Having downloaded and read through the playtest material, and spoken to several folks who have playtested it, here’s my impression so far:
First, there is a very strong “let’s pretend 3rd and 4th editions never existed” vibe. Some of that is to pander to the Old School Revolution, some of that seems an acknowledgement that they won’t win back most 3.x fans from Pathfinder and/or Hasbro wants to avoid the OGL like the plague, some of it is dodging the missteps of 4th edition.
Using “Keep on the Borderlands” as the playtest adventure sends the above message very clearly.
I am amused by people who have stated they dislike “rules-lite” systems but are eating up D&D Next like candy.
I am amused by people who don’t like FATE or its Aspect system(s), but are eating up Backgrounds and Themes. Yes, they are crunchier than Aspects, and they do work differently. Yet I predict articles in magazines and numerous blog posts detailing how, with a subtle nudge, they can be used like Aspects.
I also predict many splat books dedicated to Backgrounds and Themes, assuming Hasbro allows third party publishers to play in this pool in any meaningful way.
Using cantrips and orisons as At-Will Powers is a hack my Pathfinder group has been using for two years now, and I’m sure we’re not alone.
I know that the whole point is to make it feel revolutionary by making it feel familiar and decidedly un-revolutionary, but it doesn’t feel revolutionary. It’s comfortable, and it’s nice, but I’m not getting excited about running right out and spending a boatload of money on a new edition. I feel like I can hack most of the subtle changes into Pathfinder, 2nd edition, or any of the retro-clones I already own. Maybe that’s the point.
Even if this were the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’m unlikely to spend a bundle re-buying a bunch of books I already own. I’ve pretty much made up my mind that I’ll die using the current editions of Pathfinder and Risus for all my gaming needs, and I’m already building up a resistance to the inevitable 2nd edition of both of those games.
Okay, maybe if they publish an all-inclusive Rules Cyclopedia version of D&D Next for a reasonable price (under $40 is probably reasonable, $30 or less might be might be my personal sweet spot) I might pick it up. But there’s no way I’m spending $100+ bucks for a new Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual.
Okay, maybe the Monster Manual, but the art had better be awesome. Like all-Tony DeTerlizzi full-color plates awesome. At which point I’m buying an art book and not a monster manual.
I’m more interested in Keep on the Borderlands as the playtest adventure. If they decide to re-issue old adventures, retro-fitted for the next edition rules but largely left intact (maybe with some new art to compliment the original art), I might pick up some of those. To run using Pathfinder or Risus.
I know that the point it to sort of reconcile, allow for various styles of play, and try to accomodate old grodnards and new players, but I still see edition wars on the horizon. OSR folk will see no point in this, or nitpick something. 3rd edition fans will stick with Pathfinder. 4th edition fans will feel betrayed. Yadda yadda yadda. I lost friends in the last edition wars because I did not lovingly embrace 4th edition as deeply as some felt I should, which is another reason my interest in this is weak and my desire to remain distant is strong. Edition wars are as certain and death and taxes.