The material below is Open Game Content
A dragon’s lair is more than a pile of gold in a cave. The wyrm dwells at the heart of a maze of traps and dangers, designed to protect the dragon and its hoard as it sleeps. Each lair is a gauntlet unique to the dragon. Although there are as many different types of lair as there are dragons, there are features and sections common to most.
|Gauntlet||-||The gauntlet’s costs are determined by the traps used – see below.|
|Killing ground||500gp per age category of the dragon||This cost only covers sculpting and adjusting the killing ground; traps cost extra.|
|Audience chamber||3000gp||This is the minimum cost; most dragons show off by making their audience chamber as awe-inspiring as possible, which costs more.|
|Dining room||1,500gp||Includes jail cells and firepits.|
|Hoard chamber||300gp per agecategory of the dragon||Does not include the cost of the hoard.|
|Refuge||500 gp||This covers the cost of building and concealing it.|
|Escape route||1,000 gp||This covers the cost of concealing the escape route.|
|Hatching sands||1,000 gp|
|Nursery||500 gp per hatchling|
|Bath||100 gp per age category of the dragon.||If the bath requires a furnace for heating, this costs another 1500 gp. Most dragons just use their breath weapon to heat the bath.|
|Library||1,500 gp||Covers shelving, light and construction.|
|Sunning stone||100 gp|
|Perch -Servant’s quarters||500 gp|
|Garrison||750 gp||Does not include the cost of guards.|
|Traps||Varies||See individual trap descriptions.|
Every lair, regardless of size, construction, or the type of dragon residing there, includes the following locations. In small lairs, they may be combined; for example, a single cave might include the dragon’s dining room, hoard chamber, and killing ground. In larger complexes, each chamber is its own feature.
Entrances: A lair has at least one main entrance, large enough for the dragon to pass through. As this is the obvious route of attack, the path leading from the entrance to the heart of the lair is heavily trapped and closely watched by the dragon. For anything other than another dragon or a very, very well-equipped party, a frontal assault on the lair usually proves disastrous.
While having a single main entrance is defensible, it does mean that the dragon’s movements can easily be tracked. By waiting and watching the front door, a thief can see when the dragon is not at home and steal its hoard. Dragons with the ability to polymorph themselves often use a human-sized entrance to come and go secretly, avoiding anyone spying on the main entrance. Other dragons sometimes have a second, hidden dragon-sized exit to the lair.
If the dragon has any form of servant, they have their own entrance into the lair such as a secret passage or human-sized stairwell. These entrances never lead directly into the heart of the lair. Some lead to the dragon’s gauntlet, or to the killing ground.
Gauntlet: Dragons are essentially aristocratic killers. They love to pit themselves against suitable foes to prove their strength and power, but do not like to be bothered by inconsequential or petty thieves. Creatures incapable of being interesting and challenging foes are nothing but chaff to be scattered by a breath weapon blast; barely worth the effort of waking up and eating them. The gauntlet, then, is a series of traps and guardian beasts designed to kill intruders. Anything that makes it through the gauntlet must be capable of arousing the dragon’s interest (and probably has valuable equipment and treasure worth adding to the hoard).
The gauntlet is usually the outer section of the lair, outside the dragon’s living chambers. In larger lairs inhabited by creatures other than the dragon, the gauntlet is essentially the dragon’s privacy screen and is located between the servant’s quarters and the dragon’s chambers. Only those permitted to speak to the dragon know the safe path through the gauntlet.
The gauntlet is a combination of filter, defensive measure and playground – it kills those unworthy to face the dragon, saps the strength of those who might be a threat, and lets the dragon indulge its taste for cruelty. A selection of traps suitable for use in a dragon’s gauntlet can be found below.
Killing Grounds: Dragons are traditionally at their most dangerous in the lair, but most lairs are cramped, enclosed places where the dragon’s advantage of flight is negated. The answer to this riddle is the killing ground – a chamber at the heart of the lair dedicated to battle. The Killing Ground is where the dragon defends its lair against other wyrms and where it chooses to meet worthy intruders.
The ideal killing ground is an environment bathed in the dragon’s element – a fiery pit for a red dragon, a stagnant pool for a black dragon – which is just big enough for the resident wyrm to spread its wings and flap a short distance (or use the Hover feat). Dragons with a cone-shaped breath weapons favour enclosed regions, such as a tongue of rock with a steep drop or lake of fire on either side, where enemies are trapped and have no place to run from the dragon’s wrath. Lightning-breathing and other dragons with line-shaped weapons prefer ‘murder alleys’ – long straight passages free of obstruction, where the dragon can target enemies from a long distance.
If the lair is big enough, the killing ground is a multi-level chamber, such as a vertical shaft or a chasm open to the sky. The ground is usually broken, forcing creatures smaller than the dragon to make Balance or Jump checks to move. The main purpose of the killing ground, however, is to defend the lair against rival dragons, so any weapons or traps present are designed to kill these enemies. Most killing grounds, especially ones in conquered lairs, have at least one anti-dragon trap – see below.
The killing ground is the worst possible place to fight a dragon. Its total familiarity with the terrain gives it a +1 circumstance modifier to all attacks. Creatures smaller than the dragon have to make Balance checks to move from obstacle to obstacle, and suffer a –2 penalty to all Reflex saves due to the cramped and uneven conditions. When designing a killing ground, think of the all the nastiest tricks that the dragon could come up with during decades of contemplating defences and tortures, and put as many of these tricks as possible into the chamber.
Audience Chamber: Dragons have minions, servants, agents and acolytes, not to mention respectful or terrified visitors to talk to. While dragons grumble about being disturbed, most welcome a chance to speak. They adore banter and riddling talk, and value flattery above all other tributes save treasure. The audience chamber is a room for the dragon to speak to such guests in safety.
Audience chambers are richly decorated with ornaments that emphasise the grandeur and magnificence of the resident wyrm. Sometimes, the supplicant must climb up to a pulpit to speak to the dragon; in other chambers, the supplicant enters at the base of a well and the dragon looks down from above. Some wyrms prefer an audience chamber resembling a confessional, where the dragon speaks from the other side of a thick grate. In every case, the chamber’s acoustics are perfectly pitched to resonate with the dragon’s voice, giving the dragon a +2 circumstance modifier to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks.
For safety’s sake, the audience chamber always puts the supplicant at a severe disadvantage. For example, those in a pulpit or down a well have nowhere to dodge to if the dragon breathes. Audience chambers often include traps that the dragon can trigger if it is alarmed or displeased by the supplicant’s words.
The audience chamber and killing ground mark the end of the ‘public’ regions of the lair. Anything beyond these chambers is the dragon’s own domain, and only a handful of the most trusted servants will ever be permitted to enter it.
Dining Room: The skills of dragon-kind in rhetoric are legendary. Their skills in cuisine are somewhat less fabled. Dragons have simple tastes when dining – meat, and plenty of it. They do, however, distinguish between the meat of different species of prey, and can be extremely and alarmingly picky. Sentient species are considered delicacies, although dragons find dwarves almost unedible.
Most dragons cook their food by breathing on it, although acid-breathing dragons who can easily digest anything prefer raw meat. The dining room is a chamber containing a small pit. Food is placed in the pit and blasted with a breath weapon. Pantries or jails containing captured food animals adjoin the dining room. Dragons usually eat in the wilderness while hunting, so the dining room is only used when the dragon is forced to stay at home for long periods (for example, when it fears that thieves are watching its lair, or when a rival is hunting for it). The pantry is stocked by servants of dragon, if available; otherwise, the dragon must carry extra food supplies back with it after hunting.
Dragons who dine on elemental essences often use curious hookah-like devices called peluda pipes to aid digestion. While the dragon can just eat the gemstones or the dew or whatever contains the essence, the pipes draw out and recirculate the gaseous essences from the dragon’s stomachs, making the meal more digestible and pleasant.
Dragons with the ability to take human form maintain a dining chamber that would not be out of place in the manorial home of a rich lord (although the surrounding may be quite different – the table may be spread with a white tablecloth and laden with a delicately prepared feast, but few rich lords dine in dim and dank caverns).
For those who are extremely brave and cunning, the dining room offers a method of bypassing the defences and reaching the heart of the dragon’s lair. The dining room is usually just off the dragon’s audience chamber or even its hoard, so anyone captured by the dragon or its servants and brought to the pantry will be brought through the gauntlet and killing ground. Prospective meals are stripped of weapons and equipment and locked in the pantry, but a resourceful hero could perhaps sneak a lockpick or concealed weapon in. Ironically, the dragon-blooded sorcerer is among the strongest candidate for this route of attack, as he carries his magic in his mind and not in an easily removed spellbook.
Midden: Also located near the dining chamber, the midden is where the remains of the dragon’s prey are dumped along with other waste. Some middens are simply deep pits packed full of waste. Others are located on the banks of an underground river and the waste is washed away downstream. (Such a water feature provides another access point to the dragon’s lair.)
Hoard Chamber: The heart of the dragon’s lair, this chamber is always and instantly dominated by the great pile of treasure on which the dragon sleeps. (See, Hoards, for details on stocking a dragon’s hoard.) Dragons dislike fighting here, as it puts their beloved treasure at risk. The hoard chamber is usually the largest chamber in the lair – not because the hoard fills it, but because dragons are eternally optimistic about how much treasure they will claim in years to come.
In addition to the hoard, this chamber contains whatever items or comforts the dragon needs; prisoners to be questioned, books or scrolls to be studied, eggs to be guarded, scrying pools, shrines, snacks and so forth.
Refuge: The refuge is a small, hidden chamber in the depths of the lair. The entrance is always concealed (Search DC 10+the dragon’s Intelligence) but must be quickly accessible by the dragon – preferably it is close to the killing ground. The refuge is the dragon’s emergency cache of supplies. It contains curative items like healing scrolls or potions, as well as devices to turn the tide of battle or to provide a quick escape, such as a teleportation item. Some rare refuges are even large enough for the dragon to hide inside. Whenever the fight turns against the dragon, it uses the contents of the refuge to restore itself.
The items contained in a refuge depend on the age and wealth of the dragon. A young dragon might have found only a few common healing potions, while an elderly dragon has had time to collect singularly powerful protective items and might even have purchased or made its own items. Assume that the dragon has allocated between 2-10% of its hoard towards the refuge, and spend this money on suitable items.
|Dragon Challenge Rating||Refuge Cost||Sample Items|
|2-4||50gp||Potion of cure light wounds|
|5-8||200gp||2 potions of cure light wounds, potion of sanctuary, potion of protection from good or potion of mage armour|
|8-12||600gp||Potion of cure moderate wounds, 3 potions of cure light wounds, potion of sanctuary, potion of protection from good, potion of protection from whatever the opposite of the dragon’s law/chaos alignment is.|
|15-18||2,500gp||3 potions of cure moderate wounds, arcane scroll of teleport, potion of sanctuary, arcane scroll of dispel magic.|
|19-21||5,000gp||Arcane scroll of time stop, 3 potions of cure serious wounds, arcane scroll of dispel magic|
Escape Route: If a dragon’s defences fail and it cannot win on the killing ground, its lair quickly changes from a fortress into a tomb. Most lairs therefore include at least one back door known only to the dragon and used only in dire need.
Shapeshifting dragons use secret passages that are too small for their pursuers to follow. It is more than a little ignominious for a mighty red dragon to slip away disguised as a kobold, but a victorious blue rival cannot fit down a kobold-sized tunnel. Dragons who can breath water or walk through fire hide their escape routes at the bottom of a lake of water or lava. Green dragons, with their mastery over plants, cover the escape route with a tangle of roots. Blue dragons keep a sand-drift over the entrance to the escape route.
Each escape route also includes a method for blocking or dissuading pursuit, from a little-used guardian monster to a simple portcullis.
The escape route offers another hidden route for entering the dragon’s lair. However, the exit of the escape route is always exceedingly well hidden. A dragon might pile huge rocks atop the entrance, knowing it can later burst out using its draconic strength. The entrance could be located at the bottom of another lake, or covered by a permanent illusion. Anyone climbing up the escape route will also find themselves emerging right on top of (or even beneath) the dragon.
All the dragon’s traps and defences are useless if the attackers can scry the inside of the lair and teleport inside. Some wyrms use spells like dimensional lock, greater lairguard, screen and golden arcane lure to counter such attacks; others are careful never to reveal their true name to anyone and never let anyone who sees them survive, preventing most scrying. Not every dragon is smart or careful enough to guard against teleportation, though.
Not every lair includes the following locations. Each serves a particular purpose, which not every dragon cares about.
Hatching Sands: Dragons can be found far beyond their ‘natural’ habitats. A blue dragon is most at home in the hot deserts, but it can endure the cold and wetness of the northern lands if necessary. Dragon eggs are considerably more delicate, so a dragon trying to raise a brood far from home must make special preparations. The hatching sands are a section of the lair where the temperature, humidity and other conditions are kept at precisely the correct levels to promote the hatching of an egg. Most dragons use simple spells like prestidigitation to adjust the environment in concert with physical changes like lighting fires, packing the eggs in ice or hot sand (depending on the dragon type) or bathing them in oils or herbal solutions.
A captured hatching sands counts as a hatchery that is always at the correct temperature (see Hatching Dragons).
Nursery: Wyrmlings and young dragons are rarely permitted to roam freely. A nursery is a chamber that can be closed, penning the creatures in. A nursery contains toys and snacks (carefully disarmed and tenderised by the adult) for the young dragons, along with perches, treats and servants.
Chapel: The few dragons who are moved by the religious spirit build temples to whatever draconic powers they venerate. These chapels are usually cathedral-like caverns.
Baths: These are innumerable parasites and fungal infections that can trouble a dragon’s scaly hide, and a good bath is the only cure for such diseases (other than remove disease). The bath is usually a pool of scalding hot water, although blue dragons prefer to wallow in scratching sand. (Black dragons do not seem to mind diseases and just wallow in their own filth.) Anyone falling into a hot dragon’s bath suffers 1d6 points of heat damage.
Coins and gems caught in the dragon’s breast-scales can be dislodged during the bath, as can loose scales from the dragon’s flanks. The bottom of the bath therefore contains treasure worth 1d6 gp x the dragon’s age category.
Library: Dragon books are made out of sheets of beaten metal or alchemically preserved and stiffened parchment. Their tomes are octagon shaped – instead of reading from left to right and top to bottom, the dragon reads from the centre of the page out in a spiral, twisting its neck around instead of moving its eyes. A dragon’s library contains several dozen tomes on various topics, from philosophy to popular novels. Dragons rarely keep any sort of journal, as their memories are far less fallible than other of mortals, but many do record a somewhat edited version of their glorious deeds for posterity.
Another popular item is a catalogue of items in a hoard; dragons remember everything they own perfectly, but writing it down and passing the book onto other wyrms is a great way to show off. A dragon book weighs between 40 and 80 pounds. Sample dragon books include:
† Theology of the Wyrm: A draconic analysis of the use of dragons and draconic imagery in mortal religions. It is studied to gain insight into the actions of paladins and other avid dragonslayers.
† On the Five-Headed Veneration of Evil: A religious text urging dragons to praise their dark goddess through five separate sacraments – destroying, despoiling, ravaging, ruining and consuming.
† Fierhagan’s Dream: A popular work of fiction that takes place entirely within the realm of dreams. Most humans find the book quite impenetrable.
Study: Dragons who can take human form keep a special chamber for human-sized books, scrolls and other equipment that might be damaged by conditions in the rest of the lair. These studies are well-equipped with all the comforts and conveniences of the average wizard’s study, from padded chairs and oak desks to a roaring fire in the hearth and a fine wine cellar.
Some dragons use the study as an audience chamber or laboratory.
Shrine: While a chapel is used for the dragon to worship a higher power, the shrine is for mortals and other creatures to worship a different higher power – the dragon. Shrines contain images, icons and relics (like discarded scales or teeth) of the dragon, and often include a place where the dragon can speak to its followers. Only dragons with cults or other fanatic followers maintain shrines.
Laboratory: Dragons with an interest in arcane matters keep a lab. The equipment is dragon-sized, but otherwise is similar to the tools and ingredients used by a human wizard in his research.
Sunning Stone: Many dragons love to laze in the sun, and keep a large flat slab of rock atop or just outside the entrance where they spend much of their time. Dragons sunning themselves suffer a –1 penalty to Listen and Spot checks, and a –2 penalty to initiative due to their inattention and sleepiness.
Perch: A perch is a high pinnacle of rock from which the dragon can watch the lands around its lair. When it spots its prey, it spreads its wings and dives off the perch, catching the thermals and soaring out over its domain.
Servant’s Quarters: If the dragon has personal servants, they are usually given chambers adjoining the audience or hoard chambers. Depending on the dragon, the servant’s quarters may be luxurious and richly decorated, or foul holes inhabited by wretched slaves.
Garrison: Even dragons without their own armies may employ a small number of guards to patrol the hard-to-reach areas of their lair. These guards are usually drawn from the local humanoid population, although more ambitious dragons use half-dragons, human mercenaries, or other more powerful creatures. The garrison is located in the outer sections of the lair, beyond the gauntlet and audience chamber.
Outfitting a Lair
In a game with dragon characters, the question of how much a lair costs may come up. The actual lair itself is free for natural or conquered lairs. Constructed lairs must be built using the usual costs for large constructions (even a relatively modest lair costs as much as a castle).
The trappings and features of lairs have the following costs, but these should be used as guidelines, not absolute prices. The cost of the various features vary depending on the lair – it is obviously much cheaper to adapt an existing escape tunnel than it is to build a new one.
Traps and Defences
These traps are found around the perimeter of the dragon’s lair, protecting the entrances to the dragon’s escape tunnel and other rarely used sections.
Sluice Lock: Black and bronze dragons often lair underwater. The sluice lock trap is installed on a stream or other watercourse that flows out of the lair via a passageway. Anyone creeping up the waterway triggers the trap, which opens a lock upstream. When the lock opens, a trio of blades drop from the surface. A wall of water from a small reservoir rushes down the passageway, sweeping intruders away and slamming them into the blades.
CR: 3; mechanical; location trigger; automatic reset; water knocks over characters (Balance check, DC20 to avoid) and washes prone characters into blades (1d8 damage); never miss, onset delay 2 rounds; Search DC 15, Disable Device DC 15. Market Price: 4,500 gp.
Gas Pit: This trap is found often in green or black dragon lairs, near the midden. Explosive gases from the rotting remains in the midden are channelled into a deep pit where they gather. Small copper pipes travel from the base of the pit to the frames of sealed doors elsewhere in the complex. When the door is opened, the gas floods the room.
Closing the door scrapes a tiny piece of flint, creating a spark and igniting the gas if it has not already been detonated by the torches or lanterns carried by the intruders. The explosion also lights the gas in the pit, creating a warning flare telling the dragon that someone has opened one of the sealed doors in the lair.
CR: 3; mechanical; proximity trigger; automatic reset; 4d6 fire damage to all within 10 feet, Reflex save (DC12) halves damage; Search DC 30, Disable Device DC 10. Market Price: 6,600 gp.
Voice from the Fire: This trap consists of a model of the dragon’s head, like a gargoyle. Whenever anyone comes close to it, an alarm spell triggers the voice. It uses a combination of vision and detect thoughts to pick up on the thoughts and fears of the intruders. It then questions and intimidates them, using whatever it gathered from the vision, before blasting them with a fireball (or other attack spell suitable for the dragon). Finally, the statue sends a sending to the dragon, informing it of all that it has learned.
CR: 4; magic; spell trigger (alarm); timed reset; interrogation + fireball (5th level sorcerer); Search DC 10; Disable Device DC 30. Market Price: 129,500 gp.
Breath Channel: A breath channel is a narrow passageway that seems to slope upwards into the heart of the lair, usually the dragon’s hoard chamber. The end of the channel can clearly be seen from the start, so it appears to be a perfectly good route into the lair. However, the channel is an optical illusion, and the far end of the channel is actually a narrow slit. The shaft also conducts noise clearly. On hearing the sound of intruders climbing up the shaft, the dragon leaps over and breathes down. The channel is too narrow to permit anyone to dodge the blast from the breath weapon, so the intruders are caught for the full damage.
CR: 1/3rd that of the Dragon. Market Price: 2,500 gp.
These traps are designed to weaken opponents and to give the dragon a chance to judge how dangerous they are. If they are strong enough to survive the gauntlet, they are worthy to be eaten by the dragon.
Sliding-block Maze: The roof of this maze is made up of dozens of ten by ten stone blocks, mounted on rails. The dragon can perch atop the maze and use its strength to shove the blocks in one direction or another, opening up holes in the roof wherever it chooses. This allows the dragon to play with enemies, attacking then closing the maze roof once more.
CR: - Market Price: 10,000 gp.
History Lessons: This is a chamber decorated with carvings and painting showing past glorious deeds of the dragon. The exit to the chamber can clearly be seen at the far side of the room. At least one of the carvings is wrong – for example, the dragon might be shown being injured by a sword, where in reality it was struck by a lance. If this error is touched, the trap is disarmed. Otherwise, anyone opening the door is struck by a scythe that stabs down from above.
CR: 4; mechanical; proximity trigger; automatic reset hidden bypass (Search DC25); Atk +20 melee (2d4+8/4, scythe); Search DC 20, Disable Device DC 20. Market price: 22,000 gp.
Dispel Chasm: A Dispel Chasm is a pit too wide to easily jump across (usually 20 feet wide). The pit is either bottomless or else clearly lined with spikes and other nasty implements of pain. Most characters will attempt to fly or spider climb across. The trap is triggered when any magical effect crosses the half-way point above the pit. A dispel magic effect fills the whole chamber. Ideally, anyone relying on a spell to cross the chasm is hurled into the depths below.
CR: 9; magic device; proximity triggered; no reset; spell effect: dispel magic (15th level sorcerer) dropping into 100 deep spiked pit (10d6), no Reflex save to avoid falling; Search DC 40, Disable Device DC 20; Market Price: 56,250 gp.
These traps have a single purpose – to kill rival dragons entering the lair. Many of these traps were adapted from dwarven designs. Often, a trap that failed to kill the dragon who conquers a dwarf-hold is rebuilt and reused.
Double Portcullis: This cunning trap consists of two portcullises that drop down suddenly, trapping the dragon’s neck and tail. The dragon must make two Reflex saves (DC 20), one for each portcullis. The dragon suffers 6d6 damage for each failed save. If one save or the other is failed, the dragon can smash or wriggle free by making a Strength or Escape Artist check (DC 30).
If both portcullises hit, the trap becomes truly effective. The two are linked by a series of gears and crossbeams. When the dragon pushes at one portcullis, it drives the other one down even more firmly. Unless the dragon works this out by making an Intelligence or Disable Device check (DC15), it must apply its Strength modifier as a penalty to its Escape Artist checks, or its Escape Artist skill ranks as a penalty to its Strength checks while trying to escape.
Wingclipper Trap: This nasty trap consists of a concealed pit trap in a high-ceilinged room. If the dragon steps on the pit, it begins to slowly open (Reflex save, DC 5 to avoid falling in). Most dragons will leap back and spread their wings to fly over the pit – but opening the pit has activated the second part of the trap. A moment after it begins to open, a pair of vicious blades swing down and chop into the dragon’s wings, crippling them. If the dragon is struck by these blades (which have an attack bonus of +30, and deal 4d6+8/x4 damage), it cannot fly for one round per three points of damage inflicted, and falls into the pit.
Tailpinning Spike: The softest part of a dragon’s body is its underside, but its neck and belly are held far above the floor. The tail, however, drags along behind the dragon. A tailpinning spike is a vicious trap that drives a metal spike up through the weak underside of the tail. Barbs then burst out of the spike, catching on the inside of the tail and preventing the dragon from just lifting its injured tail off the spike. If a tailspinning spike hits (attack bonus of +15), it deals 2d6 damage to the dragon, and requires an Escape Artist check (DC20) to escape. If the check is failed, the spike deals damage equal to half the dragon’s Strength modifier.
Natural lairs are usually caves or sections of a tunnel network claimed by a dragon. Some dragons claw their own lairs out of muddy hillsides or dwell in overgrown sheltered canyons. Young dragons are quite comfortable in natural lairs, as they are small enough to fit into quite modest caves. Larger and older dragons have more trouble with natural lairs – a fifty foot long wyrm is unlikely to find a convenient single cave it can fit its nose into, let along a cave it can use as a home.
The other problem with natural lairs is that there are very few caves that are not already occupied. The lightless tunnels below the ground are inhabited by more than worms and wyrms; orcs, goblinoids, deep dwarves, drow and a thousand thousand nameless scuttling things dwell in the underdark. While few of these creatures can threaten a dragon singly, claiming territory in a cave network often requires multiple skirmishes with the other residents.
Most caverns are connected to other caves via tunnels, so if the dragon does not want to claim the whole cave network, it must be prepared to either bargain with or destroy its neighbours, or else block off these tunnels by collapsing the roof. A few blows from a tail or breath weapon blasts can destroy a tunnel, but these rubble-choked passages can be often be reopened and used as a back door into the dragon’s lair. Most dragons who claim cave networks prefer to slaughter or recruit the existing denizens of the caves.
Crawling Through Caves
As described in the SRD, squeezing through a narrow passageway slows movement by half and causes a –4 penalty to attacks and armour class. Dragons are adept at crawling through narrow gaps. By flattening their wings against their bodies and moving more like a snake than a four-legged beast, the dragon can slither through caverns that is onethird as wide as its normal space. Furthermore, the dragon’s bite attacks do not suffer the –4 penalty to attacks.
Cave Network Features
Entrance: As caves are part of the natural landscape, their entrances can easily be concealed with plants or rocks. If the dragon is currently active, such concealment is rarely used – when flying in and out, it is tiresome to have to carefully creep around the obstacles at the entrance, so only young and fearful dragons keep the lair entrances concealed constantly. Most wyrms only hide their lairs when preparing to sleep.
The entrance to a cave lair is marked by claw marks unless it is wide enough for the dragon to spread its wings and fly out. The entrance is invariably trapped, guarded or both. If the entrance is concealed, the Search check DC to find it is 10 + the dragon’s Intelligence modifier- the dragon’s Size Modifier, and the Spot check DC to notice it is 15+the dragon’s Intelligence modifier- the dragon’s Size Modifier.
The best caves have a large drop just outside the entrance, allowing the dragon to spread its wings, drop off, and fly – otherwise, the dragon has to flap its wings to drag itself off the ground, which takes much greater effort.
Cliffs: Dragons are agile climbers (and, if there is room in the cave to spread their wings, can fly), so many lairs include vertical shafts, cliffs or unbridged chasms. The bones of more than a few thieves can be found at the base of these shafts, as dragons love to crawl or fly down and pluck intruders off the rock face.
Passageways: If the lair is bigger than a single cave, then it probably contains one or more passageways linking different chambers. These passages are marked with all the signs of the dragon, such as claw-marks on the floor (and the scratches made by wing-tips and wing-claws on the walls and ceiling), discarded scales, and scorch-marks. Dragons without access to magic like floating disk or gullet of surprising capacity must drag treasure and items down these passages, so signs of the dragon’s recent meals can be found by examining the floor.
Dragons clear the passageways of obstacles that hinder their progress, such as stalactites hanging from the ceiling that might tear their wings. Smaller barriers do not affect the dragon, so Medium creatures might have to jump over cracks or clamber over rocks that the dragon just steps over.
Collapsed Passageways: If the passage has collapsed, a suitable Knowledge or Craft check (DC10) can detect how much of the passage has blocked (characters with the stonecunning ability can just make an Intelligence check). It takes twenty minutes of work to clear five feet of blocked passageway. Some dragons use stone shape or just melt the stone to form a solid plug – such stone barriers must be broken through or demolished.
Choked Passageways: Some cave passages are not entirely blocked, but are choked by an obstacle. Desert caves fill with sand, forest caves with roots or creepers, swamp or sea caves with mud and stagnant water. These passages slow movement to a number of feet per round equal to the character’s Strength modifier.
Main Cavern: The largest open space in the cave is used as the dragon’s dining chamber and killing ground (see Lair Features above). The most direct route from the entrance always leads to this cavern. The main cavern contains whatever carrion is left after the dragon’s most recent meals. Some dragons reduce the remains to ash or dust with a breath, other dragons dump the carcass during their next excursion out of the lair, or just live in their own filth.
This is where an unprepared dragon will encounter any visitors or invaders, so the floor of the cavern is often scarred by breath weapon blasts and claw marks. Bones may be scattered around or arranged as a macabre monument to a defeated foe (dragons have a tendency to address their soliloquies to the bodies of slain enemies).
Stench: Caverns are the least well ventilated type of lair, so the gases and foul smells of the dragon tend to gather in the depths. The smell of most large animals is bad enough, but many dragons have fiery or acidic breath weapons that cause toxic fumes. These foul stenches require any creatures not used to the smell to make Fortitude saves (DC equal to 5+ the age category of the dragon, +1 per level of the lair, and +1 to +3 depending on the foulness of the dragon’s breath weapon). If the Fortitude save is failed, the character is nauseated for 1d4 rounds and sickened for one minute per point by which the save was failed.
The most common form of lair is that built by enemies of dragons. More wyrms roost in the ruins of dwarf-holds and castles than in natural caverns. The pattern is a familiar one – the dragon grows old and strong, and its greed and hunger grow with its strength. It scents the gold in the coffers of a fortress, swoops down to break through the defences, drives out the inhabitants and makes a bed of their treasure.
Once the dragon has conquered the place, it begins to adapt it to its own needs. It smashes down a series of walls and widens the main corridor to create a proper entrance. As some walls are load-bearing structures and therefore cannot be removed, the entrance passage in a conquered lair usually takes a winding path through the building. Often, the passage links the biggest rooms and the dragon crawls from dining hall to vaulted-ceiling church to throne room to treasury. The debris created by this renovation is used to block side entrances or just pushed into unused rooms. (These rooms offer excellent hiding places to infiltrators, although some dragons are in the habit of randomly firing their breath weapons into unused rooms to clear out vermin.)
Traps and defences that failed to keep the dragon out may be reset and reused. Some dragons go further, repairing the damage they inflicted during their assault and restoring the conquered fortress to its former glory. Some dragons even hire the descendants of the dwarves they drove out to repair some particularly beautiful piece of stonework. Others prefer the devastation, and continue to desecrate their home even as they dwell there.
A Dozen Places to Lair
1. A cathedral
2. A granary
3. A theatre or opera house
4. A guildhall
5. A mausoleum
6. A lighthouse
7. A library
8. A senate or government building
9. A factory
10. A wizard’s tower
11. A monastery
12. A wrecked ship
Conquered Lair Features
The contents and structure of a conquered lair depends mainly on what the place was before the dragon came. A conquered lair made from a human keep on the borderlands is greatly different in every respect from a lair made from a dwarven forgetemple or one made from the enchanted trees and interwoven branches of an elven treetop city.
Path of the Dragon: These are passages used by the resident dragon. The walls have been widened to fit the creature’s bulk and the ceiling is marked and scarred by its wings. Following these paths leads to the areas of the lair used by the dragon.
Unstable Areas: The damage caused by the dragon’s assault has weakened sections of the building. There is a 1% chance per point of damage inflicted by bludgeoning attacks, falls, spells and other effects that shake the area that the ceiling collapses. 1d10 five-five squares are struck by the collapse. Anyone in one of the affected squares must make a Reflex save (DC12) or be struck for 2d10 points of damage.
Forgotten Chambers: Often, a section of the lair can be cut off during the dragon’s initial attack by falling stones or a closed secret door. These forgotten chambers may never be discovered by the dragon or its servants, and lie untouched for centuries. These chambers are a safe refuge in which to hide, and may contain useful and unspoiled items.
Trophy Chamber: Of all the lair types, conquered lairs are most likely to contain a room dedicated to the remains of those who once held the lair. The corpses of dwarves may be piled atop the crypts of their ancestors; a human lord may be kept in a gibbet for months after his castle has fallen. Trophy chambers often contain discarded but still potent magical weapons once used by the defenders.
Undead: In a conquered lair, undead are like pesky vermin – they keep coming back. The ghosts or spectres of whatever creatures the dragon killed in conquering the lair return to protest the desecration of their homes. The claws and teeth of dragons are magical weapons, and can temporarily destroy some types of undead, but this is not a permanent solution.
Some dragons bring in clerics to annihilate or rebuke the undead, while others choose to live with the problem of having to incinerate zombies every few years. These undead can be ghastly allies to those trying to infiltrate a lair.
These lairs are castles, dungeons or other edifices built specifically for the dragon. While some dragons construct their lairs themselves, lifting huge blocks of stone into place, most use servants, slaves or summoned creatures to build their homes.
Building a lair is huge investment of time and resources, so a dragon only bothers to construct such a fortress when it has a distinct need to do so. Constructed lairs are astonishing feats of architecture. While sections of the lair may resemble a human fortress, with battlements and buttresses and walls, the dragon-designed sections are like nothing else in the world.
Built for gigantic creatures, the hallways are wider than cathedrals. Even the small rooms are vast enough to contain the dragon, and the largest are wide plains of scratched stone with a constructed sky-vault above.
Built for winged creatures, the towers reach for the sky. There are no stairways, no ramps, just sudden discontinuities of height. In some galleries, there is no floor, just walls and ceiling. Every surface may be used – items and devices can be located on the ceiling or high above the floor, for everywhere is equally within easy reach of the dragon.
Built for serpentine creatures, the corridors twist and coil. There are no chairs, only poles to slither around or hang from. There are no doors to pull open, only portcullises connected to pressure plates or curtains to push through.
Built for dragons, these fortresses are terrifying even for allies of the wyrm. The fundamentally alien nature of dragon-built places makes the stones seem to slither and crawl, makes the wind blowing through the windows seem like the exhalations of some gigantic creature, makes every sound seem like the scratching of claw on stone. The whole building becomes an ancient, living thing coiled into the shape of rooms and passageways… or perhaps it lies there with its mouth open, waiting for unfortunates to walk down its gullet and explore its stomachs.
No non-dragon ever sleeps well in a constructed lair.
Constructed Lair Designs
Every constructed lair reflects the dragon who built it, but there are a few common themes.
Monument: This lair is built in the shape of a huge statue or other monument. Some dragons are vain enough to dwell inside a massive stone statue of themselves, coiling up inside their own hearts. Others build monuments to honour fallen heroes, or to praise the gods, or to mark some other momentous event. All monuments are built to impress, and are usually constructed out of a high peak overlooking a hidden valley. The outside shape of the monument dictates what chambers and facilities can be included inside.
Blue and bronze dragons commonly build monuments.
Fortress: A fortress is the most practical of the constructed lairs – most of it is a conventional castle, a home for the dragon’s troops and a defensive strongpoint that could be the lynchpin of a military campaign. Instead of a central keep, however, the fortress has either the entrance to an underground lair, or else a tall tower where the dragon dwells.
Red and bronze dragons build fortresses.
Temple: Dedicated temple-lairs put the richest cathedrals and churches of other races to shame. These massive complexes are constructed hymns to the dragon-gods. The winds caused by the beating of wings are channelled through stone pipes and valves, so the whole temple is an instrument that sings songs of praise whenever a dragon flies through it. Depending on the deity being worshipped, the temple may be shine with the light of a platinum sun, or be caked in blood and filth and suffering.
Copper and black dragons build temples.
Library: The ancient heritage of the dragon race does not go unrecorded. Most dragons have a few books, but others build and dwell inside gigantic libraries containing thousands of volumes. This is not done entirely out of altruism; these libraries are sacred places, and rival dragons do not dare carry their attacks into the lair itself.
Gold and silver dragons commonly build libraries.
Ritual Space: Some lairs are constructed for a specific reason, to tap a naturally occurring source of power or wealth such as a magical portal, an enchanted spring or a rich mine. Other lairs are built to channel magical power for some purpose – a domed lair could reflect and enhance the magic of gold, transforming impure gold into its elemental ideal.
Red and copper dragons commonly build ritual spaces.
Eyrie: An eyrie is a lair designed for multiple dragons to share. Up to a dozen dragons, not including hatchlings and immature creatures can dwell in a single eyrie. These lairs are gigantic domes or towers, lined with vast windows and aerial entrances. Often, an eyrie guards some particularly important location or relic. Most eyries are inhabited only by dragons of the same type, or at least with dragons of the same alignment. Of all the constructed lairs, eyries are the only one that is built for dragons in captivity.
Council Chamber: A council chamber is a specially constructed lair where many dragons can meet. Atop or at the heart of the lair is a vast open chamber, where the actual gathering takes place. The rest of the lair contains small caves and rooms where delegates can rest and sleep. One dragon acts as caretaker and dwells in the lair, while the rest visit only when summoned.
Designing a Lair
When designing a dragon’s lair, begin with a map. For natural lairs, the map can be generated randomly by drawing uneven cave shapes on a piece of paper and linking them with tunnels, or based on an existing cave map. For conquered lairs, the best thing to do is to take a map of a castle or dungeon from some other source and adapt it. Constructed lairs are trickier, as they are not based on an existing place, but are instead built by the dragon. Choose one of the example constructed lair types mentioned above, or come up with the reason why the dragon built its lair instead of claiming an existing place. The key to designing an interesting lair is adaptation – dragons change places to suit themselves, adapting the existing structures to their needs. Therefore, instead of creating the whole lair from top down, the Games Master should take the map, which represents the existing structure before the dragon moves in, and then put himself in the role of the dragon and adapt it.
The various rooms on the map should be assigned a function. The following table can be used to generate random functions for each room – roll 1d20 and add +1 for every chamber after the first, stopping once you hit the hoard chamber at the heart of the lair. Alternatively, assign functions based on the size and location of rooms on the map.
|16||Hatching sands or Nursery|
|17||Study or Library|
|18||Chapel or Shrine|
|19||Bath or Sunning stone|
Once you have a vague idea of the internal layout of the lair, you can begin adapting it. Pick an entrance such as the main gate, and move the dragon in along the corridors from the entrance to the hoard chamber, taking the route of least resistance along the widest corridors. If the dragon must squeeze down a corridor, widen it and fill another chamber with the debris from the widening. Once the dragon has reached the hoard chamber, move the dragon from the hoard chamber to any other rooms it would want to visit, such as the audience chamber or library. Keep widening chambers and reallocating space until the lair is comfortable for the dragon.
Now start adding traps. The average dragon’s lair has a number of traps equal to its Challenge Rating, although at least a third of these will be located in the killing ground and another third along the gauntlet. The other traps should be used to protect back entrances and other obscure sections of the lair.
If the dragon has servants, pick two representative types and move them from the entrance to the dragon’s audience chamber and to the hoard chamber. Ensure there is at least one path through the lair that is passable for them without too much trouble (i.e. they do not have to leap over a pit trap or take damage from an unavoidable hazard). Finally, customise the lair to the dragon. Make it reflect the dragon’s personality and style.