A number of people expressed surprised at my report of my most recent Dwimmermount session, because I allowed the PCs to raise the dwarf Vladimir from the dead. In part I believe that's because I've given the false impression that I'm a cruel and unforgiving referee. In the interests of engendering discussion of several related issues, let me explain my philosophy of refereeing OD&D.
1. I let the dice fall where they may. I roll them openly and don't fudge them. Consequently, battles go as the dice say they do, not as I or my players wish they might based on some sense of "drama" or "story." There have thus been melees that ended anticlimactically, just as there have been wandering monster fights that were unexpectedly epic. I like randomness and see it as an essential feature of old school gaming, so, in this sense, maybe I am "cruel."
2. Though not fond of the cleric from a purist swords-and-sorcery perspective, I have not banned the class from my campaign nor have I in any way altered the way the class works as written in OD&D. My general attitude toward the rules is that, while they are my servants, not my masters, I am generally reluctant to disallow anything that's included in the three LBBs. The supplements I freely use or not, according to my wishes, but the LBB material is all accepted, at least broadly. Raise dead isn't a later addition to the game from a supplement or Strategic Review article; it was there ab initio. To my mind, that means it's more integral to the "essence" of old school D&D play than are the thief and magic missile, two genuinely later additions that most people have a hard time imagining the game without.
3. Finally, though I am the final arbiter of what is and is not allowed in my campaign, once I have allowed something, it's fair game for the players to use to their advantage, provided they can convince me to permit it. In the case of raising Vladimir, I could think of no justification to disallow it, since it's an established fact that raise dead exists as a spell and Brother Candor had already gone to some expense at establishing himself as a member in good standing of the church of Tyche's hierarchy. If anyone should have access to the spell, it was he -- a spell, I might add, that still cost him and his companions yet more funds to secure. I reasoned that if the players wanted their characters to drain their financial resources in order to bring a mere 2nd-level character back to life, who was I to say otherwise?
A cold, hard analysis of the situation suggests to me that my players were foolish to waste so much money on an easily-replaced character. They're now no longer in the position to be able to raise anyone if another death occurs, which means they need to be even bolder within Dwimmermount to acquire funds, the very act of which may result in yet more deaths. But, as referee, it's not my place to make such decisions for my players. They let sentiment get the better of them and it may prove a costly mistake. Or not. Ultimately, the true price of their action will only be borne out through campaign play, which is as it should be.
I have no grand story in mind for any of the PCs and the campaign setting itself remains very vague outside of Dwimmermount/Muntburg and Adamas. I can thus afford to be flexible in my portrayal of the wider world, so that it accords with what is established through play. I suspect that some of the surprise at my allowance of raise dead had to do with a sense that the spell somehow "breaks the frame" of the world I'm establishing, given my swords-and-sorcery proclivities. In reality, it did nothing of the kind, because, as I said, I build the world as needed, which means I can make anything fit at this stage. After three months of continuous play, I still have a huge amount of leeway when it comes to adding details.
That's the real key to my current refereeing style: creative leeway. I don't fill in any more details than are needed about anything, whether it be the setting of the game or the rules that govern it. My feeling remains that, if there's no immediate need to establish a fact or make a ruling, it's always better to refrain from doing so. That may make it seem at times as if things are "incomplete," but I prefer to think of it as leaving "room for expansion." One of the real reasons I've come to detest most pre-fab campaign settings and bloated rules sets is precisely because they establish facts and rulings outside of the context of play, which, for me, is utterly backwards. Indeed, I think one of the signposts of a game's leaving old school territory is the extent to which it provides details before play that would be better established after play, but that's a topic for another day.