Happy December, everyone! With our best of 2022 list completed, and me being off the clock to cram in as many new releases as possible, I had some time to explore some of the weirder and more interesting books on my radar. One in particular that caught my eye was How to Defend Your Lair, by Keith Ammann. This book is hovering between a number of genres in a very interesting way. Part fantasy thought piece, part non-fiction about the practicalities of lairs, and part dungeon master’s guide to crafting great lairs for TTRPG campaigns. All of it comes together to form a very serious book about a somewhat silly subject that I enjoyed quite a lot.
How to Defend Your Lair is really divided into two major sections. The front half talks about the practicalities, logistics, and mentalities behind all sorts of different secret bases, lairs, hideouts, and more. The second half of the book goes into some case study examples for Dungeon Masters. While I found the second half of the book particularly useful, as I am a Dungeon Master in my spare time (a thing I am constantly told is completely unsurprising), I am going to focus mostly on the first half of the book as I think it is something that everyone can appreciate and enjoy. But if you want a review of the second half for all you other DMs out there: it’s great; I will be stealing and incorporating a ton of it into my next D&D campaign.
Lair contains all sorts of chapters covering many different practicalities of villainous bases. These include subjects like the principles of defense, castles (the pros and cons), considerations for terrain, defensive magic, human and nonhuman resources, budgeting your lair, battle strategies, and what to do with prisoners. Each goes into exacting and convincing detail of the dos and don’ts for lairs (assuming your villain is competent) and explores a number of elements of evil bases I had never considered before. The terrain and budgeting sections in particular were eye-opening. Ammann goes into the practicalities of 10 different terrain types and how they affect your ability to build a base. The budgeting goes into what is a good use of money and a waste of time for a villain on a meager horde.
There are also tons of mini vignettes that I found particularly illuminating. One interesting tangent is on the nature of traps. Ammann argues, quite persuasively, that things like giant pendulums, a bear trap behind a door, or an explosive arcane rune are more of a work hazard for your minions than an effective deterrent to heroes. He goes into detail about the mentality of raiding heroes and how to effectively outwit them at every turn. And Ammann does all of this in a fun book that manages to take itself seriously in a fun way but understands the value of silly fun at the same time.
If I had one complaint about How to Defend Your Lair it would be that it was too effective. Reading this book radically changed how I see and will build all my future lairs, and when it comes to Dungeons and Dragons I am now a little worried I am going to accidentally brutally murder my friend’s characters. I feel as if this book might now be required reading for them to play as it has so thoroughly transformed the way I see lairs that I likely will sound like a loon if my conversation partner hasn’t also read the book. Overall it was a great reading experience, thank you Ammann for making me the weirdo that talks about base defense at Christmas parties this year.
Rating: How to Defend Your Lair – 8.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.