This is the 1983 edition of the D&D Basic Set Player's Manual, part of the "BECMI edition" Red Box Set.
The D&D Basic Rules Set (1983) by Frank Mentzer was the third and final iteration of the boxed Basic Rules for Basic D&D. It was released in summer 1983.
The Evolution of Basic D&D. By 1983, Basic D&D had gone through two major editions. The first was edited by J. Eric Holmes (1977) and was essentially an introductory set for the original D&D game (1975). The second was edited by Tom Moldvay (1981); it was the first truly standalone version of Basic D&D, and the start of the short-lived (but well-known) "B/X" edition.
Frank Mentzer's version of Basic D&D, which would come to be called the BECMI edition (1983-86), was thus the third edition - or fourth, if you count original D&D as part of the sequence of games. BECMI would also be the most long-lived edition of Basic D&D, lasting almost eight years from the publication of the this Basic Set until it was superseded by The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game (1991) and the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991).
A New Introductory Game. Mentzer claimed that the main reason behind this new edition of Basic D&D was that previous versions "were not 'revised', merely 'reorganized.'" He clearly wasn't talking about the mechanics, which demonstrably had been revised in Moldvay's version of Basic D&D, but instead how the game and its rules were structured. Mentzer's version of Basic D&D thus made some large changes to how the game was taught and presented.
Menzter's first two goals for the new Basic D&D were to make the game approachable by beginners and to make it learnable from the rules. Mentzer's Basic Set is thus laid out almost as a tutorial, with new rules and concepts being introduced to players very carefully; the rules about GMing are then introduced only after all of the basic player concepts have been discussed.
Mentzer also had three general goals for the new Basic D&D: it should be fun, playable, and true (i.e., to the spirit of D&D).
A New Art Design. Mentzer's Basic D&D took advantage of the new "Product Finishing" Department at TSR, whose goal was to make TSR's books look as good as possible. You can best see their work through the upgrades to the trade dress of D&D that occurred in 1983. However, it's also very obvious in the Menzter Basic D&D, which is full of attractive graphic design (for the era), as well as artwork that's all by iconic D&D artists Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.
Color-Coding the Boxes. Some people like to classify the D&D boxes by color. This is thus the "Red Box," to differentiate it from the "Magenta Box" edition, which was the previous edition edited by Moldvay.
New Adventures. The new Basic Set was the first D&D rule set to include a solo adventure, intended to make it easier for a player to learn the game even if he didn't know the rules yet. This was just TSR's second stab at a solo adventure for D&D, following M1: "Blizzard Pass" (1983), which was published earlier in the year. Of course, it wasn't a first for the industry; that was Buffalo Castle (1976) for Tunnels & Trolls (1975), published a full seven years earlier.
Mentzer's Basic Set also included a GM adventure that was meant to be an introduction to and tutorial for the rule system.
TSR's new tactic of trying to teach the game via a rulebook that acted as a tutorial and which contained carefully crafted teaching adventures was a technique that was very popular in roleplaying at the time. Yaquinto (1982-83) and Pacesetter (1984) were two other companies that pushed hard on the same idea.
Goodbye to the Keep. The expansion of the Basic Set into two rulebooks meant that something else had to go... and that something else was B2: "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1979), the adventure that had been packaged with Basic D&D since around December 1979. It was the end of an era for TSR's best-selling adventure, which thereafter faded away; the Acaeum reports that its seventh and final printing occurred in 1983, the same year that Mentzer's Basic Set was published.
About the Creators. Frank Mentzer was one of the star creators at TSR in the early to mid-80s, working closely with Francois Marcela-Froideval and Gary Gygax on the most important rulebooks for D&D. Mentzer took total control of Basic D&D around 1982 when Gygax approved the BECMI project, and would remain in that position through his work on the Immortals Set (1986).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.