|You're playing this group|
It's not to say that they aren't valid reasons to dislike classic play, but they're a critique of the kind of game that OD&D is not of broken rules. Classic D&D isn't heroic fantasy, it's low fantasy, and it's not a game that indulges the power fantasies for each player, but a game of collective world-building between players and GM. By "power fantasy" I'm not trying to be dismissive to other games or genres that are about the individual advancement or story of an avatar, I'm attempting to draw a distinction between a fantasy narrative of individual success (empowerment) and the broader narrative of a fantasy world (historical).
Old style D&D is not a story about any one PC, it's a story about the adventuring party as a whole, or ultimately about a fictional world as a whole. That's why replacing characters is so easy. That's why power levels are relatively compressed and monsters randomly encountered rather then balanced by encounter. At an even more abstract level classic play is about the game world and players slowly revealing it in cooperation with the GM.
|Not this group|
The players will only survive if they cooperate, and the better they plan and cooperate the better they will survive. Yet, there's also cooperation between the GM and the players. Play builds interactive story set by the GM, interpreted and told by the players and then changed by the GM to suit those player's interests. This is why classic play theory tends to fetishize player choice and complain about "railroads" (pre-plotted adventure) and "quantum ogres" (unavoidable encounters) -- both detract from the players' ability to help weave the world.
The rules subtly encourage player world building via the experience point system. Characters all seek to grow in survivability, and may only do so by plundering and then spending cash. They move wealth from ruins/lost places into a game economy. Since the characters can only advance by spending large amounts of gold they do large things with it, transforming the game world.
In the OD&D game I play on G+ PCs have: tried to invent spells, built hidden shrines to dubious gods, bought property, erected memorial statutes, and now at 6th level are attempting to rebuild a road with a fortified toll post to skim off new trade. None of this was planned by the GM, but the game world was open to it, and even if our party is wiped out by the forces of barbarism that object to new trade routes we'll leave something behind (in addition to a treasure trove of equipment). If the plan succeeds it'll be a trade route and tower, and if it fails a 1/2 built road, an army of dead mercenaries and at least one impoverished town. I am sure the GM will add these changes to the map when we roll up a new party. Changing the game world is empowering to players, but also why a "Total Party Kill" is a good thing -- the destruction of the characters becomes part of the world.
Example of a world building TPK: When the random encounter dice show that the emboldened 2nd level party is ambushed by thirty longbow wielding bandits, and the party is surprised, loses initiative and falls to a swarm of arrows without a chance to respond, the game world gains something. Any GM that fails to mark a bandit hideout with an especially effective and cruel gang of marauders in that hex is making a big mistake. Future parties will avoid that road, unless they are seeking out the bandit band. If the bandits are ever killed they should obviously have some of the dead party's stuff.
2) YOUR CHARACTER IS BLAND FOR A REASON
A first level PC is a line of stats and has a fair chance of dying on their first adventure. This is because OD&D is not about great heroes with destinies. The adventurer may even be a bit of a bumbler: a down on his luck ex-soldier, a disgraced wizard's apprentice, an exceptionally greedy thief or an overreaching religious fanatic. Seeing the party for the first time the right response is to think "Some of those mooks are not coming back." Your character can certainly become a hero, a mysterious individual with a back-story and power -- over time and only through play -- you start out as another veteran in a battered suit of chain mail with a sword. One line or even a few words of description is good enough to build on.
Play around with the excellent character generator at the blog Save vs. Total Party Kill. Everyone should be using something like this for classic play because it creates interesting, vaguely defined and ultimately disposable PCs (though it has a tendency to create creepy children). Sure, you may not have wanted to play a mature, obese elf in a threadbare robe with the spell hold portal, but seeing how this character will interact with the world is part of the story the game is creating. Over time 'Rain Eyes the Rotund' will develop. If she somehow survives at 10th level the threadbare robe will be replaced by something strange, the game world will undoubtedly provide a personality through play, and you're pretty likely to have an interesting character. If not a hero, then at least someone with a compelling back-story and a few unique traits (flame trap scars, a golden animated hand and an imp companion are all likely). What the character also has in a whole mess of dead companions. This is a good thing, from Groog the fighter - eaten by the first uber-rat ever encountered, to the elf's much missed magic-user buddy "The Shrouded Necromancer (Formerly Chumly)", whose spell books she now possesses. These losses and adventures form a compelling character arc, because they aren't just a background element about a narrated past or the death of unnamed friends. Prolonged play creates a background of fictional deeds the player (and other players) will remember and act based upon with real knowledge and engagement. Plots like avenging or commemorating a PCs death easily become central to the campaign, enthusiastically supported by the whole table.
This becomes extra important when the GM lets evolving player eccentricity create world fiction. The character that decides to follow a minor god and makes up a fiction about that deity gives the GM's world a new cult (and how much the character's beliefs correspond with the GM's version of the god/religion is up to the GM - and provides quest hooks or makes the PC a lone fanatic), every band of goblins spared and taken into service creates a new playable class for potential replacement PCs and every new spell researched can be stolen by or sold to another wizard.
The flip side of this is that simple starting characters discourage drama. Players that want to play a disruptive type still can, but if the PC survives it will only be by working with the party, and they have no elaborate back-story to justify anti-social play. If they develop back-story in game (insanity or evil say) that might derail play it's as part of the adventure and the other players will likely have figured out how to adapt or at least have sympathy.
|You can play as Oddball, because his eccentricities|
will have been earned through play.
3) EVEN WHEN CHARACTERS GROW IN UNIQUENESS, THE PARTY IS STILL IMPORTANT
As a companion to the above thought, it's not really the individual character at all that's a classic game's narrative agent, or focus. The adventuring party is the focus. Even if the member characters change or are replaced, it's the same party and it's the collective efforts of the players that writes the world fiction, only rarely the ideas of one player or the GM. Characters in OD&D don't often split up and run all about the world solo (the rules aren't set up for it), they make collective decisions to travel, delve certain dungeons or battle certain factions.
If one looks at the game from this prospective, the problem of arbitrary death is not a problem, it's integral to the game. Deaths insure that the party will evolve and change over time and tell a story of its own. Without these character deaths the danger of the world is never realized, and narrative will never have the same tension of defeat. It's key to understand that as a cooperative exercise in fantastical world building, individual residents of that world are most often not necessary to that larger shared story. In a sense OD&D's punitive character death rules help make sure the game is not a set of often conflicting individual fantasies of the players about their individual avatars. The ability to sit down with a few other people and spin a fantasy world is what makes table top games uniquely fun, and I think that OD&D's system for doing so emphasizes this aspect rather well.