If you’re interested in what 4e is looking like, head on over here for a fan-compiled .pdf of all the hints, details, and revealed info. I think it’s missing some of the stuff from the commercial products (Races & Classes, Worlds & Monsters, maybe D&D Insider), but then again I don’t have the time to keep track of them all.
There’s a lot different in the world, and I’m not just talking about the bog-gliding halflings or the inundation of special abilities (“powers”) that requires you to bring a laptop with Excel to every game just so you can figure out what powers you have and what they do. Look at all the stuff you get as a level 1 pally… that’s unsane. Keeping track of that must be a bitch, especially when you get new powers, or if your powers upgrade by level, or… Behold, the power of Spreadsheets!
Biggest change, besides the morass of powers and abilities, is skills. They dropped the skill list by what appears to be a third, combining all sorts of logical skills in order to streamline the game. Seems like too few to me–yeah, disabling devices, picking pockets, and moving silently are all thief-like traits, but should there be a skill combining all of them since realistically they’re not very similar? And, dear God, can the Gauntlets of Ogre Power be nerfed any more? I’m not a huge fan of the idea of the once/day buffs that monsters get–like the +10 to STR for ogres, and Fast Heal +20hp for trolls–as these mechanics just don’t simulate the same things that have been staples since AD&D. Ogres should always be strong–why can they only lift a boulder once a day?
For comparison, try Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG. The free Alpha test .pdf was released in late March, and saw 10,000 downloads in the first week. Paizo is sticking close to the 3.5 ruleset, but is clearly making a 3.Paizo design. Like 4th, they streamlined the skill list, but it’s less “cramped” than the 4e list: Hide and Move Silently became Stealth, and Listen/Spot/Search were combined into Perception. So, there’s fewer skills than 3.5, but more than 4e. Another interesting note: all races get two stat bonuses (at +2) and one stat penalty (at -2), except for humans, who get a single +2 to their choice. Clerics are now the power class, since they get some badass Domain powers and a healing buff with turning, all chars cap at 4 spells per spell level, and 0-level spells can be spontaneously cast (whee!). It’s a bit more powerful than 3.5, but at the same time the -2 is a lot more balancing than 4e’s two-bonuses, no-penalties.
Honestly, I think the Paizo blend is better than WotC’s, but I’ll have to wait and see for others’ reactions. I can see where 4e is going, but I feel like it’s got too much power creep and tried to oversimplify things. Oh, and I hate the idea of the bog-gliding hillbilly halflings. Seriously, guys.