I very much recommend reading DMDavid’s post on elegance and resolution transparency in Dungeons & Dragons rules. He very well explains the problem that you want pen & paper role-playing rules to BOTH “apply broadly so fewer rules can cover whatever happens in the game”
and “produce outcomes that match what players expect in the game world”
. Which happens to be an impossible task. So while I very much agree with him that 4th edition covers the first point brilliantly, and is a much better system also in terms of game balance because a warrior works fundamentally the same as a wizard in 4E, I also agree with him that the downside is “the edition often fails to model the game world, creating a world where you can be on fire and freezing at the same time, where snakes get knocked prone, and where you can garrote an ooze”
In fact, while I didn’t detail it in my campaign journal there was a situation in our last D&D session where a black pudding (an ooze-like monster) was “knocked prone” by a spell-effect. And when the players asked me whether that was possible, I preferred to stick to the rules even if they made no logical sense in that situation, than to create a case-by-case system of rules exceptions which would be impossible to manage.
I do consider that position a modern one, as opposed to what I would have ruled in the same situation 30 years ago. And one thing that changed in the meantime is computer games and MMORPGs. When we played 1st edition AD&D the idea that a fireball could burn only enemies while leaving allies untouched would have appeared completely foreign to us. Now I play 4E D&D with a group of players who all played World of Warcraft, and in WoW all area-effect spells selectively touch only enemies and there is not such thing as friendly fire. 4th edition has both kinds of area effects, selective or with friendly fire, and due to the experience with MMORPGs, players don’t think that is strange in any way.
Having discussed the theory of games for over a decade on this blog, I think you will believe me if I say that I have a deep interest in that subject. I believe that rules systems are important, because they affect very much how we play, a theory which outside of gaming is an important part of behavioral economics. From my point of view, 4th edition was progress for Dungeons & Dragons, while 5th edition is a step back. It is not that I don’t understand the appeal of “classic” D&D, or why some players would want a wizard to work with one sort of resource system (Vancian magic) and a warrior to work with a completely different one. It is just that by having played D&D for over 30 years with many different people and groups, I am very much aware of the problems that these classic rules cause. The “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” problem, or the “5-minute work day” problem were all things that 4th edition solved, and 5th edition brings back.
For me, in the end, Dungeons & Dragons is a collaborative multi-player game. So in my opinion it is more important that the rules apply broadly and thus create a system with automatic balance between classes. If that leads to somebody garroting an ooze, so be it.