JAQUAYSING THE LOOP: All that is Jaquaysed is looped, but not all loops are Jaquaysed


Over on Discord, I got into a discussion about the link in this older post that discussed the power of loops to make dungeons interesting. And I generally still think that is true. Given 6 rooms, you create a more interesting arrangement if you just loop them in a ring versus a line. More so if you arrange those rooms so you get double or triple loops and place a feature at hallway intersections. This article further explains how the creators of Unexplored use loops and the program behind it.

But the specific discussion on Discord we touched on if there was a difference between "Jaquaysing" the dungeon vs using "gated circles" as often found in Metroidvania and other video games. I think there is an important difference which I distinguish them this way:  

  • Jaquaysing the dungeon, to me, is about PC choice and multiple alternative routes that could be taken provided you have the right equipment/class/mindset/risk tolerance. Its goal is to increase the potential for exploration because areas can be gotten to by multiple avenues. A player's goal is set by their own desires.

  • Gated circles are more about GM control of environmental reveal and ensuring that PCs experience 90% of the environment as often PCs need 2-3 "keys" (which could be actual keys, items, or abilities) in order to unlock various areas of the dungeon. This requires them to traverse most of the dungeon in order to get these keys. A player's goal is set by the designer's desires.

For me, the former is better for RPGs while the latter is better for video games. However, in the discussion, there was disagreement on this. I posited that gated circles are important in video games because they ensure that the player will explore X% of the content of each level and thus, I reason, walk away feeling like they are getting maximum value out of their dollar.

The counterargument proposed was that in fact, RPGs can benefit from gated circles in the same way too: gated circles ensure X% of content is encountered by the PCs and therefore prep is not wasted. Again, I think it is a matter of viewpoint so two things still stick out at me.

One: Prep really is never wasted to me because it can be repurposed. I don't mean in a "Quantum Ogre" manner where all roads lead to prep not initially explored, but they can be folded into a larger effort, redesigned, or the players could return to the content at a later date. Once created, the material is ever ready. But unlike a single DM who can change large swaths of the world in a single night, a team of videogame designers can not do the same. So the bolus of initial content must be utilized in order for the player to experience the value* of their purchase.

Two: Gated circles, while they might loop, are experientially linear. You can investigate them in any manner you please, but you can only eventually progress by following a specific order. That is because certain "keys" are needed to be collected to open a series of "locks". And those locked are nested behind each key-lock pairing. This creates a linear hierarchy in progression order. Even if you are allowed to investigate a lock without the key, it often becomes a trap. You can't get through the blue door at the bottom of the pit because you don't have a blue key and they is no way back up- the lava kills you or you have to just start over. This, by design, is a restriction of player choice.

So while the dungeon might be a loop, its is not Jaquaysed. Progression through that loop is not determined by the rate of exploration and/or risk, but instead by the number of key-lock pairs that have been accumulated. The only way to go deeper is to find the blue key in a gated circle. However, to go deeper in a Jaquaysed dungeon is to make a choice to keep going.

Perhaps I might need to justify why choice is so high value over % of the dungeon experience, but maybe I'll stop here, for now, to keep this think-piece somewhat punchy.

Some nice additional thoughts by Sean McCoy of Mothership:

* This is why I also think players obsess in part with "builds" in videogame, in order to extract maximum value out of it by building a character that can accomplish and conquer all parts- the build is the "key" that opens "locks" which content is behind.


  1. I think you're overlooking another use of the gated loop in a dungeon: the express path. Giving the party a way to bypass part of the dungeon on the way out and return trips not only saves them time and heartache, it gives the monsters time to regroup or be replaced.
    And you can combine these loop types, too. A gate may be opened the "wrong way" by a riskier or costlier method and that is an interesting choice. We can't get to the stairwell of the tower, but we have climbing gear and lots of rope. And neither the blue lock nor the wall next to the door need to be immune to explosives and acid.
    You're right to caution against using gates to force players to take a particular path. That reduces decision making and fun. But that doesn't mean gates can't also be a tool to increase fun.
    And if I really want the bypassed boss to not go to "waste", they may take the party to court for theft or destruction of property. With some parties I've known, you could get a class-action suit going.

    1. "Giving the party a way to bypass part of the dungeon on the way out and return trips not only saves them time and heartache..." No. Just. No. Do not pre-plan what the party should do. Do not pre-plan solutions for convenience. If you think you "need" to do that for some reason, then there is a bigger problem with the design of your scenarios & dungeons or how you run them.

      Getting out of the dungeon, with the valuable treasure, should potentially be as difficult as getting in. And should damn well sometimes lead to bloody heartache. Give the players problems you have no idea how they will solve, not puzzles with pre-determine solutions and convenient "outs". Then delight in their creativity.

    2. @BDizzy: A gated-loop from a videogame mindset does not have multiple solutions: red key goes into red lock. This ensures in video games that all content is seen.

      But the minute you allow multiple solutions to the red lock (acid, stone-to-mud on the wall, climbing over it, going in the window) it stops being a "gate" in a video game sense and is more just an obstacle.

      And a lot of the other things you list are as you say benefits of "Jaquaysing a dungeon": express check-out, various routes, interesting choices.

    3. For Scott, I don't think including a loop is the same as planning for it to be used. The players will still need to argue about the cost vs benefit of exploring more rooms. And in the egress scenario, they may have the pressure of low torches or low health complicating those decisions. And that's assuming they have reason to believe there's a shortcut.
      Though I like leaving some clues, a loop can be as secret or a dangerous as you like. It doesn't have to be a barred door.
      One thing, related to video games, that I find impacts players' cost-benefit analysis is the goal of 100% completion. Some players will still try to kick down every remaining door even when they only have one arm left to haul their wheelbarrow full of gold back to the surface. I know this is a habit that I learned from video games. But it's a lot more reasonable when I can just load a previous save.
      Warren, I think you're saying is that what makes a gate is how you play it. We come back to rewarding creative play, and that's something I completely agree with.

      I wonder, if presented with a wooden door saying "treasure room, see Ra-Thoup the Devourer for key", how many players would go get the key rather than breaking down the door. Maybe they're used to getting XP for kills, or maybe the real treasure is the bosses they've met along the way.

  2. For published adventures, I think the % content argument stands. How much weight to place on it is another question.

    Another question is the context the adventure happens in. Playing a video game, if you decide not to push on to the next circle, you have to stop playing. It's game over. So there's a strong incentive to push on, and if the game only gives you one path, well, that's the game you decided to play.

    D&D can work the same way. If this dungeon is 'the' adventure, then I guess we'd better push on. If this dungeon is one of dozens of possible adventures in a sandbox campaign, some of them consisting of nothing more substantial than a couple of words the DM randomly inserted in some NPC's chit chat, then there's no need to push on. If this game isn't worth the candle we can go looking for another. If this game isn't the most compelling right now, we can drop it and go do something else for a while.

    The players in a sandbox are not a captive audience in the same way. In fact, part of the joy of the style is the sense of boundary-less freedom to investigate whatever seems most interesting or worthwhile.

    But in this style there's an expectation that only a tiny fraction of the available options will ever be taken. The GM admittedly has a tricky challenge to prep enough but not too much of the right material. It's a different kind of prep than one makes for a stand-alone adventure. Some material will go unused. Some of that can be re-purposed, but some, inevitably will go to waste (in my experience). That's part of the price of working in the medium.

    As for Jaquaying. What it offers is incomplete information about complex navigational decisions with strategic implications. That's a great thing to have in a game: choice, incommensurable options, imponderable possibilities and consequences. So to give that up, you need a strong reason. If you're creating high-intensity content for sale as 'the adventure in this box' that does tend to place some weight on % utilisation, and curating the experience, if only for reasons of cost-competitiveness.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      I think this though points to the strength of pen & paper RPGs is maximizing choice in a very open environment in a way vRPGs do not or cannot (yet). And so, designs that further enhance that strength of choice (Jaquaysing) is a better to alternatives that don't (gated circles).

  3. Sure, although Jaquaying, in the sense of including multiple pathways and loops in dungeon-like maps, is only one small element of the choice-maximising openness available in TTRPGs. As an example to focus on, it looks like it would be fairly easy to implement in a vRPG, e.g. rogue-like.

    However, that's not (or has not been in the past) cost efficient, probably because of the high development cost of each 'square' of the vRPG map.

    Another possible motivation is that curating the experience to introduce material in a controlled order lets the game designer reliably produce a desired kind of experience. Giving up that control creates the risk that the player will have bad, or less than optimal, experience.

    But I suppose that's what you're saying? Because a human GM can moderate a TTRPG adventure in a way that enables open-ended play, it can better realise the full benefits of Jaquaying. And the costs of redundant content can be moderated in a way that vRPGs can't. Or from another perspective, a linear dungeon cripples the TTRPG adventure in the precisely the area where it has the best opportunity to shine compared with the vRPG experience.

  4. Great article. One thing that really interested me was when playtesting an "OSR style" dungeon, with jaquaysing, my (all usually 5e) players complained it felt too non-interactive and requested exactly the type of locked-gate requirements listed here ("Find the three RGB coloured keys for this locked gate" was mentioned by one).

    I'm not sure why they felt like this, and tried to make them elaborate, I suspect it was because they hadn't grasped treasure for XP (We were playing Troika, where that is suggested by not explicitly the goal) and so weren't chasing after the shiny things I threw in, thus feeling like there was nothing to do.

    But yes, it did really catch me off guard that they were so keen for gate locking and coloured keys...

    1. Thank you for reading! The dreaded "So, like, what do we do?" I think the removal of dungeon crawling as an entry level activity had taken something away from D&D.

      Now a lot of 5e products are written like early Halo level, linear hallways that lead to open space (both literally and metaphorically), but still very limited options, and you exit them only one way too. And usually that exit give the "key" to the next "door".

      But this has a by product of requiring the DM to sign-post too much what each step is and at that point, where is the delight for the DM?