I keep running across articles and comments written by folks who seem utterly perplexed by what the 5e team is saying about D&D Next. How can you have one-hour games that finish even one combat and 4e-style grid maneuvers? How can the game appease both folks who want OSR-style fantasy fucking Vietnam and precious-snowflakes who will never die to mooks and random chance?
C’mon, folks, they haven’t exactly been cagey about this. They’re going to build a bare spine of a game and then give you modules to build your own personal campaign from. Want race-as-class? Great, here are some dwarf, elf, and halfling classes to slot into your campaign. Your neighbor wants race and class to be separate? Great, here’s some race modules they can slot in instead.
But what, then, goes up the cry, will be the default game? I can’t say for certain, but if they’re going to do everything they claim to be setting out to do, I imagine it’ll be so bare-bones as to be neigh unplayable. It’ll be stats, BABs, saves, and that might be all of it. Every class, race, spell, etc would be part of a module. Every campaign will be unique, nobody will use all of it, and everyone will be talking in bizarre shorthand about how their campaign works (“D&D w/Core4 cls, no hlf or gnm, hrdcr dmg.”)
Assuming they plan to take it to this extreme, the really interesting question will be how they plan to publish supplements and adventure materials that would cover every available style. Perhaps they don’t? Maybe they’ll just focus on core books and settings that provide more slottable rules modules?
All their surveys certainly seem to point to this idea. The more diverse (or fractured, take your pick) the community reveals itself to be, the more this option looks like the logical next step. Though this doesn't address comments that a 1e-sytle fighter and a 4e-style fighter can play at the same table. That just sounds like a recipe for disaster. So I’m willing to entertain the notion that I’m completely wrong here; my track record with predictions for 5e has been notoriously bad so far. ;)