I was sitting here in South Texas, surrounded by the mostly ridiculous Hurricane Ike frenzy, thinking about the role of weather in RPGs. Then, I came across a good post from Advanced Gaming & Theory on the seasons and its effects in D&D and thought I’d chip in.
Weather that’s always the same is lame, especially if it’s always inoffensive. Sure, you can use weather as specific plot points, but is it really 72 degrees and clear every other day in your campaign world when you’re not thinking about it?
I always liked the weather generation tables in the old World of Greyhawk boxed set and got a lot of mileage out of them. Then, I ran a super long campaign (5 years) that was slow-paced and simulation/roleplay intensive, and I got the idea of swiping weather from an almanac. In fact, at the time I had to use the print version of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, but now it’s online and ready for you to plunder.
How to use it? Pick a place that seems like your campaign’s location. Let’s say I think the Gran March in Greyhawk seems kinda like Lexington, Kentucky. Pick a random year (year of your birth is good) and then line up the month/season with whatever the starting season is in your game. Then just use it, day by day! So in my campaign’s locale today, it’s in the mid-sixties with some morning fog. Thunderstorms are coming next Thursday. Of course, if you need a specific kind of weather you can totally overrule it, but it keeps a very low cost sense of realism going to have realistic weather. I appreciate it even in WoW, when sometimes the rain’s just coming on down out there.
Or, with more prep, you can even just use your past weather from where you’ve lived. This has the advantage of you being able to describe it so much better, but you need to time lag it by at least a year so that it’s not recognized. Or otherwise mix it up.
In that long term campaign, the weather helped set the mood frequently. It also helps set the pace – when it’s storming, the PCs have to hole up somewhere. Parties are often anxious to just run to the next adventure locale; a good rainstorm can keep them with your NPCs a while. I remember distinctly one day when the PCs had to hole up with their new goblin captive out in a small inn in some hick town. The innkeep was a retired adventurer herself and so had a high “hijinks” tolerance. They ended up moving all the tables so they could have pushup contests and other such to pass the time. They were determined to keep their goblin captive bound hand and foot till they could take him to the nearby city to be judged, and became sadly familiar with his plantive cry of “smeagol!” which in Goblin means “I have to go potty!” It was a hilarious campaign interlude, and it was made possible by 2-3 days of hard rain. It even helped direct the future plot, because the party got to know the goblin enough that they didn’t want him executed and let him loose – later, they ran across a goblin tribe that he was now the shaman of and they were friendly!
And it keeps your players on their toes and not complacent if, every once in a long while, they run across a tornado or the like! That puts a little of the sense of what it was like to really brave the wilds back in early days.