Part 1: Character Creation
Character Creation seems to be the logical place to start. Round 1 of the playtest only had pre-gens, so this gives us an opportunity to see a bit more of the mechanics of characters. And what do we have?
I have represented my general feelings to each large subject in the title: (-ve) for generally negative feelings, (+ve) for generally positive feelings, and (neutral) if the pros and cons seem to be about the same.
(-ve) Ability scoresThey have only provided two options in the playtest material: either roll (4d6, drop one), or one single array. That's a pretty poor start, and I hope it is purely because they are still working out their point buy system, or calculating further arrays. I personally do not like rolling stats - it might be great in a chaotic game such as Gamma World, but even there, they gave you good starting scores for your one or two main abilities. In other games, having such a fundamental part of your character determined purely on luck leads to one of two main results: having to reroll (and thus removing the whole purpose of rolling in the first place); or having badly unbalanced characters. The latter can lead to players resenting other characters, or dropping out of the game altogether.
Point buy (which was brought in with 3e and altered slightly for 4e) allows more customisation than the basic array (which is worth 17 points in a 4e build). The given array has the highest score as 15. It allowed each player to start on roughly the same ground, whilst also allowing for them to choose between a high score and many lows, or a more even approach. I know others like the rolling method, but ultimately, Point Buy needs to be a core option; I would feel more comfortable if it (or even the array) were the default, and rolling was an add-on extra. Either way, all three should be present.
(-ve) RacesThey have only given four races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human) in the playtest materials. Each has a lot of fluff, with a few mechanical changes at the end. Sadly, they still seem to be losing the 4e idea of making race more important, and are instead having it as a passing attribute quickly forgotten. There looks to be little to differentiate a higher level elven fighter from a higher level dwarven fighter. Maybe the equivalent of paragon paths or higher level feats will help differentiate this...
Ability bonuses are now only +1 (to one stat), and the stat in question is determined by your subrace. Low-light vision is still a dreadful mess and most likely useless in most adventuring situations (unless the whole party has low-light vision, or you are ok with splitting up the group).
Another thing to note is that whilst most of the die increases (Dwarven Weapon Training & Toughness) give +1 average damage and +2 maximum damage, the d12 => 2d6 jump gives +0.5 average damage, and +0 max damage. If you compare the based on percentage increases to damage, it is even less exciting.
There is more death for the encounter powers (one of the most helpful things to stop the five-minute workday), with the halfling now having two rerolls a day, instead of one reroll an encounter. Sure, it now applies to his rolls (kind of like Elven Accuracy in 4e), but only recharges at the end of a day. Again - this encourages the player to use them often and early (as does a wizard with his spells, or anyone with their hit dice of healing), and then call for camp to be set up to get said powers back. The 5-minute workday was something they were claiming to work against.
Finally, the Humans. I cannot work out if they want everyone to play them (they get +1 to every ability, and +2 to one), or only those who cannot cope with a few extra rules (they get nothing else...no bonus skills, powers or feats). Mechanically, they outshine all other races with their abilities, but they are so incredibly boring, it is like comparing a 4e fighter to what has been offered for a fighter in 5e.
I cannot rate what they have offered for races as anything but a negative. They lack the interest and importance of 4e, they include the painful "low-light" mechanics, and they don't feel balanced.
(-ve) Combat NumbersYes, I know that "Classes" should come next, but there's enough in there to talk about that I will save it for its own post. For now, I will skip over it and talk about the rest of character creation in general.
Hit Points have lessened. They have gone from the sturdy-heroic 4e level, and dropped back to the slain-by-a-stray-arrow 3e level. This choice will clearly appeal to people differently, but I have much preferred the low-level 4e battles, where a critical hit didn't mean instant-death for any PC involved.
Likewise, I disagree with Mike Mearls' idea that the way to answer "there isn't enough healing!" is to reduce hit points. Yay, our healing does a larger percentage of our total HP, but we have less to spare, and will go down more easily. For a level 1 character, being able to heal once a day does not "take the pressure off the cleric". This lack of healing helps cause the 5-minute-workday.
Armour Class is pretty straight forward. My feelings here are more linked to it being the only defence. I want to attack enemies' fortitude reflex, or will. Not make an attack, then have them save. Initiative and attacks are, at least, pretty straight forward. So that's a whole lot of neutral, with a splash of negative.
(+ve) Finishing TouchesFor equipment, they have stuck with a set amount of gold (or the option of grabbing packages), instead of 3e's rolling for starting gold. This is a good choice, as rolling could mean another level of messing around with a character for their first level. It is simple and straightforward, and allows creation to continue smoothly. If only that was done for ability scores: the comparison works between starting gold and abilities. Starting gold is like point buy: everyone has the same, and can choose how it is spent. Packages are like arrays: pre-chosen values balanced with the basic starting gold / point buy. And rolling for gold might as well be rolling for stats - it might prove most beneficial, or terribly hamper your character.
Descriptions are a good thing to work on, though they lack any real in-depth questions (as most editions of DnD do). Height, weight, hair colour, and name are as far as most characters will be described. It would be good to see more probing suggestions or questions, and ideas on how to develop some real character to go along with the rest of the mechanics. A good fleshing out of motivations and personality in the core of Character Creation would do wonders to get players thinking more about who their characters are, and not just what they can do on a round-to-round basis.
Alignments are back in the 3x3 array, after 4e's poorly thought out 'straight line' idea. They have kept 4e's "Unaligned" position, which has become a favourite with players who don't care to think too hard. Overall, nothing too painful, and plenty of room for a finished product to expand to fill.
(neutral) The Future: AdvancementThere is nothing talking about multiclassing options here, despite all the classes looking distinctively 3e-ish. The XP progression looks rather messy. What would have been wrong with 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 8,000? Easier for all to remember, and for a DM to set up encounters around.
Over the five levels, only two feat are given: one at level 1, and another at level 3. Level 4 has 4e's "+1 to two abilities" idea, which is a great way around the need for having "+strength" items. But what happens at level 5? Nothing? 4e made sure that every level had something fun you gained, but there seems to be a distinct hole in the chart here.
Some ups, some downs. Plus, they only have the first five levels. They could be doing something good with this, or it could go places that do not work.
So there are my thoughts on character creation (minus the classes...which still has a significant bit of reading and writing coming!). Do you agree or disagree? What are you looking forward to? What do you have concerns over?