Advanced Search

D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)Click to magnify
Quick Preview
Full‑size Preview

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

Selected Option:

This is the 1981 edition of the D&D Expert Rulebook by Dave Cook, which was sold as a counterpart to the Moldvay D&D Basic Set.

Product History

The Dungeons & Dragons Expert Rules (1981), by David "Zeb" Cook, was released simultaneously with the second edition Basic Rules (1981) in January 1981. For the first time ever, it offered the opportunity to achieve levels 4-14 in TSR's introductory game.

Beyond Basic. The story of Basic D&D begins with J. Eric Holmes simplifying the original D&D rules (1974) as the first Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977). After that, TSR didn't put any more work into the Basic D&D game, instead focusing on AD&D (1977-1979).

Enter the "James Dallas Egbert III affair" (1979), where a college student disappeared and D&D somehow took the blame in the media. Ironically, this controversy caused sales of Holmes' Basic Set to soar and resulted in a new directive for the newly created Design Department at TSR: supplement Basic D&D (which only covered levels 1-3) with Expert Rules that would allow players to play "through at least 12th level of experience."

What Could Have Been. When Gary Gygax first announced the upcoming Expert Rules in The Dragon #35 (March 1980), he said they would include "new classes, spells, magic, monsters, and so on." There were indeed magic item, monsters, and spells, but sadly no new classes.

Gygax had also planned for a "D&D Companion Set," which would carry Basic D&D characters from levels 15-36, but that would not appear under the Moldvay/Zeb "B/X" edition of Basic D&D. Instead, that desire would have to await the Frank Mentzer revision of Basic D&D, which began in 1983.

About Those Level Limits. Levels limits for demihumans were a point of contention in both Basic D&D and AD&D. However, they make a lot more sense in the "B/X" presentation. Though halflings, elves, and dwarves are limited to 8, 10, and 12 levels, respectively, that's not necessarily a big deal when the game only went up to level 14.

Enter the Wilderness. The original D&D divided adventuring between "the underworld" and "the wilderness," but prior to the release of the Expert Set, almost all published D&D adventures focused on dungeons, caverns, ruins, and monstrous lairs. The only real exception was the eponymous T1: "Village of Hommlet" (1979), and that was a far cry from the wilderness hex exploration suggested in original D&D. Moldvay's Basic Set didn't just keep with that dungeon-delving trend, but offered it up as the norm, saying in its introduction, "At the start of the game, the players enter the dungeon…"

The Expert Rulebook went against all of these early expectations by saying bluntly, "Adventures will take place outside the dungeon." It goes on to provide tips for conducting a wilderness campaign and specific rules for wilderness travel of different sorts. The resulting "hex crawls" would be very different from the "dungeon crawls" that D&D was built on.

The Expert-level adventures would all be largely wilderness focused, highlighting a category of adventure that wasn't seen before or afterward - at least not at the same level.

In the mid-80s, wilderness adventures occasionally snuck into other game lines - including adventures like the Basic Set module B8: "Journey to the Rock" (1984) and AD&D's N2: "The Forest Oracle" (1984) - but those adventures tended to be constrained railroads rather than the wide-open hex crawls of some Expert modules. AD&D's biggest push into the area, the Wilderness Survival Guide (1986), was never nearly as successful as Expert D&D's wilderness exploration.

Expanding the 'Known World'. The Expert Rulebook's other historical first was its introduction of the Known World of Mystara. The rulebook contains a one-page describing the Grand Duchy of Karameikos (along with some of its inhabitants) followed by a single-page hex map. This inclusion would kick off the Cook era of the Known World (1981-1986), when it was still a pretty wild and unpopulated place, before the Gazetteers filled it in more (and dramatically increased the population). The Known World professed by Cook is largely depicted in the Expert Set adventures and in B6: "The Veiled Society" (1984).

The Known World had actually originated in a shared-world D&D campaign that Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay had run in Kent and Akron, Ohio. The campaign setting had included a bit of everything, drawing on ancient history, medieval history, various real-world myth cycles, Tolkien's Middle-earth, Leiber's Lankhmar, Vance's Dying Earth, and Howard's Hyborian Age. 
In 1981, when TSR was looking for something other than Greyhawk to use as the setting for the new Basic D&D games, the Schick & Moldvay world seemed custom-made to purpose, as it had already been designed to be expanded upon by many GMs. Thus was the Known World born.

The Inevitable Adventure. The Expert Rulebook was packaged in a box with module X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981), which was prepared simultaneously with the Expert Rules and also features some of the first details on the Known World as envisioned by Moldvay and Cook.

Included in the back of this book is TSR Gateway to Adventure catelog that was originally included in the book.

About the Creators. Though Cook had previously written A1: "Slave Pits of the Undercity" (1980) for TSR's Slave Lords tourney, the Expert Set was his biggest project to date when he took it on. Cook would work his way through a few of TSR's other lines in the next few years - including AD&D, Boot Hill, and Star Frontiers - before returning to the Known World around 1983.

About the Product Historian

The 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

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.

 Customers Who Bought this Title also Purchased
Reviews (12)
Discussions (73)
Customer avatar
Geoff D October 17, 2023 5:37 pm UTC
My POD just arrived. I am so happy to have this. It is very good quality for POD. Mine included the 12 page "Gateway to Adventure" catalog at the end as part of the book. I don't know if that's a glitch, but I like it. I prefer it, no way I am returning this. I hope someone does a side by side comparison of the original print and this.
Customer avatar
Steve V October 10, 2023 1:53 pm UTC
Wasn't the print edition $8 plus change just last week? It looks like they raised the price of X1 as well.
Customer avatar
George W October 15, 2023 12:50 pm UTC
... And Palace of the silver princess just doubled in price!!
Customer avatar
Brian S October 09, 2023 11:34 am UTC
I know that Drive Thru has no power over what is and isn't print on demand. That's WOTC desicion. BUT as a company you would think that Drive thru would say to WOTC "hey not putting the first one in print at the same time will only anger your customers which are also OUR customers. Appearently though you don't do that.
Customer avatar
Sidney R November 26, 2023 7:07 pm UTC
I agree so much was all set to get off my wallet then i found out i couldn't get the red book. smh
Customer avatar
Graham L October 05, 2023 10:04 pm UTC
POD! Thank you!!
Customer avatar
Chad K September 30, 2023 2:33 am UTC
Please make the B/X Basic Moldvay book in Print.
Please. Please.
Customer avatar
James N September 28, 2023 12:08 pm UTC
Nice first step. FIRST step. FIRST. EVERY bit as important is 1981 Moldvay Basic as Cook/Marsh Expert is essentially useless without Basic.
Having this POD is great. Basic has to be as well. Now!
It’s already ridiculous it’s taken over ten years (only measured by them on here as pdfs). Really…far too many years than that too!
Customer avatar
Justin W September 27, 2023 2:24 pm UTC
But will the PoD be three hole punched? :)
Customer avatar
Mike E September 27, 2023 12:07 am UTC
Finally! Now please do the same (POD) for the Basic set!
Customer avatar
David M September 27, 2023 4:30 am UTC
Would love Basic and the rest of BECMI as pod
Customer avatar
bill S July 13, 2023 7:07 am UTC
Not sure why this and all the other old classics aren't POD. You guys send them off somewhere to be printed, we, the buyers, pay for it. Make it an option.
Customer avatar
William L September 26, 2023 6:30 pm UTC
It is now ... but as of this writing the Basic book is not. ?!?!
Customer avatar
Dale A July 03, 2023 7:21 pm UTC
POD Please!
Customer avatar
Matthew U April 26, 2023 4:00 pm UTC
I am both sad and confused as to why this isn't Print on Demand yet. Sad. And. Confused.
Customer avatar
David C September 27, 2023 8:15 pm UTC
It is POD now.
Customer avatar
Joseph H March 15, 2023 5:30 am UTC
One more request for POD.
Customer avatar
Zack D February 28, 2023 6:18 pm UTC
Would buy if POD.
Customer avatar
Shane M January 09, 2023 2:57 am UTC
I’m surprised no one asked for PoD yet!!!

This, and the Basic Rules need a PoD
Customer avatar
Justin W December 09, 2022 8:53 pm UTC
POD please.
Customer avatar
Nate M November 20, 2022 5:09 pm UTC
Does this PDF have bookmarks?
See 16 more
Browse Categories
$ to $
 Follow Your Favorites!
NotificationsSign in to get custom notifications of new products!

Product Information
Adamantine seller
Rules Edition(s)
Publisher Stock #
TSR 2015
File Size:
14.24 MB
Scanned image Click for more information
Scanned image
These products were created by scanning an original printed edition. Most older books are in scanned image format because original digital layout files never existed or were no longer available from the publisher.

For PDF download editions, each page has been run through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to attempt to decipher the printed text. The result of this OCR process is placed invisibly behind the picture of each scanned page, to allow for text searching. However, any text in a given book set on a graphical background or in handwritten fonts would most likely not be picked up by the OCR software, and is therefore not searchable. Also, a few larger books may be resampled to fit into the system, and may not have this searchable text background.

For printed books, we have performed high-resolution scans of an original hardcopy of the book. We essentially digitally re-master the book. Unfortunately, the resulting quality of these books is not as high. It's the problem of making a copy of a copy. The text is fine for reading, but illustration work starts to run dark, pixellating and/or losing shades of grey. Moiré patterns may develop in photos. We mark clearly which print titles come from scanned image books so that you can make an informed purchase decision about the quality of what you will receive.
Original electronic format
These ebooks were created from the original electronic layout files, and therefore are fully text searchable. Also, their file size tends to be smaller than scanned image books. Most newer books are in the original electronic format. Both download and print editions of such books should be high quality.
File Information
Watermarked PDF Click for more information
Watermarked PDF

These PDF files are digitally watermarked to signify that you are the owner. A small message is added to the bottom of each page of the PDF containing your name and the order number of your purchase.

Warning: If any files bearing your information are found being distributed illegally, then your account will be suspended and legal action may be taken against you.

Here is a sample of a page from a watermarked title:

File Last Updated:
September 21, 2013
This title was added to our catalog on February 04, 2013.