This is a continuation of my last post, but it originated as a comment on my friend Carter's excellent blog, responding to this post. It is therefor written in the second person, addressed at Carter, and references some past experiences we shared (namely Carter's brief foray as a player into the jungles of 4e).
I really feel like your frustration as a player in the one or two 4e games you played in was due to two factors:
One: The DM had no previous experience in any edition and literally started combats before giving us any options;
Two: The other players in the group liked spending time mastering the system outside of the actual session time (and had done so).
You totally failed to notice the true point of what I was saying: the commonalities between editions occur DURING play, and the extra work requested of players in 3e and 4e occurs OUTSIDE of play.
You did not, as a 4e player, invest the required amount of time outside of the session to understand how the game and combat worked. When it came time to play the game and especially to fight, you did not know what you were doing, people kept telling you you were doing it wrong, kept overriding what you said you wanted to do to tell you what you SHOULD be doing, and generally made you feel like the game sucked big donkey balls.
Had you played with group of like-minded players who also spent no time outside of the session understanding the game, you would have had a much better experience - you guys could have all quite happily ignored your powers and the (actually quite simple) intricacies of what you can do on the battle field, and you could have charged in with your dwarf and hit things with your battle axe in EXACTLY the same manner that a Labyrinth Lord combat proceeds.
4e supports that; it just also supports much more.
When I say that the commonalities occur during play, that presumes that any requirements made on a player outside of play have been met.
This is a big point, and a big if, but IF you spend the time required to actually understand all of your character's abilities and how they work in combat, 4e combat feels very similar to any other edition. I really feel that the modern editions are just geared towards a player who wants to engage outside of the session, and previous editions provided more or less no rules for this. To me, that is the single biggest difference, and the root of all the moaning and bitching about how different 4e is. It requires a different commitment of time and energy from the player before play begins, old school players are not used to that, they do not spend the required time and energy, and therefor, they NEVER ACTUALLY PLAY 4e OR PATHFINDER (or whatever modern iteration we are talking about).
If you don't know the rules of the game, and you don't care, then you aren't playing the game.
I would respectfully venture that you have about as much basis to make an intelligent critique of 4e combat as a monolingual English speaker has of critiquing the Upanashads in their Sanskrit incarnation.
You have no idea what was happening, and you didn't like it. That has nothing to do with how the combat engine worked, and everything to do with your willingness as a player to engage in complicated rules.
Again, I am certainly not trying to minimize differences between the edition; outside of play, there are HUGE differences! LL character creation takes all of five minutes and I could easily spend HOURS building a 4e character!
I am just saying that in play, assuming the players and DM are all aboard with the system (which the system assumes as well), I have observed little to no differences in how the games run. Combat takes place the exact same way in your Labyrinth Lord game as it does in my Mutant Future game as it does in my 4e game as it has done in every D&D game since the first campaign;
Initiative is rolled; players and enemy combatants go in order and say what they are doing, and roll a single d20 to determine its success.
That is it. Period. Just because a 4e player has many more options to choose from before picking one and rolling the d20, does not mean that the basic mechanic is different, nor does it impact the flow of combat AT ALL. As long as the players are familiar with the abilities of the characters in 4e, combat is just as quick flowing as Labyrinth Lord.
You would just have no idea, because you never got to see a 4e game in action where the DM and players were all on board together. Nor would you want to, because as a player, you don't want to think about rules at all, and you actively rebel against a system that asks you to.
Now... on to the second main point of my little mini-rant, which was that the final product of Labyrinth Lord (or any other old school edition of choice) + houserules is much closer to the modern iterations of D&D than most would care to admit. That is because most houserules are aimed at exactly the same kind of player that all the extra rules in 3e and 4e are aimed at. Many players chafe under the perceived restrictions placed on them by a simple game like LL. At this point, you and some of your players have put considerable time and energy in your Labyrinth Lord game into making more complicated character classes, more options for players in character creation, and more options in the game in general outside of combat. Most long running old school campaigns that I am familiar with grow and morph over time, adding in rules and interpretations, player options, etc., precisely to satisfy the same natural desires of certain kinds of players that led to 3e and 4e taking the shape they do today.
[EDIT - I first posted the following as a comment on my own post. I think it is important enough in the terms of the larger debate that it should be included in the actual post - Carl]
Oh, and the healing surge point is utter horseshite, pure and simple. A classic straw man. All the 4e healing surge has done is acknowledge the de facto way the game has always worked. What, exactly, is the difference between a character using healing surges to heal themselves outside of combat in 4e vs. a Labyrinth Lord character drinking a healing potion? In fact, the healing surge mechanic actually serves to LIMIT the kind of totally absurd combat that can occur in earlier editions when characters are loaded to the gills with potions. Each character has a limited number of surges, and when they are gone, the character cannot be healed in combat. Each character can use one surge themselves in combat, by forfeiting their attack that round: this cures 1/4 of their total HP. Other than that, healing surges are activated by other characters with healing magic: an individual character's number of surges, then, is a cap on the total number of times they can be healed in combat. A cap that earlier editions did not have; it is ironic, then, that the healing surge is always held out as the ultimate example of what is wrong with 4e, the ultimate gamist rule.
It is less gamist and absurd than totally unlimited clerical and potion healing!