Okay, so I downloaded the most recent packet (21 March 2013) from Wizards of the Coast for D&D Next. I've begun reading through it and wanted to toss out a few impressions. So I immediately went to the info on classes. D&D is all about the classes players can choose and so it seemed the logical starting point. Probably the best change overall is that even though they've retained the crappy "Vancian" spell-slot system, it's implemented in a much more flexible way. I may even adapt this to the Pathfinder rules I'm running my campaign with now. Another thing I like is that all classes automatically start with full HP for their hit dice (e.g., a barbarian with a d12 hit die starts with 12 HP plus any Constitution modifier). I'm glad to see this as standard because it's very annoying when a player goes to all the trouble to make up a character only to have the character die in the first level or two due to a low starting hit die roll.
I'm not a fan of the barbarian class ("Hulk smash!"). I've always found the "rages per day" mechanic to be very artificial and fiddly to keep track of. D&D Next still has the rages per day. I would prefer to see some sort of saving throw each time the barbarian rages, with penalties for failure such as a temporary HP or Constitution loss. You could keep raging if you want, but at some point even you are just going to collapse from the exertion.
Cleric is one of my favorite classes and I'm very happy with what they have in D&D Next. I like that clerics don't automatically get armor and shield proficiencies--it all depends on which deity you follow. Also, clerics get a very different set of domain spells, proficiencies, and other abilities depending on which deity they follow. I consider this a huge breakthrough for clerics in D&D. The problem with D&D clerics is that they've always been far too generic. Not so in this playtest packet. The cleric also benefits from the new "flexible Vancian" magic system.
I've always had a liking for druids, probably because they're very similar to clerics. Druids in this playtest are given the choice of going more animal-shifter or more spellcaster. The animal types presented for shifting seemed a bit limited, but this is a playtest draft. The druid also benefits from the new "flexible Vancian" magic system.
Fighters are boring--but I digress. I'm glad to see that they're working on giving fighters interesting options in combat without forcing players to plan out a huge, messy set of feats as in Pathfinder. But fighters are still boring.
The monk is another class I like. The monk here has a mechanic where you get a certain number of uses of Ki per day to power various abilities. I'm not sure I like the added bookkeeping this will entail. I do like the "paths" of "monastic traditions" to choose from to make monks less generic. Each "path" provides a couple of very powerful special abilities which the other paths don't get. I'd play one of these monks.
Right off, they provide for Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, and Lawful Evil paladins. Nice. That opens the class up immediately, although the Lawful Neutral version is actually more of a paladin-druid. Another good thing, probably because of the three alignments possible, is they ditched Detect Evil as an at-will ability. It's really annoying as a GM to have a PC who can instantly check out people's alignment. Instead it now allows the ability to detect any celestial, fiend, or undead. Much better. I will steal this for my Pathfinder game. Another change with the three alignments is that each alignment gets a different mount. Another nice touch to add more flavor and variation. I've always liked the paladin class and now it's more interesting. The paladin also benefits from the new "flexible Vancian" magic system.
Hooray, they finally got rid of the illogical two-weapon fighting option. I never understood why that was included. What the heck does fighting with two weapons have to do with being a hunter/forester type? People would multiclass in Ranger just to get the free two-weapon fighting. Other than that it's pretty much the classic ranger. I'm still not much interested in playing one, but I do like it better this way.
This class was a bit more messy than some of the others presented, in that they provide several "rogue schemes" which you choose from at 1st level. These provide different "flavors" of rogue, such as assassin or acrobat. I'm glad to see these options inside the class rather than having separate classes for them. However, the classic sneak attack is turned into just a fairly ordinary melee option, which I feel goes against the basic concept. You don't have to do anything sneaky to sneak attack. I feel little enthusiasm about playing one of these rogues.
Ah, and finally we come to the wizard. As I mentioned above they've done a good job of trying to fix the broken "Vancian" spell-slot system. The wizard benefits hugely from this new flexibility. I am drawn to spellcasting classes but always avoided the D&D wizard because I hated the spell slots so much. However, with the improvements here I would consider playing a wizard. The wizard still suffers from the fact that you can't make truly specialized caster types, such as a fire mage who has a huge list of just fire-based spells. For that you usually have to go out and find a lot of additional spells from third-party publishers, fan sites, etc. But at least the wizard is now a playable class for me.
Nope. No sorcerer this time. Sorry.