Days of High Adventure
Gaming's Renaissance Man

Allen Varney | 3 Dec 2009 21:00
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In some future dissertation on the Secret Masters of 20th-Century Tabletop Gaming, one or another lucky historian of pop culture will earn tenure by rediscovering Paul Jaquays.

In his incomparably varied career as writer, editor, illustrator, computer game designer and educator, Jaquays (pronounced "jake-ways") pioneered important early developments in tabletop roleplaying game scenarios, guided the first large migration of RPG designers into computer gaming, and helped shape one of the earliest collegiate game design curricula. Along with fellow polymath Liz Danforth, Paul Jaquays has been for decades the most broadly talented professional in RPGs - outstanding as designer, artist and editor - yet his impact still awaits assessment. He only just got listed in Wikipedia, though in 2004 he did get a laudatory, if wildly inaccurate, writeup on Everything2. (Jaquays remarks, "As long as sequencing of events, facts and attributions of work don't matter, it's a great article.")

Fans of the Old School Revival, at least, still recall Jaquays for his early work at that most prolific and fondly remembered of licensed third-party D&D/AD&D publishers, Judges Guild. In 1979 Jaquays immediately became one of JG's leading designers and illustrators with his first dungeon crawls, Caverns of Thracia and, especially, Dark Tower. An exploration of two buried prehistoric towers, temples to the rival gods Mitra and Set, Dark Tower showed creative vigor in its mix of wilderness, village and dungeon adventuring.

"Dark Tower was my first commercial game project," Jaquays recalls. "Prior to this I had written adventures for The Dungeoneer gaming fan magazine and for my own enjoyment. What I remember of the early Judges Guild adventures was that they were not substantially different from homegrown adventures - light on theme, light on characterization, mostly just monsters and treasure stats. It may be telling that even though I was an early Judges Guild subscriber, I never actually used their adventure material in my games.

"Players new to Judges Guild content (particularly in the original form, as opposed to the current adaptations) should be aware of its unpolished and spare nature. The earliest published adventures were little more than monster hotels. The focus was on providing interesting or challenging (and quite often random) encounters that let the players build their own story, rather than on extensive backstory, cultural history or an attempt to guide the players into carrying through the author's storyline."

Jaquays retained this open-ended "sandbox" approach in lieu of predetermined storylines, but his works introduced Judges Guild to an amazing new concept: coherence. He thought of Dark Tower and, moreso, Caverns of Thracia "as 3-D world-spaces built by people (or monsters) for a purpose, not just a random set of rooms and halls occupying all available space on a letter-sized sheet of graph paper. I put a little more effort into backstory for the dungeon. I focused on the special rooms where special things happened or where unusual characters lived - the things that made the game world exotic, magical and mysterious."
As "High Adventure" columnist James Maliszewski observed on his Grognardia blog, "Along with Tegel Manor (by Bob Bledsaw) and his earlier Caverns of Thracia, Paul Jaquays' Dark Tower is probably one of the most famous and well loved adventure modules ever produced by Judges Guild. So great is its reputation that it even made Dungeon's '30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time,' the sole non-TSR/WotC product to appear on [that] list. ... it's a brilliant piece of work."

The door to room 13 is wizard locked. Trying to open the door will fire off a magic mouth spell: "GO NO FURTHER MANLING! BEYOND LIES THAT WHICH WOULD DEVOUR YOUR VERY SOUL AND BEFOUL GREATER MOTIONS THAN YOUR FEEBLE MIND MIGHT KNOW!" A second attempt to open the door will fire off another magic mouth, "YOU WERE WARNED!" and a spear trap will fire off 6 spears, attacking as if cast by a 6 HD creature. A third attempt to open the door will cause a wall of fire to spring up directly before the door. Magic mouth: "STUBBORN, AREN'T WE!"
- Dark Tower, Room 3-13 (page 46)

Jaquays both designed and illustrated his Judges Guild work. "Back then, one could be an artist of, at best, fair talent and still have one's work be in demand for game products. It was how I got my start and probably where my professional reputation is based. For years afterwards, doors opened for me in my career because of that early amateur, semi-pro and pro work."

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