Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set
Dungeons & Dragons  
D&d original.jpg
Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set rulebook
Author(s) J. Eric Holmes, based upon the original work of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
Genre(s) Role-playing game
Publisher TSR, Inc.
Publication date 1977
Media type Boxed set

The original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set boxed set (TSR 1001) was first published by TSR, Inc. in 1977,[1] and comprised a separate edition of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, distinct from the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, which was initially published in the same year.


1977 printing

The boxed set contained a forty eight page rules book with artwork by David C. Sutherland III, along with a set of polyhedral dice.[2] In 1977, TSR also published the first edition rulebook, to be sold separately.[2] In that same year, Games Workshop (U.K.) published their own version of the rulebook, with a cover by John Blanche, and illustrations by Fangorn.[2] (For a period in 1979, TSR experienced a dice shortage. Basic sets published during this time frame came with two sheets of numbered cutout cardstock chits that functioned in lieu of dice, along with a coupon for ordering dice from TSR.)[3]

The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook was sold either separately or in a boxed set including geomorphs, monster and treasure assortments, and a set of polyhedral dice.[4] The rulebook also included a brief sample dungeon with a full-page map. However, starting with the fourth printing in 1978, the two booklets of maps, encounter tables, and treasure lists were replaced with the module B1 In Search of the Unknown;[2] printings six through eleven (1979–1982) featured the module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands instead.[2]

The rulebook covers characters from level one through three, rules for adventuring in dungeons, and introduces the concepts of the game. This version of the Basic Set incorporates concepts from the Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry supplements.[2] The book suggests that players who want to go beyond third level should move to the AD&D game system.[2]

The rulebook opens with the following description of play:

Each player creates a character or characters who may be dwarves, elves, halflings or human fighting men, magic-users, pious clerics or wily thieves. The characters are then plunged into an adventure in a series of dungeons, tunnels, secret rooms and caverns run by another player: the referee, often called the Dungeon Master. The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure, and frightful perils. As the players engage in game after game their characters grow in power and ability: the magic users learn more magic spells, the thieves increase in cunning and ability, the fighting men, halflings, elves and dwarves, fight with more deadly accuracy and are harder to kill. Soon the adventurers are daring to go deeper and deeper into the dungeons on each game, battling more terrible monsters, and, of course, recovering bigger and more fabulous treasure! The game is limited only by the inventiveness and imagination of the players, and, if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play.[5]

TSR hired outside writer J. Eric Holmes to produce the Basic Set as an introductory version of the Dungeons & Dragons game. The Basic Set collected, organized, and cleaned up the presentation of the essential rules from the original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons boxed set and the Greyhawk supplement into a single booklet. The booklet explained the game's concepts and method of play in terms that made it accessible to new players ages twelve and above who might not be familiar with tabletop miniatures wargaming. Unusual features of the game included an alignment system of five alignments as opposed to the three or nine alignments of the other versions.

The Basic Set was packaged in a larger, more visually attractive box to allow the game to be stocked on common retail shelves, and targeted to toy stores and the general public. It was notable in that it focused on only the first three levels of play, and was intended as a bridge between the original D&D and the AD&D rules, rather than as an introductory version of the game. Although the Basic Set was not compatible with AD&D, players were expected to continue play beyond third level by moving to the AD&D version,[6] which at the time was still forthcoming from Gary Gygax and TSR. Players who exhausted the possibilities of the basic game were directed in that set to switch to the advanced game, although the basic game included many rules and concepts which contradicted comparable ones in the advanced game. Holmes, the editor of the basic game, preferred a lighter tone with more room for personal improvisation, while Gygax, who wrote the advanced game, wanted an expansive game with rulings on any conceivable situation which might come up during play, a document which could be used to arbitrate disputes at tournaments.[2] This Basic Set was very popular and allowed many to discover and experience the D&D game for the first time.[citation needed]

1981 revision

After the release of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, the Basic Set saw a major revision in 1981 by editor Tom Moldvay.[2] The revised version of the set included a larger, sixty four page rule book with a red border and color cover by Erol Otus, the module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, six polyhedral dice,[2] and a marking crayon.[3] Cardboard chits were briefly included in place of dice when TSR's source dried up.[2] The cover of the set included the tagline "Fantasy Adventure Game" under the Dungeons & Dragons logo.

This edition drew solely on the original D&D boxed set for inspiration, rather than including material from its supplements.[2] The game was not brought in line with AD&D but instead was made even more different, and thus the basic Dungeons & Dragons game became a separate and distinct product from TSR’s flagship game AD&D. This game was promoted as a continuation of the tone of original D&D, while AD&D was an advancement of the mechanics.[7] Although simpler overall than the Advanced game, it included rules for some situations not covered in AD&D.

With the revision of the Basic Set, discrete sets of increasing power levels began to be introduced as expansions for the basic game.[8] The Moldvay Basic Set was immediately followed by the accompanying release of an Expert Set edited by Dave Cook, supporting character levels four through fourteen.[9] The Basic Set led players into the Expert Set past third level.[2] The revised rules were visually distinct from the original rules: The Holmes booklet had a blueprint-style pale blue cover, while the Moldvay Basic Set and Cook Expert Set booklets had bright red and blue covers, respectively.[10]

1983 revision

In 1983, the Basic Set was revised again, this time by Frank Mentzer, and redubbed Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules. The set included a sixty four page book for players, a forty eight page book for Dungeon Masters, six dice,[2] and in sets in which the dice were not painted, a crayon.[3] The 1983 revision was packaged in a distinctive red box, and featured cover art by Larry Elmore.[2] Between 1983 and 1985, the system was revised and expanded by Mentzer as a series of five boxed sets, including the Basic Rules (red cover), Expert Rules (blue),[11] Companion Rules (teal, supporting levels fifteen through twenty five),[12] Master Rules (black, supporting levels twenty six through thirty six),[13] and Immortal Rules (gold, supporting Immortals—characters who had transcended levels).[14] Instead of an adventure module, the Basic Set rulebooks included a solo scenario and an introductory scenario to be run by the Dungeon Master.[2]

The 10th Anniversary Dungeons & Dragons Collector's Set boxed set, published by TSR in 1984, included the rulebooks from the Basic, Expert, and Companion sets; modules AC2, AC3, B1, B2, and M1 Blizzard Pass; Player Character Record Sheets; and dice. This set was limited to a thousand copies, and was sold by mail and at GenCon 17.[2]:147

A version of the Basic Set was printed in Australia by Jedko Games in 1987.[2]


  1. ^ "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wizards.com%2Fdnd%2FDnDArchives_History.asp&date=2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. pp. 130–131. ISBN 0-87975-653-5. 
  3. ^ a b c "D&D Basic Set". The Acaeum. http://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/setpages/basic.html. Retrieved 2011-10-08. 
  4. ^ Turnbull, Don (Dec/January 1978–1979). "Open Box: Players Handbook" (review). White Dwarf (Games Workshop) (10): 17. 
  5. ^ Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (rulebook) 1977, 5
  6. ^ Gygax & Arneson (1977) p. 6. states "...experience levels that high are not discussed in this book and the reader is referred to the more complete rules in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS"
  7. ^ Gygax, Gary (June 1979). "D&D, AD&D and Gaming". The Dragon #26 (TSR) III (12): 29–30. ISSN 1062-2101. 
  8. ^ Gygax, Gary (December 1978). "Dungeons & Dragons: What Is It and Where Is It Going?". The Dragon #21 (TSR) III (8): 29–30. ISSN 1062-2101. 
  9. ^ Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by Dave Cook. Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set (TSR, 1981)
  10. ^ "D&D Clones!". White Dwarf (Games Workshop) (24): 29. April/May 1981. 
  11. ^ Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by Frank Mentzer. Dungeons & Dragons Set 2: Expert Rules (TSR, 1983)
  12. ^ Mentzer, Frank. Dungeons & Dragons Set 3: Companion Rules (TSR, 1984)
  13. ^ Gygax, Gary, Frank Mentzer. Dungeons & Dragons Set 4: Master Rules (TSR, 1985)
  14. ^ Mentzer, Frank. Dungeons & Dragons Set 5: Immortal Rules (TSR, 1986)

Reviews: Different Worlds #12 (1981), Different Worlds #34 (1984), Dragon #84 (1984)

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