Thursday, May 21, 2015

Game 188: Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark (1984)

Lone Wolf looks a bit creepy, if you ask me.

Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark
United Kingdom
Five Ways Software (developer); Arrow (publisher)
Released 1984 for the ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 17 May 2015
Date Ended: 19 May 2015
Total Hours: 2
Reload Count: 5
Difficulty: Easy (2/5), once you figure out the trick to combat
Final Rating: 13
Ranking at Time of Posting: 15/186 (8%)
Ranking at Game #431: 45/431 (10%)

When I was around 14 or 15, I owned the entire set of Kai (1-5) and Magnakai (6-12) books in the Lone Wolf series, by British author Joe Dever. I loved them. At some point before I left home for college in 1992, I no longer had them. I don't remember why, but Occam's razor would assign the blame to my mother. Until recently, I had no idea that the books had been continued in the Grand Master series (13-20) and the New Order series (21-32), with the last book published in 1998.

The first book in the series.

In preparation for this post, I went on Amazon and ordered used copies of Flight from the Dark and Fire on the Water from a bookseller in Maryland. They had warned me that the copies were only in "good" condition, so when they arrived a few days ago, I wasn't surprised to find the character sheet in Flight from the Dark already filled out. I was surprised to see a familiar odd mix of upper- and lower-case letters and unnecessary serifs on each n and x, something I used to do until another kid in 10th grade leaned over my shoulder and opined that my handwriting was "gay." I can't prove it--there's no name on the inside cover--but I'm 99% sure that I ordered my own childhood copy of Flight from the Dark. If this had happened with my first copy of, I don't know, Crime and Punishment, or The Grapes of Wrath, I'm pretty sure I'd take it as a sign from the Universe. But what do I make of the Universe wanting to reunite me with Lone Wolf?

"You were not meant for Great Things, Chet. Your legacy shall be mildly diverting writings about meaningless, geeky ephemera."
The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, which I read for posts on The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom, had left me with the impression that gamebooks were always a little goofy and puerile--poor substitutes for an actual RPG. I figured that my memories of Dever's series were a little rose-colored and that I'd be similarly unsatisfied with them. I'm happy to report that is not the case. The Lone Wolf books are just as good as I remembered--probably the best anyone was ever going to do with an RPG in paperback form. You've got just a couple of attributes to juggle--combat skill and endurance--and an inventory sheet that tracks weapons, other items, meals, and gold crowns. You can only carry 8 items at a time, including meals, so you have to be careful with inventory. There are all kinds of wonderfully evocative illustrations, including a series of them that show you each type of weapon.

That "quarterstaff" is the laziest weapon in the world. You couldn't at least wrap some grip tape around it?

The best part of the gamebooks is the series of skills that you select for your character, called Kai disciplines. There are 10 of them, and you can select 5 in the first book. You get 1 for each book in the series you complete. Some of the skills are manifestly for puzzle-solving and getting out of tough situations (e.g., tracking, sixth sense, animal kinship), while others help compensate for low attribute roles (e.g., weapon skill, mind blast, healing). Healing is particularly well implemented; if you have the skill, you can restore an endurance point for every numbered section of the book you pass through. One skill, hunting, allows you to find your own food at mealtime and save backpack space for other items. More than you'd think is possible, the combination of inventory and skills really lets you roleplay different characters, at least in terms of logistics.

The Lone Wolf series is a real series, with the story progressing from book to book, so the reader keeps his attributes, items, and skills. The story is reasonably well-told, though full of familiar tropes. In the northern part of a great continent called Magnamund, Summerlund and the Darklands sit side by side. The Darklords of the Darklands are the eternal enemies of the good people of Summerlund.

In Summerlund, the land's great warriors traditionally send their sons to study at the Kai monastery, where they learn skills similar to a ranger in a standard RPG. The protagonist is a young initiative of the monastery named Silent Wolf. One night, when all of the Kai Lords of Summerlund are gathered at the monastery for a feast, the Darklords launch a blitz and kill everyone. Silent Wolf, out gathering firewood during the attack, manages to knock himself unconscious on a tree branch and wakes up when the battle is over. Re-naming himself "Lone Wolf," he vows to take word of the attack to the nation's capital. He sets off with only an axe, a map of the kingdom, a random number of gold crowns, and an item chosen from a random table, which may include other weapons, pieces of armor, meals, a healing potion, or even more gold.

(To roll random numbers, the book has you close your eyes and point to a random number table at the back. I didn't like that, and I remember purchasing a 10-sided die just to play through the books.)

I begin my titular Flight from the Dark.

Like a good computer RPG, the book is structured into "chapters" that offer some freedom of movement but ultimately funnel you to particular plot points. In the first chapter, no matter what directions you choose, you fight various darkspawn scouring the area after the monastery attack while trying to make your way through the forest. Ultimately, you come across a refugee train led by a column of solders and, assuming you don't run away like a coward, you fight a "boss" battle against a reptilian "Gourgaz" and get a mission from the dying Prince of Summerlund to take a message to his father.

After other assorted paths and adventures, you reach the outskirts of the capital, which is under siege. You have to choose from several paths to avoid the attackers and enter the city. Once inside, you have other assorted adventures before winning a final battle against some spies and getting in to see the king. He immediately gives you a quest to go to Durenor to retrieve the Sommerswerd, an ancient artifact that can defeat Darklords. Segue to Fire on the Water.

A bit of the endgame text. Note the icon indicating the appropriate entry number in the physical book, where the text is about 5 times longer.

As I re-read the book, I tried to remember what I did, as a youngster, if I lost one of the many combats. Some of them are absurdly difficult, especially in the later books when it's assumed that you've loaded up on magical gear from the earlier ones. Certainly, I didn't cry out to the heavens in despair and start the entire series from the beginning. But neither did I simply assume that I won and go on to the next entry: I remember meticulously making all the rolls and fighting each combat. As I was already schooled in the conventions of computer RPGs, perhaps I simply allowed myself to "reload" if I died and to fight the combat again.

The ZX Spectrum cassette versions came out the same year as the first two books. That's pretty fast; Dever must have negotiated the rights to a computer game at the same time he was signing his publishing contract. Unlike the adaptations of the two Fighting Fantasy books we saw earlier this year, the CRPGs of Flight from the Dark and Fire on the Water take a few steps to distinguish themselves as games. Your combat skill, mostly unchanging in the books, increases in the games with every successful combat. (If the games hadn't made such a concession, they wouldn't be CRPGs under my definition.) Instead of choosing 5 of 10 disciplines, the character is assumed to have all of them, but at different "levels" (hidden from the player). The use of skills is binary in the books--either you have the needed discipline or you don't--but in the game, they have associated probabilities, and rolls are made behind the scenes when indicated.

Lone Wolf makes a successful "Sixth Sense" roll.

Combat is quite a bit different in the game. It occurs in real time, with the ability for the player and foes to take steps forward and back in between attacks. Weapons have various reaches associated with them, with longer ones able to often damage creatures who can't come close enough to hit you. There are three attacks--chop, swipe, and thrust--some of which are ineffective for some weapons (e.g., a "swiped" spear and a "thrusted" hammer do little good). The "Mindblast" and "Mindshield" skills are activated with keys, rather than passive as in the books.

Fighting this setting's version of an orc.

But while combat may be more "advanced" in the game than in the books, it still isn't good. You get no feedback about whether your attacks are successful or not, and no indication of your enemy's total health. The two "boss" combats in the game were laughably impossible until I figured how to just spam the same attack over and over, killing the foe before he had a chance to react.

The game, meanwhile, degrades plenty of aspects of the book. There's no way to pro-actively use items or eat meals, so the game simply dispenses with most of the inventory, including the pieces of armor the book lets you pick up. There are plenty of places that offer choices in the book but the game forces you to take one path or another--it reduces player choice in travel instead of doing what a decent CRPG adaptation would do and increase it.

Wait...what? Why would I go the longer way? The book lets me make a choice here.

The interface is awful, with non-logical keys (the game came with a keyboard overlay to help with this). In places where you have options, you have to unintuitively scroll through the options with the "1" key and then hit "9" to select one.

A late-game choice. I have to hit "1" to see the next one--to follow the riverbank.

Even worse, the game reduces most of the book's text. I can't imagine why; the game certainly wasn't shy about forcing the player to read paragraphs of scrolling text. Yet there isn't a single entry as verbose in the game as in the book. A typical example:

Game: You descend the rocky slope towards the graveyard. Wicked briars tear at your cloak and cut your legs. The haunting murmur of distant voices fills your ears.

Book: As you descend the rocky slope towards the Graveyard of the Ancients, you are aware of a strange mist and cloud that swirls all around this grey and forbidding place, blocking the sun and covering the graveyard in a perpetual gloom. A chill creeps forward to greet your approach.

Towards the end, it gets nuts. In the book, once you reach the city of Holmgard, you're given a choice whether to keep following an officer or take off on your own. Either choice leads to a bunch of adventures before the ending. The game has you automatically "lose" your guide, go through one battle against some enemies, and then shoot right to the ending text.

You may notice in the screenshots that the game continually references the associated entry in the book. This is because the cassette came with the book, and I guess players were meant to keep it in hand if they wanted to read the full text of each encounter. Given that, I can't think of a single reason that a player would want to play the game.

The sequel is selling on eBay for only $5.66.

My GIMLET gives it:

  • 2 points for the game world. The backstory is good, but the game doesn't offer much of a "world" since you're stuck on a linear path.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. There are no options at all during creation, and the only development is an increase in combat ability.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 2 points for foes that are a bit original to the setting, but don't really have any particular strengths and weaknesses. Games based on gamebooks ought to be stronger in encounters, but while Lone Wolf is a better-written gamebook than most, it still doesn't offer puzzles, role-playing choices, or even logic in its various flip-the-page options. At least, not in the first one.

I don't know...this might be the earliest game where I fight something riding something else.

  • 1 point for a godawful action combat system with no magic except "Mindblast."
  • 2 points for equipment, consisting primarily of a bunch of weapons that you can swap in and out and some quest-related items.

Checking my inventory.

  • 1 point for an economy. You find plenty of gold here, but you can't spend it anywhere except to buy passage in a couple of places. Fire on the Water offers more options for spending accumulated gold.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. Graphics are bare-bones but at least try to flesh out the scene. There are a few scattered sound effects, but the music is so piercing you mostly want the sound off. The interface is pretty bad, consisting of non-logical keys (e.g., although you usually fight on the left side of the screen, you hit "E" to advance and "R" to move backwards). Even though the game is short, it's annoying to have to wait while some animations and music play.

The game at least made an attempt at cobwebs.

  • 1 point for gameplay that is extremely linear, too easy, and extremely brief. The 1 point is for replayability since you might want to try different paths.
That's a final score of 13, which still seems kind of high. I think I enjoyed Ultima: Escape from Mount Drash more. I found one contemporary review, from the March 1985 Crash. The author, Derek Brewster, makes the same points I do: basically, why play the game when it offers a more limiting experience than the book?

The Spectrum versions of both Flight from the Dark and Fire on the Water were written by Five Ways Software in Birmingham, England. They received only a U.K. release. Five Ways' c.v. shows them mostly creating Spectrum ports for other company's games, none of them RPGs.

This wasn't the end for Lone Wolf computer games, however. 1991 saw Lone Wolf: Mirror of Death by Mr. Micro, a non-canon action platformer. It's not an RPG, so it won't be on my list. In the 2000s, we saw an aborted MMORPG and then an aborted first-person computer game. In 2013, an iOS game called Lone Wolf: Blood on the Snow was released. It seems to take place after the books (at least the first series). It has excellent graphics and some ability to move around areas, although it has the verboseness and general linearity of a book. I'm in the midst of "playing" it now, and I generally enjoy it.
I fired it up Fire on the Water for a few minutes, but nothing had changed in the interface and I'd rather just read the book. Look, we've been here a few times now; can we all agree that a literal computer adaptation of a gamebook, even with some RPG elements, isn't really an "RPG"? I don't know how many more of these I can take.


  1. This is a bit confusing, but the review you mention is actually from Crash. WorldofSpectrum is just the major Spectrum database. Unfortunately, their archive seems to be broken currently, you can't directly access the reviews here anymore:

    However, those magazines are probably all accessible at

  2. Hah, awesome story of a boy and his book. I love when that sort of stuff happens, it's mind-blowing. You should have scanned your filled Adventure sheet with its 'gay' serifs.

    I also loved that illustration. A few P&P RPG books have a similar spread of weapon images - I think both 3e and 4e, plus the Palladium series' all have pretty sweet weapon porn.

    As a youth I wondered why it was called a quarterstaff. It implies that a regular staff is 20' long.

    The iOS versions keep improving, according to the reviews, becoming less linear and more interesting. I only played the first, and not for all that long. It was alright.

    I think a gamebook could provide perfectly good inspiration for a CRPG. It's a multi-path storyboard, exactly the sort of thing you could adapt. To stick to the mechanical features of the books leaves you with a redundant product though.

    1. >> "As a youth I wondered why it was called a quarterstaff."

      Actually it's a buck-and-a-quarter staff, but why tell your enemies that?

      If you get the reference, you should be deeply ashamed of yourself. I know I am for making it.

    2. From Wikipedia: "The 'quarter' probably refers to the means of production, the staff being made from hardwood of a tree split or sawed into quarters (as opposed to a staff of lower quality made from a tree branch)."

    3. Uh... Chet didn't get it. Oh, dammit. I feel deeply ashamed of myself for getting it.

    4. Why on earth would you feel ashamed? "Let's see...ho, ha-ha, guard, turn, parry, dodge, spin, ha, thrust..."

    5. The "Quarter" could also refer to the fact that the basic guard stance when using one with the English techniques has the hands placed at the 1/4 and 1/2 points along its length. (See the etymology.)

  3. I am only slightly disappointed that you did not cover "Fire on the Water", if only because it's a much better book and so might be one or two points higher on the GIMLET. But, as you say, perhaps not a cRPG. This is basically a combat engine that someone attached a bit of book text to. Not terrible in its way, but also not very good.

    Incidentally, the next "Lone Wolf" book is slated for publication this year after a ten-year gap. I wonder if I should get it, for old times sake. Probably not.

    1. It amuses me a bit. The Lone Wolf series was good, sure, but it's not like it was the best thing that ever could have been done with the concept. I never understand the urge to constantly revive, remake, expand, and adapt average properties--whether games, books, or movies--instead of doing something original.

    2. Eh? Up there you said "The Lone Wolf books are just as good as I remembered--probably the best anyone was ever going to do with an RPG in paperback form."

      In any case, it's just difficult for many older artists to achieve the same level they had in their youth when they were pushing towards a new creative frontier, so to speak. Back then game books were new and exciting and the authors probably poured all their enthusiasm into them. This situation just can't be completely replicated decades later. The circumstances have changed. So what those authors can do is to rewrite their old works and write new books in the same style and the same fictional universe, and market them to people who grew up with the old works and have nostalgia for them. In the case of game books, I don't think there are many 15-year old buyers today.

      For example, Jeff Vogel from Spiderweb Software wrote on this topic:

      "My main goals when doing these rewrites is to respect and maintain what made people love them in the first place. This is made so much more important by the fact that I can't write new games like this anymore.

      Nobody Wants an Aging Rock Star To Play the New Stuff
      If you go see the Rolling Stones in concert, you don't want to hear their new stuff. Yuck. Boring! You want to hear the old hits, written when they were young and energetic and crazy and fresh.

      My old games are kind of the same. As I rework them, I can't get over how weird and quirky and energetic and chaotic the stuff I did when I was young was. My games were full of rough edges, joyfully overpowered spells, and the sort of concentrated oddness I have a harder time generating as I get old and boring."

    3. When I was a young teen, I loved the Lone Wolf series of books, and they seemed to be the best of the various game books that I tried. I especially loved the artwork in the first several books.

      Having them go to computer seems like a developmental dead end, however -- the pictures I got from my imagination were much better than what computers could render at the time.

    4. Sparky, I can see why what I said may seem contradictory. In the post, I was mostly referring to the writing and the mechanics of the gamebooks, whereas in the comment, I was referring to the quality of the game world itself. I can understand why people would want to continue to write in the Lone Wolf style; I just don't know why they're so bent on continuing the setting.

      Anyway, you offered a good explanation in your comments, and I agree with your points.

    5. I don't think you can underestimate the power of nostalgia, perhaps either on the side of the consumers or the author. I'm buying the Lone Wolf reprints and I'm not even reading them. Why? I'm not sure to be honest, but it kind of feels like it connects me with my younger self in a way that not much else does.

      I don't think its a stretch to imagine that Joe Dever gets the same kind of feeling by writing new books. With that said, I'm sure getting my money for new books is a good feeling for him too!

    6. Speaking of signs of the Universe, I just finished the new Blood on the Snow game on Steam. I'd be interested to hear your quick thoughts on it... I have mixed feelings.

    7. I hope it's mixed with good and great, left-handed warlock!

  4. I, too, loved the Lone Wolf books as a kid. I think I rarely bothered doing the combats after a point, unless there was a consequence to losing besides dying. I generally enjoyed them, but as pointed out the later books are really tough without carrying over stats from the earlier books, and especially the Sommerswerd. Most of them were pretty good about not getting into a "dead man walking" scenario except, if I remember correctly, one part in Fire on the Water with the Helghast in the tunnel.

    Did you ever read the Grey Star ones, Chet? It was a 4-book miniseries that takes place in the far southeast corner of Magnamund, and they were released around the same time as the Magnakai books. I believe that in the 13-20 series, Lone Wolf and Grey Star finally meet up.

    Fortunately, I was able to keep all of my Lone Wolf/Grey Star books, and they're sitting in a box somewhere, waiting for my son to get old enough to enjoy them. I did keep buying the Grand Master books (13-20) after I went to college but I never did get the "New Order" ones. I do, however, have a copy of the Magnamund Companion which includes a mini-adventure, if I remember correctly.

    I tried the demo of the recent iOS Lone Wolf game but I got royally trounced at the first combat. I figured I was missing something but I have such a game backlog that I just went ahead and deleted it. I'll just look over the old books again if I want the nostalgia, I think.

    1. I guess I should link to Project Aon ( which has uploaded all of the Lone Wolf, Grey Star, and other Joe Dever books, with Joe Dever's blessing and permission. One thing I didn't realize was that books 13-20 were abridged in the American publications which caused "broken links" and other issues.

    2. I did read the Grey Star ones. For years, I used "Grey Star" as my default mage character in RPGs. I think I drew another common PC name from the series--Tanis or Tanith, maybe. I don't remember anything about the books, though.

    3. Yeah Tanith - Tanis was Dragonlance. Every kid's half-elf character was called Tanis.

    4. And every dwarf was Flint.

    5. I can obviously relate as I still use Vonotar as my screen name for a lot of RPG related things.

      The Grey Star books were actually written by Ian Page. I vaguely remember an interview with Joe Dever where he mentioned that Grey Star was Ian's character in Joe's D&D campaign that was the basis for Lone Wolf setting. I think he was the only other author who wrote for the Magnamund setting, excluding the novelizations of the gamebooks.

      America did get abridged versions of books 13-20 which definitely had issues as Oneriomancer mentioned. Books 21-28 never made it over here at all, since the publishing market for gamebooks in America had basically collapsed by that time. I had no idea of that at the time... in those pre-internet days I figured the series had just ended, especially since book 20 did wrap things up.

      There was also the Highway Warrior series, totally unrelated to Lone Wolf, that took place in a post-apocalyptic Wasteland / Mad Max setting that I remember as also being pretty good.

    6. Every kender's uncle is Trapspringer.

  5. >>can we all agree that a literal computer adaptation of a gamebook, even with some RPG elements, isn't really an "RPG"?

    Yes. Skip those.

    1. Actually, I'd still take a quick look at them (honestly, at two hours a pop, it's not like it's an enormous time commitment and it's interesting for archiving purposes.) However, perhaps shift them (and other marginal titles) to a side-list which you look at whenever you feel like it/have a couple of hours to kil? We don't really need to have them reviewed "on-time", since they're basically a development dead-end.

    2. Anonymous commenters don't count.

    3. How many are there left? It looks as if 1984 experienced a bit of a 'gamebook bubble'. Since these games weren't very good, I guess the fad died away pretty quickly. But I don't want this to count as an argument for why you should still play them.

    4. Yes, you're right. It may be that Fire on the Water would be the only one left, so I'm trying to make a "rule" for no reason.

    5. 1) It's your time and effort, expend it how you see fit.

      2) That said, I think taking things on a case-by-case basis is always going to yield more "truthful" results than a blanket rule, since the latter encourages us to handwave away any inconvenient complexity or ambiguity.

      3) But you know that already, and I don't really care about gamebook games anyway...

      4) ...unless there's nothing else out there about them, since for me much of the core value of your effort (and of nearly any media-related writing, to be honest) is in exploring the un- or underexplored, rather than affirming extant consensus.

      5) All that aside, two hours a pop, really? If so I'd err on the side of inclusion, but that goes back to point 1).

    6. I have no opinion about whether you cover gamebook adaptations or not; it's your blog and your choice of what to cover. But I would like to argue that it is possible to make CRPG adaptations of gamebooks. I'm working on one myself right now, a Twine conversion of Maelorum. I would argue that it is indeed a CRPG, because it has all three RPG criteria: non-puzzle inventory, levels and character stats that increase based on experience, and combat based on those stats. Just because most gamebooks have historically been very simplistic doesn't mean they all have to be. Another modern gamebook that might be of interest is Holdfast, which I think already has an iOS version. Neither of these would appear in the regular rotation for years, yet, of course.

    7. Only one would count - Fabled Lands.

      All 6 books are currently in print, but only the first two were made for iOS. The books are non-linear (each book covers a geographical area) replayable (not all characters can complete all side quests) and have a functioning economy (you can buy and sell property & goods!)

      They're complex/nonlinear enough that playing the iOS version it's hard to tell you're reading a book. They did a splendid job creating graphics & music for the games.

    8. Don't forget BloodSword, which has party, detailed character system and grid-based combat.

    9. The iOS versions of Sorcery! are pretty awesome -- 3 in particular has complete nonlinearity and backtracking and dynamic enemies so counts as a full RPG -- but those games are so far out on your list I don't think you need to worry. (They also digress enough from the gamebook format -- especially in how combat works -- that's they're more like RPGs pretending to be gamebooks rather than the other way around.)

    10. I don't think a literal book translation doesn't even count as a crpg - it might fulfill all criteria of a rpg, but it isn't really a computer game if the computer doesn't do anything else but rolling dice.

    11. Nix on the gamebooks.

    12. Even as a big gamebook fan, I don't think you need to cover every single computer adaption. I think evaluating each one on its own CRPG merits is the way to go, perhaps with input from those who have actually played / read them.

      While it's interesting how technology has created these new media categories, it does make it hard when trying to settle on some specific category like CRPGs. You'll always have to draw a line somewhere.

    13. Instead of a blanket exclusion of all gamebook CRPGs ever, how about just excluding gamebook CRPGs that appear to be more of the same, or nothing but a crude approximation of the book, while leaving the door open for any gamebook CRPGs that appear worth your time to play?

      Oh well, your blog, your rules.

    14. Personally I would've enjoyed seeing your taking on Alter Ego, just for uniqueness sake before dismissing gamebook-likes.

      Running search on back posts seems to have few posts for it as well as against, but never quite consensus if it is RPG or simulator... But it has stats and inventory.

  6. I bet the game text was shortened due to memory limitations on those early computers or storage space limitations on the media the game came on.

    1. This is what I was thinking too. A cassette tape? How much could one of those hold? Between the (crude) graphics, the programming, and the text itself, I'm not surprised something got cut. I think I've played a better version of Flight from the Dark online somewhere, but I can't remember where (not the pure-HTML or DS versions from Project Aon).

    2. The cassette format is probably also why the game has so little choice - cassettes can only be read linearly (while a floppy disk or hard drive can pick any given bit of data you might need, and a cartridge just has the entire contents in (read only) memory), and computers like the Spectrum didn't have the memory needed to hold an entire game at once.

    3. The Spectrum had limited RAM, the standard model came with 48KB. Plus most games came on cassettes, since the Spectrum was on on the cheap end of the market and pretty much no one wanted to pay extra for a floppy drive, let alone a hard drive.

      Capacity wasn't the problem with cassettes, a 90 minute data cassette of the era is comparable in capacity with contemporary floppy drives. The problem was the very slow read speed and, as Gnoman said, they were limited to sequential reading.

      For the Spectrum that meant you had games that had to be loaded from tape to RAM in their entirety. The whole game had to fit into those 48KB - code, graphics and, of course, text.

      In fact for games of the era, regardless of platform and storage medium, size was at a premium. It may seem strange for us today, we're used to gigabytes and terabytes, but simple text really did take a lot storage space back then. It's prety much the reason why so many games relied on handbooks/manuals for text.

      Go to page 34, to read the rest of this comment. :)

    4. I remember playing Bard's Tale on the Spectrum. Every time you went up or down stairs in a dungeon, you had to find and load the appropriate level from cassette, (Usually going deeper into a dungeon was no problem, as the levels would be in sequence, but going back out was a pain.)

  7. The book cover you've shown seems to be from the American publication. The original British cover illustration made by Gary Chalk (who also did the interior illustrations) can be seen here:

    Gary Chalk also did illustrations for Games Workshop (Warhammer et al.). I love this dark and intricate British fantasy illustration style from the 80s and early 90s.

    If anyone still uses a Nintendo DS with a homebrew flash cart, there are very good noncommercial versions of the first five Lone Wolf books here:

    I think Joe Dever gave his permission for these noncommercial versions. They're faithful to the mechanics of the game books and are generally really well done, I had fun with them.

    1. The Kindle Active Content versions of the two Lone Wolf books are well done and also adhere to the gamebook mechanics.

    2. is a great website, as they have all the Lone Wolf and World of Lone Wolf books (and pdf version of the Magnamund Companion) on the site for free. Thanks to this site, I was able to finally play and complete the Grand Master series. Like Chet, I had no idea there were books past the Magnakai books until just a few years ago. I really recommend the site.

  8. I appreciate that you have done these posts more because they taught me about an rpg genre I never heard of, the gamebooks, but if there are more to come I feel you could skip them, they don't seem to be getting closer go real crpgs even if the Lone Star books were better than most.

  9. There is an Android app called "Lone Wolf Saga" which has all the content of the Kai and MagnaKai series but takes care of combat and inventory stuff (not to be confused with the more recent Lone Wolf mobile games). I think the app is based on Project Aon's content. It is quite well done.

    1. Thanks for this, I've just purchased the app, having a great time with it!

    2. Yup! I love that app.

      I got stuck on book 11 or 12 I think though... there's a combat vs a demigod that, for me, is literally impossible. If I were reading it in book form as a kid I would have just skipped it, but in the app, no chance.

  10. There was akso a German version of the books, have to dig around the attic to see if I can find it but I think it came out more or less in the same time frame, looks like he was quite active in getting multiple licenses out. Especially that weapons picture and your description of the 1-10 random number page bring back memories and I remember the quatum leap in usability when I got my first D10 for an AD&D group I joined at that time.

  11. Although i was a keen Fighting Fantasy fan when i was a kid, i haven't heard of Lone Wolf until recently.

    I tried the first free chapter of the new android conversion and i was pleasantly surprised. I might play the rest someday.

    And as i side note, i absolutely adore the spectrum colours. It's something that's been amiss in your blog:)

    1. If you were a Fighting Fantasy fan, if you haven't read / played the Sorcery! books you really should... they were almost on par (to me) with the Lone Wolf books.

      The only other gamebook series that I felt came close to these two was the Way of the Tiger books (ninjas + gamebooks = sale to me as a kid). The rest (of which there were many back in the 80's) were so-so at best.

    2. Yes! Way of the Tiger was my 2nd favorite series after Lone Wolf. But one of those books didn't have a way to "win" it. Bummer...

    3. I didn't play the Sorcery! books back in the day because i don't thing they ever got a portuguese translation. I tried the android conversion of the first one and it's really good, although i would prefer if they would keep the dice fights.

  12. If you really like these books, Chet, and you want to play them again properly, check out Seventh Sense:

    This is a Windows software player that covers books 1 through 16, and can automatically download and play the full texts for you, with full permission by the original author. I'm not sure why it doesn't get more word of mouth than it does, as it's very well done. As far as I can see, it's a perfect rendition of the original, including the original art.

    The software more or less forces you to play by the rules, with some rule options you can turn on, like an extended combat table that covers higher ranges than the ones that came in the books. (it uses the same rules, it's just bigger.) You can save and quit during play, and resume where you started, but if you die during a book, you're dead, and have to start over. However, it does let you make a permanent save at the end of each book, so you don't have to start the whole series over if you make a mistake in, say, book 12.

    It's not all the way done yet, but he's been working away at it steadily for, geeze, five or six years now. When I last played, it only covered up through about book 5, so I'm thinking about digging out my old saves and resuming where I left off.

    1. Anyone who has a passing interest in these books should definitely use Seventh Sense. It's the best way to play through the books, turning the experience into a great interactive fiction that handles all the book-keeping for you. Best part is that because they have the author's permission, it's an easy way to get the book text for free.

    2. Thanks. I feel like I have my hands full with work, CRPGs, my blog, and a desire to marathon Mad Men before someone can spoil the ending, but I may get to re-reading Lone Wolf eventually.

  13. can we all agree that a literal computer adaptation of a gamebook, even with some RPG elements, isn't really an "RPG"?

    It's not until the 2000s with the Fabled Lands app and Inkle's adaptations of the Sorcery! books that we're going to see this seemingly immutable law of the universe be challenged. That said, they liven up the mix and you can bang them out quickly with little time investment. (Bad games you can cover quickly vs. bad games that drag on... which do you regret more being on your list, this or OOII? A short bad game can be a refreshing change of pace from a different bad game 8)

    In any case, as was noted, it's pretty much a moot point -- gamebook adaptations boom when gamebooks do, and then go into hiding for a generation.

    1. I've been playing it ever since it was available. It's being updated several times over the years and the game-world is huge! Probably because it allows a lot of backtracking with bottlenecks happening only at the end of the chapters.

  14. Over on my own blog, I've been doing a playthrough of this very series. The first book, this one, is over at

    Give it a quick shout-out, if you'd like? :)

  15. My local library has a hard bound copy of the first two books as a set. Loved it to bits and borrowed it so many times. Somehow it happened that it ended up at a discard sale years later that I also happened to turn up to. It's still on my shelf today.

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  17. Five pounds was a common price back in the mid-80's for ZX spectrum games on tape, and considering that's not tremendously more than a paperback book would have cost back then (what, three pounds? Not living in the UK, nor having been alive then, I'm sure someone else could give a better figure) adaptations of gamebooks like this seem pretty reasonable. I remember reading that part of Rare's marketing strategy for their ZX Spectrum games later on involved making them seem "premium" by charging ten pounds for them.

  18. The book was also just released in a new CRPG on Steam. Combat was redone, but it feels more like a story with choices and inventory. It may be worth checking out.

  19. Every time I read Lone Wolf I think of Fool Wolf. That would have been a VERY different game. I mean, I bet the main character never gets possessed yeah, very different.

  20. I loved the books (probably not surprising given my age at the time) and even tried to convert one to a game on my C64. If I had known they had already done it ...

  21. Despite its flaws I think it's a gorgeous little game. I suppose this must have been the standard color palette for the ZX Spectrum.

  22. I've been playing the Lone Wolf series of books, via the Android app version (it's free.)

    The later books seem to have a problem with being too easy. In the last few books of the Kai series, I only died to some ridiculously unfair combats at or near the end of each book. Besides that, the accumulation of skills and items trivializes most of the puzzles and encounters.

    The Magnakai series starts to alleviate some of that, mostly by replacing the original Kai skills with a suspiciously similar set of "Magnakai" skills, but I still get the feeling that it's pulling some punches. I like the addition of encounters where you have to solve a riddle for the number of the next passage or else suffer a worse outcome, but there's only one or two of those per book that I've found. The Healing discipline and the Summerswerd see you through most hazards that aren't instant deaths to begin with.

    I would have been addicted to these had I been alive when they were in print. As an adult, the world building seems kind of hasty with each book being a new flavor-of-the-week instead of using the shared setting in a meaningful way.

    1. There's an iPhone app for $6.99, but I'm not sure it's the same thing. I guess I can try the Android version on my Kindle.

  23. I was a pretty big fan of the Lone Wolf books and own the first 20 in paperback form, so I decided to try this. I got an ZX Spectrum emulator and was able to launch the game... however, I cannot figure out the controls at all. Doesn't appear to have been a manual included with it either.

    1. I have a text file with some instructions. E-mail me and I'll send it to you.

    2. Since I think both sites have been mentioned before and we are just talking about the instructions, I guess it's ok to link them here in case anyone else comes searching for them:


  24. I have a strong memory of playing Fire on the Water as a child. My mother was a teacher and one day I had to go to school with her whilst she worked, so I took my ZX Spectrum 48k and this game. I sat with the keyboard overlay and played it all day, and my mum sent various kids over to play with me, presumably as a reward for being good! I remember the combat being really hard and I honestly don't remember if I ever finished it!


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