By now, I probably don't need to mention that my introduction to the hobby came by way of the Dungeons & Dragons basic set edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes. That "Blue Book" has probably influenced me more than other RPG product I've ever owned, shaping my sense of what both D&D and roleplaying games are. Since I started this blog, I've met a lot of other gamers like myself, which is comforting. For the longest time, it seemed as if my friends and I were the only gamers who ever started with the Blue Book, everyone else seemingly having started with either the LBBs or one of the later, mass market editions of the game (or straight into AD&D).
The Blue Book exists in a weird place historically. Consequently, there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Perhaps the biggest one is that it was written as an introduction to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I've seen that suggestion made in quite a few places, often by people who ought to know better. To be fair, it's a position I myself believed for a long time, mostly because there are sections in the Blue Book that strongly imply this relationship. Moreover, the Blue Book only covers levels 1-3 and there were no follow-up products to it, so what exactly is the "upgrade path" after one is done with Holmes? For most people I knew, my friends and I included, it was AD&D.
But it was AD&D only because that was how TSR chose to market the game. It's clear that Holmes himself thought of the Blue Book as a revision of OD&D. Those references to AD&D in the text were, for the most part, later additions made by someone at TSR, even when their addition made the text more muddled and unclear. The LBBs and supplements were still being printed by TSR into the early 1980s, but they weren't stocked in most of the places where I purchased RPG products back in the day. So, the odds that most readers of Holmes would have looked to the LBBs as their next logical purchase were slim. I know I soon bought both the AD&D Monster Manual and Players Handbook as supplements to my Holmes game, because they were both readily available, while OD&D was not.
A close examination of Holmes's text quickly reveals that, despite the mentions of the then-largely unwritten AD&D -- only the Monster Manual was available, I believe -- it really does have more in common with the LBBs than not. There are some obvious deviations, but a great many of them are in fact Holmes's own inventions rather than "previews" of AD&D. Furthermore, Holmes draws heavily on the exact words found in the LBBs (and Greyhawk), though sometimes simplified for the purposes of clarity and concision. The Blue Book is deeply rooted in OD&D; to call it an introduction to AD&D is a distortion, even if it's a forgivable one.
Though most strongly connected to OD&D, it's not identical to it. The basic set also predates AD&D, even if it includes, thanks to TSR, a few nods toward that incipient ruleset. And then there are Holmes's own little idiosyncratic additions, like Dexterity-based initiative and a magic missile that requires a roll to hit. The Blue Book is the product of a strange alchemy, a composite edition that I increasingly think ought to be viewed as on its own merits rather than either as a simplification of OD&D or an introduction to AD&D. I mean, both those approaches have merit (the OD&D connection moreso than the AD&D), but neither really does the Blue Book justice.
In thinking about this lately, I've started to realize that my attachment to the Blue Book probably explains a lot about my place within the larger D&D community. I feel a lot of kinship with the OD&D folks, but I'm not one of them. I also appreciate the virtues of AD&D, but I've never been able to get on board with it fully, even back in the days when I was supposedly playing "AD&D." I have admiration for Moldvay, but I've never really played it. Anything after that is the "kid's stuff" I wouldn't touch then and have even less time for now. So, like the Blue Book itself, I sometimes feel like I occupy this weird space between the cracks in the history of Dungeons & Dragons. At least I know I'm not alone.