Are the original D&D rules from 1974 playable?

David Hartlage over at DMDavid has started a series exploring the history and differences between Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

His latest post mentioned how audiences of the 1970s struggled to understand the 1974 rules.

I, myself, have been tempted to run original D&D for years. And with the original rules now available in a legitimate pdf format the temptation is ever more present…

…until I actually start reading through the rules.

Then the reality of the game sets in: original Dungeons & Dragons is not a complete game. It’s recommended that you have Chainmail to help run the game.

Indeed, Chainmail is referenced throughout:

“[Elves] gain the advantages noted in the CHAINMAIL rules.”

“[HOBBITS] have deadly accuracy with missiles as noted in CHAINMAIL.”

And this is just the beginning:

That trusty old d20 combat system players have come to know and love is listed as an “Alternative Combat System” in the “Men & Magic” booklet. Chainmail uses its own combat table and you roll 2d6.

Turn Undead uses 2d6 as well. Spells have brief and often vague descriptions.For example: Detect Magic has”a limited range and short duration” (what does that mean, because no specific range is given?)

I’ve read and received advice that I should trying running the game “as is.” But I think this just isn’t possible. The rules aren’t organized. Monster descriptions and abilities span both D&D and Chainmail, as to certain spell descriptions like Fireball.

It’s no wonder why gaming groups came up with their own house rules, and why games like Tunnels & Trolls got published: people loved the idea, but the farther away from Gygax’s gaming table one got, the harder it was to understand the rules.

And yet herein lies the paradox:

The rules themselves are so basic. And only the game master really needs to understand them. You learn it as you go, step-by-step.

If you’re a player, all you really need is a character sheet.

The system is also fast and loose, and subject to GM judgement. Some players will hate this.  They’ll want to have a concrete rule for everything.

Yet that’s just not going to happen with the original rules.

Which leads back to the question: Are the original D&D rules playable? 

My answer: yes. 

People still play the game and swear by it.

The referee, however, before running a campaign, has some important decisions to make concerning the rules themselves…


If you had the opportunity to run the original D&D rules, how would you do it? What rules would you include?