ve enjoyed all my games there). My problem with these games was that if there wasn’t a rule for doing something, you couldn’t do it. That may not be explicit in the rules, but time after time playing D&D I found myself and my characters being ‘gently, but firmly’ jammed into a slot. Don’t have a proficiency, saving throw of class ability for that? Then don’t even ask.

Reading Moldvay recently was a revelation. At every turn the implicit assumption is that your Basic D&D character is awesome. Of course your character can ride a horse, fight from the saddle, swim or command a ship! Simply state it on the character sheet and maybe give a short...See more
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TSR 2014
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File Last Updated:
September 20, 2013
This title was added to our catalog on January 22, 2013.