Saruman has Isengard, the White Witch Jadis has her Castle, and Davy Jones has the Flying Dutchman. While the title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s important to consider where your villain lives and works. Do they have one lair, or many? Is their lair an impenetrable fortress or a hidden grotto? Can it fly? Get ready, because we’re going to dive into lairs! We’ll cover what they are, how to use them, and what you need to give your villain the coolest hideout this side of Mount Doom.
A villain’s lair needs to fulfill a few key purposes to qualify as a lair: it must provide them safety to recover and rest, it must offer them a place to store resources they have acquired (which can be supplies, items, allies, or something else), and it must have some kind of protection. The first one is pretty obvious, if a villain is wounded or if their schemes fall through, they need somewhere to go while they plan their next move. The second one primarily exists to offer the players a way to strike back against the villain, because if the resources the villain acquire are stored somewhere, they can be stolen. Finally, a lair needs defenses. Simply being hidden can be a lair’s only defense, but as a villain becomes more powerful, the defenses around their lair often grow stronger to match.
Does every villain need a lair? No, some villains operate without a lair, but these are very much the exception. What is more common is for a villain to have a lair that the players don’t need to visit. Let’s look at one of my personal favorite movie villains, Godzilla. Godzilla goes somewhere, deep in the ocean, after the movie is over, but the details aren’t important. What’s important is that the city is safe! Now, in a tabletop RPG, your players are more likely to want to kill Godzilla than let him peacefully return to his lair, but the point is: unless there’s something in the lair they need to acquire or destroy, your players may not visit it, and that’s okay! In Tyrants & Hellions, villains like this will always have some advantage to be gained if the players do visit the lair (knowledge about the villain, a weak point they can exploit, or similar), but with a note that visiting the lair is optional.
What about multiple lairs? Voldemort in the Harry Potter series is an excellent example of a villain with many lairs, one for each horcrux, and if you used such a villain in your game, the players would have to visit each of the lairs in turn to destroy them all. And while Voldemort also has personal lairs (that the protagonists visit more than once), the final battle against him takes place outside all of them. Even for a villain that makes extensive use of lairs, the showdown doesn’t necessarily take place in one. We’ll talk more about fighting villains in next week’s posts, for now, let’s get back to lairs.
Location of a Lair
I’d like to touch on the subject of location, which is important enough it’ll get a pair of posts focusing on it, and present the two main options for lairs: hidden or obvious. Hidden lairs are sequestered away, protected by secrecy as much as other defensive mechanisms. Part of the challenge in taking down the villain is finding them in the first place. Some examples from fiction include the Black Fortress from Krull (which teleports to a new location every morning), the Chandrian from the Kingkiller Chronicles (no one is sure where they come from), or even the Hall of Doom frequented by DC Comics supervillains (which hides submerged in a swamp).
Obvious lairs, on the other hand, are easy to find. There are many well known examples in fiction, including just about every villain in a James Bond movie (and the many movies that parody them), the Death Star from Star Wars (this includes both Death Stars), and one of the classics, Count Dracula’s Castle (or the castle of Strahd von Zarovich of Ravenloft fame). With an obvious lair, you know where the villain is, and the challenge is in acquiring the information and strength needed to break into the lair and make it out alive.
And last but certainly not least in this post, let’s talk about mobile lairs. Whether it’s something for the heroes to use like the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from Marvel comics or a villain’s home like the dirigible of Charles Muntz in Pixar’s UP, a flying base is undeniably cool. There’s even a historic precedent in folklore with the chicken-legged hut of Baba Yaga the witch! The greatest advantage of mobile lairs is that they can flee from danger, or move to the site of a scheme to bring extra resources to bear when needed. If your villain has a mobile lair, it’s likely their doomsday scheme involves bringing it somewhere. This also opens up options for player actions, potentially forcing them to disable the lair’s mobility before they can take serious action against the villain, or surprising them by having the lair move with them still inside it, taking them into unfamiliar and unfriendly territory. The options are limitless!
So that’s a quick overview of lairs as they will appear in Tyrants & Hellions. You can expect more details in the coming days, starting with a look at the pros and cons of hidden and obvious lairs, and following it up with a pair of posts discussing minions and traps and how to best put both to use when designing a villainous stronghold.
Steven Gordon - 2CGaming Team