First, thanks to everyone who's expressed concern at my illness. I'm on the mend, but I still have bad cough and tire easily. I'm also a bit more melancholy and moody than is usual for me. So, posting will probably still be light till next Monday. I'm hoping the weekend will be enough to help me kick this bug and get back into the saddle again.
That said, while I've been laid up in bed and generally shutting out the world, I was thinking about the history of OD&D and I realized that, within about a year of its release, the game developed a split personality that's not never really healed. The first published edition of OD&D was released in January 1974 and laid the foundation for what would come. The three little brown books thus established the "core personality" of Dungeons & Dragons -- the outline of a game of fantasy adventuring grounded in both the pulp literary tradition and the wargaming scene of the late 60s/early 70s. In 1975, the modestly named Supplement I: Greyhawk appeared. While Greyhawk is self-described as "a supplement to an existing body of rules" rather than a replacement, it nevertheless did replace many elements of OD&D (Hit Dice for classes and monsters, weapon damage by type, etc.). More importantly, Greyhawk also gave the world its first taste of what I will, somewhat inaccurately, "Gygaxian naturalism" -- D&D's second personality and, over time, it's dominant one.
One of the things that should strike anyone who reads the little brown books of "pure" OD&D is how bland they are. They assume the reader has a grounding on wargames and pulp fantasy by their allusions and ellipses, but the text, as written, has very little flavor of its own. In my opinion, that's one of the virtues of OD&D: the reader must engage the texts and actively make sense of them. One simply cannot read them and understand them without effort. Consequently, anyone who sincerely makes a go of playing OD&D will, of necessity, be co-creator with Gygax and Arneson in making his own fantasy adventure game. The early history of the hobby shows lots of people doing just that, which is why roleplaying went off in lots of unusual directions in those days, with individual creators inspired by this or that element and running with them as they saw fit. I think it's hard not to find those bygone days an Age of Giants, by dint of enthusiastic creativity if nothing else.
Greyhawk changed all that. We now had a supplement that not only changed and expanded rules, but that gave us flavor as well. Prior to Supplement I, there were no named magic items, for example. Named spells wouldn't officially appear until AD&D, but many distinctly D&D spells, such as magic missile, would appear here. Likewise, many original-to-RPGs monsters first appear in Greyhawk. Where the three little brown books (largely) contented themselves with concepts and ideas drawn from a common store of pulp fantasy, legendry, and history, Greyhawk begins in earnest the establishment of a common D&D mythology drawn primarily from the Lake Geneva campaign co-DMed by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz. Though it was almost certainly not TSR's intention, the Greyhawk campaign would become the Versailles of D&D, its fashions and eccentricities being taken as normative rather than merely suggestive.
I call OD&D's second personality "Gygaxian naturalism" because, as the develop of AD&D shows, Gary Gygax was quite keen that D&D should be a game that not only had its own distinctives, distinctives largely drawn from his home campaign, but that gave each DM the tools to create a whole world. Whereas OD&D has a strong (but not exclusive) emphasis on dungeon crawling, AD&D casts dungeon crawling as initiatory rites to a wider fantasy adventure experience. That's why stories of the Lake Geneva campaign are filled with tales of characters becoming mover and shakers, with holdings, henchmen, and ambitions beyond mere loot. Such activities demanded that there be a whole world out there to explore. Thus, you get discussions of the planes of existence, stats for mundane creatures, random prostitute tables, and all the rest. These things all arose, I'd wager, as part of an effort to make D&D a game that could describe a world not bounded by treasure and trap-filled catacombs -- just like the Lake Geneva campaign.
None of this is to say that dungeon delving wasn't important in Greyhawk, because it was, nor is it to imply that other campaigns, such as Blackmoor, didn't have a significant "political" component, because they did. However, I think it's significant that, for example, what we know of the Blackmoor setting from Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign and later products is far smaller, both in terms of geographic and topical scope, than the Greyhawk campaign. And I know from conversations with Gary before his death that there were plans to describe all the lands of Oerth after the fashion of the 1983 boxed set. His vision was a wide one, anchored in the belief that DMs needed such a breadth of information, because the player characters might wander far from the dungeon and hunt wild boars for food drink too much in a tavern and suffer the ill effects of intoxication. Even fantasy worlds need verisimilitude, at least to a degree, and Supplement I began the process of providing rules for it.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I think there are two D&Ds, each one rooted in a different phase of OD&D. The first is a game of pure adventure, with comparatively few concerns about the wider world in which those adventures take place. The second is a game of fantasy world building, so as to establish the boundary conditions inside of which adventures can take place. The second approach is the one that was canonized with AD&D and thus became the default one most gamers of a certain age associate with the game. Indeed, I could argue quite forcefully that, for all the claims that 2e had betrayed the Gygaxian vision, it was in fact simply an extension of Gary's own world building emphasis. The "pure adventure" line of descent survived in the Moldvay/Cook version of the game and lingered even in the Mentzer/Compendium rules (thought not supplements, which became increasingly AD&D-like over time), but it was overshadowed by the Greyhawk approach, to such an extent that "dungeon crawling" is usually a term of opprobrium among gamers, with the implication that it's a "lesser" form of D&D.
I'll admit that, despite my own mechanical preference for OD&D, I am rather more in line with Gygaxian naturalism than I am with pure adventure. That said, I think a better balance between the two approaches needs to be struck, since unchecked Gygaxian naturalism was the seedbed for Dragonlance and other later developments that, in my opinion, did violence to the original presentation of the game.
And now I must rest. I'll try to keep up with comments, but I can't guarantee it. I'm still very stiff and achy and have a nasty headache. But feel free to discuss things in my absence.