Monday, 13 February 2017

[Modern Book of Lairs] I: Aarakocra - Ma-Chee's Family Fortress

Comments on recent posts lead me to start thinking about creating things that are playable without any, or with very little, preparation. The old Book of Lairs was cited as being an exceptionally useful example of that kind of material. That volume passed me by, but there's no reason why I can't write my own. I'm going to work my way alphabetically through the 2nd edition MM, creating a lair for each entry, and post them on the blog.

The rules are:

1. Each lair and all the necessary description fits on a page of A4.
2. It's done long-hand in pencil, which has become my optimal way of working and is how I think all DM prep should be done.
3. The tone should be vanilla and conventional enough to fit into anyone's D&D campaign.
4. There is not too much editing and perfectionism and preferably the whole thing is finished within an hour.

First up is the Aarakocra. The lair is Ma-Chee's Family Fortress. Here it is for you to print out.

But because I am such a kind person, I'll also transliterate my handwriting into text.

The text at the top right reads:

Female aarakocra with polygamous household of males and beta females with offspring. 

Aarakocra male: HD 1+2, AC 15 (cloth armour, wicker shield), DMG By weapon +1

Juvenile/beta female: HD 1, AC as equipment, DMG By weapon

Ma-Chee: HD 3+3, AC 16 (bronze mail), DMG By weapon+2

Mo-Bak: HD 3, AC 12, DMG By weapon

Two-headed owlbear: HD 5+2, AC 16, DMG 1d6/1d6/2d6/2d6; if both claw attacks hit, does 2d8 additional hug damage

Kolit-Ma: HD 2+2, AC 16, DMG By weapon+2

The text bottom left reads:

Five aarakocra can summon an air elemental in 3 rounds

Aarakocra can fly and dive attacks do +4 DMG

Then underneath is the room key.

1 - 3 guards. Juveniles (m). Lookouts - 2 will fight while 1 raises alarm. Slings, obsidian axes, cloth armour.
2 - Picture room. Zigzag patterns daubed on walls, befuddle the human eye. Dizziness for d6 turns for those examining (-2 to all dice rolls). 
3 - 4 males, husbands of Ma-Chee. Spears, slings, cloth armour, wicker shields. Shiny ancient electrum pieces x 24. Secret entrance to passage to (11), concealed by stone slab, requires combined STR 40 to move.
4 - Shrine to mountain god - disc of feathers around round bronze circle (100 gp, weighs 400 cn). Skulls of dead ancestors. Defilers are cursed while on the mountain (-2 to all rolls). 3 arrows placed as offering are heart seekers - always do max DMG and wound as magical arrows.
5 - Ma-Chee's chamber. 6 non-combatant children, 5 eggs. 4 males, obsidian axes, wicker shields, cloth armour. Ma-chee and her wizardress Mo-Bak.
6 - Treasure room. Wicker pots lined with leather x 6. 5 contain mix of sps, gps, cps (200 each per pot). Sixth pot contains quipu spellbook of Mo-Bak. Sleep, hold person, stone skin, magic mouth, darkness 15' radius, shocking grasp, audible glamer.
7 - Latrine. Stench causes vomiting and weakness (-4 to rolls for d6 hours on failed save vs poison).
8 - Pet. Mutant two-headed owlbear. Sits in darkness mourning meaninglessness of life unless alarm is raised or going to latrine (1 in 10 chance when PCs enter (7)). Remnants of local knight errant - bones, rusty armour, silver ring + garnet, 1000 gp value.
9 - Juvenile lookout - sling, cloth armour.
10 - Pit. 2 captives, human, one male one female, from local settlement. Pit covered in moss - attempting to ascend/descend unassisted results in fall for d3 DMG.
11 - 6 beta females, miserable, cooking stew on permanent fire. Obsidian clubs, slings, cauldron of stew sits on top of wooden slab covering entrance to secret tunnel to (3). 
12 - Ma-Chee's "favourite" husband, Kolit-Ma. Cloth armour, wicker shield, carries Javelin of the Storm - does 3d6 electric damage if used outside. Kolit-Ma will attempt to use it outside caves, thrown from feet while flying. 

Reading through, the only thing I realised I missed out when sketching it was that these caves are supposed to be a cross section of a mountain peak, with the entrances on either side.


  1. The material is good, but the scan of pencil is incredibly hard to read - and I have 20/20 vision! Is there any chance you can go over them in pen after you've written them in pencil? I agree that this sort of prep should be done on paper, but scans are difficult to read on a screen.

    1. It's been recommended to me I do hi-res scans and link them in on Google Drive. I'll do that from now on.

    2. When I do anything with paper, I always try to follow the examples of Dyson's Dodecahedron. This tutorial is great for mapping dungeons, but the real gem is his reply to the first comment.

  2. As far as you know are there any D&D gamers taking part in public (invited) streaming conversations like this kind of thing - -
    (not that it is great) which is very common in culture-war discussions which operate on a larger scale than ours. Is it the scale that makes a difference? The least number of youtube subscribers in their ecosphere would be larger than the greatest in ours.

    Im just wondering if the technology is worth appropriating. Is there something more human, appealing, about voice than text.

    1. I think it would be easier for me to make people cry if they could hear my voice.

  3. Blimey. Don't muck about much, do you? Very impressive.

    One page with a short one-line intro is perfect. The original Book of Lairs had entries titled something like "Bugbears (4)" and was sorted by CR/encounter level.

    I think the trick to being very useful (Thomas, hehe) is to do generic monsters and lairs, but with a non-generic twist and a few specific details and vignettes you wouldn't come up with on the fly, like the "shiny ancient electrum pieces" or the two-headed owlbear. Stuff you can easily trim, or riff on to expand it.

    The BoL also had something like three suggested hooks, and cross-links to other lairs in the book.

    Also, if you wanted to get fancy, you could somehow stagger each entry into a short one-off random/wilderness encounter with one of the lair's inhabitants, the full lair, and an (optional) additional boss monster, to make it scale more easily to different party strengths. Or spell out a few variations of circumstances (ie. the same lair, but in winter) or goals (the bad guy is actually under a spell, or a lycanthrope, or can be bargained with etc).

    Is this for publication then, or just a test balloon? At any rate, very cool. Ganbatte!

    1. Just for fun, really - and good karma!