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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 shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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Reviews (25)
Discussions (165)
Customer avatar
Dean W October 04, 2023 4:13 am UTC
POD WHEN!? Please...
Customer avatar
Dominic L October 03, 2023 3:07 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Patiently awaiting the POD. Thank you.
Customer avatar
Chad K September 30, 2023 2:34 am UTC
PURCHASER
Please make this POD. Please have it available in print. Please.
Customer avatar
Rafael O September 29, 2023 9:12 pm UTC
PURCHASER
So awesome that Expert and Isle of Dread is POD! Thanks Wizards
Customer avatar
Michael C September 28, 2023 4:02 pm UTC
Why the expert in POD, but not the basic book?
Customer avatar
Stephen T September 27, 2023 9:11 pm UTC
PURCHASER
POD! Thank you, Wizards, for B/X Expert in POD!
Customer avatar
Timothy S September 27, 2023 3:45 pm UTC
PURCHASER
The associated Cook-Marsh (non-BECMI) Expert book is now POD. It can’t really be used without this Basic book. Please make it POD too.
Customer avatar
Aaron S September 27, 2023 2:32 pm UTC
PoD please!
Customer avatar
Andreas B September 27, 2023 11:38 am UTC
PoD please!
Customer avatar
Curran M September 26, 2023 7:34 pm UTC
PURCHASER
This book is great! Now that the Expert Set has a POD option, is there any chance we'll see this get one as well?
Reply
Customer avatar
George F September 26, 2023 7:57 pm UTC
PURCHASER
You beat me to it!
I'd love to see the Holmes book available as well. I don't think it's even on as a PDF.

And all of the BECMI sets as a PoD.
Customer avatar
LUIZ EDUARDO R July 24, 2023 5:51 pm UTC
Oh, hell, still no PoD. Why is that? Anybody knows?
Customer avatar
Antonio E July 20, 2023 8:24 am UTC
Is the pdf editable? From the preview it looks like single words can be selected. There are a few pieces of errata that it would be handy to have in the pdf.
Customer avatar
Matthew U April 26, 2023 3:59 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I can't even wrap my head around the amount of revenue lost due to this NOT being PRINT ON DEMAND. WotC really hates earlier versions of their own game to point of refusing to take money for them.
Customer avatar
Brent W April 14, 2023 4:14 am UTC
PURCHASER
POD for Pete's sake!
Customer avatar
Paul L March 11, 2023 6:09 am UTC
PURCHASER
My god, what corruption could be possible to not have a POD?
Customer avatar
kristiaan L February 28, 2023 5:45 am UTC
PURCHASER
pod please
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Product Information
Adamantine seller
Author(s)
Pages
64
ISBN
0-935696-48-2
Publisher Stock #
TSR 2014
File Size:
7.8 MB
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File Last Updated:
September 20, 2013
This title was added to our catalog on January 22, 2013.