Creating D&D Lairs With Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Locations and the Book of Lairs by Kobold Press
You’ve got your heroes. You know the villains. You’ve planned which monsters to use. You’ve even sorted out some killer loot and rewards for your players. One question remains: Where will it all take place?
Finding inspiration for D&D lairs and locations for your homebrew Dungeons & Dragons games can be a hard task. But thankfully there are options for DMs out there.
A D&D group for which I am the Dungeon Master recently completed WotC’s Out of the Abyss, and rather than abandon the characters at tenth level, we decided to carry on with the campaign. After all, we had to give our “recovering-evil” necromancer another shot at redemption, and our druid had only just learned how to fly. Therefore my players were eager to continue. But now I had to come up with a whole new campaign including some interesting and exciting places to visit. Coming straight from the Underdark, my players had some pretty high expectations regarding exotic locales.
D&D Lairs & Locations
For me, one of the hardest parts about world-building is the physical aspect of building the world. It’s not easy to create exciting locations and deadly lairs to populate your creation. While there are numerous tomes, both official and not, filled with monsters and NPCs to inhabit your world, there are far fewer that concentrate solely on context-free dungeons or landmarks. Sure, there are plenty of existing campaign books that can be borrowed from, but what if you plan on running those adventures in the future—or have already done so?
Thankfully there are publishers out there who have spotted this gap in the market and have delivered options for despairing DMs. Kobold Press provides the Book of Lairs for 5th Edition, whilst Sly Flourish offers us Fantastic Locations, a companion to Fantastic Adventures. These two books bring distinctly different approaches to the problem of creating D&D lairs for your homebrew games.
Book of Lairs
The Book of Lairs focuses more on the homes of specific monsters rather than context-free locations, but in some ways that makes running them easier.
The Book of Lairs features the home of monsters covering a massive range of challenge ratings, and the adventures in it are suitable for characters of 1st to 15th level. These include a hideout for a gang of Ratfolk, a pirates’ cove, an alchemists’ guildhall, the grotto of an Aboleth, and the lair of a Void Dragon. All excellent sites for potential adventures.
Brilliantly Designed Dungeons
As you would expect, the Book of Lairs has some brilliantly designed dungeons and locations, each of which can be run as a one-shot session or slotted neatly into your home campaign. There are 25 lairs that each come with easy to read maps, beautifully realized by some of the best cartographers in the business, and detailed area descriptions for every room. Each lair starts with a short sentence describing whose lair this is and what type of adventuring party it would be suitable for. E.g. “The Fane of Serpents is a titanoboa lair suitable for three to five 10th-level characters.”
Background and potential adventure hooks are also provided for each location and all you have to do as Dungeon Master is point your players in the right direction and wait for the fighting to begin.
Attention to Detail
What’s great about the Book of Lairs is the sheer attention to detail. This book delivers read-aloud text as well as some handy NPC dialogue. Which, for newer, less experienced DMs makes running your gaming sessions that much easier. Each lair also contains treasure and the odd new magical item to help reward your players. It’s essentially a collection of one-shot modules, but with the focus on the location as a lair of an epic monster.
My personal favorite D&D lairs in this tome are the Sky Stairs of Beldestan and the Fane of Serpents, both of which will be destinations for my group of heroes as they search the world for the lost relics required to do the thing with the other thing. (Deliberate vagueness to throw my players off the scent. It won’t work!)
The Fane of Serpents is a rocky mount covered with soaring ruins that looms over an arid landscape. It is the home of a long-forgotten giant serpent and the lizardfolk who worship it. This location comes complete with another group of opposed, seasoned adventurers who have already arrived at the ruins.
The Sky Stairs of Beldestan is a brutal 31,000-foot stairway populated by giant birds, dragons, and a vampire warlock. As a destination, it is epic in both scale and concept, and the adventure includes different rules for magic spells, flying, and exhaustion as the players are affected by the tremendous altitude. As written it is suitable for characters of 14th level.
Also available from Kobold Press is the Book of Lairs Map Pack, complete with high‑resolution battle maps including two PDF files for every lair in the Book of Lairs. Each digital battle map comes with and without a grid, so you can use it with a projector or with a virtual tabletop (VTT) such as Roll20, d20Pro, or Fantasy Grounds.
So if you’re searching for a locale for your next big encounter and want to run a ready-made adventure then the Book of Lairs may well be exactly what you’re after. The only drawback is the reliance on Kobold Press’ own monster bestiary the Tome of Beasts—but that’s a fantastic collection of creatures which is well worth the investment. However, if you do want the additional lairs and locations, just without having to purchase a supplemental monster manual, then most of the lairs can be repurposed to house similar monsters from whichever monster manual you own, although this does require a little more work on the part of the DM.
Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Locations approaches the problem of where to place your adventure in a far simpler manner than Book of Lairs. Rather than having a specific monster in mind and then working backward to determine its lair, Fantastic Locations asks what would be a cool place to explore and have encounters in and creates that place. It’s then up to the Dungeon Master to fill in the gaps.
20 Awe-Inspiring Locales
Fantastic Locations features awe-inspiring destinations for adventurers to explore, but it leaves the job of filling them with monsters and narrative to the dungeon master. By offering just enough information and detail to inspire the imagination, it allows you to bring the location to life at the table. It explores 20 fantastic locations, and because they are context-free they are suitable for throwing at parties of any level. Characters of 1st level might be just as likely to explore The Ziggurats of the Doom Priests as those of 20th level.
While each location lacks definitive information on the current inhabitants, each one comes with exceptional detail on its history and significance and does include lists of potential inhabitants. Every aspect of each location is brought to life with read-aloud text boxes, location descriptions, and “Area Aspects”—brief summaries of what adventures see as they look around: “Grotesque stone heads, crumbling stone walls, thick vines”. Each location also has “Design Note” sections, where DMs are given questions to answer about how they will tune their adventure to suit their own campaign: “Has some terrible power already been unleashed here?”
What, No Maps?!
One of the first things you’ll notice about Fantastic Locations is the lack of maps in the book. While the illustrations included are very good and evocative of the locations described, some DMs will struggle to see the value of this book, lacking in maps as it is. However, this is not an accident. Mike Shea, the author, did not simply forget to include maps, it was a conscious choice to allow DMs more freedom to fill out any location to suit the needs and desires of their players.
Not being constrained to X amount of squares or rooms or passages forces you to add your own spin on the dungeon and all you have to do is sketch out a quick layout and the use the descriptions provided.
The final chapters of the book, Running Fantastic Locations and Building Your Own Fantastic Locations provide even more excellent content. If the previous chapters layout some cool dungeons to use, these are the ones that will really help you build on your dungeon mastering credentials for the future. With essential tips on modifying existing locations, what to include in your own dungeons, how to view the bigger picture, and much more, Fantastic Locations offers more than just some cool places for your adventurers to fight things.
Fantastic Locations explodes with epic destinations, my favorites of which are the Dam of Kings and the Bighted Evertree. Again, both of these will be featuring heavily in my upcoming campaign. It’s also worth noting that for anyone who has experienced the Crashed Palace one-shot from Fantastic Adventures, the Fallen Palace of the Celestials makes the perfect location for a follow-up adventure.
As with the Book of Lairs, a companion art book for Fantastic Locations is available as PDF, perfect for sharing with your players at the table without having to worry about spoilers.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters
Finally, I couldn’t discuss D&D lairs and locations without at least mentioning Volo’s Guide to Monsters. While this book sees itself more as an extension of the official Monster Manual, it does include some brilliant sections on the lairs of some of the world’s best-loved monsters. Mindflayers, Beholders, Yuan-ti, and more all feature in this book, which includes basic maps and descriptions for the liars. Both the Beholder lair and the Mindflayer lairs are ones which my players won’t forget in a hurry!
However, Volo’s Guide is definitely more of a monster bestiary than it is a collection of locations, so if it’s the latter you’re after, then I would give it a miss this time around.
As a Dungeon Master for 5th edition D&D, there are two main ways you can go about planning your games. You can either run a pre-existing, published adventure or you can try to create your own. Whilst running the pre-existing WotC campaigns is a lot of fun, they do have their limitations. But when you create your own world and fill it full of exciting D&D lairs and locations, you generate a unique story which nobody else could. In any case, whether you’re looking for a multi-level campaign or a one-shot adventure, having the right DM resources is essential and these two D&D supplements offering lairs and locations deliver exactly what you need.
For precise dungeons, or even complete one-shot adventures, the Book of Lairs is perfect for delivering some unexpected surprises and intricately detailed monster lairs. Ideal, perhaps, for newer DMs who want to give their players a taste of something novel.
For those DMs with a little more experience under their belt, Fantastic Locations represents the perfect next step to DM-greatness. It includes just enough information and detail to get your inspiration flowing and is the perfect resource when considering what makes fantastic D&D lairs or locations.