As you all already know, I'm sure, the internet has recently exploded with news. (I suspect that all the recent website blackouts were not, in fact, SOPA/PIPA protests, but server crashes due to all the discussion.) Wizards of the Coast is finally canning the abominable 4th edition and coming out with something completely different, something that folks have taken to calling "D&D Next", a supposed Rosetta Stone of editions that draws on the best of every every version since the original.
I have to remain skeptical about that. After all, Castles & Crusades is also frequently billed as "the edition to use with all of your old gaming stuff, regardless of edition," and the reality of C&C never quite lived up to the hype. I do, however, remain cautiously optimistic about D&D Next. There is a chance, however slim, that WotC will finally "get it right" this time and not make the core game an overly complex monstrosity.
3rd edition and 4th edition were big games. They weren't just the spiritual descendants of "Advanced" D&D: they were advanced by an order of magnitude. With 5th edition, though, the word on the street seems to be that the core game will be simple and basic, with all the complexity kept in optional, modular add-ons.
In other words, they very thing that TSR should have done back in the day to unify their D&D and AD&D lines (and somewhat tried to do with 2nd edition, keeping the core game simple, the complex bits optional, and the really complex bits in separate books). If it works for 5th edition, we might just see the slick, simple, modular system that some of us have been begging for for years now. "Cautious optimism" is the buzz-word of the day.
Another way to think of it might be this: I hope that 5th edition isn't really 5th edition, insofar as the numbered editions indicate descent from AD&D 1e. I hope that D&D Next is basic D&D, with the option to make it into AD&D if you like that sort of thing. And if Mike Mearls and Monte Cook and the rest of the design team really have been playing every edition to get the right feel for real D&D, let's just say I'm fine with feeling hopeful. It all just hinges on whether they learned their lesson from the disaster that was 4e.
On another, related subject, it just came out that WotC is releasing commemorative reprints of the 1st edition PHB, DMG, and MM. The immediate response on all the blogs and forums was overwhelmingly positive, usually accompanied by the adjective "classy", as in "Classy move, WotC! Now we grognards are paying you some attention again!"
I find it astonishing that it took Wizards so long to notice how such a simple and relatively uncostly action like reprinting a few old books in limited-edition runs can buy so much easy goodwill. I'm also just a bit tickled by the implications of this: it rather suggests to me that WotC is preemptively throwing a bone to the grognards, since we know that 5th edition will emphatically not sport 1st edition's quirky rules and Gygaxian character. It will be a WotC edition, through and through, make no mistake about that. That means "d20 + modifiers", shitty artwork, and (whether it makes it into the core game or not) somewhere there will be rules for "building" characters complex enough to please the twinks, munchkins, and min/maxers.
One final note: check out Weekend Wizardy if you get the chance. Mr. Dave Lawson has come up with yet another cool E&E monster, this time a "clockwork lich" with a nice B-movie mad scientist twist. Take a look!