I signed up for Wizards of the Coast's open play test of D&D Next, a.k.a. 5th Edition, the Omni-Pleaser, Retro-trash or Nerd-rage Catalyst #5 (actually only the first alias is used by anyone but me.) Wizards is attempting a noble, if foolhardy/impossible undertaking-to please all factions of a demographic that is as diverse as it is fiercely opinionated.
Well, not only did WOTC release the proverbial Kraken, it asked the beast to sit down, try out the game-in-progress and provide feedback. Their public playtest is open to anyone willing to sign an NDA (That specifically allows public voicing of opinions on the test) and download the materials.
I downloaded my copy of the playtest materials and have been digesting them with Sarlaccian slowness amidst my increasingly frantic work schedule. Though I haven't had a chance to put the materials to work or play*, I've read through the Player's Handbook rules and am beginning to form some initial impressions.
In general, the game seems to continue a trend of streamlining begun in 4e, which also brings back an old-school vibe which eschews hard rule mechanics in favor of leaving certain calls up to the DM.
I like that Vancian magic is back, rather than the powers system of 4e, which really stripped away one of the defining characteristics of D&D. At the same time, they seem to be trying to mitigate the exponential wizard power curve of 3e by tying spell strength to ability modifiers rather than character level.
In general, it seems like they're trying to lower the big dice numbers that could result in attacks that required an accounting team to resolve.
I'm intrigued by the addition of character background bonuses to the character sheets. I think this would be especially cool if they were modular. Give a fighter, rogue or wizard the option of having grown up as a commoner with bonus to animal handling and the like... that sort of thing.
Some of the things I noticed that I wasn't too fond of are more on the nit-picky side. They include:
Listing adamantine as an armor type. "Adamantine" is a material, not a type of armor. I know Dwarf an Elf used to be classes. That was stupid too.
Calling opposed checks "Contests" They are still just a skill check, but without a fixed number to beat. Calling them contests sounds like something from a lame anime involving prepubescent androgynoids who race each other to the grocery store out of an overblown sense of competition. No need for a new word just for vocabulary's sake *cough*rituals!*cough*
I'm not sure what's going on with the skill system. Are they back? There are references in the player sheets to things they get a bonus on, but no definition of what those things entail. If it is up to the DM to determine when to apply these bonuses, it'd be nice to have a little note saying that.
Anyway, those are my first budding impressions. My 3.5e game is still very much in progress, so I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to run any 5e. I'll definitely read through the stuff and voice my opinion.
*Funny thing about timeframes, just 6 days after the public playtest opened, I received an email from WOTC with their first feedback survey. The email says, hopefully you've had a chance to read through the rules and even play a few sessions! It's been less than a week, guys! I am a volunteer with a life, not one of your employees. Quit humping my leg!