How’s the Weather?
I’ve always liked the idea of using weather to alter a TTRPG scenario. Like an organic knob that can be adjusted before a session, allowing a game master to increase or decrease the the amount of peril a group might face. As a design element, it would be a quick and relatable way to accommodate different groups and offer variance in a well used setting.
As a quick warm-up, let’s take the usual medieval fantasy RPG backdrop and sprinkle on some seasonal seasoning. We’ll take the same adventure and apply four separate seasons to it and see what that generates for us.
Keeping it simple: Our adventure takes place at a remote farm at the edge of a dense forest. The party needs to investigate who, or what, has been gobbling up the farmer’s sheep. Odds are it’s the monster that lives on the other side of the river. And, go!
1. Long nights, less daylight.
2. Harsh cold, the risk of freezing.
3. Deep snow makes traversal more difficult.
4. Lack of resources, fewer passers-by.
Setting foot outside can become a ticking clock if players are not prepared. The further they venture away from the farm, the more energy they will expend trying to get back — if they can find their way back. Their tracks are likely to become covered by fresh snow. Those who live at the farm are not going to be wandering about the fields to lend a hand, so the party will be on their own. Once they find the monster’s lair, the entrance is, of course, a steep ramp, covered in ice, punctuated by a deep, dark pit. Made even darker by the fact that daylight hours are few and far between.
1. Transitioning from winter, new growth appears.
2. There’s an increase of water flow as snow melts from the mountains.
3. Rivers rage, blocking previously trodden paths.
Lacking the chill of winter, spring brings new growth to the land. The party might come across a rare herb or flower which could be made into a useful healing balm, or be of some value to a non-player character. Simply being outside is no longer a hazard, but there’s still lots of opportunity to add various challenges. Previously frozen over, the raging river becomes a much more daunting obstacle. Additionally, waterfalls swell, covering previously exposed cave entrances.
1. Long days, warm nights.
2. Agreeable weather prevails, travel comes easy.
3. What was once scarce is replaced with abundance.
4. The hustle and bustle of farm life increases.
Summer tends to be the most favourable season (minus any heat waves). Being out in the elements is rarely dangerous, even at night. This can be a good opportunity to increase encounter rates of both friend and foe. After all, if the party isn’t having any issue traipsing around the countryside at all hours, others are probably doing the same.
1. One last harvest.
2. Life begins to dwindle.
3. Winter preparations need to be made.
Similar to spring, autumn is a transitional season as the gradual descent into winter begins. Contrary to spring, instead of life, autumn brings death and decay. The trees within the forest turn red and their leaves make their way to the detritus below. Dead leaves obscure a path visually, but create an audible path to follow as things move about. Crunch-crunch. Hmm, could make for an interesting chase scene.
Ok, let’s wrap this up, it’s getting warm out again, so I might actually leave the house this week.
Attaching circumstance to the weather makes for a quick mental queue, helpful for GMs who find it difficult to pull things out of thin air (like me). An icy surface or frozen door becomes an obvious prompt with the right season in mind.
It’s also interesting to think about how weather can affect a given setting. If a long campaign is set in a confined location, a seasonal rotation can help to keep things fresh. Think about your current campaign setting, change up the time of year. What new boon or bane could a change in weather bring?