The story focuses on the fictional world of Magnamund, where the forces of good and evil fight for control of this planet in a final showdown. The protagonist is Lone Wolf, last of his caste of warrior monks known as Kai lords. The book series is written in the second person and recounts Lone Wolf's adventures as if the reader is the main character. As Lone Wolf, you make choices at regular intervals throughout the story which then change the course, and the final outcome, of the book.
Although the series ceased publication between 1998 and 2007, a dedicated fan base established Project Aon in 1999 and subsequently converted many of the books to HTML format. Joe Dever gave his permission for Project Aon to distribute the books online via the internet. Subsequently, there has been a strong revival of interest in Lone Wolf, particularly in Italy, Spain, and France where the books were republished between 2002-2006. In 2007, Mongoose Publishing has announced that all of the Lone Wolf books, including books 29-32 which were never published, are being printed. Several adaptations also exist of the Lone Wolf series, including a D20-style Role-Playing Game published by Mongoose Publishing Ltd UK, the company which also plans to republish the original Lone Wolf series, beginning in the summer of 2007. The series was also converted to computer games and a new computer game and a mobile phone game will be released in 2008.
In the north-east of Magnamund's northern continent lies the realm of Sommerlund. Its people, the Sommlending, are devoted followers of Kai. There are those among them, known as Kai Lords or simply 'the Kai', who possess extraordinary innate abilities. Trained from childhood at the Kai Monastery, the Kai Lords are Sommerlund's greatest defence against Naar's agents.
Naar's champions upon Magnamund are the Darklords, who dwell in the scorched wastes of the Darklands, west of Sommerlund. This realm, inhospitable to most life, enables the Darklords to survive on Magnamund - though powerful, they are greatly weakened by the natural atmosphere of their world. Forced to enact their will at a distance, the Darklords wage war with armies of Drakkarim (humans devoted to Naar), Giaks (goblin-like creatures spawned in vast numbers), and other creatures, and are served by agents such as Vordaks (undead with psychic powers) and Helghasts (shapechanging undead).
At the Kai Monastery is a young initiate, given the name Silent Wolf. On the feastday of Fehmarn, when all the Kai Lords gather at the monastery, Silent Wolf is sent to cut wood from the surrounding forest as a punishment for his inattention in class. While he is gone, a surprise attack is launched from the Darklands at several places across Sommerlund. The Monastery is assaulted and the gathered Kai Lords massacred. Rushing back from the woods, Silent Wolf is knocked out by a low-lying tree branch (in the Legends of Lone Wolf novelizations based on the books, it's implied that the branch was placed there by a demi-goddess called Alyss so Silent Wolf would be spared the attack). When he awakes, he finds himself the only survivor. The last of the Kai, he renames himself Lone Wolf and sets out for the capital to inform the King of the loss of the Kai.
The Kai Series follows Lone Wolf as he rallies the armies of Sommerlund and her ally, Durenor, to repel the invasion, pursues and captures the traitor who brought about the invasion, and survives plots to complete the destruction of the Kai. At the end of the series, Lone Wolf recovers the Book of the Magnakai, the ancient text which contained the higher lore of the Kai Lords. With the massacre of the Kai, and Lone Wolf only an initiate, these teachings were thought to be lost.
The Magnakai Series continues the tale, with Lone Wolf now a fledging Kai Master striving to understand the Magnakai teachings. The Book, however, is ancient and incomplete. To perfect his understanding and train a new order of Kai Lords, Lone Wolf must follow the path of Sun Eagle, the first Kai Lord and author of the Book of the Magnakai. Sun Eagle quested for the wisdom encapsulated in the Lorestones of Nyxator, seven orbs scattered across Northern Magnamund. As Lone Wolf begins the same quest, however, war breaks out again. The Darklords have again rallied behind a single leader and now hasten their invasion to defeat the Magnakai quest. Lone Wolf pursues the quest through the war-torn realms and even beyond the plane of Magnamund. Ultimately, he enters the Darkland capital of Helgedad and brings about the destruction of the Darklords.
The Grand Master Series continues the story of Grand Master Lone Wolf and introduces the restored order of Kai Lords. With the destruction of the Darklords, Naar and his agents abandon open warfare and seek new paths to dominance, often focused directly on Lone Wolf as the keystone of the forces of Light.
The New Order Series features a new protagonist, a Grand Master in the Second Order of the Kai and a student of Lone Wolf, who is now Supreme Master. This series allows the player to 'customize' his character by allowing the choice of an individual name (originally, the name was speculated to be Falco Nero, or Black Hawk). Much of the series focuses on attempts by Naar's minions to use remnants of the power of Agarash the Damned, Naar's greatest champion and predecessor to the Darklords. As such, the settings explore Southern Magnamund, where Agarash's empire was centred and which was not featured in the earlier series.
Dever has stated that his earliest inspirations for Lone Wolf were medieval classical texts such as Beowulf, Ivanhoe, King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. In his teenage years Tolkien, Moorcock and Mervyn Peake along with military history and Norse mythology all contributed to the creation of the Kai. He also used travel books to discover images of "exotic places".
Dever developed the world of Magnamund from 1975 to 1983 as a setting for his Advanced Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Originally called "Chinaraux", the world consisted of only northern Magnamund. The Kai lords are like "psionic rangers with special powers bestowed upon them by their gods". An individual book took 9 weeks to write, with three for mapping and plotting, and then 6 weeks of writing the story, creating an average of 12 entries per day.
With the help of Joe Dever, Paul Barnett, whose pen name is John Grant, wrote twelve novelizations of the Lone Wolf books known as the Legends of Lone Wolf, several of which were heavily edited before publication. They have received mixed reviews from fans. Barnett was the creator of the characters Alyss, Qinefer, and Thog. Barnett has been in discussions with an Italian publisher about reprinting the books unedited. Random House stopped publishing the novelizations because "the books weren't selling," though the truth of this statement is contested. There has long been question amongst fans as to which version of the series is canon. Joe Dever has stated that as the game books precede the novelization, they are the "authoritative" versions.
Only the first four volumes of the Legends of Lone Wolf were made available in the United States (though Sword of the Sun was divided into two separate volumes, The Tides of Treachery and Sword of the Sun), and only the first 20 of the core Lone Wolf gamebook series were made available in the United States; the last 8 books were never printed in the US. It should also be noted that the American editions of books 13-20 were abridged versions and thus are shorter than the UK editions. The UK versions also have color maps. The abridgements are sloppy, sometimes leaving broken links, or sections referring the reader to an incorrect new section.
During the latter period of writing, Joe Dever and Publisher Red Fox were at odds, and Red Fox ceased publishing the Lone Wolf series after book 28, The Hunger of Sejanoz, citing lack of interest in the interactive gaming genre, despite hundreds of requests for the reprinting of several Lone Wolf books that had gone out of print. This left the series unfinished, as Dever had four other books planned. He plans on releasing these books in some form after completing his collaboration on the new Lone Wolf RPG.
In 1999, Dever gave permission for his Lone Wolf book to be published for free on the internet by the non-profit organization Project Aon. Joe Dever later gave his permission to publish the out of print New Order series. As of August 2008, 18 of his Lone Wolf books, the World of Lone Wolf series, the Magnamund Companion and several other Lone Wolf related written works are available for download.
The response to the Lone Wolf book series has been largely positive. Three books of the series won "Game Book of the Year" between 1985 and 1987. The series was also awarded the Gamemaster International "All Time Great" award in 1991. The high quality of Joe Dever's descriptive prose receives especial praise, as well as the fact that the books, if played together, form a cohesive continuing story, with recurring characters (something not often seen in gamebooks).
Even so, the books are not without criticism. Wavering difficulty is a common criticism made about the series. The battles tend to be either too hard or too easy. This is mostly attributed to the attainment of the Sommerswerd (a sword forged by gods) in the second book Fire on the Water which drastically increases the wielder's combat abilities. Another reason for this would be the fact that a player can start with drastically different stats. Finally, because the books were written to be functional both as a series and as stand alone adventures, the question of whether or not a player would have access to certain special weapons and abilities made difficulty hard to gauge.
Two game modifications for the game Neverwinter Nights were named after the Lone Wolf book series.
Three computer games were released during the late 1980s using the Lone Wolf license. The first two, published by Hutchinson, were adapted from the first two gamebooks, while the third entitled 'Mirror of Death' from Audiogenic Software, featured an original storyline. The game was well received by several game magazines.
The Legends novel Eclipse of the Kai was abridged as an audio book read by Edward da Souza on May 7, 1992. Another was recorded but not released. A version narrated and composed by Joe Dever was also made, but never released.
There was also a series of telephone adventures called "Phonequest", one of which was known as "Fortress of Doom".
In 2004 the license was adapted as a role-playing game by Mongoose Publishing under the Open Game License using Mongoose's OGL System. This has met mostly with praise for its adaptation of the Lone Wolf world, though some believe that there are many overlooked problems with the RPG, such as balance between classes and "hard to interpret" rules. Dever is credited with helping the game's principal designer, August Hahn, to incorporate information from his final four unreleased books into the game. A line of miniatures was also created for the game.
Three scripts were developed for a potential Lone Wolf film release but they did not proceed beyond the pre-production phase.
An online MMORPG was in development by fans with the support of Joe Dever and a playable demo had been released for beta testing, but development abruptly stopped when it was announced that a first-person computer game was being developed by Singapore-based Ksatria Gameworks Pte Ltd. Joe Dever is cited as Lead Designer on the project, which is scheduled for release in August 2008. The studio also has the license to produce more Lone Wolf games.