It’s hard to be lonely when you’ve got more than 30 books in your series, a new publisher making high quality new editions of your books, video and tabletop adaptations, and rumors that you’re prime to have your story turned into something on the big or not so big screen; but, here such is the plight of the Lone Wolf.
Recently I have chosen to step once more into the shoes of the last surviving member of the Kai Lords. This epic fantasy gamebook series is second only to Fighting Fantasy. The original series took the world by storm in 1984 with the release of Flight from the Dark. The mid-eighties were a good time for gamebooks. Wikipedia states that more than twelve million copies of the Lone Wolf titles were sold. Like Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf was released in the UK where it quickly caught on and stayed relevent for a good decade plus before that market started to shrink. Written primarily by Joe Dever, this iconic series of interactive gamebooks features immersive storylines, engaging gameplay, and beautiful artwork. While it was inspired by some of the traditional medieval fantasy tropes, over the (now) 30+ titles Dever created a unique and imaginative game world.
I remembered playing through some of the original titles in my early role-playing days and picked up a few others over the years. Several years later I stumbled upon Project Aon (more on that later) and went through even more titles. Last year I was delighted to see new editions being released of the original games plus some others being finished from the writings and notes of the original author.
The books are divided into clusters. So far, I have picked up and am working through the first five reprinted paperbacks of the Kai Series. The new publisher — Holmgard Press — has released some extended hardcover editions which include additional content. Holmgard has released this first Kai series:
- Flight from the Dark
- Fire on the Water
- The Caverns of Kalte
- The Chasm of Doom
- Shadow on the Sand
Holmgard is in the process of releasing the Magnakai series which includes the next seven books. It is a little confusing but I believe there are 31 actual titles. 28 were originally released in English. There was a 29th title back in the day but from what I can gather, there were so many hurdles with publishers and contracts and changing of hands that it wasn’t released in English back then and there are a couple others Joe Dever plotted and wrote notes about but didn’t get around to writing himself but they are being finished and released as well. There was a lot of publishing drama in the first four decades of the series. It’s easy to see why Dever had concerns about ensuring the fans would have access to the material down the road.
Each title features a unique storyline that builds upon the lore and history of the land of Sommerlund that tests the reader’s skills and strategic thinking as well as the more traditional role-playing aspects of resource management, combat, skills, etc. As you play through the titles your character improves with new abilities or disciplines which is different than many of the one-off gamebooks where your character just ends with the book.
Magnamund is the world and most of the action takes place in Sommerlund — a medieval fantasy setting. It has its own cosmology, mythology, history, and races that set it apart from much of the cookie-cutter style fantasy literature though its’ roots lie in the setting Dever created for his Dungeons and Dragons campaign. There are wars and politics and complex history that unfold through the books — all without elves and the usual fantasy races.
There are two basic game stats: Combat Skill and Endurance. Combat Skill is what you think with a higher score being preferable. Endurance plays a role much like hit points in other games. It is reduced by wounds and injuries. If Endurance reaches zero the character dies. Characters are undergoing training in a variety of Kai disciplines so they also get to select a number of special skills. Unlike most gamebooks and RPGs, instead of dice, players close their eyes and point their pencils at a random number table.
Combat may appear more complicated than in some gamebooks but I think there’s an interesting kind of elegance to it. RPGs can get bogged down in combat with initiative, attack rolls, damage rolls, and then doing the same thing for the opponent. It can be a lot and as a gamebook that I’m pretty sure is intended to be ran or played anywhere, Dever came up with something a little different. Combat involves subtracting the opponent’s Combat Skill from your character’s Combat skill plus any bonuses to create what they call a Combat Ratio. You choose a number from the random number table and then cross-reference it with the Combat Ratio on the Combat Results table to determine what happened. The result can be that your character loses Endurance points, that the opponent loses points, or that both lose different numbers of points. It does require using a table, but remember this one random number is determining results for both combatants instead of rolling for each or in some cases rolling to hit for each and then rolling damage for each as you would in many other games.
Joe Dever was concerned about the issues in the publishing industry and wanted to ensure that the world of Lone Wolf would be available to the fans forever. He worked with some fans on Project Aon to create freely available versions of the books you can still find on their website. Mobile apps have even been developed based on these. You can read most of these books online or download them for free right now. I am unsure how long these will be available. In an interview Joe’s son Ben Dever, who is helping to lead the charge with the series moving forward, indicated there were conversations with Project Aon and others because having the material available for free might impact the ability to expand the series further and into other mediums. The interview doesn’t say anything definitive; but, if you want to look at them for free I would hit that site sooner rather than later. By all means, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t buy new editions of the books. I am and if you enjoy them I hope you will too so we can all hope to have more stories and adventures released for many years to come.
Sadly Joe Dever passed away in 2016. His devotion to his fans never waned. In his last days, he continued developing material and plots and making notes for the series to continue. Ben Dever and others have stepped in to help ensure that the legacy continues. You can find compute, tabletop, and role-playing game adaptations as well as several (out-of-print) novels out there too.
The rereleases feature updated artwork and layout, as well as revised and expanded content that stays true to the original vision of Joe Dever. Lone Wolf is a timeless classic with immersive storytelling, engaging gameplay, and unforgettable adventures. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer looking for a thrilling adventure, the Lone Wolf series is not to be missed! You won’t be disappointed.
Ben Dever’s Interview
Lone Wolf’s Official Homepage