One aspect I love about the RPG hobby is that I always have something new to learn. And, yes, sometimes I learn things that the experts already know.

I did know that the BECMI D&D Expert Sets went through some graphical changes on the boxes to bring them in line with the subsequent Companion, Master, and Immortals sets.

BECMI = Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortals. The revised, unified edition of Dungeons & Dragons (see my reference site page). Also known as Mentzer edition after Frank Mentzer, who led this massive reorganization, revision, and expansion of the earlier Moldvay D&D rules.

The earliest date I’ve seen for this change is a box stamp inside the lid of 7/87, meaning July 1987 of course. This switch probably happened earlier; I only started paying attention to these box codes in the last few years.

BECMI Expert Set lids
“Expert Rules Set 2.” Later printings switched to “Set 2: Expert Rules”
BECMI Expert Set lids bottom
Later printing added a UPC bar code. And… the crayon disappeared!

The Rulebook printings

What I didn’t know was that the Expert Rulebook itself underwent some important changes. But they’re not immediately obvious.

The Acaeum calls the updated set the 5th printing. About the book, the TSR reference site notes:

“A few changes, notably the saving-throw matrices and Thief Skills progression table brought in-line with the Companion and later sets.”

I didn’t see much online that expanded on that. So I put the two books side-by-side, and began flipping pages.

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Nothing distinguishes the covers, except a color shift perhaps.
BECMI D&D Expert Rulebook printings comp
Inside cover is your edition – printing – announcement… or not (circled in Red). All books, however, erroneously claim to be First Printing – July 1983 in the credits.
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“New Edition!
This edition has been altered to be totally compatible with the D&D Companion character levels—including adjustments to the combat, saving throw and spell acquisition tables—as well as a new Thieves Ability table.”

Comparisons between the Rulebook printings

Here is what I saw, with the caveat that it would have been easy for me to miss a detail, so let me know if that’s the case.

1st print will be on Left or Top of photo.

2nd print will be on Right or Bottom of photo.


 

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Cleric Saving Throws got a slight adjustment
Fighter Saving Throws coll
Likewise with the Fighters
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Magic-User Spells/Level
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Thieves saw the greatest change. You could say they got “nerfed”.
Dwarf & Elf Svaing Throws
Dwarf and Elf Saving Throws. Elves’ survival rate went up dramatically.
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Elves got deeper spell slots too.
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Halflings got better saving throws. And making “Sheriff” became a little more difficult.
Construction Costs Table coll
Construction Cost Table got some much-needed clarity.
Magical Treasures coll
Elemental Devices got a note
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Combat. Magic-users are no longer (erroneously) the best warriors in the party.
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Character Hit Rolls. Slight adjustment for all those times you’re trying to hit AC -9

And that’s what I saw. Perhaps there’s more.

I do believe the PDF at DriveThruRPG is the updated version. Let me know if I’m wrong. (EDIT: I’ve been told the PDF is the 1st printing. See comments below.)

EDIT: Discussion over at Acaeum: There was an Expert errata sheet (Link to page at Tome of Treasures) dated 1985 with code 1012XXX0501 added to some transition sets.