So, it's finally time for me to talk a bit about the 5E/Next playtest documents. I've got them. I've read through them. I've found a few interesting things, a few things I don't like, but in general, nothing really horrible enough to make me NOT play the game and nothing cool enough to make me WANT to play the game. Of course, this is just an early playtest, and things will change.
I still think it's important for myself and other old schoolers to take part. If nothing else, we can show that we're not just haters to WotC, and maybe get some more perks like the AD&D reprints thrown our way in the future. And maybe some of the old school vibe will remain in the new edition, which will make it that much easier to recruit the kids who start on 5E into our OSR games. My biggest problem (OK, time is the biggest, but if I weren't working full time/in grad school/teaching private lessons/raising a trilingual son/etc. it would be the biggest problem) with me getting an OSR game going here is that most of the player base in Busan want to play 3E/Pathfinder or, to a lesser extent, 4E. Or some other game than D&D. If 5E comes with more of an OS philosophy behind adventure creation, GMing advice, and all that, I think it would be much easier for me to get people to try Labyrinth Lord. And this is in no way intended to be a slight to Justin, who's running an awesome game via G+ Hangouts, but there's just something better about a face-to-face game.
Anyway, enough blather about my gaming woes. What did I think of the first public unveiling of D&D Next?
The basic "universal" mechanic is that of the d20 system (3E). There are a lot of places where the text has just been cut-and-paste from their 4E documents. Hopefully they'll clear some of this up. For a game that patently DOESN'T rely on a grid/battlemat, to say that moving in any sort of non-standard fashion "costs an additional 5 feet of movement" makes my brain do funny things. I noticed a few of the 4E powers have become either "feats" or spells. Laser Clerics, Fighters who do damage when they miss, Wizards who shoot mini-fireballs all day long like the one in Gauntlet - all still there from 4th.
Advantage/Disadvantage is interesting. Having run into "disadvantage" in the short-lived 4E game I played last year with one of the Paizo adventures, it can be a real pain in the butt. Advantage is basically just the standard "luck" bonus that's been around for several editions.
Hit points? Mook monsters are alright. Any sort of "boss" monster or "tough" monster, though, looks WAY too high. We'll see how it goes in play, though, as damage dealing capacity looks fairly high (although the playtest Fighter does have one of the highest damage weapons in the game - switch out that great axe for a longsword and we may have a different story). Now, this may have an unintended benefit. Those who like 2 hour tactical combats can really enjoy finding the correct puzzle to whittle down each big beastie. Those who like combat-as-war will want to find ways to circumvent having to grind those big monsters down. But still, an ogre or troll shouldn't have 100+ hit points. How many will dragons and giants have?
And healing? Don't like it as written. I've always been of the "high hit points mean you're just that hard to kill" school (too many Schwarzenegger movies as a kid, perhaps?), rather than "it's all luck and reflexes and getting tired out" school.
Backgrounds and Themes - Backgrounds seem OK. Basically 2E kits that give you a few set 3E skills and maybe a feat or two. Themes are basically just the 4E roles (from the five they've listed) given a makeover. I don't hate either, and could see maybe using Backgrounds but not Themes if I were to run a game of 5E beyond the playtest phase (which I'm admittedly not likely to do at this stage of the rules).
General tone of the rules - I like it. Give a solid set of mathematics to run the game, but give plenty of advice and use a tone that makes those numbers not so set in stone.
Making all sorts of checks keyed to ability scores is good (and Old School). Making the saving throws tied to ability scores means that lots of people are still gonna want to run "super-charged" characters where an 8 (-1) represents "a significant flaw" and DMs will be hounded if they don't allow point buy or some ridiculous rolling scheme to insure high ability scores across the board.
Finally, monsters. Lots of them seem to have some sort of "tactical" special ability for no other reason than to have a "tactical" special ability (in other words, 4E leftovers). And several of them are what Justin Alexander terms dissociated mechanics.
We've got a couple people interested in giving it a try. I've been nominated to DM. After I finish my grad school stuff, I'll be happy to do so. Then we'll see how it plays when the rubber hits the road (or the shit hits the fan, depending on how old school I take it). I'll go ahead and just run it the way it is, to get the most accurate depiction of how it plays. If I had my druthers, though, I'd scrap the healing mechanic (or at least heavily modify and tone it down), scrap the monster tactical abilities (the whole point of the move to ability score based actions was to be able to do improvisational stuff like in Flying Swordsmen, right?), and keep Backgrounds but drop Themes for the characters. Probably a few other changes here and there.
So nothing to hate in 5E for me, but nothing to love either. Some interesting ideas, some things I don't think are good for the game.
Score so far: C+