Awhile back I reviewed the Basic Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I figured that if I’m gonna review the Basic book, I might as well review its accompanying Expert book! I don’t remember exactly what all the Basic book included, and with reading so many other retroclones and RPGs I figured I’d take the perspective of someone who’s played Basic D&D a few times but not exclusively.
The Expert book makes it very clear that the Basic book is required to play. While there’s doubtless some repeated info and consolidated tables, it’s not hard to see this is an expansion, not a whole-new bigger volume.
One thing I liked reading was that the Expert book is intended to be used for outdoor adventures, not merely deeper and more difficult dungeon adventures. This book intended for players to travel more, and to even setup their own settlements and castles! While I’m sure many groups did just that, from what I’ve read and seen online it seems that dungeon adventures continued to be the norm.
Finally, there is a small section devoted to those who wish to use the Expert book with the earlier 1977 edition of the Basic game (commonly referred to as Holmes basic). This section could also apply if you use a retroclone such as Blueholme Prentice rules, which I reviewed a couple years ago. Would I personally use a retroclone along with Expert, rather than Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy RPG? Probably not, but options are always nice.
Player Character Information
Here we get the same tables for all of the available classes, but now expanded to anywhere from level 8 (Halflings) to 14 (for all Human classes). I keep forgetting this game has class titles, and while most are kinda cool there’s one that’s completely ridiculous: an 8th-level Halfling has the title of Sheriff. Yep.
There’s a small section detailing level beyond 14, only available to the Human classes (because a Dwarf or Elf could never advance further, even though they live for centuries!). While this was intended for the planned third expanded rule-set, I guess it’s nice to see here. Personally I think going beyond the levels in Expert would be boring and devolve into a numbers game with excessive combat (which is indeed what has become more popular with later editions).
Finally we have a table and explanation for equipment. Is it the exact same as the one in Basic or are there new items? I have no idea and it doesn’t say.
Here we have the spells available for the Cleric, Elf, and Magic-User. While the tables lists all available spells for each spell level, the descriptions are only for the new spells in this book. Nothing really stands out as new or unique.
While this section re-iterates some of the things from the Basic book, it focuses on outdoor adventures, and describes most if not all the things a DM will have to consider in planning such an adventure or full-blown campaign. Travel and mapping are just as important as in a dungeon, but there’s also the possibility of getting lost or even running out of supplies; again, this can happen in a dungeon, but it can be more likely and more dangerous outdoors. Along with travel by sea we now get some information on travel by air. This may seem a little extravagant or maybe even excessive, but I think it could be used sparingly in a neat adventure setup or intermission. This section ends with additional specialists and mercenaries, which can become more important as the PCs continue to level up as well as accumulate more money.
Similar to the previous section, this one covers much of the same ground as in the Basic book, adding on a few needed notes and rules for higher-level and outdoor adventures. Aside from the attack tables expanded to cover higher levels (and an interesting side-note, there’s not a separate entry for each and every level, they’re grouped in chunks and this means far less number-crunching).
With higher levels and outdoor adventures comes more and tougher monsters for the PCs to fight. There’s a decent number of new entries, with a few favorites of mine included: Blink Dogs, Golems, Mummies, Treants (though in my games they’d be either allies or neutral), and Vampires.
More goodies! I honestly can’t think of anything else to add here…
Dungeon Master Information
Just like the same section in the Basic book, there’s a lot of great information and tables here. There’s some brief re-stated info for designing a dungeon, but now it includes info for higher-level monsters, treasure, etc. Alongside that is now a section on designing a wilderness area. There is also a section on designing castles, strongholds, and hideouts. I personally don’t know if these would matter much in my games, but I could certainly include them in a potential adventure. Just like the Basic book had a sample map and the symbols needed for a dungeon map, at the end of this section is a sample wilderness map and symbols to use. This is STILL something I haven’t seen in any OSR game, and it’s infuriating to me as it’s something needed, not just for those new to RPGs.
This very short 2-page section should have been named “Adventures at Sea”, as that is what’s covered. What about air travel that’s mentioned earlier? Anyways, here there are some tables and information on weather, encounters, and combat. I feel this section is unnecessary, as the information could have been folded into the previous sections.
At the end of my review of the Basic book, I stated that I was pretty pleased with the game and it would be difficult to choose one of the OSR clones over the real thing. Now that I’ve taken some time to look over the Expert book, do I still feel the same? I do like what Expert includes, and that it follows the same layout and order as the Basic book. But the fact remains that I would still have to consolidate the pages together, whether digitally or on paper, and even then there could still be quite a few things duplicated, moved, or missing. I will always respect the work that Dave Cook and Steve Marsh did, along with Tom Moldvay’s work on the Basic book. But with several outstanding OSR games available (and that’s assuming I’d want to play a D20-based game), it’s just too easy to pick up and use one of those instead.