As a fan and player of Dungeons & Dragons for many years, I can admit that the game isn’t always the easiest to play. Like juggling, there are constantly moving parts that as a player you need to pay attention to. The game you play is vastly different depending on the class of character you decide to play. Factor in subclasses, items, and enemies, along with the role-playing and it can become overwhelming. I still forget certain gameplay mechanics, or stumble while playing subclasses I’m unfamiliar with.
As difficult as playing D&D can be, serving as the gamemaster is even more work. As the storyteller and guide, the gamemaster must bring to life a world for players to explore. Be it a pre-crafted story or a totally original game, every monster, every trap, and every lair must be carefully crafted for maximum enjoyment and challenge. The task can be daunting, and also the reason I myself have never Dungeon Mastered myself. However, with Keith Ammann’s guides to all things Dungeons & Dragons world-building, that job already seems a bit less daunting.
Amman’s latest novel, How to Defend Your Lair, the fourth in a series of D&D guides, takes the guesswork out of building the best lair for your game. He provides plenty of tips and tricks of the trade, which should help anyone from novice to experienced build better lairs in their own games. So is How to Defend Your Lair worth your time, or is another D&D book to store on the shelf and collect dust? Let’s review what Ammann brings to the table in his latest outing.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Saga Press, an Imprint of Gallery Books for the purpose of this review. Warning: my review of How To Defend Your Lair contains some spoilers!]
A nifty guide about lair building for Dungeons & Dragons
The first thing that struck me about How to Defend Your Lair is that this novel knows exactly what it is and does that really well. This is a step-by-step guide on how to build the best lair you can for your D&D game, breaking down every aspect of lair construction that gamemasters should know.
Ammann explains such things as “The Principles of Defense” which covers the value of assets (both for the adventurers and those protecting it), what type of guards or deterrents are required for ultimate protection, and even what type of fortress should be used. This is all in just the first section. It includes information I never would have thought went into world-building but makes perfect sense for those who want to build the perfect lair.
Ammann is thorough with his guide, going on to break down different terrains and their strengths and weaknesses for proper defense against enemies. Prior to reading How to Defend Your Lair, I thought having one in flat grasslands would be fine, neglecting the reasons why this may not be a great idea. However what I love about this novel is that even when talking about the pitfalls of a certain type of lairs, such as a castle, or a terrain like grasslands, Ammann provides ways to make them work for you. Want to build in the grasslands? Find a hill, have one point of entry, etc. He has thought through every possible downfall and provides readers with ways of using them as an advantage.
On top of all the fantastic tips and ideas for creating your own, Ammann also lays out sixteen different lairs which a gamemaster would use in their game. Each one comes with a minimum recommended party, assets, and defense required (with stat blocks and information about each asset and item located in handy appendices in the back), and maps to get a better idea of how the lairs are set up.
The sixteen lairs cover a lot of different locations and setups, perfect for whatever type of game you are playing. This part felt above and beyond what Ammann needed to do to provide a fantastic guide, making the lair-building aspect of D&D easier for a novice like myself. It also allows for easy adaptation if you have an idea of what you want, but don’t know how to start. Ammann has done the fleshing out of it for you, just adapt in whichever way you need for your game.
The good and the bad of How to Defend Your Lair
Something striking about this novel is how knowledgeable Ammann is about the topic at hand. When I say How to Defend Your Lair is thorough, I mean it. He covers all his bases and helps to make lair building easy, especially for individuals who may have no idea how to go about doing so. However, this book has something for everyone, even those who have been Dungeon Mastering for a long time. Things that one might not have even considered when creating their big bad’s lair are right there at their fingertips.
Every possible question I could have about how to build a lair has already been thought of and answered in this book. Not only are they answered, but they’re presented in a way that is easy to understand without making the reader feel stupid. This made reading the book easier because it didn’t make me feel idiotic for not knowing something, and wasn’t condescending in its presentation.
Reading this, I felt like I was talking to a very enthusiastic friend who is helping me learn how to improve my own gaming experience. Never once did I feel bored with the material, but instead a renewed sense of excitement about D&D and a desire to finally try my hand at DMing myself.
That being said, for those looking for a completely comprehensive guide to DMing, this book is rather narrow. It focuses on one thing and one thing only, how to create a lair. The novel does a fantastic job teaching readers everything they need to know about building the best lair for story and game, but it does that and only that. I think part of that speaks to the expansiveness of Dungeons & Dragons, where you can spend an entire book on one small aspect of the game.
I think those who are new to Dungeon Mastering probably need to pick up all of Ammann’s books to get a better idea and guide for how to do so. They are probably just as packed with information and help to build even more skills to create your worlds. But this one alone will only help you in one specific way.
Overall impressions of How to Defend Your Lair
I enjoyed this book a lot, both for what it taught me and for overall readability. Ammann is a fantastic writer who clearly knows what he is talking about. While the book won’t teach you everything you need to know to DM your own game, it gives plenty of ideas about where to begin building your world. While I haven’t read the rest of his books, I’m sure they are just as helpful as this one was and I’ll be looking to purchase them myself as I begin my own journey toward becoming a DM.
My Rating: 8/10
How to Defend Your Lair by Keith Ammann is available now. Are you going to check it out? Let us know on Discord or our other social media. And if you haven’t already, check out our most recent book review, The Heart of Iuchiban!
Book Review: The Heart of Iuchiban: A Legend of the Five Rings Novel by Evan Dicken