Always Take the Weather With You

A line from one of my favourite songs is also true in GMing.  Weather is a powerful tool in story telling and has been from the dawn of time.  It is used everywhere to foreshadow, reflect attitude and generally enhance the feeling of a story.  It amazes me to think that so few people think about the weather in movies and books and such.  When I talk about it some people just think it is there because it happens in real life.  When you are telling a tale or relating a story, and this relates to RPG’s as well, never add in anything that does not have a place.

Find the pot of gold to be sure, to be sure!

Weather is a powerful tool to enhance a game and it is also something that is easily implemented in game systems.  Most game systems that aren’t considered “rules light” have some kind of system to represent the effect of weather on the characters in game.  So initially you can use weather to obtain effects on the characters.  Want the fight on the lip of the volcano to be just that little more dramatic, have a torrential rain at the same time causing the ground to be slippery and the plateau be considered difficult terrain.  Want the trip to the base camp to feel gruelling and long?  Add in a desert or blizzard that halves overland movement.

What you can see that I am doing here is not only laying an effect at the players, I am changing the experience of the game for them.  I am trying to impart a feeling onto their experience of the game so that they can picture the hard slog through the 3 foot of snow, or understand their characters struggle to crawl to the top of a dune in the sandstorm only to slip all the way back.  I am trying to evoke feeling with the weather and environment.

The storm begins…

Have you ever noticed in the movies and in a book that just before a fight or an argument is about to break out that thunder hits and the rain comes down.  Have you also noticed how many times they will show a shot of an approaching storm front in the movie.  It is because weather works really well as a metaphor and what the director/author is doing is foreshadowing the events to come.  A storm is a build up, things get caught in it and then all of a sudden there is a big release.  This mirrors tension in games exceptionally well.  The players track a bounty hunter that took their companion in the middle of the night.  As they track them things become hotter and they see clouds, big dark clouds on the horizon.  they travel a couple of miles and some thunder starts to rumble as they fall foul of a trap that the bounty hunter sets.  After freeing themselves from the trap they ride into the final ambush just as the heavens erupt drenching the players and the bounty hunter.  Lightning arcs across the sky as the battle rages.  As they stand over the fallen body of the bounty hunter the rain begins to ease and a sliver of sunlight manages to punch through the clouds onto the fallen bounty hunters body.

See what weather can do?  It evokes a feeling.  And it is not just rain and storms.  A serene mist rising from the water of a warm sunny glade.  Snow floats gently to the ground making the environment stark white, cold and hard the ground crunches under foot.  The sun relentlessly burns you as the trail seems to extend forever before you.  The sweat trickles down your face and into your clothes making them wet and uncomfortable to wear.  At the highest most peak you struggle to keep your balance as the wind literally howls at you, trying to push you back off the cliff you just scaled.  The weather allows you to layer the experience and punch home messages that you want to give.  Of course sometimes you just want the effeect of weather, especially if you have been over using it.  If you reach for the storm clouds on the horizon every battle the players will soon see the trick.

Don’t forget the storm aftermath!

The more detail you can layer into your games means the better received they will be.  They will offer the player that little edge in being able to visualise what is happening in the game and also feel the emotions that you are trying to convey in the scene.  Remember that each scene should attempt to evoke a feeling in the player on behalf of their character.  Use all tools that you have to gain that experience and cut out anything that does not help evoke it.  Streamlined descriptions have a point to every sentence you read or say.  That point is to evoke the image of the area and have the characters react to it through their player.

I will start to use weather pointedly in the Skull and Shackles campaign that I am running as weather has a big effect out on the seas!  The first module use it well and build up to a point where the storm breaks and things change for the characters.  I need to keep a close eye on this motif in my games and make sure that I use it frequently.  One thing everyone has experience with is weather and we all have an opinion on it (believe me, I work in a “Gas” Station on the Saturday and I think I talk about the weather 150 times each time I do!).  Until next time, keep rolling!

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