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B/X Basic Rulebook (TSR2014)

Hit Dice: 5/5

B/X D&D is, far and away, my favorite D&D variant. The rules are simple enough to stay out of the way, and the text is light enough that you can easily find the information you're looking for in the rare instance that you do have to look something up.

B/X D&D is comprised of two 64-page booklets. This first one is the “B” (Basic) booklet. We'll review the "X" (eXpert) booklet later.

To understand what we mean by “B/X D&D”, some readers may require a short history lesson. There are several different version of Basic D&D. The very first one is called “Holmes” D&D. This is the second incarnation of Basic D&D, often called “B/X” or “Moldvay/Cook”. It was followed by the 5-booklet “BECMI” or “Mentzer” set, and then by the “RC” or “Rules Cyclopedia”, which is essentially a cleaned up hardcover compilation of the first four booklets of the BECMI set.

Of the two booklets in the B/X set, this first “Basic” booklet takes characters up to level 3 (the proceeding “Expert” book takes them on up to level 14). This book pretty much just provides dungeon adventures, character creation, basic combat, monsters, and loot. Wilderness adventures and stronghold building (as well as more spells, monsters, treasures, etc) are added on in the “Expert” booklet. There was supposed to be a third “Companion” book as well, pushing character levels past 14, but it never came out before B/X was replaced by BECMI. But even though the official TSR B/X “Companion” booklets was never finished, there is a third-party “B/X Companion”, written by a fellow named “Blackrazor”, which “finishes” the set. I find that my players seldom exceed level 14, though, so that book isn't really needed, and B/X can be considered complete as-is without it.

Although I don't like the Erol Otus art in the B/X set as much as the Elmore art in the BECMI set and the very cool interior artwork of the RC, I much prefer the presentation, conciseness, and general flavor of the B/X set over that of BECMI. However, the text font is very ugly and sometimes distracting.

“Basic” D&D, both B/X and BECMI/RC, mash the non-human character races into a combined race/class. “Elves” are all Fighter/MUs, Dwarves are all Fighter-types, and the Halflings are all outdoorsy Fighter-types. This fills non-human PCs with a sort of boring-sameness, but the separate race/class is easily grafted in from AD&D.

The thief abilities in B/X D&D are only spread over 14 levels (instead of 36 as in BECMI). As a result, B/X thieves kind of keep up with the rest of the party, whereas those in BECMI tend to lag way behind and be rather “broken”.

All in all, I love B/X D&D. When house rules are cherry-picked from AD&D and BECMI/RC (namely AD&D's separate race and class, and RC's expanded spell list, treasure tables, and monsters, it approaches my ideal D&D experience. Buy a PDF from DriveThruRPG, print out actual rules (excluding the needless “What is D&D” and “Example of Play” sections), put it in a binder, and you might just have the most compact old-school D&D experience possible. Then once your characters reach level 3, do the same with the “Expert” booklet, and adventure onwards!


  • The presentation is much more concise than the proceeding BECMI set.
  • Simple rules stay out of the way during play.
  • Better thief ability spread than in BECMI.


  • Ugly text font.
  • Combined Race/Class.


ezze, 2016/10/05 02:56
You might like the basicfantasy.org project. It's essentially a bx/dnd retroclone that uses straight AC, classes separated by races, and some other few minor fixes.
Prespos, 2016/09/18 14:12
Excellent review && excellent format.

I started out with BX back in 82, and, i would have to say that it is, prehaps, the best intro to DUNGEONS && DRAGONS gaming.
(I'd say BX if one is part of a group, and, BECMI if one is on one's own).

The fact that BX is not kept in print is a crime. :(

Even though I tend to specialize in 1e, I heartily attest to the awesomeness of BX!

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tsrreviews/tsr2014_bx_basic.txt · Last modified: 2016/10/02 08:19 by lee

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