Welcome to My Lair
For an imaginative young DM growing up in the heyday of AD&D in the 1980s, the hours and days and weeks spent creating fantasy worlds was anything but wasted time. Starting with the expansive creation stories for your home-brewed gaming world (a staple for excited young—and old—DMs), you inevitably had to focus on the adventures—the places where your players would actually interact with your world. And for me, at least, one piece of adventure design easily outstripped all others in both utility and excitement: the lair.
Even the most mundane monsters, little but mushy fodder before the indomitable might of the player-characters, took on a new dimension when you put them in their lair. Even the lowly goblin, pathetic when alone or in small groups, became something serious in their lairs. Sub-chiefs that fight as gnolls? Riding huge wolves? Chiefs and bugbears? Type C treasure in the lair? Sign me up for that!
But it wasn’t just the weak monsters that became more powerful in their lairs. Fighting a dragon on the wing versus in its lair? No contest! Tackling a demon lord on the Prime Material plane? No problem for higher level characters. It’s when the characters had to travel to the deepest layers of the Nine Hells that the story got interesting.
But even then, a lair by itself, while holding the potential to be the most memorable of dungeons, was often just a static place. Where lairs truly shined was when there was also something memorable and dramatic happening at the moment the characters entered. A dragon’s lair, full of the traps rigged by its kobold servants, is a great piece in a campaign. If the PCs arrive just as a war among the different kobold-servant clans erupts, that is a memorable story! Assaulting the hill giant steading is a worthy task, but arriving on the very night that the hill giant chief is entertaining an ambassador from the stone giant king? That’s a story waiting to unfold.
So when you build your lairs or run games set in lairs, always keep that potential for drama in the back of your mind. Location-based adventures are easy to run, and event-based adventures generally tell a more engaging and dramatic story. When you build or use a lair, you have the potential for both that should not be wasted.