Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wacky Weather - Six Feet Under (Buffalo & Homlet, Perfect Together)

Looking at the weather in upstate New York, where parts of Buffalo are looking at 6 feet of snow, it makes me think of the campaign I had that died before the players ever reached their destination. Not because of random encounters but due to random weather.

The party was going to adventure in the village of Homlet and the Temple of Elemental Evil, but they had to get there first. We had decided it was winter in the campaign (as it was for us in real life at the time) and I broke out Dragon Magazine #68 (found a link to the PDF here) and used the enclosed weather system to add some realism.

This was fairly early in my gaming career (if you can call it that) and I was very much "play it as it rolled." We didn't fudge.

Well, the damn weather system dropped 5 1/2 feet of snow on the ill prepared party in less than 2 days, with temperatures remaining below freezing for at least the next few days. The party had no shelter. They were first level and were lucky to have bed rolls.

They died.

We never used the weather system again.

Come to think of it, that was my first and only TPK inflicted without rolling an attack roll (or ten) against the party.


  1. All those players had best stay out of the wilds in winter as they would experience the same results in real life.
    And there's the trouble with weather in RPGs, none of the weather rules really let folks plan at all and there's little room for heroism in the face of a storm.

    1. I disagree. A good DM could definitely pre-plan a calendar (not necessarily a whole year, or anything, but a couple week's worth of weather when he knows the PCs will be adventuring).

      If weather effects are introduced in a manner that lets the PCs prepare, or at least react in a way that allows for survival if they think critically, there can be heroism and ingenuity that saves the day.

    2. The weather rules in the Greyhawk boxed set (which may be derived from the Dragon 68 article) do recommend the DM prepare several weeks of weather rolls before the game and then apply the results when keeping time.

      Playing OD&D using Outdoor Survival, I've seen what a difference weather effects and travel accidents can make, turning even a "quick" trip to the nearest large town into quite an adventure.

      I do find it harder to apply weather to a game I'm running online: PbP is so slow that the urgency a storm or travel accident creates is lost; through G+ we're already burning so much time in "housekeeping" that there's little-enough time in a 4-hour session for actual dungeon crawling.

      I think weather works best like dungeon atmosphere: use it as a condiment, not the main course.

  2. That is hilarious in retrospect.

    That was a great issue. I remember the two-weapon fighting article and the first appearance of the Chain Lightning spell (a favorite among our Monty Haul campaign spell casters).

    I'd been wanting to re-introduce weather as an obstacle prior to my campaign going into hiatus. I think with the new exhaustion rules, weather could really become a factor in the adventures.

  3. My first gaming software I wrote was a weather generator using the rules from Chivalry and Sorcery. It could print out a year's worth of weather, and kept stats like snow depth, and accumulated rainfall.

    1. I should dig that up and rewrite it (it was originally written in C, then rewritten in C++).

  4. Marty prerolled weather only works if players stay in a fairly small area or the DM doesn't care if the weaher follows the PCs.
    Its like weather and wind effects on sea travel in most RPGs? There is seldom any way to mitigate or adjust that is satisfying. Weather in RPGs often ends up a table of wandering damage.

    1. How far are your PCs traveling in a day? You may be greatly overestimating the pace of overland travel.

      Even with horses, 4 MPH is the walking pace (one that won't require you to constantly change horses or rest frequently).

      Which means, even in an 8 hour solid travel day, they've gone 32 miles (which would also be a little hard on both the horses and the humans -- 8 hours in the saddle is not exactly an easy trip). While weather can vary over 32 miles, it doesn't vary so much that one can't hand-wave that the weather is relatively consistent over that stretch of travel.

      Let me give an expanded example:
      Now, traveling from Richmond VA to Virginia Beach VA, for instance, is 120 miles, which would be 4 days of travel assuming you push your horses to travel that 30 miles per day.

      Now, the weather does vary on any given day between Richmond and VB, but over all regionally, we get the same systems that blow through from West to East... Enough so, that if I generated a week's worth of weather for a Post-Apoc campaign in southern Virginia, even if my players traveled for 4 days, the weather conditions across the region are close enough that if I "generate" 2 days of rain, a day of clouds and a day of sun, it's not going to matter what part of southern Virginia they are in. The same weather system is likely to pass through the entire region and the verisimilitude of the weather is unbroken.

      I also disagree that weather is a "wandering damage table". Let's say my players are headed out into the snow like that which is blanketing upstate NY...

      In the first couple hours of travel... "The snow is starting to come down heavier, such that vision is becoming limited and accumulation is already several inches on the ground in the last hour. What do you do?"

      Party: "We need to get to Winter Haven before the week's end... We should press on."

      "Ok... Over the next couple hours, you keep pushing, but progress is severely hampered. There is over 2 feet of accumulation and the horses are breathing heavy and they break the deep snow. You can barely see more than a dozen yards in the blizzard and your hands and feet are starting to feel numb. Do you press on?"

      PC 1: "Perhaps we should look for a place to shelter before it is completely buried from view."

      PC 2: (meta) "We got bunches of hit points... We can take it."

      DM: Everyone make a Constitution save. Anyone with Survival can use their bonus. If you fail, take 1 level of exhaustion.

      PC 2: Crap... I failed. Maybe we should rethink this. Can we find a cave or perhaps an outlying farm with a barn or such?

      DM: There is a stand of trees nearby that may offer a wind break, especially if you use one of your tents like a tarp to set up a wind/snow break. You guys did pack tents, right? I told you the weather was going to be cold before you set out...

      PC 2: Umm....

      PC 1: I did. We have two tents on the pack horse.

      DM: You could also try to expand your search for a cave or farmhouse, but there is nothing obvious in the immediate vicinity. It might take a couple hours more in the snow to find something else... and it's getting deeper by the minute.

      PC 1: The trees will have to do.

      DM: Ok, give me a Survival roll to set up an adequate shelter. Anyone else with the skill may assist for Advantage... 18? Ok... You are able to find a small group of trees in the copse whose trunks are close enough to form a windbreak using one of the tents. You set up the other tent behind the break. There is already a sizable drift forming and the horses crowd in together trying to get some relief from the cutting winds as well. If you all huddle close together in the other tent, you should have enough warmth for the overnight. It won't be the most comfortable, but you'll live.


      There are ways to make it exciting and worrisome, and even challenging the PCs without making it "You take 10 HP damage from the storm"...

  5. Should we be making a weather system for Tenkar's Landing? If so, we should stick to the idea that weather will mostly hinder movement, unless the players insist on going out ill-prepared.

  6. First lesson: do not start the campaign in winter.

    Other lessons to be drawn from this are left as an exercise to the reader. I would like to specifically call out Marty Walser's excellent method of presenting weather, above.


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