Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Interview: Paul Jaquays (Part I)

To long-time roleplayers, Paul Jaquays needs no introduction. One of the earliest and most prolific freelancers of the hobby, Mr Jaquays has written, edited, and illustrated many of its most well regarded products, including landmark adventures such as Caverns of Thracia, Griffin Mountain, and "Night of the Walking Wet." He kindly consented to an interview, the first part of which is presented below and covers his entry into the world of gaming, both as a player and as a writer/editor/illustrator. Part II, which will appear tomorrow includes additional insights into his RPG career, as well as his his professional activities in the years since.

1. How did you become involved in the roleplaying game hobby?

I found RPGs by way of my younger brother's subscription to The General magazine. In the fall of 1975, I was working an evening shift at my college's radio station. The station played a lot of pre-recorded content, so I had nothing much to do between program changes. So when my younger brother Bruce called and told me about a sample magazine copy he had received called The Space Gamer (issue #2) I had time to listen. He proceeded to read me two reviews of a new game called Dungeons & Dragons. In looking back at one's life, one can usually find significant events that change the direction your life will take thereafter. This was one of those moments.

Hearing the game described, I knew I had come across something that I had been looking for since childhood ... a way to play out adventure fantasies like those in Conan, The Lord of the Rings and the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. I immediately ordered the rule sets and as many expansions as they had available. (Greyhawk, and maybe Blackmoor). I also dashed off some quick illustrative sketches for the magazine, my first submissions to a game publication of any kind. Greyhawk (and, I think, Chainmail) arrived in time for us to pore over them at the Thanksgiving break, but the rules didn't arrive until January of 1976 when I was out of the country on a school trip (I arrived home to discover that my brother and my buddies had gotten started without me). Within six months we were not only playing OD&D regularly with several DMs, but had also begun publishing our own game fan magazine, The Dungeoneer.

2. You mention The Dungeoneer, which is notable for not only being one of the earliest fanzine for D&D but also for having published some of the earliest adventures for the game. Looking back on it now, what contributions to it make you the most proud?

It's the adventures that stand out, and not simply because no one else was doing mini-adventures in 1976. When I read comments about the magazine or talk to fans (old and new), no one talks about the monsters, or the art, or the magic items and rules variants. It's always the adventures. I'm both flattered and honored when I read that gamers are constructing full campaigns around settings like "Night of the Walking Wet."

Second, it's that we were able to publish as many issues as we did back in a time when we (my gaming group) were all going to school full time, working at least part time, and trying to actually fit in gaming time. I know it's "get off my lawn" type talk, but I had to assemble the pre-press for every one of those magazines with rubber cement from typewriter-created galleys, PMTs (photo-mechanical-transfers of art), and sometimes the original art pieces themselves, and of course, press-on type for headlines.

Finally, it was something that I could do with my friends. I was the only member of that group to go on to a full time creative career, but my friends like J. Mark Hendricks, Merle Davenport, and artist Aaron Arocho still have their names memorialized in the hearts of Old School Gamers.

3. When did you decide you were interested in working professionally in the RPG field?

Almost immediately, I recognized that the RPG industry needed artists desperately and that this was a way to get my art published. Even before I started playing RPGs, I submitted sketches to The Space Gamer for publication. By the time I graduated from college, I had illustrated two microgames for Metagaming, been published in the first issue of Dragon magazine and numerous The Space Gamer issues, and was publishing my own D&D fan magazine.

In the spring of 1978, a couple months before graduation, I flew from Michigan to Texas to interview with Metagaming Concepts. They were considering bringing me on staff as an artist. After I returned to school, they let me know that they were going to hire a secretary instead (or perhaps another secretary as I remember several pretty young blonde girls being associated with the Metagaming offices). There were also some apologetic comments about them being atheists and me attending a Christian college. Not something you can say regarding a job interview these days, that's for sure.

After graduation, I tried to a pursue a more traditional commercial art career, ending up as a full time layout and paste-up artist for a quick-printer that had been my part-time employer during school. That job was brief. The city had blocked off the street on which the printer was located, eliminating all but foot traffic ... and soon my job with it. I no longer remember the specifics, but Chuck Anshell, who had purchased The Dungeoneer from from me and then taken it Judges Guild, arranged for me to come down and interview. I drove from Jackson, Michigan to Decatur, Illinois. I accepted the offered job (and the minimum wage paycheck it entailed), but only if I could continue to work out of my apartment in Michigan.

4. You're probably most famous in D&D circles for your Judges Guild work, particularly Dark Tower and the Caverns of Thracia. Do you have any particular memories about creating those two adventures?

I remember beginning to plan out bits of the adventure for Dark Tower while on the day long drive back from that first trip to Decatur, Illinois. Later, when I was home, I scrounged through my own game dungeons to cull the best "special" encounters for Dark Tower (other encounters ended up going into Morkendaine Manor, which I wrote for The Dungeoneer that fall). The whole Set vs. Mitra theme was greatly inspired by Conan the Barbarian fiction. I think the Conan story, "Red Nails," may have had some influence on the theme also, with it's rival bands warring within an ancient, enclosed space. I've always been fascinated by archaeology and the idea of excavating ancient ruins and finding them nearly intact. So I extrapolated that to a pair of opposing towers dedicated to opposing gods and then buried by some catastrophe.

Later, adherents of both faiths would excavate the buried towers and renew the battle. While many of the bits in Dark Tower came from my imagination, at least one was inspired by an encounter that designer Kerry Lloyd (of Thieves Guild fame) described during a visit to my home. He talked about a ring-shaped hall filled by a giant moving ball (think of the rolling stone ball in Raiders of the Lost Ark - which this predated by two years). The tomb of Racox in the dungeon is a tribute to my college buddy and fellow gamer (and room mate at the time), Randy Cox. And no, he didn't die.

During the development of Dark Tower, I had a meeting with Gary Gygax at a Metro Detroit Gamers convention. Gary had reviewed my manuscript and noted where my use of potions (and I think scrolls) had deviated from AD&D canon. For my house rules, I allowed multi-use potions and then spiced up their descriptions using tables based on some found in the Alarums & Excursions APAzine. My potions had color, flavor, and consistency. Some were pills. Others powders. Those non-canonical details were excised from Dark Tower. I think I may have actually used random dice rolls to fill some of the spaces in the underground areas ... though I did my best to try and inter-relate encounters and spice them up beyond simple random monster and treasure sets.

The core inspirations for Caverns of Thracia were threefold. The first was to ally the various "beast" races of AD&D as a unified force. The second was to build encounters that took place in multiple levels of a cave, where the open upper areas were situated above open lower areas. The final inspiration (that I remember) was the rather primitive, but unique plate armor used by Mycenaean soldiers. These became the human guards of the upper reaches of the Caverns.

At some point, Caverns of Thracia was changed from an AD&D project to a D&D project. I remember the biggest problem from this was that at least one of my beast men (the Jackalwere) was an AD&D creature. Thus, I had to create the Dog Brothers to fill that same role.

5. You were also involved in the creation of Griffin Mountain for RuneQuest, which is generally considered one of the best products ever published for that game. Did you enjoy writing for RuneQuest? Did you find it a different experience from writing for Judges Guild or TSR? Or were there a lot of similarities in how you approached these various projects?

I had discovered RuneQuest the summer before joining Judges Guild at Origins in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It quickly became the favorite RPG of my brother, my room mate and me. We played in other games in our gaming group, but when we ran games, it was RuneQuest. At some point, a good share of the adventures I wrote for other game systems (AD&D, D&D and even DragonQuest) were converted to work with RQ rules for my personal campaigns.

RuneQuest was perhaps my favorite system for which to create adventures. I found the game's Bronze Age time-of-myths type setting more appealing that the pseudo medieval setting of D&D. The biggest challenge for writing RQ adventures was creating monsters and NPCs with appropriate and balanced skills and stats. Monsters had to be detailed out almost to the same degree as player characters, which was ultimately time-consuming and even tedious. Stats for high level NPCs were even more challenging ... because my campaigns never had high level characters. My co-author on Griffin Mountain, Rudy Kraft, was excellent at setting up stats, so we had complementary skills as a team.

Writing for Judges Guild and TSR came at different times in my career. For Judges Guild, I could pretty much write whatever I wanted, how I wanted, and as much as I wanted. I mostly just wrote adventures that I conceptualized. The first Book of Treasure Maps was one of two products that were purely Judges Guild assignments, not original concepts. Writing for TSR was a whole different animal and came about in the late 80s. The industry had changed in the intervening years and become a bit more professional. TSR had writing style guides, word limits, design formats, a need to adhere to game world canon (not just rules canon) and ... deadlines.

For TSR, I was always writing and or editing to fill a predetermined product niche ... whether it was short pieces for collections, or full blown adventures. For at least a couple, the design description was so loose that I could do almost anything I wanted so long as it loosely fit the catalog copy (Talons of Night and The Shattered Statue). I actually did more editing for TSR than I did original design or authoring.

20 comments:

  1. Extremely interesting! Here's hoping that the second part gets posted fairly soon, as I can't wait to read more.

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  2. Wow, this is fun. Its always interesting to hear the tales of the early days of the hobby.

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  3. Pills and powders... *yoink!*

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  4. I loved the Shattered Circle. Does anybody know where to get some of these early fanzines?

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  5. Kudos to Paul for spreading around the kudos. :)

    > Here's hoping that the second part gets posted fairly soon

    "tomorrow" != "mañana" around here, thankfully? ;)
    Looking forward to that, too.

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  6. > Does anybody know where to get some of these early fanzines?

    JG73 ( http://www.acaeum.com/jg/Item0073.html ) is pretty good value for money, as far as compilations go. Used to be easy enough to obtain for $5-8 although they seem to have been a bit more scarce recently. Still easy enough for £5 in the UK ( http://www.asgi.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=91 )

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  7. Very nice interview, I look forward to more!

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  8. This is relevant to my interests - Jaquays one of the unsung heroes of the early hobby. Always solid work, never got the fanfare, sort of like a gaming Paul Molitor.

    Very interesting to hear that the Dog Brothers started off as Jackalweres.

    I remember being surprised to see material from his SPI Dragonquest module "The Enchanted Wood" become Forgotten Realms canon when he did work on that setting for TSR.

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  9. There's some discussion of "The Enchanted Wood" in Part II, so stay tuned.

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  10. I met Paul at NTRPGCon and he was very friendly and approachable and full of interesting stories and insights -- plus he willingly autographed my very-well-worn copy of Griffin Mountain. At the risk of stirring controversy I daresay he made a much more positive impression on me than the other "celebrity" guests that I played with, and is the only one I'd like to spend more time with...

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  11. I'm going to follow the comments thread and will do my best to keep up with any commentary directed my way. I don't remember discussing CCP in my interview and am not at liberty to discuss my current projects there.

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  12. I don't remember discussing CCP in my interview and am not at liberty to discuss my current projects there.

    That's poor phrasing on my part. What I meant to convey was that the second part of the interview includes discussion of your post-RPG career, but I obviously gave a false impression. I'll try to edit that for greater clarity.

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  13. Wow. Paul's stuff had such a huge impact on my gaming life in the late 70's/early 80's. Nightfang, Dark Tower, bunch of stuff in the Dungeoneer.

    Paul, thanks for everything that molded me as a young gamer. May I ask something if you're reading this?

    I've recently started thinking about doing a new campaign set in the Castle Krake area from Night of the Walking Wet. I ran some of the stuff from that map back in the day - the castle itself, Borhak's Lair, Merlin's Garden, etc. Never all at once in the same general area though, just here and there over the years. But I want to do my new campaign with the party having choices of which of those cool dungeons to go to as they explore the map of Krake.

    I was wondering if you actually ran a campaign that included all those dungeons from the Dungeoneer in the Castle Krake area as they are on the map in Dungeoneer.

    Also, if you remember him, I was wondering about your inspiration for Fred the Talking Amulet found in Borshak's Lair. I had great fun with that item. I liked having him make an illusion of himself as a giant great white shark that would just flop around on the dungeon floor snapping at legs but not really hurting anyone. He was great fun, and the PC who found him retired with Fred in his possession.

    Thanks again for the tons of material that helped keep me going as a young gamer, and still serves as an inspiration to me over 30 years later.

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  14. @Brunomac - I never ran a game campaign specifically based on The Dungeoneer maps. Borshak's Lair and F'Chelrak's Tomb were a part of my Runequest campaign in later years. I don't remember the specific inspiration for Fred. Possibly a moment's goofiness. My own players had a lot of fun with him too. In my campaign, Fred took the form of a carved wooden duck (looking not unlike a rubber duckie). Contrary to some opinions, I've read about my work - none of it was done "under the influence" of any sort of intoxicating substance.

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  15. Ha ha! Awesome Paul, thanks. And thanks of course for being an old school game celeb who is open to fans, and for doing James interview. Inspiration, inspiration, inspiration...

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  16. This is splendid. Paul is indeed one of the great heroes of early roleplaying and I eagerly bought everything that had his name on it. I am very sad that my copies of The Dungeoneer, including the one with Mordenkaine Manor, have disappeared, but I still have my Dark Tower, Griffin Mountain and a couple of others.

    Most interesting fact to me in the interview is that Paul ran so many of the classic scenarios under RQ rules. I find this fascinating because I am currently in the process of converting many of the them to the latest edition of Mongoose Runequest! Indeed, my ultimate ambition is to run Caverns of Thanracia, the god learner ruin founded by Thanrax the Fair, corrupted by the cult of Thanatar and where the undead remains of a dragonnewt Inhuman King have a baleful influence...

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  17. Paul is one of the greats! Truly has been a pleasure the few times I have been able to talk with him. The man's generosity matches his talent!

    Glad to see this interview and will be back for the remainder!

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  18. I love reading stuff like this. What can you possibly say? This guy experienced D&D when it was still a labor of love - a bunch of geeks hanging out in a basement together making stuff up as they went along. Toss in a chunk of natural talent and strong work ethic, and there you have it! It got to a point where I could recognize the work of these original creators without even glancing at the title. And though a lot of this article is based on Paul's writing and design work, he was my second favorite of the classic D&D artists, behind Dave Trampier. I still have copies of Dark Tower and Caverns of Thracia that I hoping to have Paul sign when I next bump into him at some industry show or other...

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