Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Checklist for Designing a Faction's BASE or LAIR - Infrastructure for Goals, Needs, Conflicts.

Here’s a set of ideas to support faction “base” design. 

The caves from Keep on the Borderlands are infamous for hosting a bunch of factions' lairs in the same neighborhood, with little coherent sense of how they'd all coexist. The tool below offers a quick way (I hope quick?) to think about the scope for conflict or cooperation between the lairs in an area, or to make such lairs individually feel more sensible.

A post yesterday over at The Wandering Gamist suggested a One-Hour Dungeon contest (instead of the ubiquitous one-page dungeons), with an interesting note:

Even if the products themselves end up not being very interesting, I could see such a thing leading to the development of tooling and processes optimized for saving time.

That got me thinking about some ideas I'd never properly written down or posted earlier this year: a mission-based adventure generation table, and a way to speed up good base design. Well, now I have, at least for the second part. You might use this with a blank piece of paper, or you might take a random map or even re-key a description from a module, and use the checklist to verisimilitude or hooks for interaction. This checklist assumes that the area being designed (which might be aboveground, or be all or part of a ‘dungeon’) is controlled by a basically coherent faction, or part of a faction, acting in (mostly) coordinated ways. 

This has probably been done before somewhere else, and likely better, but it was on my mind. Please let me know if it's helpful.  

Again, the goal here is to speed up lair/base design while promoting a realistic ‘dungeon ecology’ that is exploitable and open to conflict with other factions. 

I think this would be most useful when paired with two things.

First: Instead of keying each dungeon/lair/base room separately ( a bottom-up approach), consider starting at the top and thinking like a faction leader. Create an Order of Battle for the faction: how many guards or other personnel do they possess here, in total? Now, as you answer the questions below, break up ‘your’ guards into little squads, and assign them to logical places on the map, according to the logic of this current faction’s needs and goals. 

Second: I am a big fan of the ‘fill in the blank’ faction design method. I didn’t design it myself, and alas, I can never remember which blog I got this from, but it’s really smart. For each faction, just ‘fill in the blank’:

FACTION _____ wants GOAL _____ but they face OBSTACLE ______, so they will PLAN _______. 

The checklist below highlights base-design aspects that might bring a faction into conflict or cooperation with other factions. One can probably get a nice hornet’s nest of tension just by designing two or three faction bases near each other, making sure that their infrastructure needs conflict. This is, of course, before one starts adding more arcane, fantasy-themed goals, like finding the skull-stone of Arbat before those hobgoblins can summon the End-Storm. 

Alright, here we go. No doubt, this isn’t comprehensive and could be refined, but I hope it aids in thinking quickly and realistically about lair design. 


How does the Faction use this base?

+ permanent major base

+ permanent minor outpost, subordinate to a bigger base somewhere else. 

+ temporary or occasional major base; the faction head-honcho is here, but the group moves regularly. 

+ temporary or occasional minor outpost

+ temporary/emergency shelter or outpost; they didn’t expect to be here long…what kind of trouble brought them, or is keeping them here? 

A permanent site, especially a major base, should have a stable solution for every one of the needs listed below. At smaller sites, or at temporary and emergency sites, a faction may be making do with some of those needs unmet. This may create opportunities for inter-faction conflict or cooperation. 

Why is the faction using this base? (Likely, one or more reasons apply) 

+ We need a place to live or shelter

+ Projecting power in the region (or displaying/claiming prestige)

+ Controlling movement in the region

+ Gathering information from the region

+ Securing access to raw resources in the area

+ Enabling access to trade

Performing religious/cultural rituals

How does authority work here? Who is in charge, how does the chain of command work, and how effective/stable is it? 

Which 3 NPCs would most disrupt the faction/setting if they were killed, turned as double agents, compromised, captured, set free, etc.? 

What is the source of AIR SUPPLY?

I suggest using this one very sparingly. Caves often have quite good air, and being able to breathe is an essential element for most fantasy locations. However, some underground locations do run into fresh air-supply problems, whether due to poor ventilation or off gassing from minerals and substances beneath the earth’s surface, so - once in a blue moon - this could be worth adding as a wrinkle at a faction’s base. 

What is the WATER SOURCE?

  • A well, lake, or running water, inside the base’s controlled perimeter. Mark it on the map. Note: this could offer a way in/out. 
  • Some sort of aqueduct carries water from outside the base to inside. This is like the option above, but the aqueduct might be vulnerable to sabotage or infiltration. Some potential for INTER-FACTION conflict. 
  • A well, lake, or running water, outside the base but nearby. Note: open to INTER-FACTION conflict. 
  • A well, lake, or running water, at some distance from the base. Note: open to significant INTER-FACTION conflict.  
  • Silly, this magical faction has no need of water.

What is the FOOD SOURCE? 

  • Food is produced or harvested within the base. Mark it on the map. 
  • Food is produced or harvested near the base, by personnel under the base’s control. Mark it on the map. Open to some INTER-FACTION CONFLICT.
  • Food must be imported from far away, or is provided by persons not under the base’s control (through trade, for example). Open to INTER-FACTION CONFLICT. 
  • Silly, this magical faction has no need of food.

How do they handle their BODILY WASTES?

  • They don’t. Waste is strewn willy-nilly throughout the base. The whole place is a reeking cesspool and likely a disease haven. 
  • Ye olde chamberpots. Bodily wastes are carried in small batches and dumped. Dump sites may be spread across a zone (like at the bottom of perimeter walls and beneath windows) or in a specific designated cesspit. Mark these spots on the map and describe them appropriately when PCs move nearby. 
  • Ah, toilets. There are designated latrines. Where does the outflow end up? If it stays in one spot, how soon will it fill up? 
  • Question: does the location for bodily waste removal affect the clean water supply, or not?
  • Special option: historically, some communities transferred their own bodily wastes into fertilizer. Does this group do so? Where is it processed? 
  • Fantasy waste engineering. Perhaps the faction controls a waste-consuming device (sphere of annihilation) or creature (otyugh, ooze) that helps eradicate waste over time. 
  • Silly, this magical faction produces no bodily wastes. 

How do they handle their NON-BODILY WASTES?

  • See all the options already listed for bodily wastes for possible reference. 
  • The faction continually dumps into a trash midden. Mark it on the map. If it is outside the base perimeter, there is potential for INTER-FACTION CONFLICT.

What are their LIGHT SOURCES?

  • Perhaps this faction has no need of light. Be afraid. 
  • They rely on natural ambient light from outside, at least in daytime. Mark the openings on the map; these could allow ingress. 
  • They have magical illumination methods.
  • They burn fuel for light: oil in lamps, torches, logs in braziers. If they burn stuff inside, and you feel like being realistic and nasty, think about ventilation and air quality, smoke obscuring vision, and the risk of fire spreading. 

How do they get IN/OUT?

  • There’s only one way in and out. Mark it on the map. Is the entrance concealed? 
  • There are several ways in and out. Mark them on the map. Are any concealed? 
  • There are several ways in and out, but the faction running the base doesn’t know about all of them. Mark them on the map. Now, this is getting interesting. 
  • Don’t forget that water sources, light sources, and air sources may provide additional portals.
  • Speaking of portals, maybe there’s a magical way in or out. Mark it on the map and make up something weird about it.


I recommend combining these options with a fixed Order of Battle for the faction. 

  • Sentries are posted at known entrances, and perhaps at key internal chokepoints or sensitive areas. Mark/key them on your map. 
  • Alternately, perhaps security is poor. Minor entrances are minimally guarded or unguarded. Doors are locked but not staffed. Etc. 
  • Roving patrols. Put them in a random encounter table, or mark their routes on the map. 
  • Think about which areas are under visual or other surveillance. Mark them as needed. 
  • Who provides security? Does the base’s faction leader have definite control over them, or are there outsiders or insider power struggles at play? Major opportunity here for INTER-FACTION CONFLICT. 
  • In the event of trouble, where will personnel go? Is there a fall-back point established, or a secondary line of defense? Do some residents head for emergency shelters? What would it take to provoke a full evacuation? 


  • They don’t, at least centrally. Each faction member fends for themselves with DIY repairs as needed. 
  • They have an armory, forge, workshop, and/or similar centers. Mark them on the map. But what about raw materials?
  • Necessary raw materials are mined/harvested/whatever on the base. Mark where. 
  • Finished goods, or raw materials for the faction’s use, must be shipped in from outside. Lots of potential here for INTER-FACTION CONFLICT. 

(How) do they address RELIGIOUS or SPIRITUAL concerns?

  • They don’t.
  • Their practice is highly individualized, and/or does not fundamentally affect the base’s spatial organization.
  • They frequent one or more cultic centers (mark them on the map). What happens here, and how often? Examples might include prayer-council chambers, sacrificial wells, meditation chapels, etc. Do these practices require a supply chain, or affect other FACTIONS?
  • Their beliefs/practices have a significant effect on spatial or social organization. Perhaps entire areas of the base are subject to unexpected taboos or rituals; perhaps traffic patterns across the base are constrained by ritual needs (example: to cross the central plaza with the statue of Ol’Thakob, they must crawl on their bellies…so maybe they tend not to cross it. Or maybe they cross it ten times a day). Perhaps different areas of the base are more or less crowded at different times of day/night. 

Some other things to consider:

  • What do they do for entertainment, and where?
  • What do they consider luxuries, and (how) do they access them? Who controls that access?


  1. I really like the fill-in-the-blank formula and these questions for thinking about faction/base design. I have a similar kind of formula for NPC generation.

    As somebody who is not very visuo-spatially inclined, trying to think out the organization of factions in terms of physical space and maps just doesn't work for me; something like this is much more intuitive, and I think in most cases just as if not more important than a physical mapping per se, especially if that physical mapping is not done conscientiously, which can often happen with keyed Crawls.

    1. Thanks!
      Yeah - I think that one could use this checklist to create an entire 'dungeon' - if it was created deliberately by a faction that knew its needs. You could just make a list of "rooms that satisfy needs" spread out across a piece of paper, draw circles and connect lines, and you'd have a pointcrawl/node-based dungeon "map" that should make complete sense as a realistic habitude.



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