At first this may seem like a silly question considering but let’s think about if for a moment. I suppose I should first day that this all depends on both the DM and the players acting reasonable people. It’s said that I have to throw that little disclaimer up but such is the way of the Internet rage machine.
So, what is D&D?
No matter the edition, there’s those certain mechanics or sacred cows that have continued to live on like Armor Class, Hit Die, Saving Throws, Hit Points, Class, Level, the Six Ability Scores etc. Sure the math has changed and how exactly each is used has been altered but they are still there. They are the basic building blocks of the game system. Like I said, no matter the edition.
But we also hear on nearly a daily basis that somebody is playing it wrong. There’s the old edition warring and the “new” vs “old” school. So when someone says that you’re playing it wrong what they really mean is that you’re not playing it the same as them.
Sure there is stupid crap out there. Stuff I don’t like and think is silly. And there’s stuff that I think is cool. Everybody has those tastes. Just take that time to distinguish what’s “wrong” and what’s just to your disliking. RPG’s are like pizza. Have whatever toppings you want but I still think that pineapple on pizza is an abomination. But IMHO, much of the wrong or down right silly comes from folks trying to make D&D do things that it wasn’t designed to do.
Hear me out on this. I can take the classic module Keep on the Borderland and run it with any edition of D&D, Savage Worlds, Runequest, Warhammer Fantasy, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, FATE, Sword of Cepheus, Open D6 or a number of other systems. It’s the exact same adventure but each of these systems will result in a different experience for the players and the DM. Each of these game rules has their tone, strengths, and weaknesses. So if you’re trying to make D&D feel like FATE or Warhammer feel like Savage Worlds then that’s just silly to me. Just use the game that sets the kind of experience that you’re looking for. I’m not saying that a savvy DM can’t find inspiration from other game systems. Just don’t try to get one kind of play experience from a game that really isn’t designed the same way.
So what’s D&D? It is what it is. Enjoy for that and what it does it. Most importantly enjoy and have fun.