Perhaps one of the most infamous editorials Gary Gygax ever penned was published in the June 1979 issue of The Dragon. Along with the much later (November 1982) -- and probably far more infamous -- "Poker, Chess, and the AD&D System," this editorial was written by "TSR Gary," which is the name I give to one particular persona of Ernest Gary Gygax. TSR Gary was the persona whose sole purpose was the relentless -- and often shameless -- promotion of TSR's corporate interests above all else, including common sense and, occasionally, truth. In the two aforementioned articles, TSR Gary is in fine form, arguing not only that Dungeons & Dragons reaches its perfect form in AD&D but also that any deviation from that perfect form is a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance. TSR Gary's efforts even go so far as to dub OD&D a "non-game" and bearing as little similarity to AD&D as OD&D's imitators bore to it.
TSR Gary's disingenuousness aside, I mention the June 1979 article because, in it, Gygax explains why he believes AD&D was necessary for the good of the game. One of his most interesting points is that "The target audience to which we thought D&D would appeal was principally the same as that of historical wargames in general and military miniatures in particular." He goes on to explain that that assumption was "a bit off target" and, consequently, there was a need for a new roleplaying game that "addresses itself to a broad audience of hundreds of thousands of people—wargamers, game hobbyists, science fiction and fantasy fans,
those who have never read fantasy fiction or played strategy games, young and old, male and female." In short, TSR Gary claims that AD&D is necessary, because it will be more accessible to a wider audience of people than that stodgy old non-game OD&D, which was written for a more narrow audience.
I could quibble at some length about Gygax's points, even his basic one, but what's more immediately interesting to me is the implication that, in its original conception, OD&D was too narrow in its intended audience. Back at the beginning, the people who picked up and played OD&D all shared a common "culture," one rooted simultaneously in wargaming (and, specifically, the wargaming of the late 60s/early 70s) and in pulp fantasy literature. You'll often hear younger gamers who claim, upon reading OD&D for the first time, that the game's rules are both incomplete and don't support the style of fantasy people like me claim they do. That's because, to read OD&D out of its proper cultural context is to misunderstand it. The guys who bought those little brown books simply got it, because OD&D was a product of their culture. They didn't need to be told how to make the rules work or how they supported pulp fantasy gameplay. Those things were givens, by and large.
That's not to say there were no disagreements or misunderstandings. Even a cursory reading of fanzines from the period will suggest otherwise. However, what's absolutely essential is the realization that OD&D arose out of a particular culture and most of its supposed "deficiencies" are only deficiencies to people not steeped in that culture. The best analogy I can think of is slang. Non-native speakers of a language often have difficulty with non-standard language that native speakers simply understand without any trouble. OD&D is written in a kind of slang -- the jargon of early 70s fantasy wargaming. It doesn't explain a lot, because Gygax and Arneson never expected that anyone outside the culture would read it. There was thus no need for explaining that, in this context, "bad" means "good," so to speak.
Once D&D expanded beyond its original audience, the game's intentions and focus became problematic. Gygax is partially to blame for this. Despite his aforementioned claim that OD&D had a specific target audience in mind, I think he also suspected that the game might be able to attract players other than that audience. That's part of the reason why he inserted Tolkien references into the game, alongside those from Burroughs. At the time, The Lord of the Rings was a huge hit in fantasy fandom. Gygax later claimed, and I believe his claim, that the game wasn't much influenced by Tolkien and the references were (mostly) an attempt to connect the game to the then-faddish interest in the Professor's works.
The plan certainly worked and OD&D did quickly become popular beyond its target audience. But with that popularity came frustration. If you read early issues of The Dragon, Gygax sometimes seems almost apoplectic in his attempts to explain that, no, Dungeons & Dragons was never intended to simulate Tolkien's world, since he didn't in fact care much for it himself. (I believe that Dave Arneson was in fact much more strongly influenced by Tolkien and, weirdly, Bob Bledsaw's Wilderlands began as a homebrew Middle Earth campaign -- just look at its name) By that point, though, the damage had been done and what D&D was about no longer lay in the hands of Gygax; it had acquired a life of its own and that life included not just Tolkien but other kinds of non-pulp fantasy. In short, the original vision for D&D didn't long survive contact with reality.
In the decades since, D&D has undergone several different reinventions of its vision, very few of which are in fact compatible with its origins. This has caused lots of problems for many gamers, because the game has never, not at the beginning and certainly not now, really explained itself well. Just what is D&D supposed to be about? What are its inspirations and influences? Nowadays, in light of a new edition that seems to gleefully have rejected much of the game's prior history and concepts, you'll hear lots of people opining about the essential qualities of the game and almost all of them are mistaken. They're mistaken because they usually begin without any knowledge of the history of the game or of the culture from which it sprang. If I seem a little cranky about this point, it's because I think it's important to remember the origins of the D&D. It may well be true that what D&D is in the minds of many gamers is not what it was intended to be, but I don't think that makes a whit of difference. If anything, it only strengthens my contention that D&D has lost itself over the years.
Had I been in charge of a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I'd have made my number one priority the elimination of the game's identity crisis. I'd have striven to explain the origins and intentions of the game, as well as its inspirations and influences. The end result would perhaps have been something that's no longer very commercially viable, so it's just as well that no one has entrusted me with this task. However, the fact remains that D&D has never explained itself well and needs to do so ever more desperately. I realize it's too late for the game calling itself Dungeons & Dragons to get in touch with its roots again, but I can dream, can't I?