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Friday, September 29, 2023

1981 D&D Expert Set now available in POD

Ten years ago, I wrote about the newly released PDF of the 1981 D&D Expert Rules at DriveThruRPGNow, they've finally added a Print-On-Demand (POD) option for both the Expert Rules and the 1981 verison of the Isle of Dread, the two main components of the 1981 Expert Set (other than dice & crayon). Find them here at DriveThruRPG:

It's not widely known, but production on these rules started out as an expansion to the Holmes Basic rules. In March 1980, in Dragon #35, Gygax revealed that:
"Design is now hard at work on the second boxed D&D game, the Expert Set. It will take players through at least 12th level of experience, tie in the best of the “Original” material, and actually add some new classes, spells, magic, monsters and so on."

In context, this appeared to be an Expert Set that would complement the Holmes Basic Set. A late 1980 Gateway to Adventure catalog shows the Holmes Basic set side-by-side with an unpictured but soon-to-be-released Expert Set.

However, when the Expert Set finally arrived in 1981, it was instead accompanied by an entirely new Basic Set, which replaced the Holmes Basic set (although TSR continued to sell old stock of the rulebook through the Mail Order Hobby Shop until at least 1986). To aid owners of the original Basic rules who did not wish to buy the new Basic rulebook or set, the Cook/Marsh rulebook contained a section on page X4 titled "Using D&D Expert with an early edition of D&D Basic" which began "If your copy of the D&D Basic rules has a blue cover with a picture of a dragon on it, then this section is for you". This section then provides a summary of the "new material found in the 2nd edition of D&D Basic".

Over on the Holmes Ref page, I have a reference sheet with character info bridging Holmes with Cook/Marsh up to sixth level, titled "Holmes Basic / Cook Expert Reference Sheet v1.0".


  1. I quickly went to it and the basic, but found out they have yet to make Basic POD. Ones that happen I will get them, but I fail to see the point till then. Strange choice from WotC.

    1. Yeah, it's sure a strange decision on their part! Although because it includes the reference tables from Basic, you could run a decent game with just this book. Just missing the low level spells/monsters/treasure, and you could probably mash all the info from those into a single reference table.

  2. Nice writeup! It is not really surprising, but nice to get it confirmed. TSR seemed to always consider all of the non-AD&D D&D games the same game really even though there are differences for each iteration.

  3. Cap at 12. That's interesting. I'm now thinking there were a bunch of people who ended up with Holmes Basic, Cook Expert, and Mentzer Companion. Did anyone else think that the Companion box ought to have come with a Companion module? I did when I got mine.

    Someone might be thinking of creating a Holmes Expert set of rules which cap at 12, but then I think we basically already have that between what Cook gave us, Blueholme, and the Zenopus Archives tables for levels above 3 such as Holmes Basic + OD&D Reference Sheet v1.0.

    If you were to make this go to level 12, that'd be easy to figure out I'm sure. Plus, since the two Holmes Ref Compilations list sixth level spells but the maximum allowed to characters in both Holmes Ref documents only list up to 5th level spells...unless that was a error with spacing and the number of 6th levels spells is hidden by the section to the right.