Corey's been interesting in it and we've all followed the general developments and we all looked forward to giving it a try. Our gaming group's specific interest in rule-sets fills the spectrum. As you may know I'm strictly a rules-lite follower, too many rules makes my brain fart and then explode. Clay likes more fleshed out rules that lets you fiddle with the character. Corey is open and tries the new versions of D&D. The rest of the players fall in-between these realms.
I haven't 'signed' WOTC's official non-disclose agreement on the game. Not because I didn't want to give my feedback to them on the game, I just didn't want to get on their mailing list because I'm really not interested in their wares. but I will respect their request to not talk about the mechanics.
As you all know, The Caves of Chaos is the adventure of choice to run the play-test. Good choice for that 'old school' feel and it ran quite well in the play-test. We ended up in the Goblin caves and killed about 20 goblins and the ogre nearly dying in the process. The play-test rules did have a very 'old school' feel, that I do have to say. The combat was fast and deadly and three our of the four of us were down to just one or two hit points by the time we barely finished off the infamous ogre. So high marks for the general feel of a session.
Now the nitty-gritty of things is where we can begin a discussion. Remember that this is the very first iteration of the rules and plenty of things will be tweaked, but initially I was surprisingly happy with what I saw. The first level characters felt more like third level characters with more hit points but the monsters had more hit points as well so in my mind you still had about the same chance of getting killed by the Ogre (88hp) as you would have in the old days, the difference being, one hit wouldn't kill you here.
The damage the characters inflict is much higher (my sling did 1d8 damage +3 for Dex). The MU was able to cast a LOT more spells at '1st level'. My wife, who played a dwarf fighter, even noticed how the power balance of the MU and the fighter were too similar. A note about the wife's RPG experience - those following know it's pretty minimal but she's stuck with it all this time and has played Icons as well as our Swords and Wizardry campaign. For her to notice the issue with the balance between the Fighter and the MU becomes a pretty obvious issue. Obviously, it's fun to have a MU that doesn't shoot his load than have to hide the rest of the session but the MU becomes pretty much a mini-nuke at 1st level. I remember 4th ed being like that too. Not a terrible idea but needs to be reeled in quite a bit.
The cleric also had more spells to cast though these seemed to need a to-hit roll. That changed the role of the cleric from that of a front-lined fighter to a spellcaster in the back row. The front line consisted of the Fighter Dwarf and my Halfling thief El Borko.
The healing rules are a bit 4th ed style as they mimic a video game feel. During the exploration, healing kits aid the healing but a good nights rest heals all hit points. WTF is that? It's like freakin' Neverwinter Nights. Healing 1 HP a night of complete rest is harsh but complete healing with a good night's sleep is the complete opposite. Hungover and wounded characters are part of the fun. I'm sure you can work around that a bit, sleeping in dungeons is never a walk in the park.
The character stats themselves are pretty interesting. The abilities are now used a LOT more which is a nice addition. In fact, it sounds a lot like ICONS. Imagine that. Character themes and backgrounds are a nice addition as well to help flesh out a character - kind of like character packages, ie; slayer.
The one mechanic that we all liked was the advantage/disadvantage dual d20 rolls. A very nice smooth feature.
Overall, the session felt very old school; quick paced somewhat deadly combat and loose fun at the table without a lot of charts or unnecessary dice rolling. We're going to give it another shot next session. In summary you can say that it had the feel of Holmes'/Moldvay basic D&D with a bunch of house rules; most good, some bad. Not a bad start considering WOTC's track record with the D&D brand
I think WOTC's grand plan to make a modular rule-set that can be built upon is ambitious and challenging with plenty of pitfalls. But they're giving it a shot and like I said, it's not a bad start. Will folks jump back to Dungeons & Dragons? There's plenty of compitition out there with the Retro-clones, Pathfinder and the still played original versions (0 through 4). Pleasing everyone may be an impossible task but I have to at least give them kudos for trying. I'm curious to see what the next version of the play-test rules have in store.