This morning I followed a link from James at Grognardia to this very reasoned argument for all weapons doing d6 damage. Even though I use d6 damage for all weapons in my own game, I find myself disagreeing with this argument for much the same reasons.
Combat in OD&D is abstract. Thus, we as players are free to interpret various elements of the combat system as we choose. In other words, whether or not we use d6 damage, variable dice damage, weapon vs. AC tables, critical hits, ablative shields, or any number of combat rules is all aesthetics.
In my own experience I love universal d6 weapon damage and I hate it. So far, my love has outweighed my loathing. Having d6 damage has given my players the freedom to use weapons that they wouldn't otherwise use. The main party fighter uses a spiked club, which he is very attached to. Once variable weapon damage is introduced (especially as written in AD&D) fighters almost always go for swords — why settle for club at d4 damage when the long sword does d8? In practice, the universal d6 damage has resulted in creative play — since everything does d6 damage, advantage in combat comes from tactical choices outside of weapon choice. As a gamer, I've really enjoyed this creativity — aesthetics.
At the same time, I have noticed that it has reduced the number of cool shaped dice in actual game play. Over the course of a night, my players will only use d6s and d20s. Since one of the reasons I started gaming all those years ago was the ability to use all these cool shaped dice, I miss them in game play — aesthetics.
My group uses a house rule where shields are ablative and can absorb a hit by being destroyed. I have really enjoyed this in game play — it adds a level of tactical choice that increases tension in combat at the same time that it increases survivability. It is powerful enough, however, that there is little incentive to use two-handed weapons. They get used, but only in very specific tactical situations like bracing for a charge. I am not happy with this, but not enough to scrap d6 damage — aesthetics.
All of this demonstrates, I hope, that d6 weapon damage and variable weapon damage are both perfectly legitimate choices in play. I actually like both of them, for different reasons. The wonder of old-school style of play is that it gives us the room and freedom to play with both. It all comes down to what we find most entertaining to play with — aesthetics.
4 hours ago