For the past hour, you have kept an eye on the approaching storm through the partially shuttered window of Killian Tavern dreading the worst. Slow as it may be, the latest arriving caravan reports it was far more powerful than usual as they could see trees falling over from a distance as they just outraced it by a few dozen miles. The atmosphere of the tavern this evening is grim as the news from the storm has even the heartiest men worried of the structure of the building – the only source of protection for dozens of miles. Barchlet, the tavern owner, has announced the small fruit cellar has as many ladies and kids as it can hold with a few remaining in the main hall. You know there is little else to do but hope it isn’t as bad as the reports. Suddenly there is a loud crash on the roof as an object missiles through it cleanly, leaving a huge opening to the elements outside. A motionless body now lies on the floor having shattered a table and chairs. Gripped in his hand is a wet piece of parchment that is tough to read, but if your eyes aren’t deceiving you, it reads, “The city Frasnel is gone by way of the storm. Something lives within it. Run.”
As many times as I have played in an RPG, few moments have I experienced weather or elements as a major factor to either the plot or current situation. There have been moments when a steady stream of rain has occurred, but very seldom has it been torrential enough to seek shelter or have lasting consequences. There are so many natural catastrophes and elements that could really spice up a session or even a campaign: hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, thunderstorms, hail, fog, sleet, snow, sand storms, blizzards, tsunamis. Given so many choices, it’s a wonder why more games don’t include these Mother Nature moments for more than just aesthetic atmosphere. Perhaps you have frequently included some of the above ideas, and if that is the case, excellent work. However, I think they can be implemented into a game for more than just a significant nuisance.
Let’s take a tornado for example. There should not be any mentioning of the Fujita scale as the rating is too scientific for a fantasy setting. However, describing it as a half of a mile wide is more than adequate to give players the proper mindset of how powerful it is. In a large city, the town would be in utter chaos because of the size. Chances are, very similar to real life, tornadoes will be geographically common. So citizens will be familiar with how dangerous they can be. It may be tempting to simply have the tornado be caused by an air elemental, but then it feels less like a natural occurrence of Mother Nature and more of a special ability or spell. There is something about a natural phenomenon that makes it more menacing than something that is artificially created. Natural occurrences need not be completely alone in its occurrence. Wizards with divination powers can predict its coming and plan accordingly either for good or evil. Preparations could be made to brace for the impact that the players could help with while an evil diviner could arrange for creatures to attack just after the storm when everyone is in disarray.
Flash floods can be handled similarly to a chase that many rulebooks offer. Both realistically fantastically carried out, players could roll to keep a steady pace just ahead of the flood (although realistically they would be overrun easily by it). Characters are supposed to be more fit than average humans with higher stats. Even a wizard should be able to utilize their spells to keep them alive in that situation. If they should fail, they should have the opportunity to quickly scale a strongly rooted tree. It may trap them there for a while, but at least they are alive. Perhaps some agility tricks to leap from branch to branch as the tree branches nearby are thick and sturdy to support the weight. They could cut a branch off and hold on for dear life as they leap with it into the water and swept away. Think that isn’t a possibility? Roleplaying games are supposed to be above the norm of life or else we can just go outside and live out them for real. Make the situations daring. Keep them on their toes and create death-defying situations for them to overcome.
Most of the time, players will immediately think of shelter when any kind of natural element occurs. This can lead to a quick departure of something suspenseful and exciting the GM had concocted. Timing these moments is key in “forcing” players to face the elements head on. One option is to unleash whatever phenomenon Mother Nature has in store during a great battle to add to the thrill. You could have house rules implemented such as moving full causes 1 extra square movement, chances of weapons slipping out of wet hands, ranged attacks at a penalty due to wind or tight wind, or 1 square less when walking due to thick mud. If you really want to add an interesting feature, add lightning strikes to random squares of the battle mat through dice rolling. Granted in reality they would probably be dead, especially if they are wearing armor, but, again, play the game on a fantasy level because most of the action movies we watch anymore are completely unrealistic yet we love the thrill.
You can use weather elements in a campaign focus as well. Unusual weather patterns have sprung up all over the country causing a blanket of snow on everything with cold, harsh temperatures. Discovering what is causing the phenomenon before the people run out of food would be a driving force for the PCs. Entire country sides that are covered with thick fog can add a nice, somber mood to the already dreary terrain.
Mixing terrain into the elements is another way of adding life in your adventures. Desert wastelands will have flash floods sweeping across the valley floor, breaking up the cracks in the dirt to small chasms. Climbing a mountain that explodes its peak to reveal it is a volcano causes the players to leap over rivers of lava as they narrowing climb the face. Expand the threat of molten lava to filling a valley, keeping the lava from cooling entirely by creating underground magma currents. During the winter months, these underground magma rivers keep the valley from freezing over and allowing only Spring, Summer, and Fall to occur. However, when the lava fills the valley, it slays all living things and blackens the earth for several years. While the valley recovers, the blackened earth and all those who perished in the heat are summoned to animation by a powerful necromancer.
Mother Nature is far more powerful than most creatures GMs throw at their players. And because it is nature, there really is nothing they can do to reckon with it except try and survive. This can become especially useful when GMs find their party is becoming a bit too powerful and taking advantage of a generous GM. When a Tarrasque becomes child’s play for your group, send in the big hitting Mother Nature and let them come up with a way to defend themselves.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.