What’s The Use In Weather?

What’s The Use In Weather?

Today I have something new for all of you: my entrance into the RPG Blog Carnival.  As I have been working my way to this regular schedule I have, and maintaining it, the carnival is something I definitely wanted to begin to take part in.  A crowdsourced set of related RPG articles from a variety of blogs?  Yes please!  This month, the carnival is being hosted by Mortaine’s Blog and features the topic of weather.  What I want to talk about is not weather mechanics for a certain game, but how weather can be utilized in an RPG.

First off, what is the point of weather?  Like spell components, food, and item maintenance, weather can be something that gets somewhat, if not completely, ignored.  Who really wants to track how warm your clothing is, how light it is, or how waterproof it is?  Not many people really want that, and most groups I have been in or seen only focus on addressing this in the most basic of ways.  They do this by making a purchase or getting help from an NPC to assure that they have the “necessary” equipment for wherever they are going and then use it.

Personally, this is my take for most situations with some minor exceptions.  I think covering those exceptions is a good place to start.  Weather is important in the real world.  It dictates what we wear each day, how we get from one place to another, and the timing of everything from getting up in the morning to shovel snow to when we plant certain crops.  But in games like D&D, the party tends to continuously wear the same stuff.  We assume it gets washed now and then and armor comes off for sleep usually, but for the most part you don’t see a group deciding what boots and cloak to wear each morning while the wizard decides what spells to prepare for the day.  It’s too much book keeping to tell a story.  But there are, or should be, exceptions.  Walking through the desert in plate mail?  Torrential downpours on nice, plush, absorbent robes?  These would cause problems beyond the regular.  That is but the tip of the weather iceberg, though.

You see, there is a reason things like plate mail through the desert is going to be questioned at the table by even the most weather-lax groups.  I mean, anyone who has gotten into a car parked in the sun with the windows up in summer knows why.  The warrior would cook himself to death.  This example shows how weather (and lets be honest we are poking into climate too) can help create the feeling of the world.  In fact the first thing one thinks about when you say desert is sand and hot, rainless weather.  I digress though, what does this have to do with weather being utilized in an RPG.

The answer is everything.  I am not saying to begin tracking weather types, patterns, clothing, etc.  No, I am saying think about how to use weather to develop the game.  Use it as part of the way you describe an area.  Travelling through a thick forest, the group may not be prepared for rain, not even realize its pouring out until they step into a clearing and get soaked.  As you use that moment for a bit of role-playing, consider making a bad situation worse with a combat (or better, it may be cathartic).  Similarly you can reiterate the feel of a place.  A gloomy, dark area that is always a little too quiet an cold is nice.  But if the players find that everything is damp in the morning.  Cold, wet, foggy.  They might get a bit more of the feeling of the place.  Be sure to remind them when they set camp on night two that everything is still wet too, we don’t want them forgetting and getting happy here!

I joke about that, but needling a portion of emotion about the place using weather will help the players bring that into their character.  That isn’t all though.  As you do things like that you can work in some more effects of weather.  Damp, foggy area.  Probably some steam coming off that fire, might be a bit noticeable.  Maybe the group should be more careful during watches here.

You should also consider using weather as an obstacle.  Not a “we need warm clothes for the northlands” kind.  Consider the desert.  Dust storms happen.  Randomly.  Unless you are the DM of course.  Perhaps the party find the remains of a caravan and have to fight the desiccated undead.  Perhaps the smell of blood and sound of battle draws some other desert monstrosity.  Now what if, after all of that a dust storm is coming?  What if they see it during the fight?  Consider allowing nature check to determine how quickly it will come.  Add tension to the fight by telling them how much closer it is getting each round.  Maybe it even gets there mid fight, and both sides have to figure out what to do or flee.  Weather just became another adversary, something for the PCs to fight, something to earn them some XP I think.

That example brings me to the other way/reason to utilize weather in an RPG.  Drama.  Weather creates really good drama.  We associate weather with emotions.  Torrential downpours are terrible, uncomfortable, and in the way.  But have you ever been out hiking, hot as anything, and have the sky open up.  You’re mostly covered in sweat anyways and the cool water is absolutely refreshing.  You do not feel the same about rain as you do when trying to race from the grocery store, with a cart of food, towards your car.  Keeping with rain as an example, it is also a simple thing that can add heart and courage to a scene.  How?  Consider the battle of Helm’s Deep.  A very clear night, battle at the doorstep.  Orcs marching forward, weapons being readied.  Then, rain.  The bowman and soldiers stand, unflinching and ready to fight.  Despite the rain, despite the new chill, in defiance of weather and in defiance of the orcs.

Adding rain to a sequence like that is perfect.  We had a large battle once.  It involved a boss monster type encounter, but my players though it might involve a lot more creatures.  They just knew something was coming and prepared for the worst.  They rallied the small town’s militia and everyone who could hold a sword.  Some of my player’s have been known to give speeches like (to stick with LotR) Theoden does before Pellinor.  This time however, the leader simply gave two or three sentences, well role-played to the nearest men and told them to pass it down the line.  He paused and decided he was going to sing a harvest song (it was a farming community in Fall conveniently enough).  It was then that someone said, “and this is where it begins to rain.”  I took this opportunity and agreed.  The rain started slow, but has the circle around town picked up the song, moving like a wave and getting louder, so to did the rain pick up.  Enter dramatic fight sequence.  Needless to say, it was a very fun session.

That last paragraph is really the point of this article.  Weather is a great obstacle sometimes.  A great enemy even.  It can add flavor and emotion to an area.  It can give a player a tool to grasp as he role-plays that session.  More than that though weather can be a portion, however small, of something incredible.  In the story from our game, the whole session would have been great, thanks to that player, either way.  But the rain helped build the final rising action to the climax and set the tone for the falling action after the battle.  Was it necessary for that session or a great tale?  No.  But then again, I cannot imagine those two hours without the rain.1