Forest almost forged an early lead when Henri Lansbury found himself in space, but the ex-Arsenal midfielder hit a timid effort that Lee Grant was able to gather comfortably.
Derby started well as Johnny Russell chipped a free kick over the Forest wall and the ball drifted narrowly wide of the Reds goal, with Karl Darlow scrambling.
Forest suffered an early blow when they lost injury-prone captain Chris Cohen to a knee problem early on.
Stuart Pearce's men enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half and the pace of Mikhail Antonio was proving problematic for Stoke City loanee Ryan Shotton, who was perhaps a tad fortunate to avoid a booking when he scythed the attacker down midway through the opening period.
County remained on terms and their best chance of note came from a Shotton cross that reached Russell, but the midfielder's header was deflected to safety.
Forest's hopes were further dashed when Andy Reid pulled up with an injury before half-time and was withdrawn.
In the 45th minute, the home side's best opportunity fell to Britt Assombalonga, but the target man failed to keep a header down following a pinpoint free kick from Lansbury.
Moments later, Robert Tesche unleashed a speculative effort from distance that had Grant stretching across his goal as the ball drifted wide.
The Reds can extend their lead at the top of the Championship to three points with victory.