Playtested D&D Next with my buddies last Saturday. O_O Just O_O
I really liked it. The action economy of it is simple and leaves a lot of things for the DM to implement as he/she sees fit. I believe it is the perfect combination of 4e and 3.5 without being so harsh on rules as 3.5 was and or as tactical with the action economy as 4e was. Gotta say, I'll miss the power cards, but that's just me. I can still play it without them, but I tend to lean more towards tactical games. I found myself thinking a lot on what power to use - like a soldier on the field with an ammount of gadgets and certain weapons. It made the approach to strategy interesting. However, thankfully, Next covers for that with some new shiny stuff and its action economy - which reminded me of 4e Enhanced: Combat in Motion, pdf that could be easily adapted to 4e.
I made a ranger - there are not so many classes yet. However, a lot of them - except the fighter - have sub-classes or Flavors similar to 4e. Now, the class is not complete without a specialty. I could be a ranger specialized in archery or a ranger who is a Two-Weapon Fighter and others. These specialties unlock certain things to your character: like a fighter who chooses Arcane Dabbling as his or her specialty will lean towards a fighter than can pull some pretty cool cantrips and learn about arcane things faster than a fighter who doesn't dabble in magics. Hybrids are not in yet, though, and multiclassing can be done with the help of your DM, but the system I think, is too young to do that yet.
Now, Class and Specialty do not decide who your character is or what he does for a living - which fits well with Grey who fights as an Assassin (or Shadowdancer in Pathfinder) but is not an actual assassin anymore under Winterhaven's flag. He's a soldier and a mercenary. With my ranger, Gwaine, I chose to make him sort of a gypsy half elf that made his coin out of his theater on wheels where his half sister helps him, while taking in some more money than he should - or at least the money that people didn't seem to need XD. I wanted him to fight as a dual wielder, I could've gone with fighter and adapt the fighter to dual wield, but ranger seems to fit more into his quickly made up story. I could've made him a rogue, but rogues still need some work - they have too little HP and the Sneak skill needs some work as well. Now, what he does for a living is called a Background. I chose Minstrel for Background that gives me certain pluses to RPing per se and to certain skills.
However, the background suggests skills and equipment. They are SUGGESTED. You can pick any other skill you want to train in up to a max of 4 or more depending on your specialty or class. It is the background - like the optional themes in 4e - that says what you truly are. The class only speaks of how you fight. The Background doesn't ground you to certain skills - like I chose Sneak because I like my stealth XD - and it doesn't even hold you from using the other skills like other systems. Now, being trained in those skills you chose will allow you to have extra points by rolling 1d6 that you will add to your 1d20 roll plus whatever the modifier of whatever type of check you're doing. Example: I'm rolling Sneak. I roll 1d20 + 1d6 + the Dexterity modifier (in his case a 5) which is the ability that has to do with the skill of Sneak. Were I to roll something else that I'm not trained on, I still can, but I won't get the extra 1d6 added to it.
There are very few limits on the variations you can come up with making a character. Two clerics are not essentially the same, even if they pick the same Flavor (like War or Lifebringer - I think it's called). They can have different backgrounds, different set of weapons or equipment, and a bunch of other things. There is not one class that is better than the other - although the wizards that go for the School of Illusion need some work on balancing them somewhat XD lol.
In terms of spells, like 4e, you prepare them with your short or long rest but you don't HAVE to sleep through long rests - just don't do anything strenuous. And guess what? Even my Ranger/Minstrel character gets spells :O Of course, we're not talking about a fireball here. They get "spells" or whatever you want to call them, depending on their class - even the fighter gets some type of spells (I think 1 spell in lvl 1). Now, the spell itself is not what disappears once you use it. The spells are placed in what are called "Slots". Your amount of "Slots" is dependable of class. It is the "Slots" the one that is used up. For example: Gwaine has two "Spells" and two "Slots". He decides to use the spell "Hunter's Mark" which allows him to better track an enemy up to a 100 feet away with a duration of 1 hour if he's not concentrating, and it also helps in battle against his quarry, giving him 1d6 extra damage against the target. Now, by using Hunter's Mark, Gwaine has used one slot. He has one slot left. He has another spell he can use - Longstrider - but he decides that he needs to track someone else again. He can spend his last slot - for the time being - to use Hunter's Mark again instead of Longstrider. He's out of Slots, yes - so they are not like the At Will powers of 4e - but not the spell itself. In comparison to the 4e spell of Hunter's Quary, I have to say that the action economy of 4e was better in that sense. Hunter's Quary - which works fairly the same as Hunter's Mark - was a minor action, so you could use it once in your turn and once in the round, but it wasn't dependable on "Slots". You could mark various enemies during the encounter and get that extra damage to the marked enemy. With Hunter's Mark, Gwaine has only two times to use it - if he decides not to use Longstrider - at least in lvl 1 until he gets more Slots. Think of the Slots as how much concentration does a character have, or how much can he focus on something, does he get tired, etc etc etc... However, the difference between these two similar "spells" is not a let down from the new system, since the action economy of Next is fairly nice to players and DMs
As for the action economy during encounters, in 4e it was all about a tactical approach. Like I said, I didn't mind. I do like to think and make awesome strategies with my friends around the table that would beat the DM's - a former Intelligence Officer XD - strategy. In 4e you had a Standard Action - which is usually something you'd need your full concentration on, like opening unlocking a door, attacking, bashing against a door (unless you have a "Power" that allows for that), etc - a Move Action - climbing, jumping, walking, running, swimming, shifting (moving 5 feet away from the target without provoking attacks of opportunity), and others - a Minor Action - some powers are minor actions on itself, drinking a potion was also a minor action or trying to convince someone with diplomacy, bluff or intimidate, or trying to Sneak (make a Stealth roll) - a the Free Actions - talking, some powers were also free actions with some limitations to it of course. They hold a herarchical approach in which a Minor Action can be used as a Free Action, a Move Action as a Minor Action and a Standard Action as a Move action. You can't go down in hierarchy, tho, such as having two Standard Actions by replacing the Move for a Standard. No. But there were ways around it to attack twice, call the Action Points. In Next, you only have an Action, a Move and Swift. Free Actions are there, just not expanded on since you no longer have "Powers" that can be used as "Free Actions". The Actions is usually used for attacking, again opening doors or something that requires your concentration.The Move is actually one of the coolest things here! You can split it. Like 4e, you can move after or before you attack it doesn't really matter, as well as you could make a minor or free action in any order. Now, in Next, let's say that Gwaine wants to climb up a wall to attack with his bow and then move towards the enemy with his War Pick and Longsword. He can. He can move 30 feet (six squares on a mat) normally, so he climbs a wall of 10 feet (2 squares), takes his bow and arrow as PART of the Action which he'll use to attack, and shoots his target down before pulling his War Pick and Longsword out. He still has 20 feet in his Move (4 squares), so with his dual weapons out and with anger clear on his face, he decides to move closer to his quarry before it can run away from him to attack on his next turn. That was only an Action and Move. There are various types of Move like Disengage which remains as the Shift of 4e but you can move half your speed away - perfect for a mage and a rogue who needs to keep moving. I believe that Husstle - which was "Run" in 4e - is also a Move Action, but you cannot simply stop to attack like what I did before with Gwaine. You can even Move, break a door with a skill and if you have enough strength, and continue to move inside the room, lol. Things like Sneak, Spot and Listen, I'm not sure if they work like Swift actions or like Actions. The action economy is still a bit ambiguois, but I'm liking what they're doing so far.
I should mention that there is no longer such a thing like "Bloodied Value". The Bloodied Value in 4e was a way to help DMs and Players to know when they've reached a state of "Oh shit...". It was half their HP. I believe that the so called "Healing Surges" were half the Bloodied Value. Some monsters and classes could do things where they or a target reached their Bloodier Value. It also gave you a chance. Once you hit 0 Hit Points, you were unconscious and your HP went down to negative numbers until it reached your Bloodied Value by every failed Death Saving Throw (roll 1d20 and if it was higher or equal to 10, you were stable). You were also vulnerable during that state, easy to kill in one swipe. There is no Bloodied Value anymore. You only get Three Saving Throws, like in 4e, really, but you have to know when to pull back and it is easier to actually die, lol. Criticals need no confirmation. You roll a perfect 20 and you get full weapon damage as it was in 4e + 1d6, but adding something else to it. I think it was even MOAR damage.
The only thing that truly bothered me is the division of skills - once more. They were oh so very few in 4e and it actually made things easier. Other skills should've been added, yes, but certain skills shouldn't have been separated. For example, in 4e they had the Perception Skill, which covered Spot, Listen and Search. I'm not sure if Search is now Sleight of Hand or Thievery in 4e? I'm not even certain how you steal things from people in Next. So far, we've been using the Search Skill as if it was Thievery in 4e. But to actually search for something out of battle, you need to go back to Searching, and if the DM is not a Douchh at least. If he/she is, you'll need to use Spot and then Search. Yay... Back in 4e, a perception roll was all it took. It makes sense that if you're trying to check if someone's following you, you'll use both your senses to Spot and Listen. However, this didn't really stop me from liking Next so far. The encounters themselves are absolutely fun, and they can still be played in tactical ways by knowing who's good at what and allowing them to be part of the team. Needless to say, it does makes you feel as an adventurer cut above the rest of the masses with characters that are powerfully unique.
So far so good
In terms of lore, that's usually the last thing they work on, but I heard that Salvatore was already working on the next array of novels about Drizzt in it. I managed to spot something quite interesting in the playtest documentation. Trickery seems to be a domain for Clerics and Paladins again, and there is only one god I can think of - and the majority of the fans seem to agree - that holds that domain: Mask. So, he's possibly coming back
You can get the playtest documentation here. It is easy to understand, really.
AND You can watch Chris Freakin' Perkins DMing a D&D Next Campaign on PAX 2012 with the guys from Penny Arcade.
EDIT on August 6, 2013.
I told you guys I was going to keep my eyes on anything new and there is something new. The Sundering, a series of novels including Salvatore, Kemp, Buyers, Greenwood, Bakers and plenty of other writers just kicked off with the first book of series starting Drizzt. I'm not sure how they'll go with this, but the premise of it is good and it will show us lore for Next. Now the book JUST came out so I haven't been able to get my hands on it, much less read it, but, there is already some information surrounding events for D&D Next:
The end of the Era of Upheaval is nigh!"The world of the Forgotten Realms has endured one catastrophe after another for the past century or so, from the Time of Troubles through the Spellplague. Time after time, upheaval has reshaped the pantheon, overthrown nations and rulers, and even altered the geography of the world. Now, the world is being shaken and reshaped once again—for the last time.The gods are thrown into chaos at the promise of a new reckoning of the pantheon, and they scramble and grasp at power in hopes of cementing their positions of authority. Their mortal agents in the world, the Chosen, are charged with carrying out their will in every aspect of life.The Spellplague, the magical catastrophe that reshaped the world so dramatically, has come to an end. The Weave of magic is rewoven, and many lingering effects of twisted magic fade. The intermingling of worlds brought about by the Spellplague also comes to an end, as what belongs to Abeir returns to Abeir, leaving the Forgotten Realms looking much as it did before.Partly driven by the activity of the gods’ Chosen and partly arising from the turbulent political situation at the end of the Era of Upheaval, the nations and factions of Faerûn engage in their own maneuvers, manipulations, and acts of aggression. In particular, the empire of Netheril attempts to conquer the Dalelands, Cormyr, and Myth Drannor, setting off a war that engulfs the eastern Heartlands. The Harpers and the Zhentarim respond to the growing threats in the world by regrouping and refocusing their energies, slowly returning to their former prominence.Nations, geography, magic, and even the gods are changing forever, in the birth-pangs that herald a new creation. The world needs heroes to ensure that the new age dawns bright and full of hope, where good still shines as a beacon against the darkness."
So... yes... towards RPing in Next, expect a lot of activity up there in Winterhaven and the entire of Nerath Vale and the Dalelands. I've got some ideas for Grey surrounding Abeir, since he's tightly connected to it... but not the point here... XD
There will be a lot going on similarly to when the Spellplague hit for 4th edition, but backwards, since magic is restoring itself - in a way differently but as it was. So, it explains why the Schools of Magic are back in order when in 4th edition the Scools of Magic were not as they were known before - magic was not placed into one school and it was hard to figure out which strand of the weave (which spell and incantation) would do what - how many times you could use a spell, how it was restored (if it required any restoration), etc. The shadow adepts will be very affected with Next, since power gained from the Shadowfell will not longer be as such close proximity to them. It's interesting, though, since a change in shadow magic is proposed when The Weave is finally restored - thanks to Deneir's sacrifice.
There will be more focus on "The Chosen" now, so it will be more connected to the gods than it was before. With new gods appearing and old ones disappearing, things are as chaotic as they were in 4e. The lore is moving to become as a new challenge yes, but also as new avenues to test for us as players
More info: &D webpage