Red Fox, £4.99, ISBN 0-09-967690-7
The Plague Lords of Ruel is the thirteenth gamebook in the Lone Wolf series. Personally, I have some reservations about the author dragging the series past the climactic confrontation with the Darklords, but I guess there has to be plenty of demand for more Lone Wolf even in 1990.
In this one, you play Lone Wolf, now a Grand Master of the Kai Lords of Sommerlund. The Darklords have been vanquished, but only two years of relative peace have passed before a new threat looms over the horizon. Lord Rimoah of the Elder Magi – no, he’s not dead yet – warns you that of all the currently unorganized remnant factions of the Darklords, the Cener Druids are poised to unleash a deadly threat on all of Magnamund. It seems that the Cener Druids have created a deadly “plague virus” that will wipe out all life except those who have been given the necessary vaccine. Naturally, it is up to you to single-handedly infiltrate their stronghold, Mogaruith deep in the Forest of Ruel, and put a stop to the plans.
Since your character is now a Kai Grand Master, this means you get to start all over again with four out of twelve available Grand Master disciplines. Most are simply upgrades from the old Magnakai skills, such as Grand Weaponmastery and such. There are two completely new skills, however – Magi-magic which are taught to you by Lord Rimoah of the Elder Magi and Kai-alchemy, a modified form of left-handed magic taught to you by Banedon, now the Guildmaster of the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star. From my experience, there is not much difference between these two skills and you will be wasting a slot if you pick both. The rest of the gameplay mechanics remain unchanged.
You may feel a bit of déjà vu all over again, having to pick four out of twelve skills being a downgrade after having becoming powered up in the last few gamebooks, but don’t worry. Because you are now so powerful, the campaign also upgrades its villains, so much so that even a random aggressive mugger will have an eye-opening Combat Skill of 30 and above. Fun, eh?
This campaign is bit of a headache, really. “Plague virus”? “Vaccine”? It is as if in the two years since The Masters of Darkness, Magnamund has entered the age of steampunk, when everyone knows what a virus is. But all that aside, this is a standard campaign from this author. There are a few ways to infiltrate Mogaruith, but there is no one right way, which is a relief after having played one too many Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. There is nothing new or surprising here, apart from just how much of Mogaruith seem to have been transplanted from a futuristic campaign. But the difficulty level is pretty high, and it is absurd how you can fail late in the campaign due to picking a wrong number in the Random Number Table.
On the bright side, Arch Druid Cadak is a pretty compelling villain.
The Plague Lords of Ruel is a standard gamebook in this series, in a middle of the pack, only with perplexingly high level of steampunk elements that are out of place with the rest of the setting. As a standalone gamebook, this is a decent one, but as part of the Lone Wolf series, this is an anticlimactic follow-up to the grand drama that happened in the previous few gamebooks.