One aspect that seems to be common in the buzz surrounding DnDnext is modularity. It seems that lots of alternate rules are in the plans. I think that’s a good thing.
Other rule sets dabble in this and it’s something I’ve always appreciated. Granted, I think just about everyone home rules their game a little. Yet I think for new DMs having some guidance is especially beneficial. It’s great to have these core rules, with a few sidebars of suggestions and alternate rules to make the game more complicated (or make things easier).
One thing that stuck out for me with 4E was the lack of official nods towards tweaking the game. While I always got the DM philosophy with 4E being, ‘It’s your game, make it the way you want’, having some options in the books would have been helpful. And the rules that were there could have been emphasized a tad more (pg. 42 DMG). You had this whole debacle of skill check DCs being high, then being cut in half, then shifting up to being close to the original values. Having additional ways to fiddle with the game would have done wonders in addressing errata for these codified rules.
I’ve always liked having the developers provide some suggestions on ways to tinker with the game. It saves me time having to think up and test out my own ideas when I could be spending that playing games. Plus I think having rules that are more fluid to different play styles gives the game room to appeal to more people. For organized play this can be an issue, however it’s something that can be worked around (there is always that option of using a ‘vanilla’ set of rules if needed).
One thing I am hoping for however, are not just ideas and tweaks to add complexity and make the game more challenging to players. There should also be options to streamline the game more and beef up PC power. While the core base of the rules should provide a challenge to PCs by default, having some options to put on the kid’s gloves would be nice. Some groups may not be full of super-optimized character builds and having the game locked into that default setting for mechanics can be problematic.
4E had encounter building pretty solid, however as the game progressed with different player options I think it began to slide towards altering core monsters to provide a challenge. It seemed the game sort of straddled trying to cater to the needs of power gamers and other groups with less optimized characters. The math of the game grew into being built around PCs having defenses of X and attack bonuses of Y at level Z. If you opted to work on other stats, you sort of shot yourself in the leg with player advancement. So having options of turning down the game difficulty should not be overlooked.
Either way, it looks like the intention of DnDnext will be to cover a lot of different play styles over a core framework of rules. A sound decision over just creating one base set of rules that tries to cover everything.