At the point where I am writing this the Dungeon Master’s Guide is not out yet, so this is really too early to form a cohesive opinion about it. My comments will be all over the place; because there is so much that I know that will fit into place only in larger context, and when the game has seen at least a year of usage.
Let’s start with the races. There are all the Tolkienesque races first and after a brief disclaimer the rarer races are introduced. Familiar from D&D4, none of the races get any minuses for their abilities, only bonuses. I like this approach better, as I firmly believe that not handing out bonuses is penalty enough in itself. Dwarves are good fighty types, as much is to be expected. But Mountain dwarf armor training bonus does not mesh with powergaming aspect at all. Same can be said of the half-orc/barbarian combo. Half-orc already has bonuses that a barbarian will get later on, so powergamers won’t get to squeeze all the juice out of it. Wood elves and lightfoot halflings are naturally sneaky and they have Dexterity bonuses as well, so it is a good idea to put them in sneaky classes. There’s no powergaming un-synergy going on in those latter cases. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why!
There’s much unbalance going on here, and it is a good thing in my book! D&D4 tried really hard to be mathematically balanced (without a 100% success, I might add), and ended up being a somewhat bland numbers-crunching game. It is a very good game though, just not for me.
Briefly about the classes. Much has changed, but special mentions go to:
- Barbarian. Despite from what is written in the book, the barbarian does not need a high Constitution (at least from where I am looking at things at the moment). They already have the biggest hit die, and proficiency in Constitution saves. Why put a third bonus into the same basket? They get some class features that would enable the barbarian being an unarmored type, but they also get the a similar benefit from using a medium armor. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why!
- Fighter. Does not need a high Dexterity. This has been true from the days of D&D3, but now it is even more pronounced. They most probably use heavy armor, so they don’t get to add any Dexterity bonus to Armor Class.
- Sorcerer: Oh man I love this. Finally they have realized that sorcerers are all about metamagic! D&D 3.x actually hindered sorcerer’s metamagic usage, and I have no idea what 4e did for them, as I stopped following the line before sorcerer was published.
Right. Onto spells. They have condensed and streamlined whole spell “chains”. Some of the spells are really unbalanced. These unbalances are by design choice. For example, a high level druid could create a whole forest of loyal awakened trees to serve him, without any kind of limiting factor. Why? Because Fuck you, that’s why!
It is as if the design team would have had an epiphany that it is not their problem what goes on in each individual gaming table, it is the job of the dungeon masters to even things out. This is a real improvement to the viewpoint that both 3.x and 4e tried to convey. “We tell you how it is supposed to be played”.
That much said, I must say that I have never been a fan of high level play in D&D. With this edition, I probably wouldn’t go much higher than the 7th level. To conclude, I say that it is very well made, and I will definitely give it a spin someday. There are probably some kinks here and there, but nothing that a little good old fashioned GM work won’t smoothen out.