Wednesday, February 1, 2017

RIP Joe Dever

This actually happened about two months ago, but I'm still kind of trying to deal with the news. Joe Dever, creator of the Lone Wolf fantasy RPG series, has left us. It's always hard to lose someone whose work you admire, but Joe Dever wasn't just a favorite author, he's always been one of my heroes.

The series is one of the more well-known examples of the interactive book craze of the 1980's, as well as one of the more involved with it basically being a solitaire role-playing game where you managed the hero's inventory, statistics and rolled dice to fight enemies and escape danger.

It wasn't the first series to include that kind of thing; Fighting Fantasy had been out for a little while already when the first book came out, and the Sorcery! mini-series also had Lone Wolf's gimmick of being able to import your character from book to book a little earlier too. The difference was that Lone Wolf had that as a central idea from the beginning: you played a single character across the entire series. As you created your character you selected from a list of special skills to give him, and every time you completed an adventure you got to level up by picking a new one, in addition to being able to carry over your magic weapons and stash of healing potions into the next book.

And with the series developing a well-earned reputation for ball-busting difficulty sometimes, you'd be glad you had them.

But more than just giving you a great feeling of progression, this meant that unlike series such as Fighting Fantasy there was a single cohesive setting and mythology from day one that only got more vivid and immersive the deeper you read into it (remember all those "If you've been to <X Location> in a previous Lone Wolf adventure" moments?). Eventually there were spinoffs too, where you controlled the wizard Grey Star in his quest to save a distant land from evil, and a series of non-interactive novels that covered a lot of the same material as the main series but shifted the perspective from time to time to give other important characters time in the spotlight and let you see things that only got oblique mentions in the interactive books. RPG's, a world book that even taught you the language of some of the was truly an empire.

Speaking personally, this massive singular setting was one of the things that really helped me to get interested in reading, and ultimately in writing adventure stories of my own (including an insipid little one-shot). To me the Sommerswerd is still the most badass magical blade of all time, and the Helghast still haunt my dreams.

And it would be heartbreaking enough to lose such an influential creator, but  the Lone Wolf brand had actually started making a comeback in the last few years too. A video game came out that Joe not only wrote but even narrated. A new RPG boxed set too. And saddest of all we finally got The Storms of Chai, book 29 of the main series and the first new book in almost twenty years, but also the first in a planned four-book arc to give the series a proper conclusion. The ideas behind it promised to be pretty epic, with the forces of evil suddenly on the attack everywhere at once, and the best and brightest of Lone Wolf's pupils sent to the far corners of the world to find out why and how to stop them.

What happens next is still unknown. In the meantime, though, I suggest visiting Project Aon, a web archive where all of the major material for the book series and the Grey Star spinoff can be read for free with the original creators' blessing. They've even got the world book and the comic book one-shot. It was a huge part of my development, maybe it can be part of someone else's because of this little article too.

Thank you, Joe. You left a mark on me that will never fade. Truly you will be missed.

For Sommerlund and the Kai!

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