You can play the next iteration of D&D in May.
In December 2011, I was invited to see the new version of Dungeons & Dragons and hear Wizards of the Coast's plans for its release. A big part of that strategy was to give the fans a chance to play early versions and offer their input on the game. The next D&D would be our D&D. The first phase of playtesting was for a select few, but starting May 24th you'll be able to play the new game and offer your opinions on how it works.
"The playtest is the single most important part of the D&D Next process," said Mike Mearls, head of the D&D development team. "D&D is a game that has spanned 38 years of gaming, spawned countless campaigns, and launched an entire gaming genre."
Mearls has admitted the previous version - the much-maligned 4th edition - suffered from a lack of playtesting, something he promises to reverse this time. "While D&D is an intensely personal game, taken as a whole it cannot afford to become something beholden to one team's vision. D&D is a tool for creativity. The game must embrace the entirety of its past, and the entirety of its fandom, in order to create a compelling future. No one voice can rise above the others, unless it is the voice of D&D fans as a whole."
The plan for how the open and public playtest will be distributed hasn't yet been set in stone but Wizards says more information will be forthcoming in the weeks leading up to Thursday May 24th.
Having checked in with the Wizards folks at PAX East, I knew that the announcement for a public playtest was on its way and the news of Monte Cook's resignation most likely only had a superficial impact on the timing. I'm sure people will still suspect a larger connection between the two events, but I'm confident the long playtest period will go a long way towards refining the new ruleset.