The Alexandrian

Jaquaying the Dungeon

July 23rd, 2010

I believe that dungeons should always be heavily jaquayed.

Okay, it’s true. I’m just making words up now. In the case of jaquaying, the term is referring to Paul Jaquays, who designed Caverns of ThraciaDark Tower, Griffin Mountain, and a half dozen other old school classics for Judges Guild, Chaosium, Flying Buffalo, and TSR before transitioning into video game design. In the latter capacity he recently wrote some essays on maps he designed for Halo Wars:

Memorable game maps spring from a melding of design intent and fortunate accidents.
Paul Jaquays – Crevice Design Notes

That’s timeless advice, and a design ethos which extends beyond the RTS levels he helped design for Halo Wars and reaches back to his earliest work.

What Jaquays particularly excelled at in those early Judges Guild modules was non-linear dungeon design.

For example, in Caverns of Thracia Jaquays includes three separate entrances to the first level of the dungeon. And from Level 1 of the dungeon you will find two conventional paths and no less than eight unconventional or secret paths leading down to the lower levels. (And Level 2 is where things start getting really interesting.)

The result is a fantastically complex and dynamic environment: You can literally run dozens of groups through this module and every one of them will have a fresh and unique experience.

But there’s more value here than just recycling an old module: That same dynamic flexibility which allows multiple groups to have unique experiences also allows each individual group to chart their own course. In other words, it’s not just random chance that’s resulting in different groups having different experiences: Each group is actively making the dungeon their own. They can retreat, circle around, rush ahead, go back over old ground, poke around, sneak through, interrogate the locals for secret routes… The possibilities are endless because the environment isn’t forcing them along a pre-designed path. And throughout it all, the players are experiencing the thrill of truly exploring the dungeon complex.

By way of comparison, Keep on the Shadowfell is an extremely linear dungeon:

(This diagram uses a method laid out by Melan in this post at ENWorld.)

Some would argue that this sort of linear design is “easier to run”. But I don’t think that’s actually true to any appreciable degree. In practice, the complexity of a jaquayed dungeon emerges from the same simple structures that make up a linear dungeon: The room the PCs are currently in has one or more exits. What are they going to do in this room? Which exit are they going to take?

In a linear dungeon, the pseudo-choices the PCs make will lead them along a pre-designed, railroad-like route. In a jaquayed dungeon, on the other hand, the choices the PCs make will have a meaningful impact on how the adventure plays out, but the actual running of the adventure isn’t more complex as a result.

On the other hand, the railroad-like quality of the linear dungeon is not its only flaw. It eliminates true exploration (for the same reason that Lewis and Clark were explorers; whereas when I head down I-94 I am merely a driver). It can significantly inhibit the players’ ability to make meaningful strategic choices. It is, frankly speaking, less interesting and less fun.

So I’m going to use the Keep on the Shadowfell to show you how easy it is to jaquay your dungeons by making just a few simple, easy tweaks.

Next: The Jaquays Techniques

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22 Responses to “Jaquaying the Dungeon”

  1. Maps and the Adventure Gaming Hobby | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog says:

    […] take the shortest path between two points!) Of course, in dungeon layouts that are insufficiently Jacquayed– and in games where the playing time for combats take 10 times as long as those in B/X […]

  2. Isometric vector Goth Gulgamel says:

    […] of the book, this particular dungeon isn't the greatest dungeon or map in the world. I plan on Jaquaying the dungeon (and changing some of the encounters, which is beyond the scope of this post). At the same time, I […]

  3. The Alexandrian » Jaquaying the Dungeon | Critical Grumble says:

    […] The Alexandrian » Jaquaying the Dungeon. […]

  4. The Allure of the Mega-Dungeon @ RPG MUSINGS says:

    […] Jaquaying the Dungeon, a multi-part article series from The Alexandrian about how to create non linear dungeons in the fashion of Jennell Jaquays‘ Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower, two classics published by Judges Guild in the late 70s. The components of good dungeon design discussed in this article can indeed be ported to modern dungeons. […]

  5. — #НевредныеCоветы — Открывая ваш игровой стол (перевод) says:

    […] Я уже писал ранее о нескольких игровых сессиях, которые я провёл в его заброшенных залах. Я также использовал его в качестве примера того, как можно сделать ваше собственное подземелье «в стиле Жако». […]

  6. — #Теория — Открывая ваш игровой стол (перевод) says:

    […] Я уже писал ранее о нескольких игровых сессиях, которые я провёл в его заброшенных залах. Я также использовал его в качестве примера того, как можно сделать ваше собственное подземелье «в стиле Жако». […]

  7. — #Теория — Реиграбельность мегаподземелья, ч.1 says:

    […] Карта должна быть большой, а также вдумчиво проработанной «в стиле Жако». […]

  8. Seed: Goth Gulgamel | DivNull Productions says:

    […] detail in the documents below, I was a bit unsatisfied with this location. I was also intrigued by Justin Alexander’s article on “Jaquaying the Dungeon”, a method of using design ideas from the dungeons designed by Jennell Jaquays to make dungeons more […]

  9. Structured Fantasy » Blog Archive » Design Resources says:

    […] Jaquaying the Dungeon […]

  10. — #Теория — Подземелья в стиле Жако, ч.1 says:

    […] С оригиналом Вы можете ознакомиться здесь […]

  11. An adventure for any number of characters of any level | Spriggan's Den says:

    […] and options to get around certain areas without being unable to progress at all. The Alexandian wrote about this a while back and I very much recommend reading his thoughts on the […]

  12. Isikyus says:

    This series (plus observations of real-world places) has given me basically my entire approach to map design.

    I’m still getting the hang of how to do it properly — for instance, my last adventure put all the monsters in dead-end rooms, so the players had little reason to move through loops — but it’s been a key factor in every adventure I’ve run so far.

  13. PIER — a one-dimensional dungeon for INTO THE ODD – ersatz esoterica says:

    […] you’ve yet to read the wonderful series of essays at The Alexandrian called Jacquaying the Dungeon, you should line that up.  Its findings aren’t mindblowing, but the clarity of dungeon […]

  14. Gamosopher says:

    I never bothered to actually read the EN World post you shared until now, and man, shame on me : it’s a great read, and a great tool to make dungeons better.

    The subsequent posters also exemplifies pretty well the “Railroad is fun” motto. :)

  15. Three videos on level design from which adventure designers could learn something | Spriggan's Den says:

    […] Jaquaying the Dungeon […]

  16. John says:

    Cross-posting an interesting video series on The Legend of Zelda dungeon design, which has some interesting parallels with your blog series.

  17. Thoughts on Barrowmaze (Part 2) | Mutants & Magic says:

    […] therefore introduced the concept of “ghoul tunnels” to jaquay the map and connect different areas. I placed these at the bottom of pit traps or in rooms that already […]

  18. Lost Mine of Phandelver Remix, Pt. 1: Beginnings | The Cool Mama says:

    […] with you. The first and foremost inspiration was Justin Alexander’s article “Jaquaying the Dungeon“. It is one of many, many articles on The Alexandrian that I will be referencing during this […]

  19. Kyyshak says:

    As the images on the ENWorld forum thread have since been lost to the web, I went hunting for any other details and found the following, a copy of Melan’s original post with images still intact:

  20. Common Problems in 4e D&D Adventures – Campaign Under Deconstruction says:

    […] The Alexandrian has a decent series of articles relating to this issue which you can find here. […]

  21. Hyperdimensionell Jaquays – Monumentstaden says:

    […] en text som ofta hänvisas till beskriver The Alexandrian vad han anser vara god design för en megadungeon i allmänhet och vad […]

  22. Session Recap of Beneath the Fallen Tower Playtest at Manhattan Minicon 3 | Northport says:

    […] out, but I had them all drawn fairly close to each other, so I cannot say that the dungeon was well Jacquayed. Janelle Jacquays does a lot in her designs to avoid railroading and creating quantum ogres, and my […]

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