Long ago in the saga that is this blog, a fellow gamer once told me that D&D is whatever the owners of the IP say it is. I heartily disagreed, and did so with numerous self assured reasons why. I have also been a staunch defender of Gygaxianism in seeking to know what the spirit of the game truly is. I am as guilty as any for taking Gary's words as scripture, and quoting them as definitive pronouncements. Even when they appeared contradictory, I was the first apologist to point out that apparent contradictions were just that apparent.
I wouldn't say I totally disagree with my previous positions. I still hold to them by and large. But I have come to the point where certain personal interpretations should be admitted as such, personal. As well as make admission that much of what I confounded with the idea of the game was a gestalt of a certain confluence of events that simply can't be replicated. No matter how hard I may try 1981 aint coming back. The folly of men to replicate past ages is always shot through with anachronisms and perspectives that didn't exist in those same past ages. Hindsight is, as they don't say, faulty--not 20/20.
So I now recognize a few things.
1. AD&D is not the game I played back in the day. I mean it was, but it really wasn't. I have written about this before but it bears repetition. We didn't use all the rules, or even most of them actually. While we rested assured that the Golden Trinity could answer any question that might come up, we didn't resort to them all that often. The hindsight of years poring over the rules make it clear that there is almost too much to play with here. Watching groups try and play RAW AD&D is at times laborious--especially for those who have not mastered the intricacies. We played a rough approximation of something resembling Original D&D (0e) with rules add ons (that were actually material from the Greyhawk and other supplements) but more codified in AD&D. And that made sense as I was taught to play by guys who had started with 0e, and I taught most of my friends to play.
2. AD&D was not the game Gary played. Though I have been loathe to admit it, evidence and personal testimony make clear the unmistakable fact that Gary was running a very "loose" game, and rarely referred to rules details in the books.
3. AD&D was the official version of D&D for going on 10 years (circa '80 to '89). Which meant that it became increasingly so, and in official pronouncements the pinnacle of "how the game should be played." It was set up as the final pronouncement on what D&D was in as much as it covered a topic. Gary himself admitted this much in his foreword. It was also the game most played at the Dungeon Hobby Shop and TSR as well, at least in name--interview evidence has also born this out. However, in practice something very different occurred. The real spirit of D&D couldn't be confined to the bottle and most AD&D games ran wild with untied shoelaces for most 1e groups everywhere.
4. The spirit of D&D was elusively pointed at by those three little brown books back in 1974. The resulting creative explosion can not be underestimated. Those at the starting gate realized that something magical was happening, Rob Kuntz spoke to this in an interview I had with him. The potentiality of what roleplaying games could bring to the world seemed absolutely revolutionary. However, TSR was a business after all. And the shift from "imagine the hell out of it", to only buy original TSR products was pretty quick. The hunger for product and the need to defined what was what as well as exert final ownership all resulted in the game that was AD&D first edition. It wasn't the pinnacle, so much as it was an expression of of what could be at the time.
5. The original Wizards of the Coast, KenzerCo, and 3e showed us first what could become of AD&D. The OSR showed us what could become if we went back to our 3 little brown roots. But even then, AD&D made us lose something as well. I do think some avenues of the OSR have explored a bit of space of that original untapped magic Rob and others alluded to, but I believe it is still a largely untapped gold mine. Not even a gold mine really, but an endless energy source available if we only had the eyes to see. But TSR and AD&D actually shut that valve off by the clear definition of AD&D--what the game was and who owned it. The players no longer owned it, the corporation did.
What this means for me, and my changing views? Well, AD&D will always be my sweet spot. It is my D&D home as it were. But the fact is, I'm not sure how I would even run a BTB AD&D game, or how I would like it. And it would be wrong for me to continue to weight everything against the AD&D rulebooks. Gary's motives were as complex and varied as any human's when he created 1e. I just really wish he had been around to create a second edition and "fix" all the issues that arose with 1e.