Ok, so I never played in the D&D Next playtest, I know people that did and so some of my observations were kind of like -duh- to them when I mentioned some of these things.
I didn't know if I was going to like D&D 5e, but I bought the D&D Starter Set for $12, I mean for $12 I can satisfy my curiosity and not get too heavily invested.
Advantages and Disadvantages, a new mechanic, are neat. You roll 2d20 and pick highest or lowest depending on what (Dis)Advantage you have.
Athletics is now Climb, Jump and Swim FINALLY the movement skills get collapsed.
Stealth is one skill for Hiding AND Moving Silently just like Pathfinder!
Perception is one skill for Spot and Listen, almost like Pathfinder yay!
Bluff is new Deception, Intimidate became Intimidation and Diplomacy is Persuasion so no real changes there.
In 5e, you can break up your movement at no penalty!
This right here is where somebody noticed I hadn't been in the playtest. It's one of the big things people who played it remember right off the bat.
In case you didn't know under the old D&D 3.x rule you moved around until you did something or reached the limit of your movement. If you moved 10 feet and did something you lost the other 20 feet of your movement, that was it, the end of your turn.
So they took out that rule, a rule that in practice made the game more complicated and made each player's actions take longer to decide at the table, the previous movement rule did not add versimilitude, you know how when you want to walk somewhere but you can't do any other things while you're walking because those things make you have to completely stop what you are doing in order to do them. Like how fencers never move when they attack with a sword, soldiers never move while shooting a rifle, and marathon runners always come to a complete stop to drink small cups of liquid. In other words the rule made playing more like a game and less like life.
But it IS a game you say, yes it is, but as a rule it didn't add deep game play or allow for players to develop clever stratagems. What it did do is make most people feel like they had to remember how the different pieces move in chess without adding the complexity/strategy that those movements create.
So this is how Game Rules can be like playing Jenga, only in this specific case they took out a rule that didn't destabilise the tower, and made the game easier and more fun to play. You used to have to take a Feat tree in order to get around this rule. Now everyone gets the benefit of fluid character movements without a feat.
The collapsed skills above were basically different ways of doing the same thing, that in the case of Hide and Move Silently usually you had to do both at the same time and roll for both at once so that even if you put equal points in both you often blew one of the dice rolls ensuring your character could never go anywhere without being noticed. The only way you didn't get caught is if the person on watch blew their opposing rolls for the other two skills with the same problem Spot and Listen. Now that both skills are single skills you can put more emphasis on other things to customize your character and not just the obligatory skills you need to perform your character's Role in the party.
In that way I think collapsing those skills was a no brainer and another Jenga block that comes off while stabilising the tower and making the game easier and more fun to play.
Climb, Jump and Swim are now Athletics, well that's not exactly how Pathfinder did it, Climb and Swim use the same mechanic and determine how far you move under adverse conditions. Jump has Horizontal and Vertical components and running starts and other things that make it different from Swim and Climb. Pathfinder left Swim and Climb separate because? Maybe because nobody knew how to Swim in the middle ages, there isn't a Fantasy YMCA that everyone goes to? That's fine for Pathfinder, but collapsing them is ok by me. I'm working with mostly Modern source materials. Pathfinder combined Jump and Tumble into Acrobatics and for myself I am going to leave it that way. That means Jump isn't left all by its lonesome which I am fine with. Another block comes off the top, the tower is still stable, but getting simpler and easier to play all the time.
Dodge might be useful against higher level critters now. The original D&D 3.x Dodge mechanic was a Feat that gave you a +1 Bonus to not be hit by 1 guy that you had to name every battle and quite frankly it wasn't worth a Feat. Dodge setup other feats you might want, including Spring Attack, the one you don't need anymore because of the changes to the movement rule. The Old Dodge feat wasn't worth it for its own sake. This new Dodge is an acton you can take, it gives all attackers that you can see Combat Disadvantage. I needed to bug our resident statistics guy as to how large a numerical advantage the Advantage or Disadvantage mechanic gives you. It seemed bigger than a +4 to me. It also seemed like it could be Swingy because two die twenty rolls could be very different.
Carl my statistician friend says on average Advantage or Disadvantage is worth 3.5 on a die roll outcome, so not so different from +4, however the depending on the Difficulty Number you need to roll, it changes the math. So now an action everyone can do that is good against all attackers beats the hell out of spending a feat you forget half the time that you can get a +1 against one person attacking you. We're not pulling out a block from the tower this time, the game didn't get smaller but this improvement to Dodge gives you some breathing room when the bad guys have you on the ropes. I think it adds Depth of Gameplay from what it used to be and should make the game more fun to play.
One more thing that I didn't know when I first drafted this, If you have Advantage and Disadvantage they cancel each other out. So say the Bad Guy has the drop on me, he has something over me that gives him Combat Advantage which makes it more likely he can hit me, or use some kind of special ability on me. All I have to say is I Dodge and now he and all of his friends have Combat Disadvantage and hopefully my character lives to play another round.
Cleric and Wizard spells attack with caster's Primary stat, neat. So Wizards and Clerics get to use their Intelligence or Wisdom to make their Ranged Attacks instead of using manual Dexterity.
Only two attack ranges yay! Long range is a Disadvantage boo! Also firing at adjacent targets is also a Disadvantage, boo! I guess if you can find an Advantage on the Adjacent target or the Long Range target to cancel out the Disadvantage you'll be fine.
3 kinds of cover, how does this crap get put back into the game. One cover at +4 was fine. In D&D 3.0 there were 5 kinds of cover including Total Cover, in D&D 3.5 there was +4 Cover and Total Cover. So in 5e now we have 3 kinds of Cover, I guess it's not as bad as 5 kinds, but still I think this is a step backward.
Death at negative Total HP, I need to see it in play, but Negative CON wasn't awful so this might not be either. Ok, I ran 2 sessions of the Lost Mine of Phandelver and we got closer to dead characters. It works like this if you go to Zero hit points but don't take enough points to equal your full Hit Points you don't Die Instantly, you are only dying. Dying isn't a slow countdown anymore, every round you make a Saving Throw, if you get three saves before three failures you Stabilize. If you get three failures first you Die. Other characters can try to Stabilize you, any Healing automatically stops you from Dying.
I really like that you don't go below Zero, so you don't waste a lot of Healing, you heal a guy he wakes up.
Natural 20 always Crits, there is no rolling to confirm a Critical. This more than anything else felt vert First Edition to me. In 3.x you could get a Natural 20 get excited, then roll badly on the confirmation and it was just a regular hit again, there were feats and equipment just to modify the second roll. IT all slowed the game down and lead to less fun at the table. I am glad Crits and Natural 20s are back to where the probably always should have been.
Knockout Blows, if you attack somebody and reduce them to Zero Hit Points you can chose to knock them out instead of killing them. There have been lots of Knockout rules and Subdual rules and Nonlethal Damage rules throughout the history of D&D, this one seems the simplest.
I received my Player's Handbook today, we'll have more notes on the changes, I'm thinking a lot of the things we like can be Houseruled in people's home 3.x and Pathfinder games.
Designer at Evilrobotgames.com