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The Warlocks of Firetop Mountain
November 25, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

An Illustrated History of Games Workshop and Fighting Fantasy - Jackson and Livingstone - audio, sans illustrations. The story of how Steve Jackson (not that Steve Jackson) and Ian Livingstone kickstarted tabletop roleplaying in the UK and founded a gaming behemoth that is very different today.
posted by Artw (42 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those books owned SO HARD. Their staff illustrators - including the amazing John Blanche - defined the look of fantastical fiction for me. Memories! The perfect dungeon crawl of Legend of Zagor, the Byzantine mysteries of Creature of Havoc, the frank inexplicability of Magehunter and Crimson Tide. My sentimental favourite is Keep of the Lich Lord, a rambling wander towards a castle with a Sauron living in it.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 11:40 AM on November 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


The best thing about there being a Steve Jackson (UK) and a Steve Jackson (US) both in the gaming biz is that Steve Jackson (US) wrote two or three of the Fighting Fantasy books, which were released, IIRC, without any mention of a different authorship: this makes him one of the very few people in history to have written under a pen name identical to his real name.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:40 AM on November 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh, I wonder if all these years later, I still own all of the Sorcery! books. Shit, that's not going to get this pie cooked.
posted by khaibit at 11:42 AM on November 25, 2010


Steve Jackson (US) wrote two or three of the Fighting Fantasy books, which were released, IIRC, without any mention of a different authorship: this makes him one of the very few people in history to have written under a pen name identical to his real name.

For real? Which ones?
posted by juv3nal at 11:46 AM on November 25, 2010


Quoth wikipedia:

Three of the books (Scorpion Swamp in 1984, Demons of the Deep and Robot Commando in 1986) were written by the other Steve Jackson, the United States-based founder and owner of Steve Jackson Games. This has led many gamers to mistakenly believe that the two Steve Jacksons were the same person.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:50 AM on November 25, 2010


The interview in Yog Radio #43 is also worth checking out, though you have to skip forwards a fair bit to get to it. IIRC it's got a little bit more dirt on the management buyout which formed Games Workshop as it is today.
posted by Artw at 11:57 AM on November 25, 2010


So...anyone in NYC want to play Illuminati?
posted by griphus at 11:59 AM on November 25, 2010


Top tip for Yanks wondering how they'll find time to listen to this on Turkey Day - volunteer to do the washing up and you'll be able to sneak away and listen to this AND seem like a good person.
posted by Artw at 11:59 AM on November 25, 2010


So...anyone in NYC want to play Illuminati?

We are in danger of derailing into Steve Jackson (US) territory, but may I just say that Illuminati:New World Order is one of my favourite games ever. I think it was the play where the Mafia took out the Supreme Court with a terrorist nuke that ensconced it in my top five.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:05 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Steve Jackson and Steve Jackson bump fists do they combine into MegaSteve Jacksonzilla?
posted by PenDevil at 12:09 PM on November 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


While they do, the rules for it fill 50 pages over 8 books, so they have never attempted it.
posted by khaibit at 12:12 PM on November 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


If Steve Jackson and Steve Jackson bump fists do they combine into MegaSteve Jacksonzilla?

Maybe one turns into an eagle and the other a bucket of water.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:17 PM on November 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Love these books. It's been linked before but FFPROJECT rules.
posted by josher71 at 12:24 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Griphus, if I only knew you'd wanted to play when I lived there...
posted by josher71 at 12:25 PM on November 25, 2010


Games Workshop used to be so awesome,but is now largely decayed into a tabletop gaming company and support arm of a miniatures company. This is a DRASTIC shame, considering how they rocked so utterly before. A friend who was into Warhammer 40K had a collection of White Dwarfs that extended back into the waning years of their awesome peroid. Unfortunately I wasn't into RPGs then, so I didn't even know the wonders that were spread before me.

I haven't looked in an issue for years now.
posted by JHarris at 12:29 PM on November 25, 2010


White Dwarf was the magazine where I first came across Terry Pratchett - someone at school loaned an old issue to me so I could read the review of (IIRC) Light Fantastic, I then bought all four(!) Discworld books within a few days.
posted by robertc at 12:50 PM on November 25, 2010


I haven't looked in an issue for years now.

I recently inherited the bulk of the run of White Dwarf. Reading through them serially, I can trace the progression from exotic periodical from far away with wide coverage and some starting landmarks ("look, here is Charles Stross inventing githyanki") to workmanlike, more polished D&D-centric magazine, to tedious monthly optional rules supplement for Warhammer. I suppose I am not the target market any more, but I went in the course of a very few years from eagerly awaiting its arrival in my FLGS to having a degree of interest in it that approached zero from below.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:54 PM on November 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I never beat "House of Horrors". I'm still mad about it.
posted by neuromodulator at 12:56 PM on November 25, 2010


Sorry, House of Hell.
posted by neuromodulator at 12:57 PM on November 25, 2010


My favorites:

Creature of Havoc.

Talisman of Death.
posted by neuromodulator at 12:59 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


"What about the people who couldn't finish House of Hell?"
"There's a movie"
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you know what's funny?

It's been seven years since I've worked there, and I still feel my shoulders tense up just thinking about the bloody place.

Wow. I didn't think I was still so angry about it.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:06 PM on November 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Seriously, my older brother used to read these to me, and we'd give all the characters stupid(er) names and stuff. Fond memories.
posted by neuromodulator at 1:16 PM on November 25, 2010


GW (and especially Citadel Miniatures) absorbed a greedy portion of my Xmas and birthday money as a kid. When you saw the photos of the staff in White Dwarf or in catalogues and advertising bumf back in the 80s, the company
always seemed like some blokes having a laugh, unable to believe their luck that they were getting paid for their hobby.

The stuff they produced was joyous. I bought some of these and more, then learned lessons in humility from trying to paint shields like the anarchic-hairy-biker-legend John Blanche. The quality of the art work, writing, modelling and sculpting from GW was just beautiful, and there was a sense of humour and passion in everything they did. I bloody loved it, never moreso that when I opened my box of 'The Tragedy of McDeath' Warhammer Fantasy Battle expansion to find - among the cardstock buildings and maps, a pin badge with a picture of a cross-eyed orc staring at a zit on the end of his nose, with the quote 'Out, out damn spot'. I wanted to grow up and work there.

I stopped gaming years back, and I'd never looked at the GW site. I see they have a 'Head of Legal' and that the website uses the term 'hobby support methodology' without a snifter of irony. The sprit-crushed adult in me sees the inevitability, but the lead-fingered, paint spattered, RPGing 10-year old in me is not at all pleased. Fuck this post (sorry Artw).

I prefer to remember them like this.
posted by boosh at 1:17 PM on November 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fuck this post (sorry Artw).

Dude.

Dude, dude, dude.

Follow the main link. Listen to the audio. Your inner 10 year old will be made a little happier by it.
posted by Artw at 1:19 PM on November 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Follow the main link. Listen to the audio. Your inner 10 year old will be made a little happier by it.

I'm looking forward to listening, I'm just a little sad that I already know the ending ;)
posted by boosh at 1:39 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It should be mentioned that this is presented by yog-sothoth.com, which is probably the foremost Call of Cthulhu RPG resource on the internet. These guys are great, and are somewhat related to the previously-and-often-mentioned H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast.

People who pay to contribute to the site can get a video version of the talk. Alas, I have no funds to offer. On the other hand they just made available their audio playthroughs of several classic Cthulhu campaigns, including the incredibly deadly Masks of Nyarlathotep.
posted by JHarris at 1:53 PM on November 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmmm, favourites in no particular order:

Demons of the Deep
Temple of Terror
Caverns of the Snow-witch
Dead of Night

But so, so very many great books. God I loved those books.
posted by smoke at 2:55 PM on November 25, 2010


Looks like user 119638 is about to get kicked...

I had so many of these... and the Sorcery books, which were significantly harder. Thanks for this.

I dropped out of gaming a long time ago, of course, but for me the biggest disappointment has been the lack of creativity in the paint jobs. If you look at those early WDs you'll see a lot of miniatures with some individuality... today it seems like everything is painted in the Official Games Workshop House Style.
posted by Leon at 3:11 PM on November 25, 2010


It's been seven years since I've worked there, and I still feel my shoulders tense up just thinking about the bloody place.

If I PayPal you a pint will you tell us the rest?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:28 PM on November 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Was there... ONLY WAR?
posted by Artw at 3:38 PM on November 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


wow - good memories.

I used to make up wee adventures for my mates but they werent very good - "oh you headed west - you died."
posted by sgt.serenity at 7:05 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently inherited the bulk of the run of White Dwarf. Reading through them serially, I can trace the progression from exotic periodical from far away with wide coverage and some starting landmarks ("look, here is Charles Stross inventing githyanki") to workmanlike, more polished D&D-centric magazine, to tedious monthly optional rules supplement for Warhammer.

The start of the downward spiral is pretty clearly White Dwarf 77 in retalliation for Ansell and Citadel Minatures buying out Games Workshop and moving it to Nottingham.
posted by Francis at 3:07 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Neuromodulator - nor could I. In my younger years, I cared not for mapping things out, so I ended up just going round and round the bloody upper rooms until I threw the book out in anger. To this day, I am still convinced that it never had a direct path to the end.

That and Creature of Havoc both. But, oddly enough, they are two of my favourite titles.

While we are on the subject, surely I can't be the only one to remember the Time Machine series, can I?
posted by cerulgalactus at 3:30 AM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I loved all those types of books. Time Machine, Grailquest, etc.... If anyone on here has some I will buy them. Memail me.
posted by josher71 at 6:02 AM on November 26, 2010


Wow, am I looking forward to listening to this.

I used to paint the miniatures in the cabinets at the original shop at Dalling rd. They'd give me a bunch to paint, I'd do them, bring them to the shop where Tim would pay me lots (to a small child) for doing it. I would then spend all of it in the shop. It was the perfect exchange.
posted by ciderwoman at 3:27 PM on November 26, 2010


josher71: try abebooks. There are hardback FF books for pennies. However, you can buy new - they're still in print.
posted by Leon at 3:31 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I PayPal you a pint will you tell us the rest?

Man, I had to seriously think about this, because even after all these years, I still just flail about a bit and degenerate into sentence fragments like "Pub in the building! Games day! Hobby department! Sexism! Magic computer-type box! Bonuses in pieces of lead!"

And it's kinda long, so I'm apologising in advance.

But, basically, I was working in the design studio as part of their web team. They were attempting to make the website follow the same processes that the books, magazines, boxes and other materials followed - designed by a central team in the design/production studio, sent out to the separate teams in each country, translated, produced and sold. It's a great idea for something as big as they like to think they are.

Unfortunately, the environment...well... You know the jokes people make about nerds? How they're sexist, homophobic, obsessive, with no lives and no sense of responsibility? Imagine a place where it's true. Where you're expected to come into work wanting to work for next to nothing, love talking about the games, love playing the games, and, after the work day is finished, go to the pub inside the company, drink yourself into a stupor, make your way back to your house (rented with other Workshop employees) and do it all over again the next day.

And when they have someone, they don't like to lose them, if they think there's something they can get out of the person - especially in the studio. The man who was my manager had been shifted around a bunch of departments, just because no one knew what to do with him. The man who was his manager was even worse - a 20-year employee that they really couldn't get rid of.

They dissolved the web team, and moved me into the "hobby" department. I was still building the website, but I was surrounded by people painting scenery and building gaming tables.

I admit, I wasn't the best employee. I dicked around on the Internet too much, I didn't have a sense of priorities, and as I got more and more depressed with my situation, I did a lot less. I was doing great stuff for the company - I had standardised a hell of a lot of how things were produced for the web, I had built up relationships with all the web teams of all the different countries (the Italian, German and Japanese teams loved me, because I gave them all this content and all they had to do was get their translators on it), I was doing some awesome stuff that I really liked doing, but I might as well have been just using Comic Sans and MS Paint, for all the interest management had in my work.

I saw guys who I had trained get into positions of authority, I saw guys working in web design who didn't even know what an <a> tag is, and they kept on ignoring my requests to move. It got too much, and I finally threw in the towel when they tried to write me up over a Livejournal post where I started a Games Day going "I hate my life and my job" and ended it with "Oh man, it's all so awesome!" And naturally, they ignored the last bit.

I did some great things there. I learned CSS, which is still fucking awesome to me, and I acquired Chegwin, who still kicks ass, but when I think of all the wasted opportunity, all the things I could've done there if they paid attention...

So, yeah, I still get angry when I think about that place. They were hiring a online content editor recently - twice the salary they had me on, of course, and seven years too late.

But oh well. I have a pretty awesome job now, and I'm a hell of a lot happier.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:28 PM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


I used to have a copy of Owl & Weasel #1, the very first thing that Games Workshop ever published--a single sheet of A4, photocopied on each side, folded in half and dubbed a newsletter. A mate at GW found some in the warehouse back in the mid-late 1980s and dispensed them to worthy friends, shortly before he was dismissed for gross misconduct. (Not for nicking 15-year-old newsletters, for accidentally torpedoing GW's bid to get the UK rights to the Star Wars RPG. It's a long story.)

I subsequently got it signed by Ian and Steve, and donated it to the charity auction at Gaelcon in the early 2000s, where it sold for 1500 euros. Critical Miss write-up here.
posted by Hogshead at 5:28 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Finally got around to listening to this and it was really interesting.

Yeah I was a spotty roleplayer reading White Dwarf at the start of the 80s and was sad to see it go the way it did (though interesting to see Jackson and Livingstone are so sanguine about it)

It wasn't just the games stuff... Dave Langford's book review column Critical Mass had a huge influence on my reading in my teens (he introduced me to cyberpunk for a start). Even when I no longer bought it, I would still read Critical Mass in Smiths (apparently like a lot of people

(The fact that, in recent years, I've actually occasionally corresponded with Dave himself via the science fiction magic of the internet would have utterly blown my 14 year old mind)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:01 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The other interview is really worth a listen if you can sit through the usual podcast waffle.
posted by Artw at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2010


The other interview is really worth a listen if you can sit through the usual podcast waffle.

It's in the To Listen To folder, I'll get to it eventually

I think what was most interestingly the new management basically made a calculation that X-sized shop, selling own stuff = PROFIT! which explains why they moved the Nottingham shop from the Broadmarsh centre to one half the size near the castle and had a massive stock clearence of the old games.

Back in the day in the Broadmarsh centre, 5mins from the station, had GW downstairs and a Forbidden Planet upstairs - for my first several trips I never went beyond it
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:25 AM on December 5, 2010


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