This is the 1983 edition of the D&D Expert Rulebook, part of the "BECMI edition."
This product does not include X1: "The Isle of Dread".
The D&D Expert Rules Set (1983), by Frank Mentzer, is the second iteration of the boxed Expert Rules for Basic D&D and the second volume in Mentzer's BECMI rules series. It was published in August 1983 — or perhaps a bit later.
About the Title. Frank Mentzer's Expert Rules were originally published as "Expert Rules Set 2". For their second printing that title was updated to "Set 2: Expert Rules", which definitely makes more sense. Starting with the Companion Rules (1984), all the Frank Mentzer's D&D rules would follow this new format for naming.
About the Cover. Larry Elmore continues to keep dragons front and center on the BECMI covers. To highlight the wilderness focus of the Expert Rules, the new cover features a fighter on horseback battling a dragon out in the middle of nowhere.
About the Box. Like the rest of the BECMI series, this one came as two books in a box: the "blue box", not to be confused with the original Holmes edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977), which is also blue. The Expert Rules box also contains another set of "low impact" dice and a crayon for coloring them in.
However, the Expert Rules is unique among the BECMI boxes because it's the only one where the rules are contained in just a single, 64-page book. Instead of a having second rulebook, the Expert Rules' second book is X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981). This was a new, second edition of "Isle of Dread" (1983), laid out in TSR's new D&D trade dress and featuring a more attractive interior thanks to TSR's new Product Finishing department.
The inclusion of "Isle of Dread" was apparently a requirement from the powers-that-be at TSR. Because the new Basic Rules didn't have an adventure module, they said there "darn well better be one in Expert". Mentzer had no objections because he thought that "Isle of Dread" was "one of the best design jobs ever".
Origins: Moving Toward BECMI. When TSR decided to revamp the Basic D&D line in 1982, that meant revising both the Basic Rules and the Expert Rules. Frank Mentzer planned the two new rules sets together and even announced them in the same article, in Dragon #77 (September 1983). The new Basic Rules came out around May 1983, then the Expert Rules followed, perhaps as early as August 1983, perhaps as late as early 1984.
The new Expert Rules had the same goals as the Basic Rules before them. They were intended to be attractive and professional, which is reflected in better graphic design and layout and a unified set of artwork by Larry Elmore. They were also intended to be more approachable for new players — though this was less important for the second box in the series.
What a Difference an Edition Makes. Compared to Mentzer's major update of the Basic Rules, the changes in the new Expert Rules are quite subtle. That's because Mentzer felt that Expert designer David "Zeb" Cook "had done a great job on the earlier version", so "it was just tweaked to bring it in line with the overall plan".
Much of Mentzer's new material focused on the setting and on campaign design, but he also made any number of minor adjustments such as differentiating dwarf and halfling saving throws, updating wandering monster tables, changing weapon damage, and revamping encumbrance values. Mentzer also did away with the idea that anyone could find traps, offering better niche protection for thieves. Finally, one of his biggest changes was to the monster section, where he added the giant bass and insect swarms while cutting a dozen monsters. Some higher-leveled monsters would return in the Companion Rules. However, aquatic monsters also took a serious hit — perhaps because of the absence of aquatic fan Steve Marsh. Many of them would make a return in X7: "The War Rafts of Kron" (1984).
What a Difference an Edition Makes: Room to Grow. This is one large, systemic change in the Expert Rules: all of the human character progressions are slowed down — though usually that's offered hand-in-hand with some new advantages. So clerics now get fewer spells as they level up, but also have earlier access to sixth level spells; similarly turning is slightly powered down while a new "D+" result is introduced, to destroy more undead than ever. Magic-users also have their spells reduced, while a number of saving throw progressions are dialed back.
Rather remarkably, thieves did not get updated. Their skill progression was unchanged from Cook's Expert Rules. This may be because Mentzer originally intended to add new skills at higher levels, perhaps in accordance with Zeb Cook's notes in the Expert Rules, which suggested that higher level thieves might gain "the ability to climb overhangs, upside down, ventriloquism, powers of distraction, and the ability to mimic voices." That never happened, so when the Companion Rules rolled around, Mentzer realized that thieves didn't have enough upside. As a result, the thief skill levels were updated after the fact. New, slower skill progressions appeared in the Companion Rules and were then introduced to later printings of Mentzer's Expert Rules.
Surprisingly, demihumans still have level limits in these new Expert Rules: dwarves top out at 12, elves at 10, and halflings at 8. Though this made sense for a game that only went up to level 14, it would be problematic when levels climbed to 36 — but that'd be an issue for the Companion Rules and the Master Rules (1985).
Exploring the Known World. The new Expert Rules largely reiterate the background for the Known World found in the original Expert Rules and in X1: "The Isle of Dread". This includes redrawn maps of both "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" and the surrounding lands from "The Isle of Dread". The latter map is now labeled "The Lands and Environs of the the D&D Wilderness" and is notable for placing the first four "B" adventures and the first five "X" adventures in the context of the Known World. This was a first for B1: "In Search of the Unknown" (1978) and B2: "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1979), which had not previously been an official part of the setting. The arrows denoting the direction to X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983) and X5: "Temple of Death" (1983) are somewhat inaccurate; they actually take place directly west of the map, not northwest as indicated.
Mentzer adds two new locales to the map of the "D&D Wilderness": Kelven and Threshold. Threshold is a new "Home Town", which receives a complete map and some additional detail; Kelven would get more attention in the Companion Rules.
Mentzer also adds a number of plot hooks for adventures in the Known World.
Exploring the Spheres. The phrase "Elemental Plane" shows up for the first time in Basic D&D in the Expert Rules, suggesting that Mentzer's revamp would bring its cosmology more into line with AD&D's Great Wheel.
NPCs of Note. Bargle the Infamous makes a return visit. Now he's hanging out west of Threshold with an army that is (oddly) asleep and polymorphed into trees.
About the Creators. Frank Mentzer was one of the star creators at TSR in the early to mid '80s, working closely with Francois Marcela-Froideval and Gary Gygax on the most important rulebooks for D&D. Mentzer took total control of Basic D&D around 1982 when Gygax approved the BECMI project, and would remain in that position through his work on the Immortals Set (1986).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and 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 email@example.com.