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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 (23)
Discussions (139)
Customer avatar
Anthony E November 29, 2022 3:30 pm UTC
Why is the POD for this not available?
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Customer avatar
Timothy S November 29, 2022 4:17 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Because it would compete with the 5e Starter Set, 5e Essential Set, and even their free 5e Basic PDF.
Customer avatar
TROY R November 19, 2022 2:19 am UTC
PURCHASER
POD! POD! POD!!!
Note: A hardcover POD of BOTH this and the Expert book would be MINTING money for your company
I'd probably buy four or five copies myself. Not even kidding.
Customer avatar
Iain B October 31, 2022 8:26 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Why did you POD almost everything except this? Don’t you like money? Weird…
Customer avatar
October 27, 2022 1:34 pm UTC
Having this and Expert in print would be awesome, jus' sayin'......
Customer avatar
Stephen A October 17, 2022 8:58 pm UTC
Ready for that POD
Customer avatar
Andrew S October 15, 2022 11:26 pm UTC
POD Come ON
Customer avatar
kristiaan L October 11, 2022 4:00 pm UTC
PURCHASER
pod please
Customer avatar
Zenith C October 10, 2022 5:16 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I want a POD of this is the worst way possible!
Customer avatar
Estel-Lia T October 05, 2022 5:39 pm UTC
PURCHASER
This badly needs to be POD. My original printed version is almost falling apart. I just want a nice replacement.
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Customer avatar
Timothy S November 29, 2022 4:19 pm UTC
PURCHASER
And it doesn’t help that the forty year old overpriced replacement books on eBay are already mostly falling apart.
Customer avatar
Thomas D August 26, 2022 4:33 am UTC
Yeah it only goes to level 3, and it is lamentable they haven't made a POD version yet (c'mon WotC!), but this is still arguably the best D&D rulebook ever written. So much compacted into 64 pages of tightly edited, clearly written, inspirational words. I may be biased, it was the first D&D book I read and experienced after all (way back in 1981), but I know I'm not the only one that feels that way. Well worth adding to your collection and reading, and playing, over and over.
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Customer avatar
Timothy S November 29, 2022 4:21 pm UTC
PURCHASER
We’ll, there is the Cook-Marsh Expert book which goes higher, and that one even has a suggestion page for higher levels than that so you really won’t need the higher level BECMI series books.
Customer avatar
Antonio Leonardo P August 08, 2022 12:54 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I think I open this page every week to see if there is any update on the POD version.
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Customer avatar
Andrew S August 13, 2022 1:14 am UTC
Me too
Reply
Customer avatar
Mike E November 08, 2022 1:43 am UTC
PURCHASER
Me three!
Customer avatar
Timothy S July 28, 2022 11:01 pm UTC
PURCHASER
POD!
Customer avatar
Timothy S July 09, 2022 2:31 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Regarding Chris L.’s One-Star Review: “ The product description spoecifically says:"This edition is thus the "magenta box," to differentiate it from the "red box" edition that would follow in 1983." It's not. it's a red box edition and only goes to level 3.”

Dude. The book was red, but the original box -was- definitely magenta. Maybe you should delete your review.
Reply
Customer avatar
Daniel S July 22, 2022 3:35 am UTC
Agreed. He's quite wrong.
The Red Box edition is https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/116578/DD-Basic-Set--Players-Manual-BECMI-ed-Basic
And of course it goes to level 3! That's what Basic D&D was.
Customer avatar
Jason P July 07, 2022 10:18 pm UTC
POD please!
Customer avatar
Lucas M June 13, 2022 1:38 pm UTC
POD! POD! POD!
Customer avatar
Matthew Y May 17, 2022 6:37 am UTC
Please add a POD option!
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Product Information
Adamantine seller
Author(s)
Rules Edition(s)
Pages
64
ISBN
0-935696-48-2
Publisher Stock #
TSR 2014
File Size:
7.8 MB
Format
Scanned image
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File Last Updated:
September 20, 2013
This title was added to our catalog on January 22, 2013.