Sunday, 8 February 2015

Some Thoughts on Lairs

Was doing a bit of reading yesterday (Where do we find the time?) on the state of D&D in 5e.
I will preface this article with something you may not know from the tone of the site.

I love D&D.
I'll just put that out there along with the fact that I think 5e has the potential to be the best system since the Cyclopedia.
Do the math, look yourself square in the eye, face some hard truths and you'll agree, the Cyclopedia was the best flavor of D&D every produced. If it had been supported in the same way as the boxed sets in the 80's it would never have gone away (instead of being viewed as a gateway drug to "Real D&D")

Today I want to talk about Lairs.
For the last year or so I've been hearing alot of talk about the 5 Room Dungeon, and with 5th edition alot of talk about Lairs, encounters, and experience point Math.

I know these longer rambling posts tend to get skipped over a lot so I'll just put the main point up front here.

Lair of Sword and Sorcery is built from the ground up for "Lair" Encounters.

Those of you who know what that means will be interested enough to read on. For those of you who don't, in a nutshell "Lairs" represent the way people have been playing D&D all along if the DM is doing their job right and everyone is having fun.

History time, skip to the heading about "Lairs in Lair" if you already agree.

Go to your first edition handbooks, look in the Dms guide for how to make up your own Dungeon. Remember back to how we thought of "Dungeons" way back in the day. Not any particular published dungeon but that one that we all have striven for, the one we read about in the comic book ads for Dungeons and Dragons, the ones we imagined when we read the rules for Torch Duration, and when buying Iron Rations.
The massive sprawling, multilevel monster dungeon, where players went in level one, fought enough 1 hd monsters to level up, then went to level 2, fought enough 2hd monsters to get up to level 2 and so on.
Each level increasing in size to have enough encounters to level up again, with parts being added on periodically to keep things "fresh", wandering monster tables, "to keep you from wasting time", 
Huge randomly generated monstrosities with encounters in "30%" of the rooms, oh and don't forget to map everything, even in that massive 70% of barren nothingness or your party will become "lost".

We all dreamed of playing or running one of these behemoths, but the fact is, if we ever sat down to actually play it, it always came off a little pretty poor, unless the Dm really did his job.

And what was that?
In the huge warren of a dungeon you find a door, opening it you find a pile of bedding, a monster is about! Now that the players are on their toes they enter one of the two doors leading from this room, It's a cave with 3 orcs sitting over a cook-pot, interesting,

They kill the orcs, find that the pot doesn't contain anything and so go back and go through the other door, Here they find a fourth orc, about to butcher some poor adventurer for the stew pot. The kill the orc and question the adventurer. 

This brave knight had been on a quest to discover the great lost sword of whosiwhatsit, held by a brave knight venturing here to kill an evil cleric who's run off with the churches jewels. 

Careful searching of the rooms reveals a few coins and a letter from said cleric saying to meet him at the usual place by the well. Wait a minute there was a well just outside this door says one of the players. So they wait, kill the cleric but he does not have the treasure. They follow his trail around the corner to another grouop of rooms.

These rooms are clearly an evil temple, Finding a secret passage near the altar they brave their way to the inner sanctum, narrowly avoiding a fiendish pit trap in the dark.

In the inner sanctum they accidentally release a fiendish devil fromt he pits whom the evil cleric worshiped. 

Luckily they discover the magic circle in the floor which protects them while their cleric using a chalice found in the stolen churches treasure, banishes the demon.

The NPC gathers up his churches belongings, there is of course plenty left over for the players.
They killed some orcs, a mid level evil cleric, and even defeated a minor demon, depending on the system they will get xp for the gold or avoiding the pit trap as well. Not a bad haul.

They got to figure out some clues and the whole string of encounters was wrapped up in a single night, an accomplishment.

What they just defeated was a 5 room dungeon, or what could be considered the Lair of an eveil cleric and his minions. Just because it happened int he middle of a sprawling megadungeon does not change it one bit.

Now say you start that story off with an hour of wandering monster rolls, mapping endless empty corridors, tracking torches and rations on your character sheet, and then do the same thing on the way out.

Would that make it more or less fun? A good Dm would have handwaved all the bit at the beginning and the end saying "You are now at the place you left off last time", and at the end he would handwave again saying "you make it back to town safely".

All well made Mega dungeons are really just a series of  "Lairs" or 5 room dungeons strung together along a theme. The "dungeon" was originally just an easy way to get right to the adventure without having to write alot of backstory why the characters would be encountering this band of orcs and a cleric, "They're in the Dungeon" is all they needed. If this happened in the wild on a road the Dm would have to do alot of story crafting, once it's in a dungeon it's all readily accepted by the players.

Look at all the original modules, you would get a wilderness map which players would tromp through to make the trip to the dungeon more interesting (each dungeon does need a bit of history and backstory) but when you got there it would be a tower with 3 levels with 10 rooms each, half of which were empty, or to look at it another way, three 5 room dungeons each one harder than the next.

Lairs in Lair

In Lair of Sword and Sorcery the players all gather together and play a "Scenario". Every scenario takes place in a "Lair". The lair is laid out on the Demonboard, either all at once (for a "Skirmish" type scenario, ie a pitched battle between two groups) or one room at a time for a "Blind" Lair.

The Demonboard is a fixed size, no single Lair may be larger than the Demonboard.(22x28 squares).
At the end of one Lair they may find the entrance to another but all the action for this lair will occur on this one Demonboard.

The main difference between Lair of Sword & Sorcery and other Roleplaying games is that each Lair has an accompannying scenario which states some basic rules for this Lair (the same Lair may have different a different scenario if the players return to it however)

Each Lair must have the following things:

Scenario Objective:

This is what the players need to do to "Beat" the Lair. They may know the objective when they begin or it may be a secret which they have to discover within the lair.


The lair must have a reward for beating it. If the Objective is killing the evil cleric the reward could be something simple like recieving his treasure. Or it may be something less tangible like recieving a blessing from the noble knight they saved, or they may be allowed to stay at his temple and recieve training, or the temple may owe them a favour to be cashed in later.

Sometimes the Reward could be something as simple as not recieving the punishment for failing, which is a reward in itself.


If the characters are not able to defeat the Lair then there will be a Punishment. This is a huge difference between Lair and other Roleplaying games. In your typical dungeon if you don't feel like going in the dank tunnel under the altar to see what's inside you can just leave. Or you can decide to go back to town, get a couple of strong lads and healing potions and come back to defeat the demon.
There is little sense of urgency to pressing forward in the dungeon.

In Lair things are different.
The Players are always in a Lair for a reason. The backstory will usually provide this but the punishment rule reinforces the urgency of the dungeon. The evil cleric may have kidnapped the children of the town and will sacrifice them if the players are not able to stop him first.

The punishment also need not be that dire.
In the evil cleric example above if the players decide to leave the lair without pushing on into the passage beneath the altar the next time they return they will find the passage has been entered by someone else, likely other orcs, and stripped of it's treasure, meaning the Knights temple will never recover their sacred relics. In this case the punishment was the lack of any reward, which is acceptable, though the temple may be a little standoffish to them in the future.

Special Feature:

Every Lair is Sword and Sorcery needs a special feature.
It will usually be tied into the Scenario Objective and possible the reward and punishment as well.
It is the mighty set piece of the Lair and will not have appeared in any Lair before (thought it may be reused later but not as a special feature). Every special feature requires rules for the players to interact with it.

In the Evil Cleric example the Special feature may be the "summoning room" that they enter. The rules would be that when any player first touches the circle the demon is summoned (demons are not special features, the room itself is). Another rule would be that the demon cannot enter the circle so the players are "safe" while there.
The players would not be told this when entering the room, finding out the special features rules is the biggest fun of the game.

Special features may be an incredibly devious trap or lock with many levers to pull, may be a special raised platform the final enemy hides upon dumping boiling oil on the players, a special item, a special creature, anything which the players have not encountered before. 

Ideally the rest of the Lair will be built around and lead up to the special feature.

By specifically stating that each Lair must have a special feature and that each special feature must have rules made up pertaining to it it actually takes a lot of work off of the Demonlord (DM in Lair parlance). Because frankly each dungeon should have something special, something unique, It doesn't have to be fantastically original, the oil dropping example above shows that a simple difference, with some rules attached to it will bring an ordinary encounter up to an epic battle with the players have to come up with whole new strategies to accomplish what would ordinarily be a straight up fight.

Using these in other games

These basic rules, Objective, reward, punishment, and special feature, can be used in any encounter, dungeon or lair in any game system you like. Simply applying these strategies when building your own D&D encounters make the sometimes tedious and boring task of crafting encounters fun again, and the reward punishment system may breathe new life into a campaign grown stale.

Please leave any Comments you may have positive or Negative I'd love to hear what you all think.


1 comment:

  1. A little something on the concept of Lairs and 5 room dungeons, and discuss!