Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules (1983)

It doesn’t get much more classic than the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules. I’ve no way of knowing for sure, but I would bet that the red box was the high water mark for TSR’s penetration into the mainstream marketplace. If you had even the most passing interest in D&D in the 80s, you probably had a red box.

This is the third iteration of the basic rules, revised this time by Frank Mentzer, that hit shelves in 1983. It focuses on, well, the very basics of D&D – characters, dungeons, monsters, treasures. It is a lean system, easy for beginners but with depth that should satisfy veterans. It taught through easy-to-follow solo adventures, introducing us to the nefarious wizard Bargle and the doomed cleric Aleena (I suspect a vast majority of young nerd boys have complicated feelings about her). There’s also a rust monster, just so players get used to the idea of asshole DMs early on in their development.

Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley deliver iconic art here. If there is a platonic ideal for fantasy roleplaying art, it can be found in the illustrations of the D&D rules boxes of the mid-80s. Is there an image that more plainly sums up the D&D experience than the one of the fighter, lantern held high, approaching the dungeon entrance? Both artists had long, interesting careers working with TSR but I love their work here more the most.

What I love most of all about the Basic Rules is the inside cover of the DM’s book which contains a key for dungeon mapping. What an amazing thing! Three columns of symbols from which you can make worlds. Encountering that as a kid was a revelation. There’s nothing better than drawing maps for D&D…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *