Wizards of the Coast has recently released a public "confidential" playtest of the new fifth edition "Next" ruleset for their classic game Dungeons and Dragons. Since I am both a mega-geek and an arch-Dungeon Master, I have a copy of those rules, and in fact, I finally got a chance to read and really think about them yesterday on the train.
Unfortunately, I now only have about ten minutes, so this is going to be the first of two (or maybe three) segments about the new ruleset. As you read this, realize that WotC has only released an initial, non-finalized version of the rules, so these may change, or more likely, get added to as additional layers of complexity are bolted on for more advanced gaming groups.
Anyway, here are my initial thoughts on the new ruleset.
1. It is way stripped down from what the Fourth Edition ruleset was. In fact, as I was reading through the new material, I was reminded repeatedly of the way that Gary Gygax himself wrote when he personally wrote the "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" rules that I bought in a big red box as a kid. Simplifying the rules has its downside, but the upside is that the game looks simple enough that I can teach it to my kids next time we have a rainy afternoon.
2. Clerics and Wizards have retained At-Will spells. The addition of at-will magic was a good one in 4e, and it looks like a good one here. The term "at-will" has been jettisoned, however, in favor of more technical sounding jargon. Wizard at-will spells are now called "cantrips", and they include some of the old cantrips from 4e such as Mage Hand. Cleric at-wills, meanwhile, are called "orisons". The basic attack orison in the playtest rules was Lance of Faith.
3. You no longer need a map to play. Which is awesome because now I can play with the kids while we're driving somewhere. But it's bad because no map means fewer rules that support tactical movement. In fact, while there's still a mechanic for Combat Advantage--now simply called Advantage--it doesn't include rules for flanking. I hate that so much I may houserule something on flanking next time I run a game. In fact, now that I think about it, even things like Opportunity Attacks and Shifting were left out of the playtest ruleset. Hmmmm... That's a bad omission in my opinion.
4. Finally (at least for today), the whole system for skills checks has been radically simplified. The number of skills for which a character has actual training has gone WAY down, and most "skills" checks are now simple ability-modifier checks. With that said, the expectation for success when using skills also seems to have gone down for most complex skills, unless you are either very good in a specific ability score or have that now-rare training in the requisite skill. The system itself very much reminds me of the 3e system, but without a number of skills-points per level. Instead, skills appear to be assigned based on Class, Background, and Theme.
Anybody out there read the new rules? I'm itching to try them, but I've got to get with my gaming group and see what they think.