Monday, 3 December 2012

Great Gamebooks of Yesteryear: Lone Wolf

Lone Wolf is arguably the greatest gamebook saga of all time, shifting truck-loads of copies during the 1980s and powering on into the 90s. Even after its eventual cancellation it maintained a devoted fanbase well into the new millennium, who were able to enjoy the series’ creator-blessed free re-release in online form at, as well as revised and extended editions from Mongoose Publishing.

Unlike the iconic Fighting Fantasy line, which experimented with a variety of settings, adventures and characters with little regard for continuity, Lone Wolf and its various spin-off publications depicted an ongoing epic struggle for the fate of a richly-realised fantasy world, waged by the opposing forces of square-jawed pious Good and hideous irredeemable Evil. The titular paragon of righteousness was depicted as a compulsive do-gooder with a formidable skill-set of supernatural abilities, both physical and psychic; a sort of fantasy Jedi, as adept at reading the minds of ravens and curing allies of poison as he was at pushing in the faces of the minions of Darkness and surviving for weeks in harsh wasteland. While he was almost hilariously generic in his motivations, the fact that Lone Wolf was more of a semi-magical ranger character than some cookie-cutter knight or mercenary kept his adventuring fresh, often pitting him against the torturous terrain and ferocious wildlife of Magnamund as much as it did against his gruesome, malevolent foes.

At the same time, the quality of Joe Dever’s writing, which imbued the sprawling landscapes of Magnamund with a surprisingly vivid sense of place, elevated his world-building above the clich├ęd Black and White Morality of the setting. For all its cackling, misshapen villains and impossibly virtuous heroes, the level of detail and effort put into establishing Magnamund’s various colourful civilizations helped the reader/player get invested in the world’s fate. 

Meanwhile, the game system, despite occasional glitches and unfair battles, was a rewarding one, allowing the player to either enjoy Lone Wolf’s escapades as standalone adventures or to slowly level up his abilities over the course of many volumes, steadily transforming him from a skilled fighter to a dazzling super-powered demigod.