When Joe passed away, he handed his notes to his son with the task of bringing the saga to its conclusion. The first posthumous Lone Wolf book, Dead In The Deep, was completed in early 2019 and won the LGL award for Best International Gamebook. Ben and Vincent Lazzari are now working on the final two books of the series, and expanding the world of Magnamund into new formats for a new generation.
Lone Wolf lives on, but to discover the origins of Magnamund, the fictional world in which the Lone Wolf adventures take place, we must go back to 1977, when Dever, then aged 21, created it as a setting for his ongoing Dungeons & Dragons campaign...
A Brief History of Lone Wolf by Jonathan Green
Dever once described the discovery of D&D as his Eureka moment, as the original three-pamphlet set gave him the toolkit he needed to turn the tabletop wargaming campaign with a fantasy edge that he was running at the time, into a fully-fledged RPG. He developed his own rules, created a parallel universe populated with all manner of gods and monsters, and then proceeded to document his gaming group’s adventures within that world. And it was this that provided the background for what would become Lone Wolf.
In 1982, Dever became the first British winner of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Championship of America and entered the gaming world professionally when he received a job offer from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone at Games Workshop. Initially, he had considered producing Lone Wolf as a roleplaying game, but, as he put it once himself, he “could not ignore the success they’d had with Fighting Fantasy when it came out, and that was it. I suddenly realised that there are a lot more bookshops than there are game shops in the world. I thought I shouldn’t be doing this as a roleplaying game, I need to be doing it as a solo game.”
And so, in 1984, the first two books in the Lone Wolf series – Flight from the Dark and Fire on the Water – were published simultaneously, by Hutchinson, with another title, The Caverns of Kalte, coming out before the end of the year. Fighting Fantasy having paved the way with the reading public, making people aware of what adventure gamebooks were, Flight from the Dark sold over 100,000 copies in its first month alone. The series went on to be published in over 30 countries, translated into 18 languages, selling in excess of 12 million copies worldwide, and winning numerous awards.
However, Lone Wolf differed from Fighting Fantasy in one significant way; rather than being a series of mostly unconnected standalone adventures, the Lone Wolf series was an ongoing campaign. The reader took on the role of the eponymous hero of the story – Lone Wolf, formerly Silent Wolf, the last of a caste of warrior monks known as the Kai Lords – and the experiences of the early books were carried over, with what was discovered in one adventure being of use in the next in the series, and so on. There had been nothing else quite like that at the time, and so Lone Wolf became the next big thing in adventure gamebooks.
Hutchinson originally wanted to commission four books, but Dever had already planned to write twenty. These were eventually published as the Kai Series (books 1 to 5, in which Lone Wolf rallies the armies of Sommerlund and Durenor to repel an invasion, whilst also pursuing a traitor), the Magnakai Series (books 6 to 12, in which Lone Wolf becomes a Kai Master), and the Grand Master Series (books 13 to 20, which introduces the restored order of Kai Lords). Books 1 to 8 were illustrated by Gary Chalk, with Brian Williams illustrating almost every book about Magnamund from then on, until his untimely death in 2010. With Lone Wolf’s popularity on the rise, soon there were a host of products released tied to the setting. These included: four gamebooks about the trials of the wizard Grey Star, written by Ian Page and edited by Joe Dever; a series of novelizations by John Grant called Legends of Lone Wolf, which expanded on the plots of the gamebooks, adding new characters, events, and sometimes whole new stories; and three computer games, the first two being adaptations of the first two gamebooks, while the third, Mirror of Death, featured a brand-new storyline.
With the original twenty titles complete, Dever commenced work on the New Order Series. Intended to be twelve books long, only the first eight adventures in this new sequence were published before the series was cancelled, by then-publisher Red Fox, in 1998. It would be another eighteen years before the next book in the series was published. Arguably, the best thing Dever did after the series was cancelled, was to allow to Project Aon, a fan-operated organisation, to distribute HTML conversions of the Lone Wolf books via the internet. This led to a strong revival of interest in Lone Wolf, particularly in Italy, Spain, and France, where the books were republished between 2002 and 2006. In 2004, Mongoose Publishing created Lone Wolf: The Roleplaying Game, and then, in 2007, started republishing the original Lone Wolf books as premium hardback editions.
A new version of the roleplaying game, Lone Wolf Multiplayer Game Book, was released in March 2010, but in April 2013 it was announced that Cubicle 7 would be picking up the rights to publish a Lone Wolf RPG. Called the Lone Wolf Adventure Game, it was released in September 2015, following a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund its creation. “We’re looking at the Book of Magnakai next,” says Dominic McDowall, CEO of Cubicle 7 Entertainment, “and are planning the next stage for the future.”
Many people can’t help thinking of the Lone Wolf books without also calling to mind the incredibly detailed maps printed inside them. From 2012, Dever began releasing maps of Magnamund, containing elements that hadn’t been published before, drawn by Italian artist Francesco Mattioli. “For a period my main job was drawing Lone Wolf maps,” explains Mattioli. “After the poster-map was complete, we made the collection of forty maps, then I started working on gamebook and RPG maps. Our last work together was the City Maps collection: ten poster-maps of the main cities of Sommerlund we made for Åskfågeln, the Swedish publisher… I guess I made about 130 maps of Magnamund!”
In 2013, Dever wrote the story and in-game text for the Joe Dever's Lone Wolf video game series. Specifically designed for tablets and smartphones, Lone Wolf: Blood on the Snow was developed by Forge Reply and published by BulkyPix, and went on to win various awards. By 2016, the game had achieved 2.5 million downloads since its release in November 2013.
The revival of interest in Lone Wolf gamebooks eventually saw the rights return to Dever, who set up Holmgard Press to complete publication of the epic 32-book saga, beginning with The Storms of Chai, in 2016. Tragically, on 29 November 2016, Joe Dever passed away at the age of 61, but his legacy lives on.
In the week before he died, he outlined his plans for the final three books in the Lone Wolf series to his son. “I can't pretend it wasn’t daunting,” Ben Devere admits when asked how it felt to be entrusted with the task of completing the saga. “It took some time to understand the scale of what I had taken on, so I had to slowly restructure my life to make space for it.” Almost a year later, Ben made an announcement, stating that he would be bringing the Lone Wolf series to its epic conclusion, co-authoring the 30th book in the series, Dead in the Deep, with Vincent Lazzari. Devere is the family name, but Ben will be using the same pseudonym as his father to avoid confusion. “It’s been a steep learning curve,” Ben says, of writing the book. “I was never a huge gamebook fan growing up. I read a few of them, of course, but it wasn't really my thing. But I've always written. I have a creative writing degree and my dad taught me a lot, helping me to write TV scripts and plays. We wrote a few things together, so I know his tone of voice but was not qualified to be lorekeeper of Magnamund. Which is why he also asked Vincent to work on the project.”
“I met Joe for the first time in 2009 at the French game convention ‘Le Monde du Jeu’,” recounts Lazzari. “We spent hours discussing his universe and its untold secrets. After that, we stayed in touch, and he started to show me manuscripts of future Lone Wolf RPG supplements. I reviewed them for him, comparing them with the sources, and he was pleased with my work and my method, since my only concern was to ensure lore continuity and consistency in all the projects. I became a sort of official reviewer for the Magnamund world around 2010, and… I have the feeling I became Joe’s closest advisor and collaborator on Lone Wolf; we even started to discuss the conclusion of the saga together.”
In writing the book, as well as having Joe Dever’s own notes to work from, the two co-authors were also aided by the ‘Wolf Pack’, the Lone Wolf fan community. Lazzari says that the fans, “helped to correct and improve the manuscript, and we received unbelievable support.” The English language edition of Dead in the Deep will include a bonus adventure by August Hahn, who wrote the first version of Lone Wolf: The Roleplaying Game, published by Mongoose. “Joe Dever and Matthew Sprange had been discussing the idea of a d20 roleplaying game for Magnamund,” explains Hahn, “and Joe wanted to meet us before he made a decision. We had a very long talk about gaming and Lone Wolf, and swapped war(gaming) stories. A few weeks later, Joe decided to give Mongoose a try and requested that I be the author for the game. It was a huge honour, of course; one I am still trying to live up to if I'm being honest.”
But what else can fans of Joe Dever’s creation look forward to in the coming months and years? “There are some really exciting digital projects in development,” reveals Ben. One of these is Lone Wolf AR, an augmented reality game first teased at Lucca 2018. “We’ve progressed on from our Lucca demo to devising the full game, so we’re in the design phase right now,” says René Batsford, co-founder of VisionizAR, the company behind the ambitious project.
Ben certainly has plenty on his plate: “I’d like to see the entire series back in print. And of course, we need to finish writing the final two books and bring the saga to a conclusion. I am extremely excited about the next two books. Writing Dead in the Deep was a great experience and now I'm hooked, and I have the joy of discovering my dad’s inner universe. It’s been quite a journey.”
Clearly, thirty-five years on from the publication of Flight from the Dark, Lone Wolf is alive and well, its enduring popularity testament to one man’s creative vision and the dedication of a global fanbase. And long may it remain so.
For Sommerlund and the Kai!