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The Smart Villain part 3: Lair Landscaping

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On June 13, 2011 @ 3:23 am In GMing Advice | 4 Comments


In part 1 of The Smart Villain we talked about general approaches to smart villains. In part 2 we gave several strategies for how the smart villain uses the community for defense. This time, we’re interested in the external defenses to the smart villain’s lair. Next time we’ll look at internal defenses and tactics, and our final installment will discuss the smart villain’s gear.

If pesky PCs manage to get past the agents, misdirection and pitfalls the smart villain has in place in their local communities, the next set of obstacles they will have to face are in getting to and penetrating the smart villain’s lair.  Here are some common tactics a smart villain will use to secure this line of defense:

  • Place your lair in a remote or difficult to approach location: The longer it takes attackers to reach a lair, the more strategies can be employed to protect it. Thus, few smart villains have lairs which are easily accessible. Even those lairs that  must be in a populated area can be made inaccessible by wards, security systems or other barriers. In addition, thinking three dimensionally will help secure an otherwise easily breached lair. A skyscraper or a dungeon is much less easily breached than an office building or a guardhouse.
  • Use the local inhabitants to your advantage: In the wilderness, encouraging the survival of hostile natives or ferocious wild beasts will stop many trespassers to your domain. Though more difficult in an urban environment because of collateral damage to the community, carefully managed gangs, and stealthy monsters can make the area around a lair inhospitable. If possible make these threats more dangerous by providing them with support. Smart tactics, superior equipment, and shielded weaknesses will increase the threat the locals pose.
  • Use false trails to further delay aggressors: Sending those who would attack you on wild goose chases by carefully hiding the right paths to your lair and making the wrong paths obvious increases the time they spend being worn down by your defenses instead of confronting you. The agents a smart villain carefully cultivated in the surrounding communities are perfect delivery systems for these kinds of deceptions with bad directions, false maps, or even guides that are on your payroll. If they have the resources, many smart villains will have multiple decoy lairs, and make their true lair very difficult to find.
  • Let the elements soften up foes: If you can place your lair in an area that’s not only remote, but that has difficult weather conditions, foes have to contend with hypothermia or heatstroke, difficult driving or climbing conditions and other hazards that make already difficult travel even more dangerous.
  • Make good use of traps: As long as innocents and your own minions aren’t in danger from them, traps can make excellent deterrents to those who seek to harm the smart villain. Nonlethal traps, if checked frequently keep the threat to your allies minimal while slowing down opponents or delivering them into the hands of your minions. Lethal traps must be marked with secret symbols or be in vaguely known locations so that your minions can avoid them.
  • Use bait to improve the chance foes will fall for your defenses: Placing small treasures, innocents in danger (or allies pretending to be innocents in danger) or other bait can help lure foes into traps, false trails, or hostile natives.  Use the intelligence gathered by your contacts in the community to choose the right bait for the current threat.
  • Prevent rest as often as possible: Attackers that can rest, heal, regain resources, or just take a breather are more dangerous than those who cannot, so make sure that your defenses contain a few items that are geared towards keeping them from having downtime. Inhabitants that are especially persistent, even if they aren’t especially threatening, particularly harsh weather conditions, and striking at basic necessities (stealing food, burning tents, slashing tires, etc…) will all keep attackers on the defensive with no time for rest.
  • Keep your best minions on front door duty: If opponents DO get to your lair, make sure your best forces are their to greet them. The last thing you want is for foes to make it half way through your lair before someone manages to discover they’re there and sound the alarm. Like the local hostiles, your door guards should be set up for maximum effectiveness, They should also be ready at a moments notice, and the first thing they should do is make sure everyone in your lair knows that company has arrived.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.

4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "The Smart Villain part 3: Lair Landscaping"

#1 Comment By SchildConstruct On June 13, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

Two glaring omissions in another otherwise good article:

– Tripwires. The wise agent of malevolence will employ all possible means to be informed of the enemy’s presence, be those scrying spells, natives going out in a blaze of loud(!) glory, and dead-man switches like runners not reporting in, or changes in a corridor’s ambience. This allows to prepare ambushes and to find out what the violators of privacy are after.

– Compartmentalization. Evil’s enemies are like a disease, thus infected parts of a lair must be quarantined. Magic, falling rocks, or heavy blast doors are adequate means. Combined with the lair’s traps, this will limit the damage potential of an invading party of adventurers and other go-gooder scum to only one section of the lair.

#2 Comment By Roxysteve On June 14, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

Very nicely done. I like the unspoken subtext – villains don’t want to waste resources re-arming traps and staffing patrols when nature can provide a very good substitute. The lasers will eventually need new batteries, and the sharks can be very effective without them if they are uin a food-sparse environment.

The comments on rest are particularly astute. How many GM’s enforce the fatigue rules in their games I wonder?

I like the way you think on this one.

#3 Comment By DireBadger On June 15, 2011 @ 7:14 am

Does the villain ever have guests? Regularly?

Some villains, particularly those who rely on social connections for power, need to receive a lot of guests. But you don’t want them coming into the Inner Sanctum. So you have to carefully sculpt the lair in more and less public areas, and the style of security would be different; perhaps using non-violent methods in the visitor areas, lethal in the non-public areas.

#4 Comment By Roxysteve On June 15, 2011 @ 10:09 am

@DireBadger – That had me smiling when I factired in the Hollywood-standard quality of evil assistants and troops. I could just see the sign:

“The management regrets the placing of a poisoned spike pit trap C/W boiling honey follow-up cascade and co-located hornet guns in the Gentlemen’s public lavatory in concourse “C”. The trap was intended to stop 11th level plus adventurers from intruding into the private corridors of Castle Evil and mis-located due to a printer’s error on the plans. The management deeply regrets any inconvenience to visitors to the Tour of Castle Evil ride. Survivors or relatives of those entrapped, spiked, poisoned, boiled and stung to death are entitled to vouchers for free meals at the Refectory of Evil”.

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