Thursday, July 14, 2011

8 Steps To Pimp Your Lair

I just found this article from an old issue of Interior Design Monthly that some of you might find useful, which I now re-print here in its entirety:

8 Steps To An Utterly Fabulous Lair

Now folks, we know you've all had some monster clients in your day--but believe us when we say that you don't know what it's like to have a monster for a client until you've had a monster for a client. Forget celebrity nurseries and corporate HQs--nothing can match the earful you'll get from a mind flayer if the pool of myelin-dissolving ooze isn't just so.

Villainous lairs are one of the most challenging projects an interior optimization professional can take on. Here are some basic questions we always ask a monster before we get started working on a lair for him, her, or it:

1. What does the client need/want?

What is it collecting? Food, books, souls? Chalices? Does it need a purpose-built room to collect all these knickknacks? Probably at least one. A filing system? What information is it trying to extract from prisoners, and so, therefore, who are those prisoners? How are they kept alive? All this is can be answered by the simple question: what does the client want?

Rookie lair designers frequently make the mistake of thinking: security security security, but remember: monsters want things too.

2. What's the technology level of the client?

Most clients will want deathtraps. Not all clients can afford deathtraps. Upon being told this, some of these will then immediately want hurttraps. Often, however, we recommend steering them toward alarm-traps for the best long-term results.

3. What's the magic level of the client?

This is huge, people. Sure they want a wizard lock, everyone does, but the technical know-how is hard to come by. Be sure the client keeps his or her plans realistic, or you know who'll get blamed in the end. And try to tailor the magic to the client--those cannibal Drow are going to have a much easier time with a foe's-blood-sacrifice-lock than with some randomly rolled off-the-rack job. A little more work, sure, but it'll be worth it in word-of-mouth.

4. How self-sufficient is the lair supposed to be?

You know the type: "I want a puzzle here and an anti-grav trap there and wandering monsters there and a moat and..." Because, you know, they've seen the Beholder had it on Cribs and now they want it, too. Suggest maybe an aqueduct or sewage tunnel and you just get blank stares. Like Oh how boring.

Stress to your clients that functional parts of their lair can be interesting features in themselves: a muck creature that purifies the water is going to have a stomach full of interesting minerals, a lightwell (properly guarded of course) can provide a home with a wealth of medicinal and carnivorous plants. In the Mount Saint Michel cathedral in France they had a pulley system for bringing supplies up to the monastery via a giant hamster wheel powered by a running prisoner--you don't get much more evil than that.

Bottom line: finding out where your villains' daily food, drink, sanitation, and supplies are going to come from can be a spectacular and efficient way to add variety and depth to any fortress or subterranean domicile.

5. Who are you afraid of?

Yes, yes, we know you want guard posts and traps but who are you guarding all that loot from? If you live in the Valley of the Smoke Elves we don't really need to be splurging on the sleep spell fountain now do we? Your regime of math riddles is very clever but it only makes sense if you're only afraid of stupid people stealing your stuff.

6. Why doesn't everybody come in here?

So you have a lair stuffed with unimaginable riches. Do people just not know? Are you far from civilization? Is the initial layer of doors nigh-impenetrable? Are there rumors of an ancient curse? Are there unseen archers who strike down any who approach? This is important to know, as you're only going to want to put the good stuff (chandeliers, vintage furniture, unincubated prezygotes) behind at least the first layer of security, if not the second.

7. How ok are you with vermin?

We know: ew. But seriously, if the client doesn't care if there's mauve slime growing on the sconces, why should you? Hell, suitably infectious or carnivorous vermin can be the organic center of a whole security system. Your mother may not approve, but your clients will thank you for all the gp you just saved them.

8. Does anybody else use the lair besides you?

Really? Really? Are. You. Sure?

A lot of clients have visitors they don't know about, and not just rats and spiders. Goblin scavengers, astral searchers, norkers, meazels, ghosts of former inhabitants, you name it. Don't get halfway into a project before realizing one of the client's henchmen is a wereboar and needs a place to keep a pile of chewed bones. Tip: the bigger a lair is, the bigger the chance something's going on your client doesn't know about. There's nothing more embarrassing than having a client discover a hidden passage and following it to a secret chamber and finding out you've done absolutely nothing with it.

So there you go. Ask those 8 questions and the lair will pretty much build itself. Good luck!


In other periodical-related news, the new Fight On! is out, featuring some seriously impressive content I tell you what from what I've read so far in the couple hours since I got my copy.

Table of Contents
Champions of ZED (Daniel Boggs) 3
Fast Company II – Nonhumans (Schroeder & Shieh) 11 (read this. Extremely useful.)
It’s All in the Cards (Michael Curtis) 12
The Tomb of Kaman-Doh Rey’d (David Coleman) 17 (featuring cool robot pictures by Netherwerks and Lawrence Raymond)
The Apen (Andrew “The Venomous Pao” Trent) 20
Geologians (Tim “Sniderman” Snider) 22
The Witch Doctor (Scott Moberly) 24
Knights & Knaves (Barber, Green, Rients, & Cal) 25
Grognard’s Grimoire (Erin “Taichara” Bisson) 27
The City State of Dusal Dagodli (Gabor Lux) 28
The Darkness Beneath (Heron Prior & David Bowman) 32 (Fucking awesome.)
Education of a Magic User (Douglas Cox) 44
Doxy, Urgent Care Cleric (J. Linneman & K. Green) 45
Sir Tendeth (Tim “Sniderman” Snider) 46
Creepies & Crawlies (T. Snider and Jeffrey P. Talanian) 60
Monstrous Ecology (Ron Edwards) 63
Random’s Assortment (Peter Jensen & Random) 64
Curses Gone Wild! (John Laviolette) 65
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (Jason Sholtis) 67
Treasure Types (Simon Bull) 68
Dungeon Modules: The Rondo Rooms (Jeff Rients) 69
Pigdivot! (Chris Robert) 72
Where the Action Is (Zak S.) 80
Merlyn’s Mystical Mirror (Gabor Lux & Jo Kreil) 84
Notes from a Master (James M. Ward & Tim Kask) 86

And now I turn it over to Calithena:

The print version is available here:

and the PDF is available here:

To encourage you to check us out, we have put two other products on SALE along with the release of Issue 12. These prices won’t last forever! The Fight On! Compiled Compilation +4, combining our first four fabulous issues under one cover, can currently be purchased for $19.99; and Roll the Bones, our well-reviewed collection of fantastic fiction, is available for just $14.99. We’d be honored if you checked one or both out!

The compilation is available here:

and Roll the Bones is available here:

If you buy by the end of the day TOMORROW (July 15), you can save even more on all of these – lulu is offering a site-wide discount of 20% off everything with the coupon BIG (BIG305AU, BIG305UK for some foreign readers), making this one of the best times to check us out for the first time or check back in if you’ve missed a few issues! While you’re at it, check out some other lulu gaming products – there is a ton of good stuff on there from all kinds of producers.


  1. I try to make all my dungeons nearly totally self-sufficient, to the point where I have a lot more functional (if monstrous) spaces in them than oblique magic weirdness. I kind of prefer it, since it's a lot easier to rationalize in play how something looks or acts if it has to make sense. Kinda wish more dungeons had a 'what is this doing here, why did they put it here' section for keyed locations.

  2. Surely this is from "Ulterior" Design?

  3. Zak, I recently starting reading your blog and also purchased the Vornheim city kit. You are a great inspiration, and a one of a kind DM. Just wanted to let you know its appreciated!