Lone Wolf 26: The Fall of Blood Mountain (Collector’s Edition) by Joe Dever
Press, hardback, £16.99, July 2020, ISBN 9781916268029
In my review of Lone Wolf 24: Rune War, I mentioned that I’d never played books 25 and 26 and although I’ve used Project Aon (see: www.projectaon.org) to play books 27 and 28, it’s particularly gratifying to be able to play 26 using Holmgard
Press Collector’s Edition hardback (available at: www.magnamund.com). Lone Wolf 26: The Fall of Blood Mountain
is the sixth (of twelve) in the New Order series of the Lone Wolf cycle. I won’t bore regular readers with details of
either the cycle or its publication as they are described at length in my reviews of
books 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, and 30, all of which are available on this blog. The New Order series turns away from protagonist
Lone Wolf to focus on a new member of the Kai order, Sommerlund’s warrior elite,
combining standalone with campaign adventures.
The two standalone adventures are books 23 and 26. Interestingly, anyone who played the first edition
of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons will probably notice a strong correlation
between the shape of these two adventures and the Wilderness Survival Guide (1986) and Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide (1986) respectively. The latter was the supplement that introduced
the Underdark, a subterranean world consisting of a vast interconnected network of caverns, tunnels, and shafts, as a campaign setting. In the world of Magnamund, the Dwarven
Kingdom of Bor has a foot both on and under the earth and the action of The Fall of Blood Mountain takes place in the latter.
The greed of one of King Ryvin’s sons, Prince Leomin, led him to ignore the received wisdom of the Drodarin and mine too deep, releasing an ancient horror called the Shom’zaa. Leomin and his brother, Prince Torfan, are now beneath the capital of Boradon defending the Throne of Andarin against the Shom’zaa and its horde.
The Kai have been approached to send a champion to destroy the Shom’zaa
with a Sun-crystal while the King leads his army to relieve the siege of the
Throne chamber and rescue his sons. Grand Master True Friend (of randomly-generated-name-fame) is assigned
the mission by Lone Wolf and the adventure begins with him hitching a ride on a
skycraft bound for Bor. King Ryvin offers True Friend the captain of the Royal War-thanes, Vagel, as a guide and the two soon find themselves deep in the Underdark. For a royal champion, Vagel is surprisingly
fragile and doesn’t last very long at all, leaving True Friend to complete the
mission by means of his wits, Kaistar (his magic sword), and the New Order Kai Grand Master Disciplines (supernatural abilities granted by the gods Kai and Ishir).
The game is quite short in length compared to other New Order adventures and has a curious narrative structure, divided into three unequal parts. The first and longest (about three-fifths of
the game) is composed of True Friend’s journey to the Throne chamber. The second and shortest (about a sixth of the
game) involves True Friend hunting and killing the Shom’zaa with the aid of a
remorseful Prince Leomin. The final part
(about a quarter of the game) is concerned with True Friend’s return to assist Prince Torfan in defence of the Throne, which is still under
attack from the horde. It would be
unfair to say that the structure is anticlimactic because the battle in the
Throne chamber provides the most harrowing combat, but the confrontation with the Shom’zaa
– and indeed the whole middle section – is disappointing. The anticipation, tension, and ‘pleasing
terror’ of the Shom’zaa starts with the cover, the illustration on the front
and the blurb on the back, and builds as the game progresses. The revelation that the Shom’zaa is one of
the weaker antagonists of the series and that its death has little impact on
the game (the most difficult part of which is still to come) makes for an
unfortunate dip in the excitement of play.
My second criticism is that there wasn’t much description of Drodarin customs,
culture, and technology, which is a pity as the Drodarin are the only dwarves on Magnamund, the only society to have mastered the use of gunpowder.
gameplay, The Fall of Blood Mountain is probably the easiest of the New
Order series so far. The combination of this
feature with its status as a standalone rather than campaign adventure means
that it is probably the only one to date that I would recommend playing on its
own. It is, of course, better if you’ve
played books 21 to 25 (and even better if you’ve played 1 to 25), but book 26 is an entry into the cycle that is both enjoyable and survivable. For players of the series, no guidance is necessary; if this is your first Lone Wolf adventure you might want to consider
choosing Illuminatus (a broadsword) as your Kai weapon and selecting either Elementalism
or Kai-alchemy as one of your Grand Master Disciplines. This is Holmgard Press’s sixth publication and
maintains the high standard of production values begun with Lone Wolf
29: The Storms of Chai. I did,
however, come across four typos, all in the bonus adventure but none so serious
as to detract from gameplay (one on the page immediately before section 1, two
in section 32, and one in section 124).
bonus adventure is ‘Destiny Most Dire’, written by August Hahn and especially
noteworthy in concluding his Dire mini-series, the only series to run through
the bonus adventures. The player character is a Dire, a dead
soldier who is now one of the Lifeless, denied death and doomed to walk
Magnamund. This is the fifth and final adventure
of the character, the previous instalments of which were: ‘Darkness Most Dire’ (in
Lone Wolf 14: The Captives of Kaag), ‘A Long and Dire Road’ (in Lone Wolf 16: The Legacy of Vashna), ‘Dire Straights’ (in Lone Wolf 19: Wolf’s Bane), and ‘Dire in the Dark’ (Lone Wolf 25: Trail of the Wolf). ‘The
Story So Far…’ opening recaps the entire mini-campaign in detail so the player
does not have to seek out the previous instalments to understand the trajectory
of the mini-series, which constitutes its own campaign. Although the game has 125 sections as opposed
to the standard 350 of Lone Wolf, it has a substantial feel to it and is very well-paced.
Hahn writes with flair and proficiency, providing a near-perfect balance of world-building and action throughout the
narrative. There are also some
interesting and innovative variations on standard combat, which spices up
gameplay for regulars. In sum, ‘Destiny
Most Dire’ is excellent, a fitting end to the mini-series campaign. As such, there is a sense in which the bonus
adventure completes the Collector’s Edition, providing a counterbalance to what
is one of the weaker Lone Wolf adventures.