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Weather in D&D Part 3: Advanced Weather

This article was first broadcast in Episode Nine on 20th January 2018.

Raerae: Huh, so this is what it looks like back here
Lennon: You mean you’ve never been backstage?
Raerae: Well I’m not usually on stage to go behind it
Ostron: Good point
Raerae: Oooh, is this where Ryu keeps that hat?
Ostron: Well, not quite, this is where we always go after the news for a Short Rest
Raerae: Gotchya. So, what do you do when you take a Short Rest?
Lennon: Oh, mainly we try and keep Ryu out of the Gnomish Workshop. Although the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the weather…

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So continuing on, you’ve caused a party wipe with a gentle summer shower, you’ve got your players looking for deeper meanings in every change of wind direction, surely this is all the weather you need in a D&D game, right?   As you might have guessed from the fact we’re doing a third segment on this, the answer is a hearty “of course not!”  What we’ve covered so far has helped to make your D&D world more interesting, more realistic, and now we’ll help you make your world more fantastic.  Once your players consider weather a normal part of their D&D experience, you can start challenging those expectations to keep things interesting.

How do you make a locale stand out as exotic?  The populace and culture?  With nine playable races in the Player’s Handbook alone, as well as countless cultures to draw on from history and fiction, there’s plenty of options there.  Similarly, the party’s probably had all sorts of exotic creatures try to eat them already (and probably tried eating a few as well), and as for plant life…well, not to perpetuate the stereotype of gamers not getting outside much, but for most D&D players, one tree is much like another, unless it’s trying to eat them.  With these challenges in mind, how do you drive home to your players that no, you are not in Kansas anymore, Toto?

If you guessed “exotic weather”, you guessed correctly!   D&D is filled with people, beasts, and items imbued with magic, so why should the weather be limited to that of the mundane world?  With the wide variety of arcane, divine, profane, and planar energies that touch the world in spots, it’s only natural that some regions would have decidedly un-natural weather that is unique to that region.  When looking for inspiration, consider what might arise from the interaction of a particular school of magic, or a planar gate.  Foxfire storms shower the region in harmless blue flames and sparks; those caught outside in the storm might experience hallucinations (illusion) or visions of other places and times (divination).  If it’s linked to necromantic magic, it might instead be called a corpse-candle storm; undead in the region draw the fire to them, granting them an extra hit die, 10’ greater walking speed, and +2 damage on their attacks, but also affecting them as if caught in the area of a faerie fire spell.

An example of a planar-influenced event would be a Faewild dust shower; these rare events can cause drunkenness in affected people and creatures, or induce random (but generally harmless) transformations or partial transformations such as turning people into animals or vice versa, or turning a person or animal partially into another animal.  Despite this, such events are celebrated when they occur, because the vital energy of the Faewild infuses the plant life in the affected area, causing an effect similar to the eight-hour version of the plant growth spell over the region affected.  Even in areas one wouldn’t expect to encounter weather, such as the Underdark, you can encounter magically-infused weather.  In the case of the Underdark, you could see something like clouds of acid mists drifting through caverns, eating away at the cavern floor, walls, and ceiling, collapsing some while opening new passages to others.  Creatures and plants in such areas would either develop resistance to acid or have some other way of protecting or hiding themselves while the clouds pass through the region; even those adventurers equipped to deal with the acid, however, may find themselves threatened by caverns destabilized by having their supports eroded by the event.  With magically infused weather, not even the sky is the limit.

Firestorms may be a natural property of the Seared Scar Desert, or may be something that naturally occurs every 279 years when the fire moon Khazh draws near, or they might start to happen as a group of efreeti work to weaken the barrier to the Plane of Fire in order to draw part of the Material Plane over to their realm.  Characters who’ve been to the Seared Scar Desert would know about the firestorms that occur there, as would denizens of the surrounding areas.  Similarly, long-lived individuals such as elves would know about the effect Khazh has on the world, while other races would have records of these storms; they would be able to prepare for the challenges to come.  On the other hand, when the weather is caused by some never-before-seen cause, it’s okay for the players to be caught flat-footed, because everyone else will be as well.  Of course, with homebrewed campaign worlds, these sort of weather events can be incorporated from the beginning without issue; just be sure that the players of characters who would know about such exotic weather events are informed about them and know how they’re normally dealt with.

But what of the common-folk of the world? Well, much like our “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”, there’s many proverbs and sayings to help a person predict the weather; favored by farmers, sailors, and others whose livelihoods depend on the whims of the sky, these sayings help them prepare for inclement weather…even if it’s just remembering to take the washing in before it rains. While it might be tempting to start looking up such proverbs to give your NPCs more flavor, keep an eye open to see if you can’t make them more D&D-flavored.  References to animals might refer to creatures from the Monster Manual instead, or common spells, or refer to one of the gods.  If you’re using exotic weather, use existing proverbs to think of possible warning signs that people would look for before a hazardous magical weather event strikes, giving your players a sporting chance to prepare for it if they’ve been paying attention to what people have told them.  If one of your players wants to play a weather-wise druid, ranger, or other such outdoors type, work with them to decide what proverbs they’d know, and drop appropriate hints to them now and then to give them warning of things to come.  Of course, when all the signs indicate one type of weather and something else happens instead, you may have something more interesting happening…

Anti-Weather! Sometimes your adventures will involve strange things happening that leave the party wondering what exactly happened here.  If weather is incorporated regularly in your campaign, you can use anti-weather events to let the players know that things aren’t exactly what they seem.  An anti-weather event is one where something occurs that contradicts what the players would expect from the weather.  A simple example is a mysterious stranger walking into a tavern; though the region is in the middle of a heavy rainfall, the stranger is perfectly dry, which should immediately mark him as something unusual.  For a more involved example, consider this scenario.  A coastal town is woken by the crash of a ship driven on the nearby rocks just before dawn.  The ship is high on the rocks, as if lifted by a heavy swell and high winds; the sails are torn and spars cracked by the force of storm-driven winds, and the masts are charred, still smoldering from the many lightning strikes they bore.  Clearly, the ship was driven up on the rocks by a fierce storm…the only problem is that the weather’s been perfectly clear all night. Whatever adventure you have in store for your players, by using an anti-weather event you can quickly let them know that this is more than a simple shipwreck.

Finally, let’s take a look at the various D&D players, and what sort of weather events will tend to appeal to each.  Page 6 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide covers the different kinds of motivations that drive various players; by recognizing which motivators your players prefer, you can tailor your weather events to better appeal to the members of your group, while avoiding ones that will tend to dissatisfy them.

Players that prefer the Acting motivation enjoy role-play and look for scenes where the party interacts in-character with each other and NPCs; they’ll tend to enjoy weather events that force the players into debate about how to deal with the situation.  The failed crossing of Caradhras in Lord of the Rings is an excellent example of the type of scene the Actor player will enjoy, allowing each member a chance to express their character’s motivations and priorities.  Those players who enjoy the Exploration aspect of the game, on the other hand, will enjoy weather that makes the world more realistic to them; seeing a storm develop after correctly interpreting warning signs in the preceding days will help them see the game world as a natural system.  They also will tend to be the ones to most appreciate exotic weather, especially when it’s linked to unexplored locales.

Two closely related motivations are Instigation and Fighting.  For the Instigator, D&D is about what the party does, not about what it talks about, or what happens to them.  When things slow down too much, they’re the ones who kick in the door to get the ball rolling again.  To Instigators, most weather events will be distractions at best, or forces of delay at worst.  Given the choice of waiting out a dangerous storm or taking their chances, they’ll likely gladly take their chances.  The type of weather event they’ll enjoy most will be one that prods the party into action, such as racing to bring warning or relief to an endangered town, or one that has some kind of controller such as an enemy spellcaster or a cursed object that they can disrupt by taking decisive action.  Like the Instigator, the Fighting enthusiast also appreciates action during their gaming sessions, specifically in the form of combat. They’ll tend to enjoy weather events that allow them to take action directly against some cause of unnatural weather, but they’ll also tend to enjoy encounters where the weather makes combat more interesting or challenging.

Optimizers are more focused on their characters than the events in the game;. They like to spend their time tinkering with their character’s build, trying out new abilities, items, and spells, and trying to make their character ever-more-capable of taking on whatever the DM throws at them.  As such, Optimizers will tend to appreciate weather encounters that give them XP, helping them advance their character to new levels.  They will also tend to enjoy events that let them use their abilities to mitigate or overcome the challenges created by the weather, thus validating the effectiveness of their build.  Such events will also appeal to Problem Solvers, players who enjoy unravelling mysteries and using their wits, tactics, and judicious use of the party’s abilities to overcome whatever challenges the party encounters.  If your weather encounter lets your players use their characters’ abilities and resources to cleverly bypass a hazard or complication posed by the weather, odds are you’ll have satisfied your Optimizers and Problem Solvers in the process.

The last player type is the Storyteller, who enjoys the game the most when it’s like a movie or novel, with interesting plot lines and twists, where what has happened before helps shape what happens next.  Returning to the scene on Caradhras from Lord of the Rings, where the Actor finds the roleplaying to be the interesting part, the Storyteller instead sees how the weather forces the fellowship into Moria, significantly altering the course of the journey to follow.  For the Storyteller, weather events should have meaning, or they should make the story more exciting; they are the most likely to appreciate symbolic or ambience weather weather types, because they add flavor to a scene.  The bane of the Storyteller will likely be randomly rolled weather —  if the party has spent several sessions building up and protecting a village only to have it wiped out by a randomly-rolled tornado, the Storyteller will likely have the hardest time adapting to having story about a village surviving against the odds suddenly and randomly cut short.

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