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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many have asked:  Why make another Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express?  You could just as easily ask: Why adapt another Shakespeare play?  Or Why make another Sherlock Holmes series?  When your story is great, and becomes as classic as Agatha Christie’s famous, timeless 1934 novel, it’s sort of the point of cinema, isn’t it?  From an actor standpoint, being in one of the film versions of Murder on the Orient Express, and portraying such iconic roles, is something like being cast as King Lear.  And who better than Kenneth Branagh to inject his own vision of the story into a new snapshot of acting greats for a new era of audience members?  Of Branagh’s twenty directorial pursuits, you must go back to the early era of Dead Again and Peter’s Friends to find Branagh not serving as puppetmaster of someone else’s well-known world, whether it’s Shakespeare in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet (and the list goes on), or adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Marvel Comics’ Thor, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Branagh is the king of directing adaptations and remakes.  Add Murder on the Orient Express to that list, a faithful adaptation of the book, stylishly filmed with lavish, sweeping sets and landscapes courtesy of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Branagh’s choice cameraman on four of his past films.

The year’s casting award goes to Lucy Bevan for bring filmgoers back to the age of the all-star cast, where you’d look to 1970s disaster movies (Airport ’76, Towering Inferno, Earthquake) or the odd comedy (think It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) for a pantheon of stars like that found in Orient Express.  Branagh as Hercule Poirot sports that classic era moustache with confidence (Christie herself called Poirot’s moustache “magnificent” and “immense”) and he adds his own quirks and humor to Christie’s legendary greatest detective, providing a new twist on the Holmes/Monk/House, M.D. frustrated genius detective archetype.  So many of the cast members appear every bit like Golden Age film stars here, including Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and Leslie Odom, Jr., with a particularly engaging performance by Tom Bateman as Poirot’s friend Bouc, in what will no doubt be seen as a great breakout role for the actor.

The film will be best for those unfamiliar with the story.  A famous detective receives a message requiring him to squeeze onto a full train at the last minute with a little more than a dozen passengers aboard.  When one passenger who fears for his life and requests assistance from the detective winds up dead in a brutal, bloody murder, the whodunit begins.  Once a snowy avalanche blocks the path of the train, the game is afoot as the delay provides enough time for Detective Poirot to begin interviewing the passengers.  The mystery is laid out with several clues, including just enough to allow the viewer to figure out who killed the victim if he/she is paying close attention.  And Branagh stages the investigation like a game of Clue/Cluedo–including overhead angles that at times make the viewer feel like Murder on the Orient Express is indeed a virtual reality version of the board game.  We know the murder weapons and the location, but who is responsible for the death and why?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rarely has anyone been able to create a single work that includes so much information in such spectacular fashion about such an epic body of work.  Writer Daniel Falconer has done just that with Middle-earth: From Script to Screen–Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, his new 512-page, exhaustive, encyclopedic chronicle of the making of both of director Peter Jackson’s trilogies adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Never before seen photographs, never before published recollections of cast and crew of the films that all-told would add up to nearly 24 hours of award-winning cinema, garnering seventeen Academy Awards for The Lord of the Rings films and seven nominations for The Hobbit.  Weta Workshop’s Daniel Falconer, who has written some of the best-reviewed books we have looked at here at borg.com, catches up The Lord of the Rings to the coverage he has documented in his books on the making of The Hobbit trilogy, without providing any redundant content from his prior books, including The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles–Creatures & Characters, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, The Hobbit, Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Art & Design, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Art of War.  In doing so he has created the definitive resource for fans of the films, and fans of the Tolkien books now have a visual, fully-realized geographic resource guide to Middle-earth.

Beginning with a fabulous map of Middle-earth that includes cross-references to the pages of the book where each location is discussed, the reader can take his or her own tour across the film (and book’s) fantasy realm and real-life New Zealand filming locations.  The journeys of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings and Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the other Dwarfs in The Hobbit are overlaid so that the reader’s tour sweeps across the landscapes and environments created entirely by concept artists, artisans, and skilled workers of every imaginable category, required to faithfully reflect Tolkien’s and Jackson’s visions.  Even more exciting are accounts, including descriptions and photographs, of places that Jackson filmed, but did not make it to the final cut of the film.  The weight of this task–the task of creating the films and also in creating this hefty document–are reflected in the artistry and organization of every single page.

Along with the primary narrative focusing on selection, planning, building and filming each environment, readers will discover several sidebars covering topics like key characters, races, and creatures, and a veritable how-to guide to making an epic film series that takes readers through breaking down a script, set conceptualization, set drafting, use of “big rigs”–a twist on forced perspective filming, sound design, location scouting, art direction, set construction, set decoration, cinematography, performance/motion capture, building model miniatures, previsualization, aerial and scenic photography, organic sets, the greens department (charged with plant life set dressing), talismans and props, set and prop finishing, post-production, color grading, lighting, shooting on location, using locations responsibly, and creating digital environments.

Throughout the book readers will learn what materials and settings could be re-used from The Lord of the Rings for The Hobbit.  Initially environments were not built to last, but after the success of various filming locations in New Zealand as tourist attractions when filming wrapped on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, many sites were rebuilt to survive past production for The Hobbit films.  This included the creation of 44 Hobbit holes that can be visited today among many other sites.  The journey across the map of Middle-earth will take readers to The Shire, Lands of Arnor, Rivendell, The Misty Mountains, Khazad-dûm, Wilderland, Mirkwood, Lothlórien and the River Anduin, Realms of Rhovanion, Rohan, Enedwaith & Calenardhon, Realms of the North & Wastes of the East, Ithilien & the Morgul Vale, and Mordor and the Shadowed South.

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In the realm of fantasy, magical talismans are often the key to a character’s actions or journey, part of the goal, such as destroying the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, and they typically bestow power on their owners, such as Dorothy’s shoes that can transport her home in The Wizard of Oz or even King Arthur’s sword Excalibur, which bestowed him rule of all of Great Britain.  J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter includes many magical objects, including the horcruxes.  Even more integral to Harry Potter’s journey and all the wizards is the wand.  A major scene in all of the books and films is Harry obtaining his wand from Ollivanders–“T’aint no place better,” says Hagrid.  And the wand chooses the wizard, according to Mr. Ollivander.

Sometimes fans must wait for all the information they want about their favorite films and characters.  It’s been six years since the last Harry Potter movie premiered, but fans of the franchise at last have a photographic guide to the key wands designed for the principal named characters.  This week Insight Editions releases From the Films of Harry Potter: The Wand Collection, including new photographs of 66 actual movie prop wands.  Seventeen thousand wand boxes were created by the prop makers for the shelves of Ollivanders wand shop in Diagon Alley, according to the book, quoting late set decorator Stephenie McMillan.  After the wands were each designed by art director Hattie Storey and concept artists including Adam Brockbank, Alex Walker, and Ben Dennett, then supervising modeler and prop maker Pierre Bohanna would create a single “original” of each wand, which would be later be duplicated in resin or rubber for stunt work in multiples depending on the need of the production.

From the Films of Harry Potter: The Wand Collection begins with a brief discussion of the in-universe use of wands as written in J.K. Rowling’s books, along with an overview of the behind the scenes production creation of the props with interviews of cast members and prop makers.  The bulk of the oversized book, an elegantly designed hardcover in a long 12 x 6 inch format to allow for close-up photography of each wand, includes a brief description of the wand, the character wielding the wand in the film, and discussions with actors, designers, and excerpts from the source books.  Hagrid’s lengthy wand is featured in a double-sized pull-out image, the wand sporting his trademark umbrella component.  Another pull-out includes multiple handles of the Death Eaters, and another includes detail of the unique handle of the wand of Jason Isaacs’ character, Lucius Malfoy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula is a series of novels and short stories that began in 1992, showcasing an elaborate and detailed parallel history of Earth set between 1888 and 1990 (so far), where Bram Stoker’s Dracula is seen as a true biographical account of the real Count, and the Count controls England by winning the hand of Queen Victoria.  Anno Dracula is a steampunk mix of fictional characters and real people spanning a century in a bit of a The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Legenderry construct.  Gunga Din, Fu Manchu, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Lestat de Lioncourt (from Interview with the Vampire), Prince Mamuwalde (from Blacula), Doctor Moreau, Allan Quatermain, and even Carl Kolchak from The Night Stalker all show up in Newman’s fantasy world, alongside real people of the past like Billy the Kid, Catherine the Great, Joseph Merrick, William Morris, Beatrix Potter, and Orson Welles.  Newman’s entirely new story is in the form of a comic book series, Anno Dracula–1895: Seven Days in Mayhem, published by Titan Comics and illustrated by Paul McCaffrey, and it is now available in a collected trade edition from Titan Comics.

As Dracula’s tenth jubilee approaches, an assassination plan is underway from radical forces in Great Britain.  Newman’s powerful lead Kate Reed–journalist, free thinker, and vampire–has joined a council of revolutionaries, but when Dracula’s secret police come crashing in she turns to a familiar old friend to try to save herself and the Count himself, but she must first get through Count Graf Von Orlok of Nosferatu fame.  As with past entries in the series, this is not a tale about Dracula, but more about every other living and fictional famous face of the day.  And my favorite piece of a Kim Newman story is his use of fantastic characters and historical figures sometimes only for a single page or, as with his new graphic series, in a single panel, but always for a reason, and often for a joke (Twilight books, you are not exempt).  So keep a lookout for a steampunk cyborg Thomas Edison and a ship captain with a striking similarity to Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera.  Artist McCaffrey’s artistry is a great pairing with Newman’s classic prose.

Few authors have a such a command of their subjects as Newman has of vampire lore and film.  Check out my interview with Newman back in 2013 here at borg.com, as well as our reviews of his sequels to the novel Anno Dracula:  Dracula Cha Cha Cha here, and Johnny Alucard here.  Fans of Alan Moore’s several adaptations of classic characters will love Newman’s works, but be prepared:  Where Moore puts a few characters together to have an adventure such as in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Newman has deftly woven easily more than a thousand into his world.  Anno Dracula–1895: Seven Days in Mayhem is proof that the entire Anno Dracula series should be adapted to the graphic novel format.  An exciting, rousing tale, it’s too good to pass up.

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Kansas City Comic Con 2017 wrapped after three days yesterday, full of great opportunities to meet comic book and other genre creators, celebrities, and participate in all sorts of activities from how-to classes on cosplay armor building to LEGO building, and several panels covering a variety of topics.  For regular convention attendees the best part is the ability to see friends you’ve known for sometimes decades, and forging new bonds with other like-minded, positive and fun people.

What came as a surprise for many this year was the enormous participation of attendees in their favorite cosplay.  On Saturday the open areas of the convention floor were often so filled with cosplayers and others getting photographs that you could hardly move through without bumping into someone.  That’s a pretty great feat, because Bartle Hall in downtown Kansas City is a major sized venue.

So let’s take a look at a few of the hundreds of great characters found at this year’s show:

   

To my left above is one of the first people to create Obi-Wan Kenobi as designed by Mike Mayhew in Star Wars Issue #15, written by Jason Aaron.  He really nailed the look with the great backback, rifle, and goggles.  This wins my “I am definitely going to borrow this idea” award.  This is the version Sideshow is expected to release in 1:6 scale in late 2018:

Here is Jennifer and Nicholas Forrestal with their Morticia and Gomez Addams from The Addams Family:

  

And a great Uncle Fester was on-hand as well.  The best ad lib physical humor award goes to Kevin Dilmore for his quick rendition of Thing.

I was surprised by all the Rogue One cosplayers that Elizabeth Bunce (as Jyn Erso in Imperial disguise) and I (as the Blue Squadron X-Wing pilot general) were able to get some photos with, including our boss, Mon Mothma:

… and a soldier from the Battle of Scarif (where we both met our doom):

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Kansas City Comic Con 2017 has been an event full of fun for both visitors and the creative guests the attendees came to meet.  One of the show highlights was a Green Arrow Quiver/Sounds of Violence reunion of writer Kevin Smith and artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks.  The trio delved into the impetus for bringing Oliver Queen/Green Arrow back from the dead back in early 2001 after the character had been killed off and replaced with Connor Hawke as the Green Arrow for a generation of readers.  “I was a big fan of the character going back to the day.  I loved Grell’s Longbow Hunters and I loved the book that followed Longbow Hunters.  It was like a Vertigo book, but wasn’t technically a Vertigo book, but it was very grown-up.”  When Smith was visiting the DC Comics offices discussing a Superman screenplay back around 1996, Smith said he popped his head into Green Arrow editor Darren Vincenzo’s office and said, “Hey, man, if you ever want to put Green Arrow in the Top 10, let me write the book.  I think I got a story.”  A year later when Smith was working on Daredevil, Vincenzo recalled the conversation and asked if Smith was serious about Green Arrow. 

Smith, Hester, and Parks had each worked with editor Bob Schreck, who had just moved to DC from Oni Press, where Schreck had been co-founder.  Schreck wanted Smith for the Green Arrow project idea and asked who he’d like for his artistic team, and Smith suggested Hester and Parks in part because of their work on Swamp Thing.  “I fell in love with it deeply,” Smith said.  The team was solidified and they moved forward with the project.  “Having these two dudes enabled me to go where I wanted to go,” Smith added.  Already established artists at the time with a catalog of works, Hester and Parks expressed gratitude to Smith for selecting them for the project and Smith said the collaboration with Hester and Parks on the project helped cement his position in the comic book industry as a creator who is now regularly tapped for insight into the comics industry in documentaries on comics, among other things.  “The only reason I get to be in that stuff is because I have credibility in the comic book community because of stuff like Quiver.  Quiver was the one particularly,” Smith said, further noting the book won national awards.

And speaking of Mike Grell, Grell was also a guest at KCCC this year. Always great for a conversation, Grell was busy working on sketch commissions for attendees this weekend.

Smith also discussed working with Dynamite Comics to bring together later projects with Phil Hester and artist Jonathan Lau on Green Hornet and The Bionic Man.  Hester said there was much back and forth communication in creating the story, and Smith emphasized the collaborative effort, “I used to be a guy that was like ‘oh, I just want to write it myself–I don’t want any input.  And then one day you work with people who add something, and then it’s ‘God, that’s incredible!'”  He used as examples contributions from Chris Rock in his film Dogma and Will Ferrell in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back–both actors who made contributions to the script but didn’t ask for or want any writing creditsand creator David Mandel in the animated Clerks.  When fans reference great lines that Smith didn’t write he said he makes sure to credit the writer.  “It’s important for collaborators to cite those people who are your collaborators.”  The panel was hosted by the Worst Comics Podcast Ever’s Jerry McMullen (shown above after the panel with Hester, Parks, and Smith).

Lee Meriwether and Doug Jones at KCCC 2017.

In the celebrity autograph area at KCCC 2017, a reunion and momentous meet-up involved actress Lee Meriwether and actor Doug Jones.  Both Meriwether and Jones worked together on the film The Ultimate Legacy, which also starred Raquel Welch and Brian Dennehy.  Meriwether and Jones are unique in that they represent contemporaries in acting but also represent bookends of a sort for the 51-year Star Trek franchise.  In addition to her many famous roles in series like Barnaby Jones, All My Children, and Batman, Meriwether played the character Losira in the original Star Trek series episode, “That Which Survives.”  Jones, an actor who has performed both as creature characters where he is often unrecognizable–a Lon Chaney of today as one fan referred to him–as well as more standard roles, has performed in more than 150 films and TV series (from one of the creepy Gentlemen in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Hush” to the creature in next month’s new Guillermo del Toro release The Shape of Water).  Plus Jones has appeared in 100 commercials, including as the classic McDonald’s moon-shaped mascot “Mac Tonight.”  And Jones currently plays the alien leading character Lieutenant Saru on this year’s latest Star Trek incarnation, Star Trek Discovery.

Gary Fisher and his family meet attendees at KCCC 2017.

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Aardman Studios is that British animation company known for director Nick Park and his stop-motion clay animation films, most notably the Academy Award winning Wallace & Gromit, and the groundbreaking series Creature Comforts.  Its full length feature Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit also won an Academy Award for best animated feature.  And the studio produced the popular Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep, and Pirates! Band of MisfitsDirector Hayao Miyazaki, widely considered one of the best animators of all time, counts himself as a fan of the Aardman movies.

Haven’t seen this kind of animation before?  It’s the style every kid in the 1960s grew up with.  Start with the three Wallace & Gromit shorts A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave featuring a cheese loving British inventive chap named Wallace and his smart, loyal, and cynical dog Gromit.  The animation, and the quick speeds of certain segments, are simply stunning.  Then try Creature Comforts, a half-hour television series that aired in both the UK and USA, where every day folks were interviewed on the street, then their voices were dubbed into farm and zoo animal characters.  The result is laugh-out-loud funny.

Just released is the preview to the next stop-motion, full-length film, Early Man.  It features the voices of Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Tom Hiddleston (Thor), Maisie Williams (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones), and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series).  Check out this trailer for the film:

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Today thousands of sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero fans will converge on Kansas City as Kansas City Comic Con returns to Bartle Hall.  The show again has booked several comic book and fiction writers and artists as well as some great movie and TV guests.  This is the third annual Kansas City Comic Con event and the show boasts one of the largest assemblages of nationally known as well as local writers and artists, with hundreds of creators to be featured.

The star attraction of this year’s show is a reunion of actors from director Richard Donner’s Superman as an early celebration of next year’s 40th anniversary of nearly everyone’s all-time favorite superhero movie and Superman–the late Christopher Reeve.  Film co-star Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) returns to Kansas City, plus several supporting cast members including Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Aaron Smolinski (Baby Clark Kent), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Diane Case (Young Lana Lang), and via SKYPE, a live video appearance by actress Valerie Perrine (Miss Teschmacher).

  

Fans of classic television can meet one of the original actresses who played the Catwoman in the 1960s Batman series, Lee Meriwether, plus Robin himself, Burt Ward.  Star Trek Discovery star Doug Jones, also known for hundreds of roles in films like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, will be making his first appearance in Kansas City.  Disney fans can meet Eva Bella, the actress who voiced the young Elsa, and Livvy Stubenrauch, the actress who voiced the young Anna, in the animated film Frozen.  Stuntman and actor Hamid Thompson (Jurassic World, Spider-man: Homecoming) will be on hand, as well as two Lucasfilm Star Wars animated series voice actors: Tom Kane (Yoda) and David Ankrum (Wedge), plus two of the Power Rangers performers: Karan Ashley (Yellow Power Ranger) and Walter E. Jones (Black Power Ranger).  And convention staples Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are also returning to Kansas City for the show.

Last minute additions for the show include Colin Cantwell–the concept art designer of the original Star Wars Death Star, X-Wing Fighter, TIE Fighter, and more, and Gary Fisher–that’s right Carrie Fisher’s beloved dog who accompanied her on the PR and convention circuit continues to tour to visit the crowds that became commonplace for him over the past few years.  Nationally known comic book creators featured at KCCC include legendary writer/artist Mike Grell as well as Star Wars writer and Eisner winner Jason Aaron, artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks (along with Kevin Smith this may be the first time all three of the Green Arrow “Quiver” era creators have appeared together at a convention since a San Diego Comic-Con appearance when the book was first released), writer Jai Nitz, authors Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Holly Messinger, Jason Arnett, and Nicholas Forrestal, artist Johnny Desjardins, artist David Finch, artist Mark Sparacio, artist Art Thibert, artist John Davies, writer Frank Tieri, writer James Tynion IV, and comics legend Bob Hall.  But that’s only scratching the surface–check out the full list of national and local creators here.

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Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.  And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.

— United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, NY Times v United States

The Post is the next in a prestigious line of the drama sub-genre of motion pictures focusing on journalism, a group featuring great films like Citizen Kane, Meet John Doe, The China Syndrome, Call Northside 777, and Zodiac.  The Post could be seen as a sequel of sorts to another film classic from this group, the Academy Award-winning 1976 film All the President’s Men.  That film, which told the story of The Washington Post coverage of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, co-starred Jason Robards as executive editor Ben Bradlee.  The Washington Post is again front and center in The Post, this time with Tom Hanks as Bradlee and Meryl Streep as publisher Katherine Graham (who was an active player in the events in All the President’s Men, but the character did not appear in the film).

With director Steven Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks attached to the film, it’s likely The Post will be a big Oscar contender next March.  The Post tells the story of The Washington Post’s decision to disclose The Pentagon Papers over the course of a few weeks in June 1971, an extensive government study that would show that the government had hidden from the public and media the true extent of U.S. activity in the Vietnam War.  The decision of the Supreme Court would stifle the media for 15 days before finally providing some guidance on when the government may restrict the press from certain disclosures.

The film features plenty of familiar faces, including Alison Brie as Graham’s daughter Lally Weymouth, Carrie Coon as Meg Greenfield (Post editorial writer and confidante of Graham), David Cross as Post editor Philip Geyelin, Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara (President Johnson’s secretary of defense), Tracy Letts as Paul Ignatius (President Johnson’s assistant secretary of defense), Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian (the reporter for The Post at the center of the Pentagon Papers coverage), Michael Stuhlbarg as Post managing editor Eugene Patterson, and Zach Woods as Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who disclosed the Pentagon Papers and was charged with espionage.

Check out this trailer for The Post:

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Review by Art Schmidt

Wizards of the Coast has been judicious in releasing a measured, steady flow of materials for the 5th Edition of the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game,” Dungeons & Dragons (commonly referred to as “5E” by the roleplaying public-at-large).  WotC releases two adventure campaign books per year, one every six months (give or take), in addition to one rules supplement per year.  Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the latest offering of new character subclasses, spells, magical items and a meaty section for the Dungeon Master (i.e. the person running the game for all of her players).

Aimed primarily at players who are looking for new classes to play, new spells for their characters to cast, and new ways to define their avatars inside the collaborative storytelling game, Xanathar’s Guide (or XGE, as I’m sure it will be come to be called) hits all of the expected marks.  Drawing on a wealth of material released by the D&D creative team via their popular Unearthed Arcana section of the D&D website and reprinting materials, primarily spells, from the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide, Xanathar’s Guide provides thirty-two (32!) new sub-classes for all of the current class types, including some new sub-classes not previously seen in the Unearthed Arcana material.

Unearthed Arcana was a hardcover book waaaay back in the early first edition of the game.  Similar to Xanathar’s Guide, the original Unearthed Arcana was an expansion of material from the Player’s Handbook, the standard players guide to the character classes and mechanics of the game itself.  This book title has been re-used throughout D&D’s over forty-year history, and its latest incarnation is the online “alternate rules” or playtest material which the D&D Team puts out for players and dungeon masters to use, experiment and, well, play with.  The Team asks for feedback from users on the material, trying to gauge game balance, player likability, and general “fun factor” of this material.  When material is popular, well-balanced, and fits a niche in the player character milieu that the D&D Team feels makes it worthwhile, it’s include in a hardcover book.  Such was the case with the previously released Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for 5E, and it is the case again with Xanathar’s Guide, though on a much bigger scale.

In fact, Xanathar’s Guide re-prints a handful of classes from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide as well, such as the Swashbuckler and the Storm Sorceror.  Ordinarily, one might fault a company for expecting their customers to pay money for a new sourcebook which includes a wealth of material already found in other sources.  And one might be correct.  Except that in the case of D&D, these re-prints make a fair amount of sense.  As far as the Unearthed Arcana material, the subclasses in Xanathar’s represent an updated, tweaked and in many cases streamlined class which is now officially playtested and provided with rules, which will make the material enjoyable and avoid headaches for players and dungeon masters alike.  Also, Unearthed Arcana material is not “legal” for the Adventurer’s League, since it isn’t play-tested, so those players who enjoy organized play have no access to any of those options until they are printed in an official capacity, usually through a hardcover book.

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