RPG Review: D&D Expert Rules (1st-3rd Printings)

D&D Expert Rules 1st-3rd Printings
D&D Expert Rules 4th+ Printing

The product I'm reviewing here isn't quite the Expert Set that had the most popularity. The better known version is a heavily revised version with a cover drawn by Larry Elmore (on the right). The version I began with has the Erol Otus cover featuring a wizard observing the scene that was on the cover of the original D&D Basic Rules. Back when Wizards of the Coast offered legal PDF downloads only the 4th+ Printing was made available. I really wish Wizards of the Coast would make a reprint of this version, digital or physical, available.


As has been my habit we'll begin with an overview of what we get in the book. I won't be going in as much detail as I did in my review of the Basic Rules as many portions of this are simply an expansion of what has come before.

Part 1 - Introduction

The Expert Rules begin with a description of what this book covers. It expects that you've got the Basic Rules. It explains how these rules cover 4th through 14th levels of play. It talks about how the Expert Rules include adventures in the wilderness - in the Basic Rules you were typically expected to make a short trip to the dungeon and then return. It also talks about the concept of "name" level", typically 9th (except for poor halflings who only get 8 levels total) upon which your character can build a stronghold. There is also a section on the importance of avoiding adventures when there is too large a gap between levels of characters.

One thing which got my attention was a section dedicated to players who had the original D&D Basic Rules - the blue cover version that was edited by Eric Holmes - it explained the changes in assumptions between that version and the 8th-11th printing version. I didn't have that version so it piqued my curiosity until I was finally able to borrow a copy of the Holmes version from a friend. 

Part 2 - Player Character Information

This section covered levels 4-14 for human classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief) and levels up to 12th (dwarves), 10th (elves), and 8th (halflings). There are some oddities here for people used to other versions of the rules - for example at one level clerics gain two new levels of spell (a time for celebration!) 

What got my most attention was a teaser of what would be in the D&D Companion Rules - something which never really came out, as when it finally did it was for the revised version of the Basic and Expert Rules, not this version. It promised multiple attacks for fighters, new spells for magic-users and clerics, and new thief abilities such as the ability to climb under overhangs, ventriloquism, distractions, etc. I was somewhat curious what would happen to the poor demi-humans. A few years back Jonathan Becker produced a "what if version" of this Companion Rules entitled the B/X Companion. It is an excellent product which I have on my list of review candidates.

Part 3 - Spells

This section was pretty straightforward, with more powerful spells along with rules for reversing spells - for example casting Darkness instead of Light or Cause Light Wounds instead of Cure Light Wounds.

One thing which was rather memorable for me was the quality of the illustrations. Though simple they were quite evocative, showing how powerful the spellcasters were becoming.

Part 4 - The Adventure

This section introduces wilderness adventures. This was my first exposure to hex maps. It has rules for getting lost, evading pursuit in the wilderness, etc. Also it had rules for more advanced hirelings for the characters to employee.

Part 5 - The Encounter

A lot of this section is a reprint of rules from the same section in the Basic Rules. I assume this is because of the differences between the original Blue Box Basic Rules and the later (and then-current) Magenta Box Basic Rules.

There were some additions such as the sequence of events over the course of a day and new options for combat such as combat with lances, flight, etc. 

Also the combat and saving throw tables from the Basic Rules were expanded to 14th level.

Part 6 - Monsters

The monsters section had some interesting additions to the rules. It featured more powerful undead including the first energy-drainers (eek, run!!!) There was an assortment of prehistoric critters. It introduced an assortment of beasts and also giants are present here as well.

As before the illustrations were quite evocative and stay with me to this day. Check out this Erol Otus spectre on the right...

Part 7 - Treasure

This is why we go on adventure darn it! I remember loving this section with some impressive items being introduced - horns of blasting, intelligent swords, staves of wizardry. What fun! 

Part 8 - DM Information

My Future Home
This section has rules for the Dungeon Master - guidelines for creating wilderness environments and base towns. It also had rules for constructing strongholds along with an illustration that made me want to get a castle...

Also included were sections on wandering monsters for the wilderness and some example maps - an introduction to the Grand Duchy of Karameikos and a sample gnome lair. And there was an introduction to hex map symbols that to this day are still used.

Sampling of Hex Symbols

Part 9 - Special Adventures

The final section, not present in the Basic Set, introduced sea-going adventures, with rules for going to sea on various ships. This was quite handy as most of us had as our first adventure a trip to the Isle of Dread (included in all boxed versions of the Expert Set).

Overall Impression

I'm kicking off my Dungeon Crawl Classics game tonight. As I write this I suddenly want to play D&D Basic and Expert...

All kidding aside, coupled with the Basic Rules the D&D Expert Rules gave you a game which could last you for years. It's not a game with rules for every possible scenario but my memories of it are of a game that was a ton of fun. 

There are a few things which aren't quite "right". The biggest to my mind is the limits placed on demi-humans. The level limits begin to come into affect with the Expert Rules. It's not a big deal for dwarves and elves at this point but it seemed fairly crippling for halflings. I always felt a better option would have been to allow demi-humans to advance nearly as high as humans but make their experience costs put them a little behind their human counterparts. In any case it's a fun game and house-ruling for early versions of D&D was not a difficult undertaking...

I also see I noted the art here a lot more than I did in my review of the Basic Rules. For whatever reason the artwork in this set was more memorable for me - even looking at it today it has me wanting to play this game.

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