Read an Excerpt From The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, a Guide to Battle Tactics in D&D

In the course of a Dungeons & Dragons game, a Dungeon Master has to make one decision after another in response to player behavior—and the better the players, the more unpredictable their behavior! It’s easy for even an experienced DM to get bogged down in on-the-spot decision-making or to let combat devolve into a boring slugfest, with enemies running directly at the player characters and biting, bashing, and slashing away.

In The Monsters Know What They’re Doing—available now from Saga Press—Keith Ammann lightens the DM’s burden by helping you understand your monsters’ abilities and develop battle plans before your fifth edition D&D game session begins. Just as soldiers don’t whip out their field manuals for the first time when they’re already under fire, a DM shouldn’t wait until the PCs have just encountered a dozen bullywugs to figure out how they advance, fight, and retreat.

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Serial Box’s Orphan Black: The Next Chapter Is a Mostly Successful Experiment in Transmedia Storytelling

It is no easy feat to translate the success of Orphan Black the TV series, which was so predicated on the visual aspect of Tatiana Maslany’s riveting performances, to the page. Serial Box’s stable of writers (Madeline Ashby, Mishell Baker, Heli Kennedy, E.C. Myers, Malka Older, Lindsay Smith) have ably wrangled the TV show’s five years of science-thriller worldbuilding and over a dozen unique characters into a sequel that should satisfy fans in plenty of individual moments, if not potentially overall. It was an ambitious experiment, changing the very DNA of the story by crossing over into a vastly different medium with its own perks and drawbacks. Yet the spirit of Clone Club shines through the final episodes of Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, which see younger Clone Club members Kira and Charlotte surpassing their predecessors to save the world on their own terms—and which opens up a variety of futures for both generations of clones.

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Looks Like We Probably Aren’t Getting a Poe or Finn Spin-off On Disney+

It is not a good week for Finn/Poe fans. Yesterday, J.J. Abrams confirmed that a romance between the two would not be blossoming in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, to the on-record regret of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. Today, the co-stars announced separately that they had no intention of reprising their roles in any sort of Disney+ spin-off.

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Hard-Boiled Fantasy: Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

If you’re a reader who likes the work of John Scalzi because of his snarky narrators, or if you’re a fan of the gritty fantasy found in George R. R. Martin’s Westeros, then I have a recommendation for you… Years before these authors started their careers, Roger Zelazny was bringing his own unique approach to science fiction and fantasy. His tales appeared unsentimental…but if you looked closer, his heart was very much on his sleeve. His work is deeply resonant with myths, religions, and legends drawn from cultures from around the world. And while his prose often echoes the hardboiled staccato rhythms of a detective novel, it also had a poetry all its own. Among the finest work he ever produced is the first book of what became known as the Chronicles of Amber, Nine Princes in Amber.

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Hometown Horrors: The Blair Witch Project, and the Legend of Corpsewood Manor

When The Blair Witch Project hit theaters in 1999, I’d just graduated from high school, and I went to see it to celebrate my newfound freedom from Hell.

Having grown up on television like Unsolved Mysteries and Sightings, I loved it, and for a time, I was fooled. Everywhere you went, you saw the clip of murdered student filmmaker Heather Donahue sobbing to her camcorder in extreme close-up. I scoured the internet for every scrap of knowledge about Elly Kedward, the witch of Blair, and the fate of the three hikers. Who were these people, and what killed them? What was the significance of the stick-figures?

Then I saw Heather in a Steak ‘n Shake commercial, and it was like stumbling into the living room on Christmas and finding my mother putting presents under the tree.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: The Many Faces of Finduilas

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This week’s installment explores the appearances of the name “Finduilas” and tracks how Tolkien’s use of this name becomes symbolic, consigning the women who bear it to the grave as markers of another’s failures and successes.

Tolkien was no stranger to the art of recycling character names. For the most part, these characters have little to nothing in common beyond their shared monikers; rather, it seems that the linguist in the dear Professor just couldn’t bear to let a good compound go to waste. Every so often we see traces of one character in another (like the Legolas Greenleaf of Gondolin and the Legolas of the Fellowship); at other times, though these are fewer and further between, Tolkien makes an effort to adjust the timeline to allow the reused names to refer back to the same character (as in the case of Glorfindel). It’s rare, though, that either of these things happens to important or unique names. There may be multiple and varied Denethors, but there’s only one Gandalf, one Frodo. Though Aragorn’s name is repeated, that repetition is important symbolically: his genealogy is a significant part of his claim to the throne and his ability to command the respect and loyalty of his followers.

What, then, do we do with recycled names that are not only unique and significant, but that also seem to carry with them specific character traits and connotations?

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Oathbringer Reread: Chapter One Hundred and Seven

Lyn: Welcome back from Thanksgiving break, faithful readers! Aubree and I are back from the Starsight release party, where Brandon read an excerpt from Rhythms of War! If you’re not opposed to spoilers, you ought to go and check it out, if you haven’t already. We had a lovely time, but now Alice and I are ready to jump back into the reread with chapter one hundred and seven! Dalinar is (thankfully) coming off his bender in this chapter, and boy oh boy do we have a lot of information imparted to us about military strategy. I spent a lot of time on the map this week to help illustrate what’s going on, from locations of Oathgates to vague areas of conquest by the Voidbringers and arrows to indicate what Dalinar suspects their next movements to be. We hope this helps to better illustrate how the major players are moving on the world map, as we’re beginning to enter the end-game…

[Dalinar will be the first to tell you that when you opponent is getting back up, you must act quickly to crush his knees. Then he will bow, and present to you his skull.]

Series: Oathbringer Reread

The Puppy’s Revenge: George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings,” first published in the August 1979 issue of Omni. Spoilers ahead.

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Series: The Lovecraft Reread

A Military Historian Breaks Down the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King

The Siege of Gondor is one of the finest chapters in The Return of the King. Lush but taut, action-packed but psychologically precise, full of well-crafted tension and sentence-level heavy-lifting, it’s a master-class in the art of writing war.

So adapting it faithfully for the screen is no small feat. With so many moving parts, Peter Jackson had his work cut out for him when filming the battle for Minas Tirith. The different requirements of the medium mean that a lot of things end up getting changed or even lost in translation.

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Storm’s Coming. Initial Impressions of The Expanse Season 4

At the end of season three of The Expanse, more than a thousand doors opened. Space: it’s an even bigger place than we thought! But humanity hasn’t always been great with places it thinks are empty and ripe for the taking. History is at the forefront of everyone’s mind as The Expanse moves into its fourth season. What does a mad rush to colonize new planets look like when people are short on opportunities? What is opportunity, and who gets more of it? What if these planets have already seen interstellar conflict and destruction? What if no one fully understands the situation?

The first episode of season four screened at NYCC, and so as not to retread that territory I’ll skip the summary—besides, season four isn’t the place to pick up this complex and engrossing series, friends! Start at the beginning! But for those of you who are caught up: if you don’t want to know a single thing about season four, you’re free to stop reading now with the assurance that, based on the first six episodes, it’s the same show, smart and immersive as ever. But if you want a little more, let’s talk a little about where the story’s going, and what it all means.

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Read an Excerpt from Kelly Braffet’s The Unwilling

Judah, a foundling born with a special gift, is raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban—a lord as mighty as he is cruel—has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

Kelly Braffet’s The Unwilling is available February 11th from MIRA—read an excerpt below!

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Mission Gamma, Book Four: Lesser Evil

Mission Gamma, Book Four: Lesser Evil
Robert Simpson
Publication Date: November 2002
Timeline: August 2376, following Mission Gamma, Book Three: Cathedral; plus various flashbacks (2347, 2349, 2355, 2369)

Progress: Judith—Joseph Sisko’s daughter by his second wife Rebecca, and therefore Benjamin Sisko’s half-sister (referred to as his sister in the episodes “Past Tense, Part I” and “Homefront”, before the revelation that a wormhole alien worked through Joseph Sisko’s first wife, Sarah, to conceive the Emissary)—is worried about her father’s condition. Joseph has been spending a lot of time alone in his room and Judith feels like she can’t get through to him. She shares her concerns with Kasidy Yates, who suggests someone else who may have more luck engaging with Joseph… Enter the O’Brien family!

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