My first introduction to Dungeons & Dragons was 1982 if memory serves. I’d newly arrived at middle school. In addition to the usual new experiences of intermediate school, you can add RPGs.

During lunch, I noticed a lot of students occupying a glassed-in conference room table. They were of course playing Dungeons & Dragons. Soon my friends and I were playing the game. We started with the Pink and Blue Boxes, what we now call B/X edition D&D.

My friend’s older brother played from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons hardcovers, and it wasn’t long before we were mixing D&D and AD&D with careless abandon.

Got nice Basic and Expert sets in the shop, so I decided to go through them together, see how they visually parallel one another. [spoiler: a lot!]

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set

1980, 1981 … Tom Moldvay … TSR 1011 (box), TSR 2014 (book, 64 pages) … ISBN 0394518349 (box) / 0935696482 (book)

Check Wayne’s Books Inventory

eBay | Amazon (box) | Amazon (book) | DriveThruRPG (PDF $5)

Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set

1980, 1981 … TSR 1012 … David Cook … TSR 1012 (box), TSR 2015 (book, 64 pages) … ISBN 0935696296

Check Wayne’s Books Inventory

eBay | Amazon (box) | Amazon (book) | DriveThruRPG (PDF $5)


Rule Books

The book art is the same as the respective box art. It’s brilliant of course – both pieces from art legend Erol Otus. The Basic dungeon battle scene… is being surveiled by a scrying Expert wizard.

What I never noticed before, was that the Expert cover concept originated with fellow TSR artist Jeff Dee, as noted in the Credits.

The Credits in Red Basic are in the back.

In the Expert Book, all the contributors got promoted, the Credits now found inside the front cover.

The Expert Book closely follows the format of the Basic Book. Compare their respective Table of Contents. Mostly the same! Basic features an Inspirational Source Material section; it’s like Appendix N for B/X D&D.

Why Blue text for Basic, and Black for Expert? Good question! I dunno. Plot twist: The 1st print of the Basic Book had black text! Then they went to Blue.

The Rulebooks echo each other strongly inside, differing only when their focus calls for it: Beginning characters in Dungeons vs. Higher-level characters exploring Wilderness. Basic is levels 1-3, Expert goes up though character level 14.

Curiously, the Basic Book refers to a Companion volume after Expert!

This Companion book never actually happened for the B/X edition. A Companion set did release in the BECMI era of course. What form would a B/X Companion have taken? Here’s one popular answer:

Adventure Modules

Both box sets came bundled with an adventure module, the now famous Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread. They echo each other less than the rulebooks. Borderlands was written by Gary Gygax to ease new Dungeon Masters into the game, with a detailed outpost, and nearby monster complex. Dread leaned into the Wilderness adventuring of the Expert rules, with sea adventuring leading to a lost island hexcrawl.


The classic color-your-own-dice. Six polyhedral dice and crayon in a bag. Dice are seldom present in used sets these days.


Also not frequently seen are the 1981 TSR Gateway to Adventure catalogs.

Turns out, even the Catalogs had different printings! These sets have different page 9s. More at my prior post:

See Also: