The F.I.S.T. Logo

F.I.S.T. (Fantasy Interactive Scenarios by Telephone) was the first interactive telephone role-playing game, also called a PBP ("Play by Phone"). It was released in 1988 having been designed by Steve Jackson, the co-founder of Fighting Fantasy, and produced by Computerdial. Like the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the outcome of the story could be affected by choices the user made.

The Beginnings - Computerdial Approach Jackson[edit | edit source]

In the late 1980's the company Computerdial, known for their astrology-by-telephone lines, approached Steve Jackson asking if he thought it was possible to do any games, perhaps like a Fighting Fantasy book, using their system. Jackson described his thoughts on being asked this in the following terms:

Wow. It was like someone had said to me: "Hey, we've just invented a pack of cards. We've been using it to tell fortunes. Want to see if you can invent any games to play with them?"[1]

Evidently, Jackson felt the system was perfect for his Fighting Fantasy-type adventures. He immediately set about the creative process describing it as:

the nearest thing I've come to actually programming a computer [and] the whole adventure was written like a cross between a Fighting Fantasy book and a computer program.[1]

The result was gamebook-style adventures, played by calling up a toll phone number and pressing buttons on either a touch-tone phone or, through a mechanism devised by Computerdial, a rotary-dial phone could be used.

F.I.S.T.[edit | edit source]

Main article: F.I.S.T. Adventure 1 - Castle Mammon

The Advert for Castle of Mammon from GM Vol. 1, No.1

The number you have dialled is not of this earth. You have opened the gateway to an alternate reality. You are being connected to another world in another time, where you are another person. Welcome to the world of FIST![2]

Jackson, along with Computerdial, came up with a name for the concept, "Fantasy Interactive Scenarios by Telephone" which had the punchy acronym "F.I.S.T.".[1] The first F.I.S.T. adventure was initially labelled as F.I.S.T. Adventure 1: Castle Mammon - Lair of the Demon Prince. As the title would imply, the game was set within the walls of Castle Mammon, the lair of Kaddis Ra, the Demon Prince. Kaddis Ra was one of seven Demon Princes sent by the gods of chaos to the earthly plane during the "struggle for celestial supremacy" between the gods of law and chaos.[3]

Jackson called upon associates from his past, and got Martin McKenna to the advertising art for F.I.S.T.[4] Computerdial placed an advert on the TV pages of The Mirror newspaper and got 5,000 people a day phoning in. So they then put one on the back page of The Sun and in Jackson's words "it went ballistic."[5] A free starter pack could be ordered by sending a SASE to the game creators. Once again, Computerdial scored a success, and once again crossed the Atlantic with this product. Jackson describes the fact that the royalties he received were wonderful with which he was able to buy a Spanish villa.[1]

Sequels[edit | edit source]

Main article: F.I.S.T.2 – The Rings of Allion

The F.I.S.T.2 Logo

It appears that the term F.I.S.T. was initially designed to cover all the interactive scenarios as a generic title. Hence, the first adventure was presented as F.I.S.T. Adventure 1 – The Castle of Mammon. However, through common usage "F.I.S.T. Adventure 1" became synonymous with the shortened "F.I.S.T." Therefore, when the second adventure was released it was not known as "F.I.S.T. Adventure 2", but F.I.S.T.2 – The Rings of Allion. F.I.S.T.2, released in March 1989[6] was a direct sequel to Castle of Mammon, and was set in another part of the dungeon of the self same castle.

The term "F.I.S.T." was therefore at this point inextricably linked to the world in which these first two adventures was set. Initially, it appeared that a third adventure would be set in the same world as F.I.S.T. with Jackson, whilst talking about F.I.S.T.2, quoted as saying:

I was very pleased with the result and have just returned from New York where we Tony Pirquet were directing its production in a recording studio on Long Island. A couple of weeks off and I am now ready for the next project. It will probably be F.I.S.T.3.[7]

In the same interview he did say that he had ideas for several PBP games not under the F.I.S.T. banner. However, when it was decided to produce a third telephone based adventure, that was not set in a fantasy fiction world, it became impracticable to call the game "F.I.S.T.3". The third adventure was definitely not called "F.I.S.T.3", as stated by Jackson in the "F.I.S.T.2 is ready - are you?" pack, sent out in March 1989 as a promotional invitation to play F.I.S.T.2.[6] Jackson was clear that "I'm working on the third Computerdial game. It's not F.I.S.T.3 - not even a fantasy game - but it is a game of combat."[6] The game was called Steve Jackson's Gladiators of the Roman Empire.

The Advert for Gladiators of the Roman Empire from GM Vol.2, No.7 March 1990

Jackson has stated that he did five telephone adventures in total.[1] Interestingly, in an interview concerning F.I.S.T.2, Tony Pirquet, the boss of Computerdial, said that he and Jackson had "discovered a lot of new avenues which we plan to explore. Some of them are possibly quite revolutionary. Especially the next project we're working on!"[8] At the time he did not say what that project was, but we can assume it was Gladiators of the Roman Empire. In the same interview he added that there would be a third F.I.S.T. game and yet another adventure that would not have anything to do with F.I.S.T. It is not been confirmed what the fourth and fifth games consisted of, although from the interview, potentially one of them was F.I.S.T.3.

Mechanics[edit | edit source]

The US Advert for Castle of Mammon from Dragon Magazine

The basic idea for the game came from Jackson, which would follow a similar style to the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Jackson created the script complete with stage directions for sound effects. Actors were drafted in for the voices and also sound effects were added. The hi-tech end was down to Computerdial. All voices and noises were stored on 154MB hard discs. Tony Pirquet and Monty Harkins wrote control progams for the IBM systems used. Digital to analogue converters and a line-interface card developed in France worked in combination to transfer the information down the telephone lines. The interface card could read tones generated by push-button phones, and also could count the clicks on the older dial phones.[9]

Players could register over the phone and create a character, which could be saved and restored the next time the player called. Combat consisted of the player being read a description of what their opponent was doing, and pushing a key combination to cast a spell to combat it. The inventory could be accessed by dialling "9", and this would allow you to eat provisions also. Instant replay of the last message was available by pressing "0".[9]

F.I.S.T.2 added some features including Macro skips to get on with the adventure more quickly and at midnight on the last day of every month the dungeon underwent a "Big Bang" whereby it was scrambled up and reformed into a new dungeon. Also, in order to show a more "responsible" attitude towards helping customers not overspend, the Death Watch Patrol were introduced after a set time. You would be warned in advance of their arrival, at which point a hiding place had to be found or you would find the adventure over. On every dungeon level was a Crypt of Sanctuary where you could hide from the Death Watch Patrol. There, you would be transported to "Limbo" whereby the character would be saved on the computer until you called again. Essentially, lessons has been learnt from the first outing of F.I.S.T. which were being addressed. For example, it was found that a good gamebook device such as the "Introduction", which set the scene for the adventure, did not translate well to the PBP format because people were paying for the minutes they were spending listening to the introduction set in The Black Claw Tavern and thus were becoming annoyed.[7]

Prizes[edit | edit source]

There were monthly competitions where prizes for top scores included real Gold Pieces and F.I.S.T. t-shirts. In order to win the player had to enter the dungeon, gather as much treasure as they could discover, find the Escape Route back to the Adventurers' Guild in the town of Beckbridge, and register their score of Gold Pieces. Prizes were also offered each month in the Rings of Allion competition, however, unlike in the first adventure (Castle Mammon), you did not have to escape to register your score.

Criticism[edit | edit source]

The game was extremely popular, as Steve Jackson's quotes above intimate. The soundtrack in one review was deemed excellent, although a good phone and a quiet place were advised to get the most out of the game. Also, a crackle-free line was essential to hear everything important. The main adverse criticism was that the game was expensive, "it could seriously damage your bank balance if you really get hooked".[9] It was described at potentially the most expensive RPG you could play at 38p a minute in the UK at peak time, and 25p between 6pm and 9am. This translated at the time to 10 minutes being close to the cost of a board based game. In the first F.I.S.T., some minor technical hitches were reported, such as being stuck in a loop no matter what button was being pressed.[9] Also, the inability to name your character was cited as a flaw. Overall, however, it was deemed excellent fun.

The Adventurer’s Guild[edit | edit source]

Invitation to Adventurer's Guild

This was F.I.S.T.'s own player’s club set up during the first outing of the game. The details to join during F.I.S.T.2 were you had to send a cheque or postal order (payable to Computerdial Limited) for £10.00 to ADVENTURER’S GUILD, c/o Computerdial Ltd 7 Leapale Road, Guildford, Surrey GU1 4JX. If you joined you would get a "Toner Dialer – to give your Rotary phone MF capabilities and make use of special FIST features only available on MF phones", a Quarterly Newsletter (news and information on F.I.S.T. developments), a Membership Card & Badge; and details of F.I.S.T. merchandise. The invitation in the "F.I.S.T.2 is ready - are you?" pack, sent out in March 1989 as a promotional invitation to play F.I.S.T.2, was by Barney Arnie.

The Black Claw Tavern[edit | edit source]

One of the most advanced features of this game (for the time) was The Black Claw Tavern, that is a group discussion line which connected the adventurers calling at the time.

File:FF - Fist.pdf

Links with Fighting Fantasy[edit | edit source]

The linkages with Fighting Fantasy are many. The overriding link is that the two share a creator in Steve Jackson. This in itself set a tone that affords many comparisons, such as the use of the inn/tavern as a meeting place for adventurers, the inhabitants of the world, the culture of the world etc. The similarities go deeper, with the rules of Fighting Fantasy essentially having been tailored for the telephone. Additionally, the element of choice in which direction the adventure took players was almost identical. It is interesting to note that in literature that accompanied the releases of F.I.S.T. and F.I.S.T.2, Jackson signed off "May your Stamina never fail."[10] which was the same sign-off used in his Fighting Fantasy books. Of particular interest is the introduction to the first F.I.S.T. adventure which talks of the gods of Chaos sending seven Demon Princes to the earthly plane during the war with the gods of law. This is almost identical to the origin of seven Demon Princes of Titan.[3]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1988 interview with Steve Jackson at RPG Vault Archive
  2. The whispered introduction to F.I.S.T. Adventure 1 (G.M. The Independent Fantasy Roleplaying Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1)
  3. 3.0 3.1 From advert for F.I.S.T. on inside front cover of G.M. The Independent Fantasy Roleplaying Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1
  4. Martin McKenna Bibliography
  5. Next Generation - Edge interview with Steve Jackson "Writing Fiction", December 2007
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "F.I.S.T.2 is ready - are you?" pack, March 1989
  7. 7.0 7.1 G.M. Interview - "Jackson and Livingstone I presume?"
  8. Tim Metcalfe, GM Feature: "F.I.S.T.2" (G.M. The Independent Fantasy Roleplaying Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 9, p.39)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Quilldriver, "A F.I.S.T.-ful of adventure", G.M. The Independent Fantasy Roleplaying Magazine, Vol. 1, No 1.
  10. Such as in the "F.I.S.T.2 is ready - are you?" pack, sent out in March 1989 as a promotional invitation to play F.I.S.T.2
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