When I was doing my first research on Old School gaming, the term Lair appeared sporadically and I didn’t even bother to check it out. I mean, as a non-game term it denotes a place in which something lives and it’s usually nasty. Boring, isn’t it? My first association was a cave with one creature inside. And in my imagination it wasn’t even a dragon (during my entire dm/gm/referee career I’ve used a dragon only once, in my first game. It was a white wyrmling, and it was slaughtered immediately)! So I ditched that concept altogether and read more on Dungeons, Megadungeons, Modules, Wilderness etc. And basically everything else that a person can throw into a sandbox, excluding only Lairs.
A text that I’ve recently read proves that I was a fool by throwing Lairs away. Before further reading I recommend taking a look on the linked article (it’s the last in a series of three, but it has the most meat on it).
Ok, so once You’ve read that, I can continue with praising Lairs. Why do I find them appealing? Using the template from the article, they are fairly easy to create. You create a theme, some rooms (2 to 5) with creatures (monsters, constructs, bandits, whatever You like, actually) that fit that theme, a short backstory, a couple of rumors that the players will hear, and You’re done. Oh, wait. You can always make a map, and doing so is quite advisable, unless You not only have eidetic memory, but are also able to draw a map in Your imagination. The last part is to put it in Your sandbox. This is so easy that You can make a whole batch of different Lairs at once, place them in different places in the world and wait until Your players stumble upon them. And then look what those witty little creatures will do. In my case it depends on the ‘set of players’ that I’m working with. Some would explore each and every lair. Some would slay everything inside. Some would try to parlay with creatures that possess reason, tame the beasts, try to find a way to control the constructs and make the best looking lair their base of operations. Some would visit only the lairs that they had found amusing.
Another advantage is that Lairs are a very good rest from other sandbox stuff. From exploring a dungeon that will take several generations of PCs to even get the idea of its extent of (and from what we learn from Gygax, there should always be some unexplored levels), checking the modules and taking parts from the adventures therein.
Lairs are concise, small, and plainly fun.
To sum up, I’m glad that I’ve stumbled upon the article and revised my opinion on Lairs. I think that my players will see some quite soon.