Mike Mearls—lead developer of Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons—posted about his experience playing the original D&D recently.
OD&D and D&D 4 are such different games that they cater to very different needs.
See! Those of us who think they are different games are not insane, overly nostalgic, crotchety grognards, or such.
Well...OK...we may be all of those things, but that’s not why we think the ancient and modern editions are different enough to be considered different games. We think that because it’s true!
A lot of the fun parts of the session (the talking skull; the undead and their bargain) were possible under any edition of D&D. However, I think that OD&D’s open nature makes the players more likely to accept things in the game as elements of fiction, rather than as game elements. The players reacted more by thinking “What's the logical thing for an adventurer to do?” rather than “What’s the logical thing to do according to the rules?”
Exactly! This is the thing I’ve been trying to get at myself. As much as I enjoy mastering a complex set of rules, that’s not what I want in a role-playing game. Besides, when it’s about playing the rules, most people at the table end up not having as much fun—in my experience—as a few people at the table. When it’s about playing the role rather than playing the rules, the game becomes more enjoyable for everyone at the table.