The 5E D&D open platest began yesterday, and after several attempts I was finally able to download the playtest packet. You can start the process to getting them here. As it’s an open playtest, I assume anyone can download the rules.
In a nutshell, I like what I’ve read so far. While I have a few quibbles with parts of the system, for the most part I like the rules (at least as they are presented in the playtest) and hope I can run a game with them soon. The playtest rules are, in fact, simpler than Pathfinder’s Beginner Box, which is a very attractive proposition to me. However, I suspect that the final version of the game will have modular levels of complexity, so the playtest version probably represents the most basic incarnation of the rules.
As others have mentioned, 5E (sorry, I’m not going to call it ‘D&D Next’) is basically a mish-mash of ideas from 3E, 4E and some old school concepts all rolled into one, but significantly simplified. Like the Beginner Box, the rules do away with many of the complications of 3E, such as attacks of opportunity. Also, the power curve is flattened considerably. Instead of ridiculously high DCs, most things have difficulty ratings in the low to mid teens. Many rolls and checks are based off of attribute modifiers instead of skills or separate stats, including saving throws. Some basic dungeon exploration functions don’t even require checks, unless there’s some complicating factor involved.
5E also does away with most of the situational/conditional modifiers of 3E/PF (and, presumably 4E). Instead, it uses an advantaged/disadvantaged system. If you are advantaged at something (or against someone), you roll two d20s and use the higher of the two results. If you are disadvantaged, you roll two d20’s and take the lower result. When I first read this, my gut reaction was to dismiss it as a needless twinking of the rules, a mere gimmick. But after reading the full rules and seeing how it ties in with combat, spells, class abilities and conditions I think it vastly simplifies the system.
Many minor spells, such as magic missile, light and detect magic are treated as at-will spells…you can cast them as often as you like. More powerful spells take up Vancian style spell slots, though word is other types of casting classes will use different types of spellcasting systems (the playtest only includes 4 classes: cleric, fighter, thief and wizard). The save DC for spells is usually 10 + the caster’s relevant attribute modifier…they don’t appear to go up with level.
A cursory look at the Beastiary shows that most monsters still take up about a page each, but much of that is basically given over to fluff. The actual stat blocks are significantly shorter than 3E/4E/PF or even the BB. The playtest version doesn’t use Touch AC, Flat-footed AC, combat manuever mumbo-jumbo. In fact, they look very old school to me, with the exception that they include scores for the 6 primary attributes. Of course, if the final version introduces additional levels of rules crunch, then the stat blocks could end up being much larger.
If the playtest rules I read constituted the heart of the next version of D&D, I think I’d be very satifisfied with them. Whatever parts I disliked could be house ruled very easily I think…though naturally I’d run the playtest rules as written, as that’s the point of a playtest ;). I’ll be sure to post about the results if/when I get a chance to test drive the rules.