Yeah, it is painful to imagine that people played such an open-ended game which provided such strong cues for action-adventure in such a limited and 'pedestrian' way. While I don't feel like emulating Ron Edwards, it almost makes me sympathize with some of the statements that he was being lambasted for early in this thread... ouch!It was literally the single most boring edition to actually play. Every fight was nearly identical. The only variables were the dice, the size of the room, and whatever (if any) random elements were involved, such as a trap, terrain, or skill challenge. The PCs would find strategies and synergies that work and spam them until the fight was over or the required resources ran out. They'd then move on to the next strategy and synergy...until the required resources ran out or the fight was over...then they'd switch to the next strategy and synergy until the required resources ran out or the fight was over. The fights were almost all exactly the same for what...6 years. I had to design a homebrew freeform power system just to get the players to stop using the exact same powers, in the exact same sequence combat after combat after combat.
The encounters that we played were, aside from a small fraction of 'duds' where somehow everyone failed all their checks or something and just grappled together in a pile, super dynamic. I can give an example of each type:
One early encounter took place in my first campaign, around level 5 IIRC. The PCs were traversing an area which had fallen into being an almost uninhabited waste, but there was an area of bogs along an ancient roadway, which they naturally followed. As they moved along it, a group of lizardfolk jumped the party. I don't recall exactly, but I think there was a bit of back and forth and then a fight broke out. I don't recall which exactly statblocks I used except one was a Greenscale Marsh Mystic (level 6 controller) which instantly cast "Swamp's Grasp" smack dab on the party before anyone got a move. This is an area burst 2 which has a side effect of making the whole area a zone of swamp terrain (difficult terrain, swamp walk negates). This instantly turned basically the whole battle into a slog in a swamp, lol. The PCs spent the ENTIRE rest of the encounter moving at speed 2 or 3, unable to shift, etc. It was a bit of a slog. I blame this mostly on my failing to include anything dynamic in the encounter. I thought since it was in the open, and the PCs could move around, it would be fine. bleh. Still, it WAS fun, as a change, and the party was taught a lesson about being able to make ranged attacks!
The OPPOSITE, an ideal encounter, was a capstone boss fight in a later campaign where the PCs were, again I think somewhere in low heroic tier, and they took on a Young White Dragon reskinned as a giant wolf spirit, and its hench creatures which were Jackalweres. The 'chief' (reskinned dragon) went to the lumber mill to kill his 'unfaithful girlfriend' (some NPC woman that this creature thought was his lost love from 1000 years ago, etc. stock storyline stuff, we aren't going for innovation in that area here). So he ties her to the saw table and gets ready to cut her from the script when what happens?!!! The PCs ride in on the log flume! SMASH! they break up the party and a vicious fight ensues with the saw running and the girl slowly being drawn towards her doom, except when the PCs are able to divert the bad guy from his work. There are some platforms, a log hung from the block and tackle that can be pushed all around the room, and a few henchjackals to make everyone's lives more fun. THAT is a 4e encounter. It should be something like most encounters!
I've had a collapsing mine shaft with mine cars on rails careening down tracks, one with the PCs in it, one with the bad guys, each trying to derail the other, etc, until finally the PCs switch the bad guys onto the track that dead ends at a giant chasm, and then they ride it out with the drift coming down right behind them.
There was the encounter that STARTED that collapse, which was a gallery with a bunch of pillars in it. One of the PCs activated the old mining golem and commanded it to 'smash', and it smashed all the pillars! Well, that did in a bunch of bad guys but it triggered the whole place to collapse! Hence the above mentioned cart ride.
I recall one where there were these shambling mounds roving around causing havoc and then one of the PCs did something or other that activated the lightning stones standing around the area. BWAAAAHHHAHAHAHA! That was kind of a gotcha, but it sure shook up the fight! I can't remember how the PCs won, but they all ended up climbing into the trees to get away from the turbocharged shamblers. I think the key was that the stones had some other functions, you just had to figure them out.
Another fight was the PCs strung out on a set of stairs built into the side of a vast well, but many of them were missing, so you had to climb/leap and the characters got a bit spread out, and then the Gnaw Demons started buzzing around, lol. That was fun! They were overjoyed that they got to chew on the wizard without any interference from the fighter...
You just never never ever want to say "here's a room with 5 orcs in it" or anything like that. 4e encounters have a story, a plot, and a stage, and if the stage wouldn't excite Steven Spielberg, then its poopoo. It is just that sort of game. The great part is, the PCs have all these hooks, classes, themes, feats, etc. that are loaded with keywords and color. So everyone has ideas of cool stuff they can do, or things they need to think about. I mean, @pemerton is more a master of "Oh, you want to sacrifice that treasure so you can blow up the bridge, OK..." sort of thing, but I've since built that kind of stuff into the rules of my own game (and I admit, 4e doesn't quite do that).