I came across a fascinating look at how D&D was played when it first appeared in the 1970s, by way of a campaign world named Rythlondar with two DMs and multiple groups adventuring in the same world at various times. The document is a collection of typed journals of the various groups’ adventures, mailed to all of the participants between 1975 and 1977. Here is the orignal blog post describing the Rythlondar Chronicles (from 2011), also here is a direct link to the PDF: Rythlondar [PDF].
Below is a sampling of the contents, detailing a battle with a lich, a vampire and a wish spell gone wrong:
The level names give it a great flavor, that is one thing missing from the OSR retroclones that I miss (I suppose for good reason, that being copyright on artistic presentation). We have a superhero [8th-level fighting man], a myrmidon [6th-level fighting man], a swashbuckler/theurgist [5th-level fighting man, 4th-level magic-user], a hero [4th-level fighting man], a sorceress [9th-level magic-user], a vicar [4th-level cleric], and a burglar [4th-level thief]. The unexpected consequence of the wish spell is some brilliant fast thinking by the DM.
Reading through this, you can also that parties were not ‘balanced’ in the sense of being composed of a group of PCs of nearly the same level, nor were the monster encounters balanced. That concept of balance came later, probably helped along by the TSR adventure modules with sub-titles like “An adventure for character levels 8-12”. There is a hint of high-level PCs building strongholds (does anyone do that anymore?), and the ever-present megadungeon, which various parties explored on and off – clearing level four one day, and returning for level five after a break in town or after some interspersed wilderness encounters. The treasure hordes in Rythlondar were sometimes huge, but magic possessions were not that common. Here is a sample of PC stats:
All told, this is a very inspiring and fun read. It puts the concept of the ‘sandbox’ style of play in a new light, in this case, Rythlondar was truly a giant sandbox for multiple groups of PCs, all sharing a common backdrop.