New Horizons and Powerful Weather
Happy 2019, folks! 2018 was a fantastic, arduous year for me: I started a blog (this one), married my middle-school sweetheart and love of my life, moved out of my parent’s home, obtained a job writing for my local government, survived two semesters of college, and dungeon mastered three DUNGEONS & DRAGONS campaigns. And so, the new year begins; I’m looking forward to all the good and bad that comes with another year in this world.
As for this blog, RJD20, weekly content will be starting up again beginning today with a Legendary Lessons article. In addition to Legendary Lessons, Musing Over Monsters will be returning and a new series, The Worldforge, will be debuting next week. Therefore, I’ll be hitting all the bases: Player and Dungeon Master tips with Legendary Lessons, classic monster discussion and ideas with Musing Over Monsters, and building a concrete but everchanging fantasy world with The Worldforge. I’ve almost been writing on this blog for a year, and I dearly thank all of my readers for inspiring me to continue. You’re all amazing.
Without further ado, let’s once again delve into personalized D&D advice with this week’s addition to Legendary Lessons.
There are a plethora of ways to describe a scene in a tabletop roleplaying game: Mentioning the people populating the area, the objects that compose it, or the aroma that wafts through it. One great method I’ve discovered is to utilize the scene’s weather. Weather is universal; people are familiar with it and always talk about it. Thus, when you use it to add to a scene, weather conjures a variety of emotions, thoughts, and images in everyone’s minds. This makes weather an excellent tool to craft encounters and fantastic locations around.
Weather and EncountersAdding weather to an encounter can completely alter it and give your players plenty of new options to perform risque and epic maneuvers with their characters. Last week, my new group battled a flight of giant eagles, a pack of jaguars, and a massive rhino on the streets of a coastal town. The fight occurred during nighttime, which already made the fight dark and gritty. I added to this by willing a storm to hit at the same time.
The giant eagles soared through the air, their wings buffeting against the powerful wind. Every so often, lightning would flash and illuminate their huge silhouettes. The birds took the battle to the PCs and attempted to snatch them from the cradle of the ground; one failed and was brought to the mud, where the beast’s wings became muddled and heavy. Another succeeded and brought a raging ranger up into, soaking her with rainwater and threatening to drop her into the mud below. Meanwhile, jaguars assaulted the wall, using the natural darkness and confusion of a rainstorm to their advantage. They dodged in and out of sight and outmaneuvered the lowly guards of the gate. The rhino slid through the mud during the battle, leading to a miraculous killing blow from atop the wall’s rampart.
A lot of this encounter’s flavor was taken from the weather. Large waves battered against the docks and armored soldiers charged through newly-formed puddles. Normally dirty streets turned into combatants that favored both the PCs and their enemies. Strikes of lightning upped the tension and allowed me to foreshadow what came with the storm. Best of all, when the PCs awakened in the morning and left the inn and tavern, I described the streets not only as scarred from the battle but as filled with puddles and runs. The atmosphere outside was dark and dreary, a seaside town now recovering from not only a major attack but a powerful storm. This seemingly minor decision to set the encounter during a storm allowed me and my players to build an awesome scene, and even cooler moments in the days afterward. Townsfolk will refer to the party as, “Them defenders who fought off beasts during the storm!” Everyone will always be able to place it. In addition to giving more elements to build a story at the moment, the storm will give me and my players lots of potential for use in the sessions to come.
Here are a few different encounters that incorporate the weather into them:
- A violent sandstorm makes combat with six thri-kreen hunters even more deadly and disorienting as pellets of sand whip around the battlefield, blinding combatants and even knocking them over.
- A volcano erupts as adventurers attempt to flee the lava mountain’s residents: Vicious orcs. Chunks of molten lava rain down upon the jungle that serves as an escape route for the party as pillars of ash block out the sun.
- The sun beats down on an urban street as four adventurers assault a regal wagon that carries a vampire lord from his infiltrated castle.
- A terrible thunderstorm shakes the mountains while six adventurers combat a flight of wyverns atop a sheer cliff. Lightning strikes the ground, rain creates unstable rocks, and the constant pelting of raindrops seeks to wear down the combatants.
Take these simple weather concepts to the next level. What if a blizzard hits a tropical archipelago? Why is fire, stone, and ice raining down upon a great plain? How does the party react to an earthquake interrupting their delve into a cursed dungeon? Weather, or, I suppose, environmental catastrophes like earthquakes, can create lots of opportunities for fun, easy, and relatable moments. We’ve all accidentally stepped into a puddle of mud, perhaps just not during a life and death battle with a furious red dragon. But, if you want to make weather more fantastical, maybe there's a brutal snowstorm in the middle of an otherwise tranquil desert oasis.
As a brief aside, pairing certain locations with different types of weather works quite well, too. Entering a wizard’s tower atop a hill overlooking a great lake is a compelling scene, but entering a wizard’s tower somehow still standing atop a hill overlooking wavy lake as a vicious lightning storm dances across the sky is, objectively, more compelling. That’s the thing about the weather: As the Dungeon Master, you can add a single line of narration to a paragraph and make the entire scene more familiar and interesting, or you can build upon that single line and allow your players to craft the scenario around the subject using the weather as a conduit. It’s great and simple!
In SummaryDungeon Masters can steal many aspects from the real world to add to their scenes, including the weather.
- Weather is a simple way to add another layer to your encounters.
- Weather is a familiar subject that easily allows your players to build upon a scene.
- In a single line, you can easily illuminate an entire scene when describing the weather.