Jaquaysing a Dungeon

Learning from the best dungeons of yore


Historical Note:

This article refers to a coined term that references now-deceased creator Jennell Jaquays. There was some community discussion about use of and spelling of the word, which included Jennell’s concern that the term dropped the ‘s’ from her name.

In Jan. 2024, Jennell’s wife posted this tweet about spelling and usage of the term.

In it, she writes, “It will forever be known as “Jaquaysing a dungeon”. I have spoken.”

I consider this authoritative and out of respect for her and Jennell I am changing the spelling on my site anywhere I’m able. Previously The Alexandrian also made a shift in usage to a different term, for what I believe are understandable and thoughtful reasons.

If the original term remains anywhere on my site, it’s unintentional. I’m currently editing it wherever I can find it. Regardless, I’d like to thank various community members for bringing this to my attention. Now, on to the article proper…

Jaquaysing a Dungeon

There’s a term that has cropped up in recent years, in reference to dungeon design. It’s called Jaquaysing, and it references Jennell Jaquays, whose maps and dungeons adorned several well-regarded D&D adventures throughout the years.

I’m not the first to write about this. In fact, I aim only to summarize some high-level takeaways from the Alexandrian blog post on this. I believe that site coined the term, but I don’t know for sure. In any case, what follows is a briefer summary and some takeaways that I like to consider when approaching dungeon design.

The central point of highlighting Jaquays dungeons is to contrast them with others. And the others, frankly, are often excessively linear, to the point of limiting player decisions entirely once they enter a dungeon.

I think some linearity is fine. Many fun dungeons are essentially linear. Hack or talk your way through A, B and C to get to the MacGuffin or Boss Fight in D. If executed well, there are worse things in the world. However, especially if it’s a multi-level dungeon and the players will be spending a large chunk of time inside it, it pays to give yourself some variance. That’s where Jaquaysing comes in.

“However, especially if it’s a multi-level dungeon and the players will be spending a large chunk of time inside it, it pays to give yourself some variance.”

Non-Linearity in Dungeon Design

One of the easiest ways to do this is to provide multiple entrances to a dungeon. While not revelatory in and of itself, what if one of the entrances is to Level 4 of a megadungeon instead of simply a second entry point to Level 1?

Another way to create nonlinearity is to create loops in the dungeon design, so that players double back on their tracks (either deliberately or by accident) sometimes.

Other examples abound. A staircase going from Level 1 to Level 3. Or that same staircase going down to a small sub-level of Level 1. Or perhaps it leads to Level 2 of an entirely different dungeon complex, and that staircase is the only link between the two.

Now do this a dozen different ways in a multi-level dungeon, and you can start to see where this is going. There are multiple entries, multiple paths, and numerous choices in any Jaquaysed dungeon.

My goal isn’t to give you every example of a Jaquays technique. It’s to get you thinking about how you can make large dungeon environments more varied and interesting for your players using these kind of techniques. You’ll undoubtedly come up with your own if you tinker with a dungeon long enough.

Jaquaysing on a Small Scale

The linked article’s addendums also look at this on a smaller scale. And if you keep the same principles in mind, it’s not hard to implement. One example the Alexandrian gives is a skylight as an alternate entrance to a building. How much more cool is that than – say – the back door? Lots, in my opinion.

I’ve heard this sort of thing referred to as “chandelier bait,” and I think that’s an amusing way to frame it. For example: “Hey guys, do you want to knock on the front door, crawl through the sewers, or airdrop into the complex from griffins?” Guess which one of those the players will choose 99% of the time. And it’s because you gave them an interesting, non-traditional path into or through an area. More fun for players, more fun for the DM. Win/win.

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