For the American author of the same name, see Steve Jackson (2)

Steve Jackson in a cameo appearance in The Tasks of Tantalon

Steve Jackson is one of the biggest names in the role-playing game genre. He is the co-founder of the Fighting Fantasy brand, co-author of its first and most enduring book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain; the co-founder of Games Workshop; creator of a number of other games across different media and a games reviewer and writer.


Early Life[]

Steve Jackson was born in Manchester in 1951. He attended Altrincham Grammar School where, in 1967, he became friends with Ian Livingstone. After attending the University of Keele, Jackson moved down to London with Ian Livingstone.[1] There, they shared a flat with another friend from Altrincham, John Peake, in Shepherd's Bush. When Dungeons & Dragons was first published in 1974, they had heard about the game through fanzines like Europa and News from Bree, but did not get a copy until 1975. Jackson described the arrival of Dungeons & Dragons as "mana from heaven"[2] because he and Ian felt they had been brought up on science fiction, Marvel comics and The Hobbit, as opposed to the more war-based concepts behind the main games at the time such as heavy duty counter-and-hex board wargames from Avalon Hill and SPI, Wargames Research Group tabletop rules and Diplomacy. At this time Jackson had a job in an office processing orders for scientific instruments from the Middle East. He has said that for the last month of his working-life as an employee of someone else he did virtually no work: "I had a sheet of graph paper on my knee under the desk on which I was designing my dungeon. And I spent all day staring out the window dreaming up monsters and traps. Many of these appeared later as encounters in the Fighting Fantasy and Sorcery! Books."[2]

Games Workshop Foundation[]

In 1974, Ian Livingstone, Steve Jackson and John Peake, the three Shepherd's Bush flat mates, together decided to start their own business which they eventually decided would revolve around their common interest in playing games. The fledgling enterprise was to be called "Games Workshop", which they came up with after a "Name Brainstorming" session.[2][3]. Thus Games Workshop was born in January 1975.[2]

To get themselves more widely known they had been publishing a magazine called Owl and Weasel. Somehow, an American called Gary Gygax got hold of a copy and sent them a copy of his new game to review, called Dungeons & Dragons. Having played and reviewed the game Ian and Steve thought it was fantastic in both senses of the word. The Fantasy genre had not been in their minds when setting up Games Workshop but now it was placed firmly in the centre. John Peake felt this was a departure from his vision and separated company in mid-1975. Steve and Ian set about securing an exclusive three-year European distribution agreement from TSR Hobbies for the game which unbeknownst to them was also a fledgling company at the time. Issue 6 of Owl and Weasel was dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons.

In 1976, Steve and Ian decided to go to America and headed to GenCon in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. This games convention, organised by TSR to support the growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, had many other role-playing companies and Ian and Steve struck deals with many of them. The business flourished and Games Workshop began its expansion from being a bedroom mail-order company to a successful gaming publisher and manufacturer.

Jackson admits that the centre of a new era in gaming history was Dungeons & Dragons, but as the agents they were the centre of the European scene. The early promotional magazine - Owl and Weasel - was superseded in June 1977, partially to advertise the opening of the first Games Workshop store, by the gaming magazine White Dwarf, which Livingstone also edited. Games Workshop went on to organise the first non-US gaming convention. They also started the first major miniatures company (which would become Citadel Miniatures), and opened up the first dedicated FRP shop in 1977 in Hammersmith, London. It is Jackson's assertion that "not even TSR, had such an "integrated" games company."[2] Jackson attributes the success because of two main reasons:

  1. The established companies in the games field expected it to be a flash in the pan and left us to it.
  2. He and Livingstone were young, full of enthusiasm and attracted like-minded people from the games world. As such they got the best people in the field.[2]

Their publishing arm also created UK reprints of famous, but then expensive to import, American RPGs such as The Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Traveller and Middle-Earth Role Playing.

References for Games Workshop Foundation[]

  1. G.M. Interview - Jackson and Livngstone I presume?
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 July 28th 1998 interview with rpgvaultarchive.ign.com Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "1998I" defined multiple times with different content
  3. The company was nearly called "The Games Garage", "Megagamic Explosion", or "Galaxian Games". "Workshop" was an arty-type, cool word in the 1970s according to Jackson, and what little business they initially had was based on John's skill at making Backgammon and Go boards out of wood.

Creation of Fighting Fantasy[]

The book was first conceived in 1980, when Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone met Geraldine Cooke, a Penguin Books editor, at the Games Workshop's annual Games Day exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London.[1] Initially Cooke was interested in publishing a "how-to-do-it" book on fantasy role-playing games (similar to what the pair would write individually with Fighting Fantasy - The Introductory Role-playing Game and Dicing with Dragons respectively) but when creating the synopsis, Jackson and Livingstone became less inclined to write a technical manual. Instead they fused basic role-playing rules and fantasy adventure plots so that the reader would be able to take part in the book as a single-player role-playing game;[1] the gamebook concept. The pair began work on the project in 1980, initially titled The Magic Quest,[2] and spent much of the time formulating the mechanics of how it would work. Cooke was sent the manuscript and she asked whether it was to be aimed at adults or children. Although the two authors believed it should be both, Tony Lacey, head of Puffin Books (Penguin's imprint for children) suggested that a targeted demographic of nine-to-twelve-year-olds would result in the highest sales.[3] Also, the original synopsis was mainly pictures with text at the bottom such as "Do you want to fight this ogre? Turn to page ..." Although Penguin said they would like to go with it, it would have to be without all the pictures because it would cost a fortune.[4]

After over six months of frustrating waiting, Jackson and Livingstone were commissioned to write the book in August 1981.[3] Although both authors disliked the working title of The Magic Quest, after "endless debates" they could not come up with an alternative. Eventually the two came up with a compromise. Livingstone, who wrote the first part, had mentioned in the opening paragraph that the whole adventure took place in Firetop Mountain. Jackson, who wrote the final part, had created a climatic battle with a powerful warlock. On the day the book was handed in it was agreed that the two elements would be combined to create the final title: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.[5] Ian Livingstone also came up with the brand name "Fighting Fantasy" when prompted by Puffin to do so.[6]

The books editor, Philippa Dickinson, was thorough. She highlighted inconsistencies, made suggestions over formatting, and had much to do with the final combat system that was used.[6] She also pointed out the difference in writing styles for the first and second halves was clear and this ended up requiring a second draft. Each author had written half of the adventure each (Livingstone wrote the first half, up to the river crossing, which made a convenient hand-over point, and Jackson wrote the climax of the adventure), and the writing style noticeably changed part way through the book - so Jackson re-wrote Livingstone's part of the book in his own style.[7] The finished book was made up of a clean 400 numbered references, which set the standard for the books that followed. This was, however a coincidence. When Jackson and Livingstone combined the two halves of the adventure it transpired that the numbered references, when added together, made a sum of 399. A fake key reference was added to bring to total up to 400.[8] In August 1982 the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook, titled The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, finally appeared and went on to sell out its first print run in a matter of weeks, helped in no small part to the Puffin Book Club and articles in the White Dwarf magazine.[7] It eventually sold over a million copies in fifteen languages.[9][10]

References for Creation of Fighting Fantasy[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - p.198; Penguin Books had taken a stand to promote a new book called Playing Politics.
  2. 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - p.199
  3. 3.0 3.1 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - p.200
  4. Edge Magazine interview with Steve Jackson Writing Fiction, December 3rd 2007 - Retrieved 2012-02-29
  5. Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World - p.7/8
  6. 6.0 6.1 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - p.201
  7. 7.0 7.1 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - p.203
  8. 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - p.219
  9. The Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook - p.5
  10. Letter No.5 from Steve Jackson at the Internet Archive record of the old Fightingfantasy.com - Retrieved 2012-02-29

1983 to 1987 - Fighting Fantasy Grows and the Step Away from Games Workshop[]

For more details about the progress of the Fighting Fantasy range, see Fighting Fantasy#Series History

The Fighting Fantasy books were topping the UK book charts in 1982 and 1983 and had been signed up abroad as well. Jackson became known for exploring more concepts than Ian Livingstone. Immediately after The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, he wrote The Citadel of Chaos, and although still fantasy genre, he introduced a spell casting system. When he wrote the Sorcery! series, originally for Penguin Books as Fighting Fantasy for adults, he introduced an even more involved spell-casting system, as well as spanning Sorcery! over four books. This allowed for extended adventuring, character development and the books also gave the option of being a a wizard or warrior. Jackson also showed a desire to expand the series into science-fiction, the first book in this genre being Starship Traveller, as well as moving into horror with House of Hell. Appointment with F.E.A.R. explored super-heroes games and even when Jackson returned to fantasy for his last book in the core Fighting Fantasy series he again broke the mould by making the reader play as a monster that had to learn a language to get through and find out their identity. This differed markedly from Ian Livingstone who almost exclusively stuck to the core Fighting Fantasy template. As well as the gamebooks, Jackson also ventured into PuzzleQuest Books, Fighting Fantasy Novels and other areas.

Jackson and Livingstone found juggling their commitments as directors of Games Workshop with their commitments as authors was becoming too much. Jackson stated that: "We were spending 10 hours a day in the office, then going home and typing (on typewriters!) until midnight and all weekend." Games Workshop was suffering some neglect as both Jackson and Livingstone preferred lives as authors. They promoted the Senior Execs of GW to positions where they could manage the business. Bryan Ansell, chief of Citadel Miniatures became Managing Director.[1] Ansell excelled and when he moved the business up to Nottingham, the founders began to feel less in touch. Ansell offered to buy the company and it was agreed he would be able to buy most of the company if he achieved certain targets, which he did. Both Jackson and Livingstone retained some ownership until 1991 when Ansell himself sold out to Tom Kirby which led to the flotation of Games Workshop on the London Stock Exchange.[2]

1987 to 1995 - Further Innovations[]

Main article: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (boardgame)

Jackson struck out on his own, mainly designing games. The first was a boardgame based on the first Fighting Fantasy book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.


He also spent a number of years devising interactive telephone games for a company called Computerdial. Computerdial had a system which could read the clicks on a rotary-dial phone. They wanted to expand beyond offering astrology and asked if I though it was possible to do any games. Jackson jumped at the chance and came up with an FF-type adventure. The first was called F.I.S.T. (Fantasy Interactive Scenarios by Telephone). Jackson says that this was the nearest thing he had come to programming a computer. Overall he created 5 telephone adventures. Jackson waxed lyrical about their success in the following terms: "They racked up literally millions of calls - and the royalties were wonderful - I was able to buy a Spanish villa on the proceeds of FIST!''.


Jackson came up with a collectible card game rooted in fantasy fiction. It was called BattleCards and was published in the UK in late 1992/1993 by Merlin (now owned by Topps) and later in the US. The cards 'fought' each other by rubbing scratch-off spots on each card, looking for blood symbols underneath; and there were quests to be solved. If you solved a quest, you sent the solution in to the publishers and could claim one of the "rare" cards in the set. There were lots of other features, like spell battles etc. based on the scratch-off system. The success of Battlecards was eclipsed, however, by Richard Garfield's Magic the Gathering which came out a few months later.[3] Jackson later said that the game was "probably too complicated for the time", stating that he had no idea how many people got the final Emperor Card.[4]

Abandon Art[]

Jackson also founded Abandon Art in 1993, the world's first gallery exclusively devoted to Fantasy and Science Fiction art.[5]

1995 to 1997 - Journalism[]

From 1995 until he joined Lionhead, Jackson was a journalist. During the Games Workshop days he had written a proposal for The Times, to try to persuade them to establish a games page in the newspaper, but they expressed no interest. In 1995 he tried again, but this time with The Daily Telegraph. Luckily, one of the section editors happened to be looking for a new feature to replace an unpopular one and her son read the Fighting Fantasy books. Therefore, the "Games Page" started. Jackson wrote "general interest"-type pieces, be that a computer games review, a logical-lateral-type puzzle and others. A weekly Scrabble puzzle was established, as well as a new type of puzzle called Pun Pix[6] It was through the Telegraph page that Jackson met Peter Molyneux, whilst interviewing him for a piece on the Bullfrog Productions success story and the forthcoming release of Dungeon Keeper.

1997 and Onwards - Lionhead and Lecturing[]


The interview with Peter Molyneux led to a firm friendship. The initial interview gave way to discussing a mutual interest in German boardgames. Jackson organised a session which became known as "Games Night Pro" where some of the key figures in UK Gaming, including Jackson, Peter Molyneux, Ian Livingstone, Clive Robert and Kevin Buckner from Hasbro Interactive and one of Peter's friends, met regularly to play German boardgames. It was a natural progression when Molyneux, creator of Dungeon Keeper and Populous, wanted to set up Lionhead that he asked Jackson to join. Lionhead was set up in June 1996. Jackson initially was pegged to work on game design, but his lack of programming skills combined with his wealth of business experience forced a shift in role so that he took care of that side of things. Jackson expressed a hope in 1998 to see one of his own game designs developed through Lionhead. The success of Black & White led to much interest in Lionhead. Jackson says "The truth behind it all is that we didn’t really know where it was going and it all came together at the end ... those were great years, through Black & White and Fable. They were pretty hairy years, but it was a big adventure, and it had a happy ending."[4] After Microsoft took over in April 2006 most of the non-development positions were taken, and given Jackson was a non-exec, his involvement with Lionhead "came to a natural end."[4]


In 2006 Jackson was contacted by "a friend of a friend" about starting a course in videogame design at Brunel University. Jackson agreed to input to the creation of the course in part because it "was something I hadn’t done before."[4] He is an honorary lecturer of the course which had 8 students in its first year 20 in the 2007/2008 academic year. The course is an MA degree in Digital Games Theory and Design.

Steve Jackson Through The Years[]

Main article: Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Through The Years



Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks[]

Sorcery! Gamebooks[]

Fighting Fantasy Novels[]

Other Fighting Fantasy[]

Warlock Magazine[]

He was also the joint Editor-in-Chief with Ian Livingstone of Warlock magazine. During this he wrote the shortened version of House of Hell:

PuzzleQuest Books[]

Map Illustrator

Other Fighting Fantasy[]

Other Works[]

Further Notes[]

  • He is often mistaken for Steve Jackson (2), an American roleplaying game designer.[15] The US Jackson also wrote three books in the Fighting Fantasy series, which only adds to the confusion.[16]
  • In December 2007 he was asked about the rumours of a Fighting Fantasy videogame in preparation. He replied that there is a game he is working on, which will be delivered in instalments, so it expands, and it will become a solo role-playing game. However, he was not sure whether it would come off or not and stated that "It’s quite ambitious."[4]
  • Jackson has appeared as a cameo in at least three Fighting Fantasy related books. For more details, see Cameo Appearances
  • Jackson named his favourite character from the Fighting Fantasy books as Balthus Dire, his own creation from The Citadel of Chaos.[17]
  • Jackson's favourite monster from the Fighting Fantasy books is the Jib-Jib which appeared in the final instalment of his Sorcery! series, The Crown of Kings.[18]
  • Jackson's favourite book from the Fighting Fantasy books is the complete Sorcery! epic, conceived after a trip to Nepal[19]
  • Jackson has a passion for boardgames, as exemplified by the "Games Nights" with Ian Livingstone, Peter Molyneux et al. They meet every three weeks or so, and play board games at each other’s houses competing for an annual trophy. Like Ian Livingstone he is a collector of boardgames, although Jackson tends to buy German games – "Caylus, El Grande, anything designed by Reiner Knizia". Jackson has said that boardgames have simplicity which sets them apart from the increasingly complicated videogame premise. Also they have a social element that is hard to replicate.[4]
  • In 1998 Jackson let it be known that he was searching for a copy of a boardgame called Warlord, "a privately-produced game in a big red box, not the blue box version." The board is a map of Europe broken up into coloured territories, like Risk. The Games Workshop 1980 game Apocalypse was based on this game. He may still be looking.
  • In 1986, Shakaishisou Sha (the Japanese publishers of Fighting Fantasy) registered the names of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson as their own characters in Kanji (Japanese script).[20]
  • Steve Jackson stakes a claim on being the first person to coin the phrase "role-playing game". Whilst writing an article in 1975 for Owl & Weasel (the Games Workshop games fanzine), he was searching for a phrase which described the Dungeons & Dragons approach, and came up with calling it a role-playing-type game. Jackson states that he'd never seen Dungeons & Dragons described this way before. Only afterwards, did the phrase begin appearing in US fanzines.

See Also[]

External Links[]


  1. According to Jackson, Bryan Ansell was a remarkably good MD; very focussed, forward-thinking, not afraid of making tough decisions and with a solid understanding of the games we were publishing.
  2. Ian Livingstone Bio on Eidos Interactive
  3. Commenting on the success of Magic the Gathering, Jackson simply said: "Wish I'd have come up with THAT one ...!"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Next Generation - Edge interview with Steve Jackson "Writing Fiction", December 2007
  5. [1]
  6. Pun Pix was a song title to guess, with photos of celebrities as clues. Work out the celebs, stick their names together and you get a sort of pun on a song title. For example: Pictures of Bjorn Borg, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Hugh Grant, Rudolph Hess and a bale of Hay give you "Bjorn-Ninja-Hugh-Hess-Hay" which should lead you to Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA.
  7. Warlock Issue 1 - 3
  8. Christian Family, April, 1986 - p32
  9. Warlock Issue 9 - inside front cover advert for The Tasks of Tantalon
  10. Slaves of the Abyss - Back Cover
  11. Master of Chaos - Back Cover
  12. The Salamonis Gazette - 19
  13. Fighting Fantasy Calender 2004 - inside front cover
  14. Steve Jackson Developer BIO. MobyGames. Retrieved on 2007-09-14.
  15. Frequently Asked Questions
  16. Steve Jackson - Biography and Public Warning
  17. 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - 224
  18. 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - 222
  19. 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - 220
  20. 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - 223