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

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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.

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 (44)
Customer avatar
Iain B October 10, 2021 7:49 pm UTC
Easy way to make money? Make this PoD
Customer avatar
jim M October 06, 2021 10:28 pm UTC
PoD por favor
Customer avatar
Christopher T September 23, 2021 9:32 am UTC
POD, please.
Customer avatar
Travis H July 28, 2021 4:26 am UTC
Does this Cook/Marsh version include the write-up on the town of Threshold, or is that only in the Mentzer edition?
Customer avatar
Joseph H July 07, 2021 11:09 pm UTC
I too request Print On Demand.
Customer avatar
Chris H June 30, 2021 9:11 pm UTC
well there be an errata version of the expert set?
Customer avatar
June 12, 2021 9:36 pm UTC
Absolutely - Print on Demand would be welcome
Customer avatar
Jason S May 26, 2021 9:44 pm UTC
"Please Sir! May I give you money to have a POD please?"
Customer avatar
Matthew S Y April 25, 2021 7:49 pm UTC
Yet another adding my voice to the chorus of "POD, please!"
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Andrew S March 21, 2021 9:55 pm UTC
Customer avatar
S E C March 14, 2021 6:38 pm UTC
If this and it's equivalent Basic book were available POD I would most definitely buy, just for nostalgia as these are the first rulebooks I ever owned and I lost them moving house when I was 20.
I have the pdf's but to hold them and physically turn pages would be so much better
Customer avatar
Stephen R March 08, 2021 10:56 am UTC
Just adding my voice to the requests for this and the B/X Basic book as POD please. Instant buy if it ever happens.
Customer avatar
Donald C February 25, 2021 6:53 pm UTC
Um yes ... Please POD this and the B/X Basic rulebook as well ... I came here today to make that very purchase, stunned they're not POD.
Customer avatar
Daniel S February 24, 2021 5:31 am UTC
Adding my voice to the chorus: POD. Can't imagine why not.
Customer avatar
Adam J February 06, 2021 4:38 am UTC
POD please
Customer avatar
Jeremy H December 29, 2020 3:47 pm UTC
I can't remember, does one need the Red Book as well? Or, is Expert playable on its own?
Customer avatar
Daniel S February 24, 2021 5:31 am UTC
Basic is levels 1-3, Expert 4-... I can't remember. Maybe 14?
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TSR 2015
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File Last Updated:
September 21, 2013
This title was added to our catalog on February 04, 2013.