Obituary: designer who crafted much-loved RPG and PC games

Game designer and artist Jennell Jaquays. Photo: Matt Barton
Game designer and artist Jennell Jaquays. Photo: Matt Barton
Game designer, artist


Jennell Jaquays was a game designer whose work transcended generations: she designed role-playing games (RPG), table top games and also PC games, as well as being an accomplished artist.

Born in Michigan in October 1956, Jaquays stumbled upon the original fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, in the mid-1970s while an art student.

Their imaginations fired up, Jaquays and several friends formed the Fantastic Dungeoning Society and began publishing a fanzine containing their own D&D adventures.

TSR, which owned the copyright to the game, gave the society permission to go ahead and their magazine, The Dungeoneer, became a sought-after and highly influential publication.

After graduating, Jaquays worked for TSR authorised supplier Judges Guild and played a key role in producing two stand-alone D&D modules, Dark Tower and Caverns of Thracia. Each were early examples of Jaquays’ preference for storytelling and a rounded experience rather than being a straight-forward monster-bashing exercise.

Jaquays was co-author and illustrator for Chaosium's award-nominated Griffin Mountain RuneQuest scenario, created the famed Dark Tower D&D module — an adventurer still rated on of the game’s finest by fans — and did illustrations for games such as Traveller and firms such as Game Designers' Workshop, West End Games and Iron Crown.

Jaquays joined electronics firm Coleco in 1980 and designed games for its early video games console Coleco Vision, which included versions of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Eventually becoming director of game design, Jaquays was laid off in the mid-’80s after a downturn in the industry. Jaquays then spent several years as a freelance artist and designer for various RPG publishers.

Still a D&D fan at heart, Jaquays could not say no when TSR came calling in the early 1990s, and worked there as an illustrator for five years, including a six-month period as graphics director.

Examples of Jennell Jaquays’ art.
Examples of Jennell Jaquays’ art.
A key assignment during that time was the development of the Dragon Dice game, both as cover artist and icon designer.

Jaquays also illustrated and developed cover art for source books and modules, including the ferocious red dragon on the cover of the Dragon Mountain adventure included in D&D’s 1993 deluxe boxed set.

Returning to freelancing, Jaquays was in demand from the burgeoning PC games sector. In 1997, Jaquays joined id Software and designed several levels for famed first-person shooter game series Quake.

In subsequent years, Jaquays worked for a series of firms, notably making the War Chiefs expansion pack for Age of Empires III and being part of the design team for Halo Wars and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Vol. 1.

In 2011, Jaquays, who had two children from an earlier marriage, announced that she was a lesbian and trans woman. She lived in Washington State with wife and fellow game designer Rebecca Heineman and became a highly active supporter of trans causes.

She became the creative director of the Transgender Human Rights Institute, through which Jaquays helped petition for the adoption of Leelah’s Law in the US — a ban on conversion therapy.

From 2012 onwards, she worked at RPG publisher Dragon Girl Studio and game studio Olde Skuul, which she co-founded with Heineman and two other designers.

In 2015, Jaquays was a Trans 100 2015 honouree, and two years later the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design inducted Jaquays into their Hall of Fame.

Her adventures were also nominated several times for the H.G. Wells award.

Diagnosed with Guillain–Barre syndrome in late 2023, Jaquays died on January 10, aged 67. — Agencies

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