April 10, 1987: a trip from Yokota Air Base, Japan to Osan Air Base, South Korea, headed for Itaewon.
At fifteen years of age I'd lived in three different countries (including the US), and I was now visiting a fifth (including a long drive through Canada), albeit only for four days. The prospect of seeing a bit of South Korea was thrilling.
After getting our passport visas stamped and gaining admittance to Osan Air Base, we proceeded to the base AAFES Exchange to acquire supplies for our stay. Since the Pacific Stars and Stripes Bookstore was so close nearby (at the time, in the same building), I received permission to browse.
This being 1987, and this being the third year—at most—I was into table-top role playing games, I beelined immediately for the games section of the store (this and the fantasy/sf section being essentially where I lived in such places—when I was a few years younger, you would have found me staring at toys in the toy section).
What greeted me was very unusual, by my experience. Yokota's Stars and Stripes bookstores had apparently held a lot of dead stock (or at least older stock) of out-of-print material. They were catching up — slowly — whereas Osan's offerings were more modern or current, considering the location, making the Yokota shop a kind of minor time-machine or "lost world," at least when it came to role playing games. As a consequence, there was a lot of material available from TSR, Chaosium, and other publishers which was unfamiliar to me. My budget was also extremely modest. I wasn't going to walk out with too many $15 boxed sets or $5.50 modules.
Nor, as it would turn out, even one.
My attention turned to the more pocket-sized paperback books, like the Choose Your Own Adventures and TSR's own Dungeons & Dragons Endless Quest books, on the latter of which I'd previously sampled, but I'd found less meaty than I'd like for long plane flights — it was also possible I was starting to outgrow these offerings. We would be leaving Japan that May, and I was looking ahead at staving off the boredom imposed by the sort of air travel you get to endure from Japan to St. Louis, Missouri. I had some paperbooks already lined up, and of course I would be carrying everything I had ever bought from TSR or any other publisher I happened to have with me in a vinyl, black, zippered folio, but at the moment I was looking for something new to add to the mix, which was, perhaps, a bit less cumbersome than fumbling with stacks of college-ruled loose-leaf and graph paper, dice, and a set of cumbersome manuals on a flight or long drive.
So there they were, a row of several books in series. I don't recall how far they went, but I dimly recall there were several and most were not duplicates. I pulled Book 1 and examined the cover.
I look at covers a lot. If an illustrator takes the trouble, I try to give it my best attention. The text, inevitably, holds the attention, but glomming that attention in the first place is a crucial step. The cover, by Don Maitz for the American release, sufficiently intrigued; and I loved the colors, even if the sword-weilding figure on the cover didn't do so much for me.
Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark, Book 1, by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk. I noticed the typography immediately—yes, even then, I was a nascent typography nerd—which used the same font for the text as the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert D&D books. The premise in the text seemed a bit derivative to me—even at 15—but I was looking for something with a bit more replay/reread value than Dungeon of Dread (even if I did love it), so I took note and gave it a chance. I started to read further, noting the charm of the interior illustrations by Gary Chalk (which would become only my first encounter with his art). I mention all of these things becuase they all contributed to a predisposition in me to just really like the book.
A few minutes later, I determined this had what I was looking for. I picked up the second in the series to keep me going, and between the two, my five dollars was spent. My mind may have still been on the plethora of other gaming materials for D&D and AD&D, or the Chaosium offerings, but these would serve, and I reasoned there would be other opportunities to acquire other materials later.
For a game so dedicated to the notion of imagination, they sure published a lot of material to satisfy a public hungry for role playing materials. My father, never a fan of RPGs, made this observation, and I had had to admit he had a salient point.
Regardless, the rest of the four days went quickly, spent shopping in Itaewon's shops for luggage and other souvenirs for our impending trip from Japan. I believe my first opportunity to start the book was actually a month later, on the flight from Yokota.
I finished it, and picked up the second. But the time the plane landed, I was ready to head to the nearest bookstore to acquire Book 3—thereby adding Waldenbooks into my regular rotation of bookstore chains to keep an eye out for as we traveled across country to visit relatives. I would never again have an opportunity to visit a Stars and Stripes bookstore, but Waldenbooks had what I needed.
I have fond memories of these books, reading them alone in bed at my Gandmother's, or during the trip whenever I was able. They also held a reasonable replay value—as I'd hoped when I first picked up the first in a shop in Osan Air Base. You can tell from the photos I've taken of the amount of handling all three of the books endured—a fact pointed out to me by my wife, who noticed the darker areas on the trim of the pulpy paper where my fingers would have paged back and forth through the text during play—a fact I was only just made aware of when she mentioned it (and I have literally been looking at these books for 32 years).
The books are online, free to play in a variety of ways.
As a mode of collecting, I would eventually halt at Book 11, but by then my attention and focus had turned on to other things.
- Dever, Joe, and Chalk, Gary. Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark. The Putnam Young Readers Group, 1984.
- Dever, Joe, and Chalk, Gary. Lone Wolf: Fire on the Water. The Putnam Young Readers Group, 1985.
- Dever, Joe, and Chalk, Gary. Lone Wolf: The Caverns of Kalte. The Putnam Young Readers Group, 1986.