Monday, July 21, 2014

4 Ways To Use Weather in D&D

I live in Atlantic Canada and around these parts we have a saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Essentially it means that our weather changes so often that you never know what you’re going to get. Also, our long history with fishing and farming means that many of us were raised keeping one eye on the weather and knowing what it means. Learning how to read and predict the weather can be a very valuable asset when your life and living depends upon being closer to right than wrong.

With this in mind, I’m often struck by how little emphasis is placed on weather in D&D. I can vaguely recall a weather chart in a 2nd Edition book, perhaps the DM’s Guide, but have failed to see it since. But beyond the charts, I wanted to make the point that weather can play a huge role in setting up many fun, challenging, and exciting moments for a group, provided that the DM knows how to put it to good use. With that in mind, what follows are four fun ways a DM can use weather to maximum effect:

1)      Weather for Roleplaying
 One of the best roleplaying sessions I ever had was during a hurricane. The DM set it up perfectly that my group was forced to take shelter from the storm in an abandoned castle. It was there that we actually found another dozen or so travelers also hiding from the wind and the rain. We spent the night talking to them, getting to know the land in which we were traveling better, and asking about a certain individual we were tracking. It would later be revealed that the primary “bad guy” we were looking for was one of those travelers and we slept no more than ten feet away from him all night and didn't know it! As a result, my group and I would spend the next two weeks hunting him down. Weather can bring people together and it can also force them apart. Using it to full effect when you want to start a roleplaying session is an easy and perfectly explainable way to get the conversation going.

2)      Weather for Combat
 Honesty, who doesn’t feel that the epic final battle between a party of adventurers and the final boss at the end of campaign couldn’t be made better with a lightning storm raging in the background? Or what about going up against a group of Yeti in a blizzard? How about trying to take down that giant scorpion in a sandstorm? As a DM, I can use weather to both enhance the ambiance of a battle and/or make it more difficult for the PCs. Suddenly the players have to begin factoring for difficult terrain if the snow is up to their knees, or for wind resistance during a twister (-2 to all ranged attacks?), or for limited vision (20 feet) in thick fog. And don’t forget about the extreme weather events like red-hot ash and cinders raining down from a volcanic eruption or giant hail stones from a weather front, both of which can cause area of effect damage over a long period of time. All of this can add an extra dimension to your fight and make even experienced players sit up and take notice.      
3)      Weather as a Trap (It’s a trap!)
 Far too often DMs (myself included) limit ourselves when it comes to setting traps for our PCs. My first reaction is to go to spikes, cleverly hidden crossbows, poison darts, you know, Indiana Jones type stuff. But standard and classic dungeon traps like, compacting walls, acid filled pits, and giant slicing axes just don’t cut it out on the road. So, if you need a trap to throw at your PCs while they are out wondering around under the open sky, why not consider a weather trap. Any NPC Wizard of decent level can set one of these up, or perhaps you might bestow a magical item to your antagonist that could do the trick. Either way, imagine the faces of your players when they are suddenly hit with an ice storm in the middle of the jungle or a major downpour in the desert! Also, consider some of the side-effects that can occur during weather events such as mud-slides, flash floods, water freezing, animals going nuts, trees falling, lighting strikes starting fires, etc. There’s lots of great opportunities here to make your PCs work for their progress.          

4)      Weather as a Plot Point
             What does this mean? Well perhaps the good people of someandsuch village are suddenly 
              wondering why their dry and hot summer is stretching well into the fall months; or maybe some 
              Lord, Duke, or Count is in a panic because it’s been nothing but rain in his country for weeks; or 
              maybe the merchant caravan that your group works for suddenly finds themselves laid off because                   the snow has continued to pile up without end well into the spring. These and many other                               situations can be caused by simple magic manipulation of the weather and they can be great                           starting points for an adventure. What is causing these anomalies and what can be done about it?                   Perhaps it’s as simple as a Wizard exacting his revenge on the locals for some kind of slight. Or
                perhaps it’s as epic as a Demon Lord who has managed to escape the Nine Hells and is testing
                his powers. I’m sure there are dozens of great story lines one can come up with using something
                as simple as the weather for a starting point.

In retrospect, I think weather has been getting a bad deal over 3.5 and 4th edition. I’m not sure yet how it will fare in 5th but I’m glad there were at least some references in 2nd Edition. In any case, I’m a huge advocate for the DM utilizing everything at their disposal to make an adventure more exciting, unique, and interesting and I would certainly consider the weather to be one more tool on my belt to accomplish that goal.          

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