Cubicle 7’s Lone Wolf Adventure Game boxed set enters Joe Dever’s world of Magnamund and allows you to take on the role of Kai Initiates. In the face of creeping darkness and scattered pockets of injustice, you have the means to bring light and hope.
Packed into an impressively solid and weighty box, LWAG (as I shall refer to it henceforth) includes both an Initiate-level introductory game for beginners and a set of Master-level options that allow you to expand the game in a tailored way. As an expert, you might go all in to offer your game every possible option. Otherwise, you can pick and choose from clearly marked tweaks and extras to enhance the game in ways that matter to you and your gaming buddies.
In practice, LWAG makes itself accessible to total newcomers and seasoned gamers alike. It also presents an unashamed path to nostalgia heaven for anyone who worked their way through the solo books in the 80s and 90s.
The Lone Wolf Adventure Game boxed set has a very solid and snug box, packed to the gills – so much so that I’m almost wishing they’d given it an extra inch in depth. The game boils down into three books, as well as a stash of various components like pre-generated characters, tokens, combat tables and a box lid randomiser.
The Book of Kai Legends includes two adventures, plus seeds for more, and runs to 80-pages. The Book of Kai Wisdom handles the mechanics of the game and some ‘worldview’ background material, rounding out at 96-pages. Finally, the Book of Kai Training deals with character generation and background concerning the Order of the Kai, packed into 64-pages.
The components inside the box (or included as PDFs with the electronic version) include six gatefold pre-generated characters, blank Action Charts (the LWAG term for character sheet), a map of Sommlending and the north-east of Magnamund, a Read Me First introduction sheet, an equipment sheet, a sheet of tokens and some advertising.
The tokens come printed on sturdy card. The books have glossy covers and sumptuous artwork throughout. The maps adopt the style familiar to anyone who has played the solo books – and they’re an immediate nostalgia-fest for me. The LWAG line will have many more maps to come – and as a Kickstarter backer, I splashed out for all of them!
Before you feel that my gushing about maps means you know how this review will pan out, I’m not without some honest reservations and minor gripes on this boxed set. While I Kickstarted the game, I’m first and foremost a gamer and I like to think I get a solid bang for my buck.
Solid certainly describes the feel of the game, as LWAG fits snugly inside the box. The box has rigidity and heft, well constructed and glossy. For my preferences, I would have liked a box with a little more leeway in all dimensions. Once you punch out the tokens, storing them inside the box means spreading them out – and if you choose to use dice as a randomiser, they will have to ride separately in a dice bag or your pocket. No room for dice in here at all. Also, no room for any future supplements or maps either.
The heart of the game exists in these three slim, perfect bound books with beautiful Jon Hodgson art on the covers displaying the activities of three Kai. Cubicle 7 has delivered incredible production values for a game that retails at around $30 (or £20 – at time of writing).
Who’s Lone Wolf?
For the uninitiated – Joe Dever’s original Lone Wolf series charted the adventures of a single Kai Lord, Silent Wolf, following a massacre that sees his fellow Kai slaughtered by dark forces. The Kai combined a cloistered monk-like existence with focused training and study, based upon principles received and set down by their founder Sun Eagle, guided by the Sun god Kai. They have a touch of the Jedi about them or the knight orders of the Crusades – combining faith and introspection with disciplined competence and a martial purpose in defence of the land.
The game takes places in a time before the massacre during a short period of relative peace, marred primarily by the petty squabbling of bandits and nobility. However, the forces of darkness have started to reawaken and find renewed purpose under the direction of a new leader, the Archlord Zagarna, head of the Darklords.
The Books – of Kai Training, Kai Wisdom and Kai Legend – split the workings of the game roughly into character generation/background, running the game/mechanics/more background, and adventures. In practice that means you can scatter the three books around the table for those who need them. Aside from the adventures, players and GM can access all the books for reference – though if just playing the basic (Initiate) level game, it’s easy to run the game from an introductory leaflet inside the box that covers the core principles.
The main mechanic of the game outside combat involves aiming for a set Target Rating set by the Gamemaster. You do that with your own Target Value made up from a random number – between 0 to 9, modified by ability, skills and circumstance. If your TV equals or exceeds the TR, you’re successful.
The game includes just three Abilities – Combat Skill, Endurance and Willpower, that roughly equate to physical strength, resilience and intellectual and spiritual spark. The higher the score, the better the bonus – which should make those skill tests easier!
Two other mechanics handle fate and combat.
If a character faces a situation that might go either way and over which they have no influence or power, they flick a coin. The game box includes a coin with a light and dark side, with the player hoping for Kai’s fortune. Otherwise, a random number with a result 5 or higher will do.
In battle, the character subtracts their adversaries Combat Skill from their own to get a number – or Combat Ratio – to look up on the Combat Table. A random number then determines the point of cross-reference, showing how much damage both attacker and defender sustain. This table makes combat in Lone Wolf remarkably quick and straightforward – and also weights results slightly in the player’s favour (on the basis that the enemy will always have many more adversaries to throw at them before they’re reached the end of most adventures).
The simplicity of the game – with just two abilities – COMBAT SKILL and ENDURANCE – in the Initiate (basic) game and a coin-flip randomiser carries forward from the solo books. Experienced players may ask if the Lone Wolf Adventure Game has changed so little from the solo books, is this just more of the same? Does this really represent a viable and interesting gaming experience?
Mastery and More
Well, the game includes both Initiate and Master-level materials. For the inexperienced gamer, the simplicity of the first level makes for an easy introduction. It doesn’t sway too far away from the core concepts of the solo books, keeping it all very straight forward. The Master-level adds WILLPOWER and DEFENCE as extra values, and with those applies extra layers of complexity around fighting techniques, armour and also considers the application of skills. The remit of LWAG – and I feel quite rightly – should be to attract potential players of all abilities with the very real possibility that some will not have played any role-playing games before.
The three books scatter Master-level concept around the sections where they have relevance, highlighted within pale green sidebars. You can pick and choose whatever suits, steadily expanding the simple core to something deeper. The full extent of the game lies ahead, across the supplements to come; here you have enough for skills, defence and more.
For example, Kai Favour provides you with a way to re-roll failed tests. Traits highlight flavourful talents like Ironskin, Dedicated, Commanding, Sharp-Witted or Sun-Blessed that set each Kai Lord apart. All of these added details can bolt on or be left until you feel comfortable with the simple core.
As well as essential mechanics and Master-level enhancements, the Book of Kai Wisdom also sets out basic equipment, a short bestiary of friends and foes, and guidance on character advancement.
What’s It Like?
In many respects, the Lone Wolf Adventure Game feels a lot like the original Dragon Age boxed set.
When you got Dragon Age Set 1 you had the core mechanics, a pile of background material, character generation and an adventure, with some scattered plot seeds and a nice map. I have a great deal of love for Dragon Age – and I liked the approach Green Ronin took. Given the obvious love and attention Cubicle 7 has lavished on the material presentation in the LWAG boxed set and the direct involvement of Joe Dever throughout, I have high hopes.
I can also see a lot of potential for an enjoyable story-focussed game. You have the simplicity of just a few character abilities; while the skills and disciplines of the Kai offer the trait-focussed feel of narrative-over-dice-rolls style gaming. Lone Wolf isn’t languishing in the nostalgia of the past. I can see a balance here between drawing in the newcomers and satisfying those looking for something more. I can also feel a game with the open potential for you to adopt, adapt and improve. Those seeking complexity can come along for the ride and see how the game expands.
Lone Wolf in Play
When I ran the introductory adventure – The Lost Caravan – for three players from my local gaming group, it went well. The players got really involved, did some investigating and got the job done. Explaining the basic concepts and mechanics of the game took no time at all – and they quickly got into the business of using Disciplines, Skills and Targets. The competence of the Kai Lords meant they had core talents that worked without resorting to the dice; otherwise, they smoothly picked up the dice, gathered their modifiers and set to it.
I enjoyed running the game and the simplicity meant that I could really concentrate on the story. As an experienced Gamemaster I looked to use the written adventure while adapting to the pull of the player’s interest – and it concluded with a satisfying close, despite their taking it off the rails from the word go.
One thing that did come up when I ran The Lost Caravan was the box lid. I wanted to use every feature of the boxed set, and that meant using the coins for random numbers. I let the players have a few flips to try it out. One player managed to miss the box altogether more than once, and even I managed to overshoot when it went to the furthest edge, hit and went out on the other side. I appreciate the nostalgia element of the randomiser. In the books, you had the random table on a page and jabbed a finger or pencil to get the number. However, I suspect that I’ll use dice rather than the box lid – though, it remains a nice bonus feature if you forget your, or don’t have any, ten-sided dice.
Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf Adventure Game has a big time nostalgia kick. While the original books only turn up on collector’s shelves, in secondhand stores and upon online auction sites, they still have a massive pull. You can access a lot of information online, but there’s nothing quite like the love of a fan.
I’m a big fan of Lone Wolf, which is why backing the Kickstarter seemed like a no-brainer to me. From my brief conversation with Joe Dever at UK Games Expo, he has a genuine love for the game, too. He wants to see the world expand and go on – and has plans to complete the original solo book series. I can see that over time the potential of the game will expand and that the simple core mechanics will combine with an expanding toolkit of Master-level potential.
Cubicle 7 has delivered a beautiful box filled with love, lush art and gaming potential. These first books skate over the topmost corner of the world, so I won’t deny you will have to spend a little more to truly realise the potential of Magnamund. Or you’ll have to go digging through thrift stores and bookshops for old copies of the solo books, which is no bad thing.
The Lone Wolf Adventure Game strikes a nice balance between simplicity and complexity. As a starter set, the pre-generated characters and introductory adventure let you play within minutes. Once you’re done, you have all the rules you need to create characters of your own or advanced the ones in the box… and a whole world to explore. The simplicity of the Initiate rules makes it accessible to children or curious adults alike.
And there’s an undeniable fun in flipping that coin into the box lid… even if you might occasionally have to go searching for under the table when it bounces.
Review based on a Kickstarted copy of the boxed set. Lone Wolf Adventure Game, written by Joe Dever, August Hahn and the Cubicle 7 team. Published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd. Available as a boxed set in stores. Or as a PDF package from RPGNow for $22.79.