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interests / / [NY Times] Obituary for Jennel Jaquays

o [NY Times] Obituary for Jennel Jaquayskyonshi

[NY Times] Obituary for Jennel Jaquays


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From: (kyonshi)
Subject: [NY Times] Obituary for Jennel Jaquays
Date: Sat, 3 Feb 2024 15:32:51 +0100
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 by: kyonshi - Sat, 3 Feb 2024 14:32 UTC

Link goes to the wayback machine because original is paywalled.

Jennell Jaquays, Who Unlocked Fantasy Dungeons for Gamers, Dies at 67

She created scenarios with myriad paths for Dungeons & Dragons, levels
for video games like Quake II, and art that invited novices to try
role-playing games.

By Daniel E. Slotnik
Feb. 1, 2024, 4:55 p.m. ET

Jennell Jaquays, who made luminous fantasy paintings, classic adventures
for tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, and distinctive
levels in popular video games like Quake II, died on Jan. 10 in Dallas.
She was 67.

Ms. Jaquays’s wife, Rebecca Heineman, said she died in a hospital from
complications of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

During Ms. Jaquays’s lengthy career, gaming grew from a niche hobby into
a cultural touchstone. But long before Dungeons & Dragons was adapted
into hit video games like “Baldur’s Gate 3” and films like “Dungeons &
Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” and before it served as a signifier of
nerdiness on television shows like “Stranger Things,” “The Big Bang
Theory” and “The Simpsons,” devotees shared the adventures they created
with other hobbyists.

Ms. Jaquays (pronounced “JAY-quays”) discovered Dungeons & Dragons,
often abbreviated as D&D, shortly after it was released in the
mid-1970s, when she was studying art in college.

In D&D, a group of players create characters who go on an adventure run
by a dungeon master. The outcomes of attacks and other actions are often
decided by rolling many-sided dice.

The rules and background lore can take up entire tomes. Art like Ms.
Jaquays’s promises excitement belied by the dense text of a game guide,
and makes it far easier for players to envision creatures like Beholders
(imagine a large, nasty, levitating meatball with a toothy maw, a
colossal central eye, and many smaller eyes on swiveling stalks).

An artist can “show so much more in a 3-by-4-inch picture on a page than
the designer can do in two pages of description,” Ms. Jaquays said in
the documentary “Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons” (2019).

Over nearly five decades, Ms. Jaquays illustrated the covers and
interiors of settings, modules, books and magazines for D&D and other
role-playing games. In one of them, a red dragon roars while perched in
front of a snow-capped mountain; in another, a nautiluslike spaceship
floats above an alien world; in a third, two Ghostbusters prepare to
tangle with a field of animated jack-o’-lanterns.

Ms. Jaquays also crafted scenarios of her own. Two of her earliest D&D
modules, “Dark Tower” and “The Caverns of Thracia,” are renowned for
their pathbreaking designs.

In the early days of D&D, many scenarios were fairly linear — enter
dungeon, defeat monsters and plunder, assuming your characters survive.

Ms. Jaquays’s adventures were not so straightforward. They often
contained several possible entrances and multiple avenues, some of them
secret, by which players could accomplish their goals.

“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,” the game designer Justin
Alexander wrote about dungeons like Ms. Jaquays’s on his website in 2010.

“Dark Tower” and “The Caverns of Thracia” are still available, and still
being played, generations after Ms. Jaquays made them. Her name has also
become a verb — “Jaquaysing the dungeon” means creating a scenario with
myriad paths.

In the early 1980s Ms. Jaquays went to work for Coleco, and she
eventually oversaw the teams that designed games for the Coleco Vision,
an early home video game console; one notable project was “WarGames,” an
adaptation of the 1983 film.

Long after leaving Coleco, when video games were vastly more
sophisticated, Ms. Jaquays designed levels for the first-person shooters
Quake II and III and the military strategy game Halo Wars. She also made
The War Chiefs, an expansion pack that let users play as Native American
cultures vying for power against European civilizations in Age of
Empires III.

Jennell Allyn Jaquays was born on Oct. 14, 1956, in Michigan, and grew
up in Spring Arbor, Mich., and Indiana. Her father, William, sold mobile
classrooms; her mother, Janet (Lake) Jaquays, worked for a credit union.

After graduating from high school in 1974, she studied art at Spring
Arbor University. Her brother introduced her to D&D in 1975.

Ms. Jaquays eventually worked with gaming friends to produce The
Dungeoneer, a fanzine of D&D content for which she secured permission
from TSR, the company that published the game.

The Dungeoneer developed a following, and Ms. Jaquays, who earned a
bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1978 and needed a more secure
profession, sold the magazine and worked as an artist and game designer.
She married Ruta Vaclavik in the late 1970s.

Ms. Jaquays got a job at Coleco a few years later, but she was laid off
in the mid-1980s after a downturn in the video game industry. She spent
years doing freelance art and design work for RPG publishers before she
began working for TSR full time in the 1990s.

In 1997 Ms. Jaquays joined id Software, the company that made
groundbreaking first-person shooters like Doom and Quake.

But building games with a small team in what Ms. Jaquays described as a
sometimes toxic environment burned her out. She left id in 2002, the
same year she divorced her first wife. A later marriage also ended in

Ms. Jaquays said in an interview posted on Medium in 2020 that she was
in her mid-50s when she “finally accepted that I was transgender and
that I could do something about it.”

She added, “It took two marriages and two divorces and my kids finally
being established in their own lives for me to finally have the courage
to confront my truth.”

Ms. Jaquays knew Ms. Heineman through gaming, and Ms. Heineman, a video
game designer and advocate for transgender rights, helped Ms. Jaquays
navigate her transition. Ms. Jaquays also became a transgender activist
who served for a time as the creative director of the Transgender Human
Rights Institute in Seattle.

Ms. Jaquays and Ms. Heineman married in 2013 and lived together in
Heath, Texas. In addition to her wife, Ms. Jaquays is survived by a son,
Zach, a video game designer with Bungee, and a daughter, Amanda Jaquays,
from her first marriage; a brother, Bruce; a sister, Jolene Jaquays;
three stepchildren, Maria, William and Cynthia Heineman; and four

After leaving id Ms. Jaquays worked full time for the video game studios
CCP Games and Ensemble Studios. She also helped create a master’s degree
program for video game design called Guildhall at Southern Methodist
University in Dallas.

In recent years Ms. Jaquays focused on one huge project: “Central
Casting,” a collection of elaborate back-story tables that allowed
players to create character backgrounds by rolling dice.

She published the first of three “Central Casting” volumes in 1988, but
it is out of print. She was almost done with “Central Casting” when she
died, and Ms. Heineman said she was determined to get it into players’

“I’m going to make certain that wish is fulfilled,” she said.

interests / / [NY Times] Obituary for Jennel Jaquays


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