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Top 20 Elements of Evil Overlord Lairs14 min read

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Otherworldly Incantations Evil Overlord Lairs

Evil. Overlord. Lairs. Happy Spooktober everyone! Following my post on Gritty Gaming, I’ve brewed up a nice little recipe for Dungeon Masters and worldbuilders who want to design the most dastardly of dungeons: an Evil Overlord Lair! And I’ve included some simple notes on narrative exposition and encounter ideas for each element too. With this I plan to kick off a periodic series on Villainry. Enjoy!

1: Aberrant Auditorium | 2: Barracks of Mooks | 3: Cafeteria & Canteen | 4: Communications Center | 5: Critical Architectural Flaws | 6: Den of Debauchery | 7: Detention Facility | 8: Inhumane Resources | 9: Interrogation Room | 10: Mad Science Laboratory | 11: Megaweapon Storage | 12: Nightmarish Factory | 13: Officers’ & Champions’ Living Quarters | 14: Salvagery & Sanitation | 15: Security Center | 16: Soulless Storehouse & Shop | 17: Throne Room | 18: Treasury of Terror | 19: Unholy War Room | 20: Villainous Vehicle Depot

Tired of the same run-of-the-mill villains? Craft yourself a fully fledged Evil Overlord. Such a villain has not just a campground, but rather, a base: a hideout, a compound, a stronghold. Yes, a veritable Fortress of Evil. Once you’ve figured out your villain’s Big Evil Scheme and the Lair’s intimidating name, pile on these 20 essential elements for a cunning challenge to any would-be adventurers! Perfect for flavoring Matt Colville’s upcoming Strongholds & Followers ruleset for D&D 5e!

#1: ABERRANT AUDITORIUM

Remember those big rectangular multi-purpose rooms in school with bleachers and open space and closets full of training dummies for death attacks? Where students would gather for physical exercise or pep rallies or ritual human sacrifice? You bet you do! Every Evil Overlord’s Lair worth its salt needs a multi-functional Aberrant Auditorium assembly space. Somewhere the Evil Overlord can give the New Era of Evil Speech to the followers. A stadium for bloodsports, or, uh, I mean “training area”! The Mooks can even worship their new God-King here.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Villain Monologue, Two Minutes Hate, Coliseum Battle Royale, Training Day.

#2: BARRACKS OF MOOKS

Unless the Evil Overlord has cranked the dial up to 11 by using only undead and construct legions, they will need a living quarters for their minions’ housing and sleeping needs: the Barracks. Mooks, the discount 1 HP henchmen hordes naturally fill this space, though they truly put the “infant” in infantry. Bosses often choose clumsy, braindead drones like these as servants because they don’t question orders, and their strength only comes through numbers, making rebellion less likely. As a disposable labor force, Mooks do the grunt work, set up the barricades during invasions, and act as general cannon fodder for the Evil Overlord and Officers.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Mook Mow Down, Underling Uprising, Human Wave Attack, Mis-Caste Mook.

#3: CAFETERIA & CANTEEN

Even an Evil Overlord’s Lair needs a Cafeteria, and it definitely needs a Canteen too. The former acts as a chow hall for the Mook squad goons, and the latter a means for detainees to access critical goods at extortionist market prices. An army runs on its stomach, and a dungeon runs on pure malice. These two “service” sectors typically connect with one another out of administrative convenience.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Grunts’ Gruel, Food Fight, Commissary Concerns.

#4: COMMUNICATIONS CENTER

Did you get the memo? I sure hope so, cuz the penalty’s death if you didn’t. The Communications Center covers propaganda pep talks for Mook mind control morale, most memos and quotas, and inter-facility coordination, for example feeding intel from the Security Center to the Unholy War Room. Nothing turns evil into a well-oiled machine quite like bureaucracy! In addition, Comms often features a Sinister Secretary to screen appointments for the busy Evil Overlord too.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Propaganda Montage, Unmet Quotas, Hijacked Broadcast.

#5: CRITICAL ARCHITECTURAL FLAWS

Evil Overlords have a nasty habit of sizing ventilation ducts just the right size for humanoid intruders, forgetting to secure the self-destruct button, and keeping small explosive devices near the pneumatic memo tube relay. The Big Evil Scheme never seems to include patching up those Critical Architectural Flaws for very convenient narrative reasons and no one knows why. Just a hazard of the trade I guess. Or, maybe they’re lures? Yeah, let’s go with that. M-E-T-A.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Schematic Foreshadowing, Exhaust Port Attack, Infiltration Duct, Fire in the Hole, It’s a Trap.

#6: DEN OF DEBAUCHERY

Evil thrives on temptation, or so they say. So an Evil Overlord needs a large Den of Debauchery fit for all manner of indecent and forbidden acts, a general Zone of Corruption to tempt and taint would-be Good-Doers, and those lackeys flirting with dangerous ideals like redemption. You’re creative, go ahead and fill in the blanks with the debaucheries of your choice!

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Forbidden Fruit, Corrupted Crusaders, The Plot Darkens.

#7: DETENTION FACILITY

The Evil Overlord’s Detention Facility houses prisoners between torture sessions, and includes kidnappers guards. Typically, the detainees will perform forced labor of a riskier variety, but often torture sessions leave them in too ill shape to do so. A whole subsidiary security detail of watchtowers and wardens ensures their coerced compliance. Devious, disgusting, and effective.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Panopticon’s Perception, Prison Riot, Jailbreak.

#8: INHUMANE RESOURCES

You know those Care Committees that churches have that organize Coffee Hour, mark member milestones, and send out cards and meals? An Evil Overlord’s Lair has that too, but like, the opposite: a Cruelty Committee. Seriously. They devote just as much time and energy into Inhumane Resources like dreaming up new deathtraps and lures, or testing and maintaining old networks of boobytraps.

What, you didn’t think the Evil Overlord would let all those mindless Mooks run into randomly spinning blades beyond a periodically amusing amount of times, did you? No, they have a Cruelty Committee that sends out cards, holds luncheons, and coordinates with the Security Center all of the necessary trap awareness protocols. No joke, you’ve got your boobytrap, your alarm trap, your utility trap, your deathtrap, your decoy trap, and your fake decoy trap to worry about. And I didn’t even mention the Mimics!

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Lost List of Traps, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Dismembership Care Package, Running the Gauntlet.

#9: INTERROGATION ROOM

Between the Security Center and the Detention Facility, every Evil Overlord Lair has an Interrogation Room. A classical dungeon, complete with torture racks, blinding lights and binding chains, and a disturbing amount of hardware. These special cells house the medieval mayhem that spawned a whole genre of dungeon delving. Not for the faint of heart.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
The Screw Tightens, Loose Lips, Inquisitor’s Ire.

#10: MAD SCIENCE LABORATORY

No Evil Overlord Lair would seem complete without a Mad Science Laboratory. You like science, sorcery, and shortcuts? Why not combine all three: Occult Science! What’s that you say, torturous vivisection is wrong? Involuntary human experimentation is wrong? Well, two wrongs make a right with human-animal hybrids! Tired of Mooks? Make undead and constructs to take their place! Mix up some sketchy alchemical potions and poisons. Mess around with curses and Champions. Manufacture some high-liability gadgets. Extract souls, cheat death, and gain immortality…the sky’s the limit!

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
When Hybrids Attack, Frankenstein’s Monster, Lifeless Drones, Cursed Tools, Soul Farm, Degeneration Potion.

#11: MEGAWEAPON STORAGE

Considerations for Rules of Engagement and Collateral Damage likely do not rank high on the Evil Overlord‘s to do list for World Conquest. A horrifying Megaweapon — or a battery thereof — helps ensure lofty goals like Despotism, Dystopia, and Destruction can come to fruition. The looming threat of “If I can’t have it, no one will” helps ensure loyalty through fear, wards off wayward adventuring parties, and entices the right kind of maniacs to the team.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Doomsday Device Deactivation, Time Bomb Defusal, Capturing
the Artifact of Doom, The Big One Goes Off.

#12: NIGHTMARISH FACTORY

No proper Evil Overlord Lair can survive by raiding and trading alone, they need some sort of production facilities too. Here you might find evil energy extraction projects like Magicite Mines and Skeletonium Springs. Brains in vats, bodies in pods, 99 bottles of blood on the wall. Actually, you may also find a Spawning Pit where the Evil Minions throw innocent elves and such into cauldrons and forges to hatch monstrous soldiers. Gross. Keeping all this Industrialized Evil running you’ll find the soulless sweatshops and fiendish forges typical of a Nightmarish Factory.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Orc Spawning Exposition, Dark Satanic Mill, Skeletonium Sabotage.

#13: OFFICERS’ & CHAMPIONS’ LIVING QUARTERS

An Evil Overlord‘s Officers and Champions need a space in which to decompress, fraternize, and conspire as to how to keep the lowly Mooks of the world divided against one another. Hence, Officers’ & Champions’ Living Quarters. A place of withheld fineries, rare artifacts, even a trophy room. A place where Officers can retain or relieve their gentlemanly stature, and Champions can bask in their brutishness. After all, Aristocrats are evil.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Conspiratorial Vizier, Champion Challenger, Missing Regalia.

#14: SALVAGERY & SANITATION FACILITY

Evil Overlording can prove a messy business. Someone has to spray the gore off all the stolen goods and sift out the riches from the garbage after raids. The Salvagery & Sanitation Facility deals with intake and sorting, in the broadest sense. Like a normal recyclery, they sort loot piles into weapons, goods, and treasures. But they also process the Lair’s other hazardous wastes too, whether industrial or domestic. And don’t think this comes from some genuine ecological concern either, an Evil Overlord proves just as likely to weaponize the trash and effluent against enemies as to dispose of it properly. Those jerks.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Sewage Leak, Treasure Among Trash, Waste Assault, Body Disposal.

#15: SECURITY CENTER

For some odd reason, the Big Evil Scheme, the nefarious fortress, and all its hoarded wealth all seem to attract intruders. No one knows why though. Nevertheless, a Security Center that manages scouts and sentries — and the patrol routes and rotations thereof — proves essential to any savvy supervillain. It likely also manages the armory for the Mook Barracks; can’t have the rabble arming themselves now, they’d just tear each other apart with all the divisions so conveniently coincidentally sewn between them. Or worse, they might rebel! Luckily, the Security Center’s benevolent surveillance and security systems cover both intruders AND troublemakers. They also manage alarms, drills, and rally points. And guess who knows the hidden passages best of all?

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Changing of the Guard, False Alarm, Missing Patrol, Scout Skirmish, Infiltration Intrigue, Lights Out.

#16: SOULLESS STOREHOUSE & SHOP

You better bet your britches the Evil Overlord’s Lair has a nice Soulless Storehouse & Shop full of Black Market utility goods, both durable and consumable in nature. Racks of smuggled goods. A plentiful larder, and a pricegouging General Store. A wicked warehouse, all the perverse products a HellMart can provide!

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
HellMart Discount Sale, Tracked Smugglers, Raiders Re-Stocking.

#17: THRONE ROOM

Evil Overlords have to bask in their own glory somewhere, right? It’s their Lair, after all. This could take the form of an actual Throne Room elevating the grandeur and glory of the Evil Overlord and the Big Evil Scheme, or perhaps just a smaller reception area along with a Private Study, or even a Sinister Spa. One can imagine few things more intimidating than a Pampered Palpatine!

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Unwelcome Reception, Ally’s Arrival, Shooting the Messenger, Knighting a Champion, Sacking the Throne, Usurper Uproar.

#18: TREASURY OF TERROR

Whereas the Soulless Storehouse & Shop keep utility goods, and the Security Center keeps the arsenal, the Treasury of Terror keeps precious loot, functioning as the Evil Overlord’s bank and coffers. Coins and paper and ingots. Curios and heirlooms and relics. Not just these assets, but the corrupt keepsakes respected by an odious organization too. Every teddy bear stolen from an orphan, every bottle of widow’s tears. An Abominable Accountant tracks the ledgers with care, unwilling to risk the Evil Overlord’s temper.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Pilfered Payroll, Trojan Heirloom, The Heist, Pay Day.

#19: UNHOLY WAR ROOM

As an operational base, any decent Evil Overlord Lair typically needs an Unholy War Room where its command structure processes intel, as well as operational and progress reports. And it has, you know, some big tables and boards with mockups and maps plotting progress on the Big Evil Scheme, where the Evil Overlord and Officer advisors can make their evil decisions, receive TPS (Total Parties Slain) Reports, and flush underperforming lackeys through a Trap Door.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Downward Promotion, Fire the Missiles, Military Movements, Angry Autocrat, Bad Advice.

#20: VILLAINOUS VEHICLE DEPOT

An Evil Overlord needs a large staging and storage and shop area for transportation tools, a Villainous Vehicle Depot, whatever form that may take in a given setting. We’re talkin’ stables full of horses for the cavalry, an array of wagons and war-chariots, and all the associated personnel. A garage and mechanic, maybe even a barebones Siege Engine convoy. A cattle-rustlin’ crew, or a Chop Shop. A hangar for aerial recon gliders, maybe even a helipad for a dragon. Heavy artillery. And the Evil Overlord’s flagship too of course.

NARRATIVE EXPOSITION & ENCOUNTER IDEAS:
Ride of the Villains, Sabotaged Siege, Stolen Flagship.

Final Thoughts

I hope all you devious designers enjoyed my thoughts on Evil Overlord Lairs, Part 1 of my Villainry Series. If you liked this article, please share it. And what elements did I miss? Let me know in the comments. I publish new posts each Tuesday, and in the meantime, I post original D&D memes daily over on my site’s Facebook Page and Twitter. Also, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my posts, check the bottom sign-up widget to receive email notifications. Thanks as always to my Patron on Patreon, helping keep this project going: Rudy. Thanks for the support, Rudy. Feel free to join him!

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Tril

D&D 5e blogger.

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