Yesterday I got together with my regular group and we sat down to chug out a good five hours on module B2 Caves of Chaos with the D&D Next playtest. It was great.
We decided to go without the battlemat, which wasn't to alien for us because of our T&T games, but it was still a little odd doing it with D&D since we're more accustomed to 4e's sprawling 2 hour battle extravaganzas. I think the majority opinion was that the 'theatre of the mind' playstyle was more involving and immersive, as we described exactly where we were and what we were doing. I liked it very much, but I can see why sometime you might need to get the old grid out when numbers become a problem.
I played the halfling rogue, called Vincent Crestfall, mostly because he looked like one of the most interesting characters. I had a blast playing him, with his sneak attack bonus, Lucky racial feature and all the other good thief scheme stuff, which essentially gives you you open locks, find a disable traps skill bonuses. Speaking of skills, since there isn't a set skill list in this version of the playtest, we had to tie our actions to base attributes. Most of the time this was fluid, but some arguments did come up about which attribute is most appropriate to use. In the end, it's the DM's decision anyway, which is fine by me. I do prefer this more freeform way of doing skills and I hope it's kept that way.
One problem that we did come across was that the wizard seemed overpowered to begin with. While we were delving into the kobold warrens, he was picking them all off with magic missile with auto-kills. This annoyed the player because he wasn't getting to roll anything because his minimum damage output was higher than the kobolds' HP. I guess the main reason this seemed a bit borked was because magic missile is a cantrip and so can be used any time. On the plus side, the wizard didn't seem useless at any point, since he could still blast off spells once he's used sleep and burning hands. Perhaps magic missile should go back to being a 1st level spell, but 1d4 + Int instead.
Advantages and disadvantages were universally liked, as they added to the fluidity of combat and allowed for easy refereeing. They do make a big difference, much more than a +/-2, and they can be used in lots of situations.
Something that I loathe, and I know I'm definitely not alone with this, is the long sleep giving a full heal. Even Mike Mearls has apparently errata'd this on Twitter, saying you could heal level + Con modifier. The problem with this approach is that you're going to get characters with -2 Con who end up losing HP when resting. Maybe that could reflect their apparent weakness, but a quick patch would be Con + level and you heal a minimum of 1. Otherwise, if you have a Hit Die spare perhaps you could contribute that towards it?
Speaking of Hit Dice, they're nowhere as overpowered at healing surges were, since you only get one use a day a 1st level and that's only with a healing kit. We didn't realise the one use a day thing because the rules aren't very clear about it, so we did use a bunch at one point, but now we know.
Combat itself was fluid, each encounter lasting minutes instead of hours. Since the rules are less rigid about actions that in 4e, I found it easier to pull off cool stuff. It's possible that monster and character HP may be a little high to begin with, but I seem to remember the designers saying that's something they're working on. I do like how characters have to roll for their HP again when they level, but they're also given the option to use their Con modifier instead, which isn't a problem for me personally.
One thing I did wonder at was why sling damage was so high at 1d8. I would have expected 1d6 at the most really, especially considering how powerful sneak attack gets per level (+3d6 at 3rd level, meaning critting with a 29, which seems awfully high).
I'll probably be returning to the caves this weekend, so stay tuned for more reports.