Tuesday, July 16, 2013
My answer is no - and for all the best reasons.
OD&D was never intended to be a "complete" game. It had only the bare sketch of a combat system, and simple rules for dungeon and wilderness exploration. The three booklets barely reach a hundred pages, and spend a great deal of their time detailing the fantastic, from magic spells to aerial combat. It ends with the exhortation - "Why have us do any more of your imagining for you?" More and more I think that's a philosophy.
I've been looking at versions of D&D because I want to sit down and design a megadungeon on the lines I have been discussing here lately. That's mostly meant B/X D&D and Rules Cyclopedia, both of which I find I like. Particularly the Rules Cyclopedia does some nice things in terms of finishing the OD&D encounter charts - the ones in chapter 7 of that volume echo back to the ones I consulted in building my OD&D-based setting.
Yet after all, I still find myself compelled by OD&D for two reasons. First, its tables and charts and rules are free of dozens of revisions and sanitizations; they are methods for resolving things that were close to actual play and game design. Second, it's not complete. It doesn't have the neat little step-by-step methods of doing everything that Moldvay, Cook and Marsh worked out in their Basic and Expert books. Ultimately that stuff should be training wheels for the referee, to be taken off when the skill is learned.
The filled-out nature of B/X and RC D&D is something that I think manages to polish out a lot of the rough appeal of OD&D. I think it's clear when you consider the elf. OD&D had rules that don't really quite jibe with each other about the elf acting as a magic-user or a fighter depending on the adventure, which some people do straight up and others as a kind of multiclass, and so on. B/X solved it by making "elf" a class and requiring 4000 XP to get to second level. There's an elegance there but without charm. I don't really care for race as class, and prefer OD&D's flexible ambiguity.
One quote I like in Dune is: "Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife - chopping off what's incomplete and saying: 'Now it's complete because it's ended here.'" OD&D didn't express everything Gary and Dave wanted to put forward in a ruleset; but the need to get the game published forced them to move and put it out as it was.
In a way, that makes OD&D as complete as it should be. It's a complete game because it was chopped off where it needed to be, and what was essential was there.