Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Using Weather Effectively

No matter where you live on Earth, weather plays a role in your daily decision making.  So why is it that weather rarely affects a game?  The exception is when it plays the MAJOR role in the game.  I've played in two campaigns where the environment (specifically weather) was the key NPC and in both cases, it was a arctic type environment.  I've never lived in a bitterly cold environment or even visited a place where it got truly cold (well below freezing for extended periods of time) during that time of year (I've been to Canada, but during the summer).  I do, however, live in an area of the country where weather plays a very major role in day-to-day activities.  In the middle of the United States, we experience just about every kind of weather except for extended bitter cold and hurricanes.  Massive thunderstorms - check, flooding rains (sometimes flash flooding) - check, heavy snow - check, drought - check, extreme heat (and humidity) - check, below freezing temperatures for several days at a time - check, tornadoes - check (in an exponential fashion), earthquakes (though not massive damaging ones) - check, sudden significant temperature changes (up or down) - check, strong winds (greater than 30 mph) - check, major ice storms (power was out for large areas for weeks) - check.

Now, how come all these things that affect my everyday activity don't make it into affecting my activities in a campaign?  For one, I haven't seen to many good random weather generators that actually reflect real weather patterns (granted, even people with degrees, years of experience and massive computer simulations can't even really predict weather outside of a 72-hour window).  For two, weather really isn't very interesting from a story development perspective.  For three, the players (short of super powerful games) can't really do anything about the weather.  For four, it's a pain in the butt to try to keep up with when there are hp totals and saving throws to worry about.

Ok, so if you are gonna crap all over your own argument, why bother bringing it up?  Well, because weather is an encounter builder.  If you are going to use an elemental in a game, why not do it during a thunderstorm (air or water) or a dust storm (air or earth)?  Make the scene interesting, memorable - nobody remembers that time they saw a couple of elementals just hanging out, but they might (should) remember the time they were caught in a flash flood and saved by the water elemental who was surfing the canyon.

All that's great (no, not really), but that's not really using weather effectively.  Ok, so let's use it to affect the game. Want to slow down a party's trek to a given location - snow/ice/floods.  Want to create tension in a region - extended drought or persistent heavy fog.  Want to get rid of a base of operations to force the players to be more self-sufficient - hurricane along acoast or an EF5 tornadoThe point is to make things interesting and different so that your players aren't tromping through the same thing over and over again.


  1. I understand where you are coming from. I used to use weather a lot in the past, had months planned out in advance; these days I haven't used it much at all, but the party are about to hike off into the wilderness so this seems a perfect opportunity to make weather part of it.

  2. Do you have a random weather generator that you use or how do you determine the weather?