This started as a reply to a G+ thread, but I decided to just post what I thought might be the best part here.
Learning the rules of chess didn’t teach me how to play chess. I learned to play chess through:
- Watching how my opponents played
- Trying things out for myself
- Finding books that didn’t teach the rules but taught strategy and tactics (not “the way to play” but “a way to play”)
Applying this as an analogy to role-playing games breaks down, but I think it’s the areas where it doesn’t break down that are interesting. In my experience, almost no game can be found in the rules even if it wholly emerges from the rules. In good games, that level above the rules is a big space where there are many approaches and few definitive answers. Often, the best approach depends upon the other players more than the rules.
That said, I do think D&D books could have done a better job of explaining the game to me. But I also think the people who were writing it at the time did their best.
And now—for TSR-era D&D—we have a few attempts at the analog to the books on chess strategy and tactics.