In Praise of the Character SheetsFirst-off I would like to praise the blank character sheets. We started out with updating our sheets from last time with the new rules. With so many character facets to take into account(Race, Class, Background, Specialty), having a character sheet that keeps them separate really helps with keeping a handle on the whole mess. I'm not saying that I like this direction of so much character detail, but I'm saying the character sheet made it much more manageable for me as a new player--I basically had to just read each facet's section and copy down a short list of skills/abilities for each. I found this much more manageable than my old 4e computer-generated sheet which took me several sessions to really get a handle-on. Basically I would say that DnD next seems to be better at Data Encapsulation. Character Creation took a while but I would guess that it would get a lot faster as we get used to the system. This as opposed to 4e which basically demanded a computer program in order to create characters(too many dependencies to manage manually).
ManouversAnother new thing was combat "Maneuvers". Each class can pick a short list of maneuvers, which are very similar to 3e Feats. Basically they are dissociative abilities which are, in my mind, more associative than 4e abilities. Things like Sneak Attack and Leap Attack as opposed to Cleaving Strike and Dragon Punch. So I still agree with my observation in our first playtest that it looks like they are going back to DnD 3.5 and going-on from there.
So the combat took fairly long, but I think it would get faster quickly as we get used to the system. Again, slower than 2e, faster/simpler than 4e. The skills/maneuvers are more associative than 4e, so the title gives you much more info about what the ability does. As such, I only had to read the description once to remember it, so, closer to 3.5 Feats.
So I feel that DnD Next is shaping-up to be a move in the right direction. Still not my DnD of choice to run, I would probably go with one of the popular retro-clones if I was running a DnD game, since all the additional skills and maneuvers don't really add much to the game experience for me.