The eastern seaboard was getting thrashed by Hurricane Sandy, and as the winds rushed past me I began to think about weather in rpgs that I run. I am about to run a D&D Next campaign that will have a lot of exploration and if I want the players to really immerse themselves in the setting, then I am going to need to challenge their characters with less than perfect weather conditions. I have played in thousands of role-playing games but I can’t remember the weather coming up much in the details of the setting. Weather is something that happens every day, and as a Dungeon Master in a new 5th Edition campaign I need to make it a point to change the weather conditions, and that those conditions sometimes help and sometimes hinder the PCs.
In almost any game you play the detail of what the weather is like will help to set the scene. When you think about the weather it’s likely that temperature will be one of the first traits you use to define the weather. Extreme heat and cold can present many challenges to PCs in almost any game but especially in a low level fantasy game. That fighter in heavy armor is not going to be very comfortable in the jungles of Chult or the blistering sands of the Anauroch. Usually the effects of extreme temperatures are not immediate, but something that builds over time as they begin to wear down PCs. Extreme cold can make using metal objects such as swords or possibly wands extremely hazardous to the character that places their bare skin against frozen metal. Temperatures above or below the normal range can allow for skills like Endurance or abilities like Constitution or Stamina to get a little use that can give them more relevance. In 4th Edition D&D the Endurance skill is severely under used in most published adventures, and in many homebrew adventures I have played and ran as DM.
Next thing to consider is precipitation. Since precipitation comes in many forms the clever GM can use the moisture in the air as a way to set the tone of a scene or entire adventure. Lots of fog can make visibility seriously reduced and help to create a feeling of mystery and perhaps gloom. Not knowing what may or may not be around the next corner or behind those trees up ahead can really make a party cautious, which can sometimes allow for certain player characters who are stealthy or more perceptive to get a chance to shine. It also allows for the party to feel lack an ambush could be just ahead. Creating these moments can allow for role-playing opportunities amongst the party which is always a positive in any role-playing game.
Rain like fog can really mess with visibility and make everything slippery as well. Depending upon how fast it is raining and what surface the encounter is taking place on; saturation can affect a character’s movement speed. Trying to climb up the side of a glass building in a rainstorm is a bit more difficult than when that building is dry. The character’s grip on a rope is affected as well as their ability to use their feet as effectively for lift and purchase. Running down a hill is also a lot more difficult when the ground is wet. When designing an encounter or you are about to run a predesigned encounter take a moment to think about if it is raining, if so how heavily, and how does that affect the encounter.
Snow can bring all of the complications of fog or rain but can intensify their effects on characters and their environment. Depending on how fast the snow is falling vision can be seriously affected. The snow also allows a great benefit to characters that are prepared for it when considering camouflage. Many animals and predators that live in areas that are routinely affected by heavy snows will have coats and hides that allow them to hide effectively in snow banks. Without the proper gear thick snow can seriously reduce movement as the snow begins to pile up. Snow also assumes some level of cold that lots of characters will find uncomfortable if not deadly. If exposed for too long characters can get hypothermia, but even if protected the cold that is necessary for snow could affect a character’s Dexterity or Agility.
When figuring out the weather I saved what I consider the best for last, wind. The wind can make all kinds of great and challenging things happen in your games. Strong winds can toss unsecured objects around and if those winds are strong enough they can even toss characters around. I have tossed a halfling or two in my games and it has led to a lot of laughs and a lot of worry for my players. Missile weapons are also affected by winds, and strong winds can make their use nearly impossible especially at longer ranges. How much wind is enough to cause a problem is up to the DM but here is a neat little chart I found to help you figure it out.
Even if many of us check the weather to know what to prepare for our in our real world lives when we step into the fantasy realm we can sometimes completely forget it and the effects it can have. What has the weather contributed to your games? The comments section has unlimited space for you to talk about how you have used the weather in your games so don't be afraid to let your words rain down. Until next time, Roll Hard!
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