Weather makes for hard choices. Do we push onwards into the icy rain, or do we spend the night in this barn? Do we risk driving the livestock in the blazing heat, or do we stay here and fight the sharp-tooth raiders?
Because it's so ordinary, and because it's often not dangerous at all, it's easy to overlook. (I know I've run games where weather never really mattered.) But if used well, weather can make for a very interesting challenge.
A few tips:
- Mention the weather every day.
- Don't change the weather just to mess with the party.
- Show what bad weather can do to someone else first.
The obvious danger is cold itself: frostbite and hypothermia do plenty of damage, but a well-equipped adventuring party surely remembered to bring warm clothing.
|Washington at Valley Forge.|
Hiking in the cold, you'll find your body requires more food than you expected, just to keep itself warm. Antarctic explorers tended to eat two or three times as much food in the cold. At a certain point, the body just can't absorb calories fast enough, no matter how much you eat. You can starve to death walking long distances in the cold, even while you're well fed.
And speaking of food, there isn't much to eat in the winter. Animals tend to hide, hibernate, or simply die off from the weather, and plants aren't putting out too many tasty fruits and shoots in the cold. Water is a problem too, freezing in your canteen before you can drink it.
You need rest to recover your strength, but in the cold it's more complicated. On a warm summer's evening you might just toss your hammock over a branch and get a good night's sleep. When it's bitterly cold out, rest requires warmth. Just making a fire out in the open probably won't do; you need a tent or a shelter of some kind, something to keep out the wind and keep in the heat.
Lakes and rivers can freeze over, which is very useful for travel, but only if the ice is thick enough. Fall in, and you'll need to get dry and warm now if you want to stay alive. And that's assuming you can come back up through the same hole in the ice you fell in...
Beyond the dangers of cold, snow presents its own challenges. If it's sunny while there's snow on the ground, the dazzling white can burn your eyes, resulting in snow blindness.
Snow makes footprints easy to see, but if it's still snowing, those footprints will be covered up quickly, along with that medallion you dropped and the trail you're searching for.
Driving snow makes it easy to get lost. People aren't good at walking in a straight line without landmarks. A blizzard takes away your sense of direction, leaving you to wander aimlessly and die in the cold, possibly not far from a safe shelter you just couldn't see.
Avalanches are a problem in steep, snowy areas. Too much movement or even noise could trigger an avalanche, pummeling everything in its path and burying the survivors deep in snow.
The wetter it is, the more likely everyone is to get drenched, along with all their inventory. Wet gunpowder is no good to anyone. Waterproof containers exist for a reason.
To get a good night's sleep, you'll need to dry off. Shelter from the rain, some warmth, and a change of clothes should do the trick.
Footprints are easy to track in mud, but mud is hard to walk in, sucking the boots right off your feet. Hard ground is less muddy, but you're more likely to slip and fall.
A hard rain can cause streams to rise and overflow their banks, washing out trails and bridges.
Caves, mines, and narrow ravines can quickly flood, leaving you to drown or be trapped by the rising waters. Flash floods can travel faster than you can run.
Thick fog is ominous for a reason: you can't see what's out there and you can't hear as well, sounds being deadened by the fog.
Creatures that can see into the infrared (heat vision) can see through fog fairly easily, so while you might think you're alone, something might be stalking you just out of sight.
Heatstroke is a common killer. Your body can only get so hot before it shuts down, and physical exertion pushes you towards that limit. You'll need to drink plenty of water in the heat, too: often twice as much as usual.
Hot weather is when mosquitos like to come out, biting and carrying disease. It's also when wildfires tend to start, roaring through grasslands and forests. Large parts of the world burn every summer.
It can start fires, but it can also kill you more directly. Many people struck by lightning survive, but with serious burns, neurological problems, and weird mental changes that we don't fully understand (and hopefully won't be testing in the lab).
Lightning typically occurs during rainy thunderstorms, but it can be found with snow, dust storms, wildfires, and volcanic eruptions. It usually (though not always) strikes tall things, so don't be the tallest thing around in a thunderstorm, and don't hide under a tall tree, either.
Wind, tornadoes, hurricanes, and hail
Typical winds aren't usually a problem (though they matter a great deal when you're at sea) but higher winds start to knock people over and blow things around. But it's not just that the wind is blowing, it's what the wind is blowing. Flying debris in a storm can...well, there's nothing quite like a fencepost through your abdomen to ruin your day.
Tornadoes tend to be violent and wandering, but limited in area. Hurricanes build up over a day or two, and they come with rain, wind, and plenty of flooding.
Hail isn't much of a problem as long as the hailstones are small enough. Once the weatherman starts talking about "grapefruit-sized hail" you'd better get down in the storm cellar.
Bad weather isn't just a problem for the party; it's a problem for everyone else, too. No one wants to come out and fix your wagon or buy your wares in a blizzard. Armies don't want to march when it's too hot or too cold. Just about everyone hunkers down for the winter.
This post is long enough, so I'll write about the random weather tools I've been working on another day. I'll end with a question:
How would bad weather have affected the last roleplaying session you were in?