GM Advice: How to Use Weather in Your Campaign

Weather is an excellent tool in a GM’s arsenal. It can be nothing more than a backdrop to the adventure or an integral part of events. Hard rain, baking sun and dense fog all present brave adventurers with challenges and opportunities.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

A wise GM does not obsess about the weather in his campaign (realism can be taken too far after all), but neither does he ignore it completely. Similarly, always saying the in-game weather is like the weather outside isn’t exactly ideal. Sometimes, weather can be nothing more than window dressing or a minor irritant. Other times, the weather can have a dramatic effect on the PCs’ fortunes (such as in the adventure Retribution).

I use weather in my Borderland of Adventure campaign for five basic reasons:

  • Mood: Weather is a powerful factor in determining the mood of an encounter or adventure. Even if the characters are in a building, the weather affects them. Is it hot and muggy? Is it raining so hard they cannot leave without being drenched? Mountains cloaked in thick, low-lying cloud feel different to those bathed in warm sunshine; the former feel foreboding while the latter are much more inviting.
  • Create Unique Challenges: In the same manner as interesting terrain, weather can affect combats and skill-based encounters. For example, driving rain and wind could hamper the use of missile weapons, but provide concealment enabling a character to sneak up on his enemies. Alternatively, snow may be heaped so deeply on the ground it impedes movement.
  • Plot Device: Sometimes the weather can act as a plot device. For example, a ship wrecked on an isolated island after a fierce storm is a common mechanic to get the PCs involved in an adventure. Similarly, strange, unnatural weather can be a side effect of a villain’s insidiously evil scheme. Fierce storms can also trap the PCs in a location – or make them flee from it in the case of flooding – both of which could be the catalyst for an exciting adventure. Remember, different seasons can give rise to different kinds of adventure.
  • Stalling Characters: Weather can stall character’s progress. In the depths of winter, movement is hard through the countryside particularly if there are no paved roads or heavy rains could wash out a bridge, stopping the PCs in their tracks. Not only does this stop them adventuring, it also gives them an excuse to do research, craft new magic items, forge new alliances and so on.
  • Verisimilitude: Adventures and campaigns that never make use of the weather feel artificial. Is it always sunny? Does summer never seem to end? Describing the changing weather to the players gives them a sense of time passing and can act as the backdrop to realistic practises – bringing in the harvest, cutting firewood for the winter and so on.

So remember, weather is a powerful tool and a clever GM uses it to add excitement and flavour to his game.

Help Fellow Gamers!

Do you use weather in your adventures? Do you do it for other reasons other than those above? Tell us in the comments below and help fellow GMs craft exciting adventures!

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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8 thoughts on “GM Advice: How to Use Weather in Your Campaign

      • they thought it was daft when i built my first boat. but i did it anyway. and it sank. so, i built another one. and that one sank. So, I built a third boat. that one was blown up, burned down at the docks, and sank to the bottom of the sea. but the 4th one has endured, that, Son, is what you’re going to inherit!

  1. I use weather in a home campaign. The characters are in a forest controlled by fey courts that are tied to the four seasons. When a court is in power, the season changes to match.

  2. Big fan of this article! I used a dust storm just last week to encourage my characters to take shelter in the dungeon they were heading to. It added both a sense of urgency, and a need to stay inside despite the dangers. My only warning is not to overuse this technique as it can lead to railroading…