Tonight I got schooled in combat, 3.x/Pathfinder style.
My head is still spinning. We had our first real fights in tonight's game. It involved a lot of tactical movement with miniatures on a grid/map of the place. What became apparent to me is that without in-depth knowledge of the rules of movement, and what types of actions you can do in certain parts of your turn, you just suck and are far less effective as a player.
The other guys in the group know most everything by heart, and are learning the PF variations on the 3.5 rules. For me, I'm just learning the 3.5 rules for the first time, and am moving from our usual narrative combat style of play to something very structured.
It's almost like the guys who put together 3.x said to themselves: "We have a game where people do these couple dozen things in combat all the time. Let's codify everything related to them in the rules, rather than let the DM just wing it when someone wants to try something other than swinging a sword or blasting with a spell."
The combat reminded me of chess with randomness elements, more than anything else. It's a thinking man's combat, analytical. I don't know how such a style would handle outside the box creativity, if it weren't accounted for in the rules.
One part of me likes it. I could see myself enjoying it on certain level, if I could ever figure out all the 1001 details of it all and how each element interacts with the rest. It's truly a game where gamemastery of the rules makes for a great player. I can also see because of the gamemastery why people look for every advantage they can get with prestige classes, and other splatbook stuff that gets their characters some sort of advantage.
I also can see now where 4e came from a bit more clearly. There's not much of a leap from what we did tonight, to what I've heard about in 4e games. To the extent that (from what I've heard) 4e is more bland, and not as based in a simulationist world, then I could see myself liking it a lot less than 3.x.
The combats definitely take a lot longer than I am used to. The tactical advantage gained by movement/skill/feat/spell/combat rules combinations are significant, and require more time that rolling to see if you hit something every round.
One other think I noticed that when playing D&D with virtual strangers, all you have is the game. There is no bullshitting time. We get there, roll, kill, loot, and go home. The guys I play with all seem pretty cool though, and I'm sure it will change over time as we get to know each other. But it's just an odd thing not to spend half of our time in non-game related talk.
EDIT to add in response to someone who told me not to feel like I played poorly:
Thanks man. I think I was more bewildered than anything else. I read the combat rules in PF, and in the 3.0 rules we use, but we never implemented most of them from the 3.0 rules into our game. It's an entirely different thing to read about them, and then see them effectively implemented.
I kept saying to myself "Wow. This is D&D huh?" I feel like I should have felt like I was left behind for these last 10 years, but due to my ignorance of the true 3.x game, didn't feel that way--if that makes any sense.
The other thing I realized is why I am so confused when people say that "X spell is broken" ,when X spell is basically the same as it's been since the 70's. When the game is so rules centered, where every action has a predictable outcome, if you throw a spell in there which throws off predictability, people don't like it. Maybe a rigid ruleset has made DM's less flexible and less capable of handling it. Player's maybe don't want to have all their tactical logical plans shot to hell because of the randomness factor. It makes more sense.
I'm sure 3.x is a fine game, and I am enjoying learning it for the first time. I just don't see myself and my group adopting it once my little solo experiment with it is over. But even with all that being said, I'm having fun learning something new, and the group is a bunch of decent guys.