The original Dungeons & Dragons (White Box / Little Brown Books) was a hit in the mid-70s. But the scattershot game rules spread across 3 books and 4+ supplements could present an barrier for entry for new players.

Original D&D: Where It All Started (The 1975 White Box in photos)

Gary Gygax decided to remedy the problem.

“Organizational work was in progress when correspondence with J. Eric Holmes, professor, author and incidentally a respected neurologist, disclosed that the Good Doctor was interested in undertaking the first stage of the project — the rewriting and editing necessary to extract a beginner’s set of D&D from the basic set and its supplements. The result of his labors is the “Basic Set” of D&D”.

Gary Gygax, Dragon #14, May 1978, Sorcerer’s Scroll

I admire the resulting D&D Basic Set. The Holmes edition is complete in one box, accessible to even the uninitiated. Holmes Basic also serves as an introduction to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, as they are – broadly speaking – compatible.

I got in a nice-looking set in the shop, and took photos.

For those looking for more (much more!) about Holmes Basic, I’d suggest Zenopus Archives. It’s all about the D&D Blue Book: History, Trivia, Printings, Artists, Expansions, Variants, and more.

Holmes Basic includes a 48-page rulebook, Module B1 (or B2), and dice (or randomizer chits)

D&D Basic Set (Blue Book)

1977-1979 … Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson & Eric Holmes (editor) … TSR 1001

Dungeons & Dragons Holmes Basic in the shop

Dungeons & Dragons Basic on eBay

The Rulebook

Gary Gygax waxes poetic about his literary influences, which are listed in detail in Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. Here is Appendix N on the web.
Holmes Basic is explicitly positioned as a springboard to AD&D after character level 3.
The class level chart. I was doing a quick comparison between this table and the AD&D Player’s Handbook classes, and again, mostly a match for level titles and experience point thresholds.
Diagram of Alignments
Art by the great David A. Trampier
Harpies attacking a party. Artist: David C. Sutherland III
Cross Section of dungeon levels
Sample Dungeon Floor Plan
The last page of the book collects relevant reference tables. Caution: The page is perforated, and often missing in used copies.

The Module

Dungeon Module B1: In Search of the Unknown by Mike Carr. B2 – The Keep on the Borderlands is often present instead. Both are introductory modules written to aid new Dungeon Masters.
Inside module cover has the dungeon maps in classic sky blue.
Interesting. I’ve only ever played the later print (brown cover) B1. I didn’t know that the early monochrome cover B1 used Roman numerals to label the rooms.
An illustration of my favorite room in the dungeon, the Room of Pools (see previous photo of the map).
The dungeon of Quasqueton is said to have ties to Rogahn and Zelligar.
In the dungeon room descriptions, monsters and treasure are left to be assigned by the DM from random tables in the back. Caution: These are (unsurprisingly) marked in pencil or ink in many of the used copies I’ve seen.
In early D&D the assumption was that players would bulk up their adventuring party with henchmen / hirelings. I think 5e D&D would benefit immensely from this aspect of old school play.


This particular set has the original TSR “Low Impact” polyhedral dice. They were made from a cheap plastic that will dent and scale away with use.
Some sets instead have a sheet of randomizer chits, intended to be cut into little squares, and blind-drawn as an alternative to dice. It’s not a older-print/later-print thing. TSR would occasionally run out of dice, so these would re-appear during the print runs of Holmes Basic.

Dungeons & Dragons Holmes Basic in the shop

Dungeons & Dragons Basic on eBay

See also: Original D&D: Where It All Started (The 1975 White Box in photos)

Holmes Dungeons & Dragons, ready for the road

D&D’s Iconic Early Red Dragon (1978-81)

Dungeons & Dragons: The Shift in Early Box Formats

OD&D, all together: The 3 books, boxes, plus Greyhawk – Blackmoor – Eldritch Wizardry – Gods, Demi-gods, & Heroes