This week saw the online release of the free Dungeon Master's D&D Basic Rules v1 (the printer friendly version is here). Basically this is about 50 pages of monsters, some guidelines on building balanced encounters and some background on monster design (enough so a person can design/convert monsters for 5E). This was then followed up with some sample monsters and the Table of Contents for the upcoming Monster Manual being released.
-The DM Basic Rules is very bare bones. Sure, there a bunch of monsters a group can use to create their own adventures. That seems to be the purpose of the document, to let groups run their own adventures...it is not a true preview of the MM.
-The formatting of the DM Basic Rules is weird Monsters are listed completely alphabetical...Adult Red Dragon is listed under A for Adult, not under D for Dragon. However, looking at the MM samples it looks like they are listed in the "usual" manner...Dragons go under D with different types of dragons also being listed under Dragon. Likely the formatting for DM Basic Rules was done for speed and ease.
-The DM Basic Rules really only give stat blocks and then a sentence or two for a description. The sample monsters from the MM show much more detail. Again the sparseness of the DM Basic Rule entries was likely done for speed, ease and space.
-Looking over the list of monsters to be in the MM, it looks like they included all the "mainstays" of monsters. There was no iconic monster I was looking for that was not included. There were very few "oddball" or "new" monsters (except for a maybe a couple like the Flumph). I like this. For a first MM, people want to see their favorite monsters given stats. People don't want to look for their favorites and not be able to find them...it gives a sense of the book being short. Instead I feel the book looks like it will be "full".
-The Table of Contents has 25 pages of Miscellaneous Monsters. No detail is given but I am assuming this is animals, dire animals, dinosaurs and such. Seems like a lot of pages for these which I like. Again, I suspect the animal and similar categories will be covered fairly completely.
-9 pages of NPCs. If it's like the ones in the DM Basic Rules this should be sample of generic NPCs (Thug, Acolyte, Mage, etc) which can be readily inserted into an adventure. Again useful.
-I didn't see anything in the Table of Contents that showed there would lists showing monster CR. Maybe that was on another page...or they won't be included. If not included that would be a shame. I wouldn't want to have to be forced to flip through the book looking for the monsters that fall within the encounter levels I am building an adventure around.
-Overall, the Monster Manual looks strong...and the DM Basic Rules is an excellent (and free) aid to adventure design until the MM and DMG come out later.