You could almost taste Endor’s thick humidity, and Tatooine dried out our mouths. Theoden King’s pauldrons clinked with harrowing rain-drops, and the Icewind Dale was…well, always icy. Climate and weather can leave lasting impressions on our engagement with story, even if they don’t always jump to the forefront. Let’s take a look at some basic tips for enhancing your stories with climatic features and events.
Using Climate Narratively
Climate can do a lot to add texture to your story. Mixing up the weather and seasons can completely alter the tone or atmosphere of your party’s objectives and actions: a scorching, cloudless sun can thicken the smells and raise the tempers of those shopping in a crowded marketplace, just as a howling arctic wind will intensify anyone’s shift on the camp watch. More than just this atmospheric flare, climatic events like storms, droughts, seismic shifts, or other natural disasters can also be used as major plot point’s in your world’s history or as part of your party’s present adventures.
Using Climate Mechanically
There are a lots of ways climate and weather can be physically threatening to PCs. Apart from the more overt threats – lightning bolts, land-slides, tornados, meteors, etc. – climate can have significant, if more subtle, impacts on how player’s work through their objectives. Try incorporating things like difficult terrain (deep snow, slippery ice, thick mud, dense vegetation, flooding, etc.), poor visibility (dust storms, snow squalls, heavy fog, mirages, etc.), and long-term exposure (heat exhaustion, dehydration, hypothermia, trench-foot, cracked/blistered skin, etc.) to make your party’s progress just that much more difficult and compelling!
If you’re going to be affecting your sessions with climate, you’ll have to make sure to always be consistent. Unfortunately, there will always be times when your players ask YOU about the current weather in-game when you haven’t actually planned for anything special – they’ll do those more and more regularly once they’ve had to learn the hard way about obstructive climatic events creeping up on them unexpectedly. In order to stay prepared for this (but without having to map out and track complex continental meteorological charts and tables) just pick one of these simple climatic models that make it easy to improvise and stay on top of your world’s weather phenomena!
Since we all have a basic understanding of earth’s seasons and typical weather patterns, establishing your world as Earth-like (tilted axis with 4 seasons over a 12 month cycle) should make improvising climatic features relatively easy to keep consistent. Add in our own planet’s current climatic volatility, and you won’t need much by way of meteorological justification to toss around dramatic events when they’re best suited to have an impact!
- Untilted (Seasonless)
If your world exists without a tilted axis, it won’t have annual seasons. This can be one of the easiest models to use consistently over a long campaign, since north/south regions will always be cold, the equatorial regions will always be hot, and everything in between will stay relatively temperate. There can of course be slight variation in this model, but generally all you have to keep track of is which of these “three” bands your adventures are taking place in. Be sure to consider how this fixed-season orientation will impact your world’s economies and cultures (concentrated wealth in temperate bands, very little life on equator or too far north/south, etc.).
- “Eyeball Planet”
This climatic model is a bit different but I wanted to include it anyway because it can really make for some interesting worlds and it’s still pretty simple in terms of managing day-to-day weather systems. “Eyeball” planets are those whose local rotation is perfectly in sync with their orbital rotation, meaning that the same side of the planet is always facing the sun. As a result, while one face of the world will have constant daylight, heat, and higher chances of life, the other face is always absolutely dark and extremely cold. Given this stark contrast, using an eyeball worlds is like having two completely different worlds in one