The Essentials of a Villain’s Lair3 min read
Nothing beats that sinking feeling in your gut that weighs down your soul when approaching the lair of an antagonist that you just spent several hours slaying monsters and solving complicated puzzles to finally reach and destroy. We’ve heard about the despicable deeds of this villain throughout the story, even battled them on occasion, and are prepared to tackle their headquarters. As the good guy closes in on the bad guy’s lair, we have an expectation to be met of what this place will look like, whether it be a castle, fort, laboratory, pyramid, or tower, we already know what we want to see.
This place better ooze doom and gloom. Only the strongest sentries guard the gates. For a more terrifying effect, only approach at night if given the option. Even better, lightning constantly sparks overhead in the ominous clouds, and fire may literally rain to the ground. A castle, or a looming tower, might boast a moat of lava with a bridge. Add to this a drawbridge that opens upon the arrival of the hero, and we know this villain is eager to watch us repeatedly fail in their maze of death.
Just as important as offering up the biggest baddies is providing the most difficult puzzles, especially in an adventure game. These should be puzzles that reference dungeons we encountered earlier in the game, or feature bosses we previously defeated. As a player we expect to be challenged, to have our knowledge tested, and forced to utilize all the abilities and tools we have gained throughout the story.
Villains with more eccentric tastes might fill their abode with priceless objects, whether that be inanimate treasures or actual people is their decision. We may even encounter an endless number of mirrors that allows the antagonist to see their reflection at every turn. Some big bosses will love to roll out the red carpet to welcome the hero to their demise. Others prefer to load their headquarters with tricks, ranging from trap doors to illusions of the person we are desperately trying to save. In a technologically advanced world, these traps must always include the most expensive, fresh-out-of-the-factory equipment known in the realm.
To truly set the mood for an evil lair, the music should complement the danger the protagonist is about to face. Ominous is a must, no matter the tempo the villain chooses. Depending on their mental state, we might expect to hear something similar to a funeral march as if the protagonist’s death is highly anticipated. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we might be completely terrified by music that reminds us of a carnival, as if the bad guy is so sadistic they will find enjoyment in the good guy’s suffering. I always imagine the decision for the best music is a grueling process, like standing at a jukebox and scanning all the singles for your favorite. Not only does the music need to accent their home just right, but also portray their personality. Those that are more gifted might choose to compose their own, just for bragging rights. In an ultimate show of superiority, it is even better to arrive for the final showdown only to learn the villain was playing their own theme the entire time.
No matter why the hero has made this daunting journey to tackle the villain for whatever despicable deeds they have committed, we must stand back and appreciate the effort poured into the decisions behind creating the perfect lair. Expensive decorations, sinister music, irritating traps, the toughest guards, and the most frightening killer beasts are all perfectly combined and placed specifically to spell disaster for the beloved hero. One of my favorite parts of arriving for that final battle is the long monologue, where that incredible baddie gets to tell us how much better they are than us, or how defeating them is impossible, only to prove them wrong.