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Just saw a post in a D&D group saying:

Challenge for those not playing for decades. What was the only official way to beat the game?

(That quote is the whole message of the post, for those who can't access the link. The comments are a mix of 'there is no such rule', 'punch the DM', 'have fun', 'become a god, and restart the game', etc.)

Having only played 5e, I assumed the game was just meant to be played, and having fun, etc, without ever finishing it. Was there some official rule in the early versions of D&D that specified how to beat the game?

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There is no "win" condition in the earliest editions of D&D, but one appeared in the Dungeons & Dragons Immortals Rules, published in 1986, although it has not been in any other edition that I know of.

To summarise, the Immortals rules allow very high-level D&D characters to become Immortals: demi-gods, gods, or the like. This opens up a very different kind of game, which does not seem to have been played very much, although it was the inspiration of the very early Wizards of the Coast publication The Primal Order (source: e-mail from Peter D. Adkison).

Immortals can become more powerful, and eventually rule entire universes. If the players become bored with this, they can abandon their Immortal status and become mundane first level adventurers. They can then go through a normal adventuring career, and possibly become Immortals again. If they abandon that status a second time, the game is over and they have "won". To go from first level to the top of Immortal a second time indicates that the universe is not big enough for you.

As the DM’s Guide to Immortals puts it on page 5:

If any player character succeeds in the great journey, not merely achieving Hierarch status but proving his or her superiority by doing it twice — well, no higher goal can be attained, and no reward is too great. The player wins and his character vanishes. And that is the final end of this game.

I don't know if anyone has ever done this. It would certainly take many years of play, and while I know of characters and games that have lasted long enough, they have never focussed on one small group of characters to the extent that would be necessary. I have run into a few characters who have put power aside and returned to first level, but none of them have been Immortals.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The capstones of 4e’s epic destinies were similar, but never formulated explicitly, so far as I know, as “winning” though the intent was for the destinies to be exactly that—the ultimate end of the story for that character, what the future held for them. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 2 '17 at 19:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ As I happen to have a copy of the Immortals rules close by: “If any player character succeeds in the great journey, not merely achieving Hierarch status but proving his or her superiority by doing it twice —well, no higher goal can be attained, and no reward is too great. The player wins and his character vanishes. And that is the final end of this game.” (DM’s Guide to Immortals, page 5). It’s in a section about the “Old Ones”, and is saying that the character becomes an “Old One”. It seems to be less or a rule as such and more like background flavour. \$\endgroup\$ – matt Jan 3 '17 at 16:41
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No. Below are some quotes from the earliest game branded as D&D: what most of us call Original D&D, specifically Dungeons & Dragons, Vol. 1, Men & Magic (copyright 1974), by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Quotes are taken for the 1st printing of this game.

From the Forward:

While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed. It is relatively simple to set up a fantasy campaign, and better still, it will cost almost nothing. In fact you will not even need miniature figures, although their occasional employment is recommended for real spectacle when battles are fought. A quick glance at the Equipment section of this booklet will reveal just how little is required. The most extensive requirement is time. The campaign referee will have to have sufficient time to meet the demands of his players, he will have to devote a number of hours to laying out the maps of his "dungeons" and upper terrain before the affair begins.

From the Introduction:

They [the rules] provide the framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity -- your time and imagination are about the only imiting factors, and the fact that you have purchased these rules tends to indicate that there is no lack of imagination -- the fascination of the game will tend to make participants find more and more time. We advise, however, that a campaign be begun slowly, following the steps outlined herein, so as to avoid becoming too bogged down with unfamiliar details at first. That way your campaign will build naturally, at the pace best suited to the referee and players, smoothing the way for all concerned. New details can be added and old "laws" altered so as to provide continually new and different situations. In addition, the players themselves will interact in such a way as to make the campaign variable and unique, and this is quite desirable.

From Scope:

With the various equippage listed in the following section DUNGEONS and DRAGONS will provide a basically complete, nearly endless campaign of all levels of fantastic-medieval wargame play...

Number of Players: At least one referee and from four to fifty players can be handled in any single campaign, but the referee to player ratio should be about 1:20 or thereabouts.

From Statistics Regarding Classes:

Levels: There is no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress, i.e. 20th level Lord, 20th level Wizard, etc. Distinct names have only been included for the base levels, but this does not influence progression.

So in the earliest version, we find no discussion of a win condition, or any kind of upper limit on character levels or power. Moreover, the focus isn't even on individual player rewards; rather, it's how to cultivate a communal campaign experience that is "nearly endless" and may involve upwards of fifty players. Having one player "win" and end the campaign would in fact seem to be inimical to this project.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the question is about early D&D editions, so demonstrating a lack of “win condition” in only the first edition of D&D doesn't prove the absence that would fully answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 3 '17 at 0:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeaj, how did a DM handle a good ratio of 20 players? Were things that different from nowadays? \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Jan 3 '17 at 9:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 I've asked a question about how 20-50 players and one DM was expected to work. \$\endgroup\$ – Thunderforge Jan 3 '17 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 Yes, things were that different ... and a lot less complicated. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 4 '17 at 21:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great quote "the fascination of the game will tend to make participants find more and more time." \$\endgroup\$ – FrancisJohn Dec 19 '17 at 17:15

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