Supernatural Weather, Part 1
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #361
- Supernatural Weather, Part 1
- A Brief Word From Johnn
- Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Supernatural Weather, Part 1
From Johnn Four
This week’s issue is based on a reader request for supernatural weather tips and ideas. Great topic suggestion! I polled the folks on the GM Mastery list, and their great ideas and mine are included below.
Thanks to the following for their suggestions and tips: Robgonzo, Eric FitzMedrud, Gus, Lorele Phoenixjade, Bobby Nichols, Telas.
39 Supernatural Weather Event Ideas
Preceded by a violent earthquake, everyone knows it’s coming to shore; time is running out to evacuate everyone before it hits.
Also, the water level drops to create the huge swell. The lowered sea level reveals parts of the sea bed not usually seen from the beach. What if it revealed a sunken ship or a castle? How much time is there to investigate before the tsunami hits?
The tsunami is driven by a supernatural horse that is trapped in the waves. Now is his chance to try to rush upon the land and get free. It is said that the right horserider, catching the wave, might assist the creature in escaping.
The horse is actually an evil god/demon/devil trapped in the waves by retribution of a sea god; the villain of the campaign is trying to free the horse; the PCs need to help people escape, stop the villain from freeing/allying himself with the horse demon, and not get killed when the tsunami hits. Good times.
It’s Raining Tangle Foot Bags
During late spring storms, a certain tree saturates the air with sticky seeds. Storm rains gel with the seeds to create a temporary glue. After the storm, as things dry, the seed water congeals, trapping anything in it. This effect is especially dangerous if pools are trapped in large fronds and other places that can be accidentally disturbed, resulting in fast entrapment even days after a storm. Goods And Services :: tanglefootbags
A certain storm carries hail that emits deafening booms when it strikes hard surfaces. Goods And Services :: thunderstones
Once a year or so a dense fog rolls in that has the strange power to magically open all but the most difficult locks. Mechanisms mysteriously spring open, tumblers turn, and rods move, making people very insecure.
What GM can resist weather that throws random fireballs around? Fortunately, during fireball storms, the flames are fuelled solely by storm energy and quickly snuff out after impact, thereby leaving just impact points and debris.
A hot wind blows infrequently from the east that seems to pick up the thoughts of those it passes. Trained listeners can pick out carried thoughts, and masters of the art can even identify who a thought came from through visions.
Does very little wind damage but sucks things up and deposits them in another location or dimension.
On a certain night, when the time of year and moon phase is just right, a fog will emanate from a graveyard, bringing with it the shades of those buried in there. Some seek comfort, some want justice, others want revenge.
Fog of Succor
This often rises to enshroud the helpless or lost, providing a protective cover and putting those caught into a deep sleep. Upon awakening, victims have been healed, rescued, or set upon the right path.
Heat driven mini twisters that whip across dusty landscapes are actually a type of demon struggling to burst through the planes onto this world. Normally harmless in a rural area, they are dangerous if they gain a handhold on this side, such as a building or a person.
The relatively warm wind blows in once a year. Anyone touched by the wind becomes carefree, ceases to do chores, and will only laugh, frolic, make music, and eat food. Make it fun by contrasting the way different towns respond to the effect. One town prepares feasts, decorations, and even those not affected join in the fun. In another town, people see the winds as immoral and temptations. They isolate themselves inside to pray while the winds pass by; maybe they tie up livestock or other animals outside so they can find out if the effect is over.
Every weather event is controlled by an elemental. For powerful weather forces, elementals team up. It is said that, if you can find the elementals controlling a particular weather event you can end the event by slaying the creatures, or striking a deal.
Rains of The Earth
A strange torrent of rain that turns metal into stone, stone into mud, and mud into dust.
These winds come in winter from the south and carry with them memories of those still enjoying their sunny weather. Those affected think it is much warmer than it is, refuse to put on warm clothes, want to sun bathe and swim. They do not feel cold until they collapse of hypothermia. Concerned well-wishers must restrain those affected until the effect passes.
Especially common after ice storms. Wind in the trees sound like tinkling chimes. Children and the simple minded hear fey promises of candies and treats. If you follow the sounds you will be led deeper and deeper into the woods, facing environmental or even more supernatural dangers within.
Zephyr of Harvest.
This strange wind affects only small areas and can appear at any time of year. Plants grow, blossom, and mature wherever the wind passes, creating small, bountiful crops of fruit and nuts, and other food if the plants have already been seeded. Many villages perform special ceremonies each year to attempt to attract the zephyr.
In this part of the world, fall comes quickly. The leaves change colours on one day, and the next, strong downdrafts tear them from their tress. Anyone caught in a downdraft has visibility reduced, might get buried in leaf drifts, and has their strength drained from them (possibly aged). The third day the leaves (and anyone caught in them) are carried away on gale force winds to a great sink hole in the north where the locals say a demon feeds on the decay until the next year.
It’s Raining Fish
Water spouts form and throw fish and other small marine life into the clouds, where they rain down later over land. Perhaps this time it’s raining mermaid(s), and with only fresh water near, how do we help them?
Mana From Hell
In a distant mountain meadow, dew on grasses in early morning smells and tastes like nectar or a favorite food. Few can resist once they start tasting it. Those affected just want to stay and eat, wait until the next morning, and eat more dew. They are unaware they are not gaining any nourishment and will waste away in a contented stupor, leaning against small bump on the ground until they die of hunger. At this point, the grasses cover the person and a new small but comfortable bump in the meadow appears.
In a valley between two large continents, winds converge from all directions to a great rift canyon where the earth inhales them. Temperatures fluctuate rapidly between scorching dry heat, humid, tropical gales, and icy, cutting winds. You can get drenched, frozen, steamed, and lightning bolted in a matter of minutes. Keeping your footing is difficult, your body gets shocked by the changes, your skin gets chapped and sore. The only thing tougher than the climate is the people who live there.
For a couple of days, a year each person gets their own micro-climate that changes according to their mood. Two people in a long conversation usually end up with similar weather until parting. Ten people with strongly opposing moods might create small twisters. Leaders of countries have sought to use this time for treaty making, as cold, bitter winds reveal lie and betrayal, while rays of sun peeking through clouds foretells hope and promises of peace. Doubtful lovers might seek confirmation of compatibility, and used car/horse salesmen toss up their hands and take the days off, “In honor of these special times.”
Rain of Life
Every now and then, at the height of the rain season, a certain cloud seems to travel against the wind. Trees touched by its rain animate. Some blame the elves and druids when this happens, and so far they have not denied these accusations. “Dad, where’s the forest?”
The lowest tide every 77 years that lasts for 7 days. Submerged land seen for the first time in decades might reveal all kinds of interesting things.
This unnatural phenomenon happens before winter ends to give way to a warmer season. Those caught on this rare occurrence see unnaturally large and slow falling blue snowflakes. Everyone touched by the flakes are slowed down as per the Slow spell. Slow :: d20srd
Light, Temporal Storm
Crackling blue-white flashes of energy and misty reflections mark this strange event. It is disorienting to most normal creatures and has random effects on speed, direction, and time:
- Victims are hasted, slowed, timestopped, or timeslipped.
- Time duplicates from the near future appear.
- Creatures disappear for a few moments.
- Melee attacks hit a random creature.
- Time breezes might cause a mass slow or mass haste.
- A gust might cause a mass stop.
- An eddy might cause a mass timeslip.
- The eye of the storm might be clear of effects, or a highly charged magical area that could be useful for certain epic magic’s.
- The wall of the eye might have random, chaotic effects.
- Echoes of past and future contain misty/cloudy/smoky images that form into whatever the DM wants.
- The calm preceding the storm might seem eerie, quiet, and slow.
Open Small One-way gates to the air elemental plane. Trapped creatures must find another means to get home.
A poisonous gas cloud
Perhaps a wizard experiment went horribly wrong and the periodic gas cloud is the result.
It starts to rain and exposed flesh and other vulnerable materials take damage. Remember that animals, such as mounts, familiars, and animal companions, will be affected.
A strange snow falls in some areas that has a hallucinogenic, memory-altering, or amnesia effect on those trapped in it.
A real phenomenon In the game world, when it happens during a waxing moon, all druidic or nature magic is memorized at one caster level higher. During the full moon, it’s two caster levels higher. During the rare Solstice + full moon, it’s three caster levels higher. (This is why nobody messes with the druids at Solstice.) A Green Flash Page
Hailstones are “frozen electricity.” Those struck by this springtime phenomenon take electrical damage unless they are grounded. Local merchants sell “Hail Protection” devices (steel umbrella dragging a copper wire, tin conical hats with the same wire) of dubious value.
When an upwind volcano is active, the sunrise is a bloody red color, and even daylight has a reddish tint. Legends say a (evil deity, demon, local wizard) is stirring up trouble. Bloody sun days can be singular events or last for weeks. Crops, flowers, and other things that depend on sunlight act as if they are still in darkness, and creature’s sensitive to regular daylight are unaffected by the ruddy light. Evil or darkness spells are cast at +1 caster level, and good or light spells at -1.
In the hottest summers there will sometimes be a sudden snowfall from a clear sky. Thought to be a blessing from the Gods of Winter, this snow, if eaten fresh, is reputed to cure injury, disease, and other maladies. The melt water is holy, and can be further blessed to create double-strength holy water.
Rain of Light
Instead of water, it rains droplets of light. When it touches people it heals them for 1 hp for each hour spent under it. It also cures diseases if exposed to 2 hours under it.
Suddenly and without a warning a whirlpool appears under the ship. It is rumored this happens when not enough is sacrificed. To appease the sea goddess valuables must be tossed to the sea quick or the ship will sink.
Instead of water it rains an oily and flammable liquid. If for some reason fire is applied to it, everything in the area burns hotly.
Rocks with raw gold begin to fall. Sure, it killed a few persons and destroyed most of a town, but it’s gold! Is this a gift from the gods or a curse? Everyone is seen rushing to the area to get rich while they can.
Lighting Strikes Twice
In the village of Deathcliff, once a year during the thunderstorm season the gods smile upon those foolish or brave enough to test themselves. Anyone who calls upon the favor of the thunder gods and raises his sword to the heavens is rewarded by a lightning bolt falling twice on him, dealing damage as usual, but bestowing for a year magical properties upon the sword if he survives.
The Garden of Love
On this small area during spring, the scent of the flowers makes people who smell it fall in love until next spring. Locals know this and take precautions by not going near that field during spring except for occasional young lovers who willingly subject themselves to it.
Start With A Concept
As with many design tasks, it’s often easiest to start with a blank page and write down any ideas that come to mind for a particular theme – this time, for supernatural weather events. Don’t edit or deny any ideas, just keep writing. Even if an idea is poor, writing it down anyway helps the process, causes more ideas to flow, and turns off the self- critic that prevents creativity.
After five minutes or when you’ve sat for a while without writing anything new, check out your ideas and flag the best ones for development or future consideration.
If inspiration evades you, try these activities:
- Google for ideas: strange weather, bizarre weather, supernatural weather, alien weather.
- Turn a spell into an event. Pick a random spell and see what weather ideas come to mind. For example, I just visited [ Spell Index :: d20srd ], closed my eyes, and clicked. I got Magic Fang, which makes natural weapons more effective.
Weather ideas from that:
- A special rain that buffs monsters for a couple hours.
- Thorns rain down, perhaps delivering a toxin or beneficial bite.
- Clouds turn into fang shapes thus warning of an incoming weather event.
- Fang-shaped illusions appear over creatures of a certain type or alignment. Bad to be pointed out when secrecy is desired.
- Fang-shaped lightning.
- Fang-shaped hail that is deadly.
Some of those ideas are ok, and some are not so good, but regardless, the spell inspired.
- Any game rule has good inspiration potential, actually. Tanglefoot bags from D&D, for example, inspired the sticky storm idea in the Weather Event Ideas tip. The skill for opening locks inspired the weird unlocking fog idea.
- Look at art for inspiration. Pictures of weather are good, as are pictures of strange environments, fantasy locations, and alien worlds.
Design For All Six Senses
Think about the six senses while you craft your supernatural weather:
Use the senses to inspire interesting effects and craft engaging descriptions. Use the above bullet list as a checklist, perhaps picking two or three senses that are affected more than the others for each event to keep design moving along quickly, and to make the experience of each event different.
Give Supernatural Weather A Fixable Cause
The first part of this tip is to give each weird weather event a specific cause. What is the source? What triggers must happen for the weather to occur? Is there motive behind the cause?
The second aspect is to give each cause a solution. What must happen for the weather events to stop? Can the events be stopped forever, or just temporarily? Feel free to make solutions difficult or near impossible. The important part is that you define at least one cause and solution.
In books and movies, it’s fine to have absolute conditions that cannot be controlled. The window of time and interactivity of those entertainments is very small. World depth is not a primary concern.
With RPGs though, it’s all about interactivity. For campaigns, the window of time is far beyond 120 minutes or 700 pages. Depth in your game world is an important tool for crafting campaigns that thrive.
Game world depth is more about relationships than details. You can list a thousand details about a region and it might still feel shallow. Relationships are what drive game world forces and elements. They spawn details in a natural way, but they also link your game world elements together and provide levers for the PCs to investigate, learn about, and pull.
For example, I would rather have the names of 10 NPCs and knowledge of their conflicted relationships to each other than a thousand-name list of an entire town’s population. The relationships give me story, plot, encounters, and NPCs the characters can interact with. The roster of names just gives me a static inventory and no depth.
Ahem. Got off on a tangent there. The principle is, if you can provide a game world with relationships and elements that the PCs can change, you have depth and a strong campaign base. Providing cause and solution for supernatural weather, even if you don’t think the PCs will get involved, builds depth in your world that will have beneficial downstream effects.
In addition, it’s odd how, once you create something with some potential interactivity, it finds a way to weasel into your gameplay….
Design Pre-Event Anticipation
Some weather phenomena might occur without warning. Gameplay still benefits from the effects of the event, but you could get even more value with a little pre-event build up. Value doubles if the PCs have experienced the event before and realize what’s coming….
The best way to communicate that an event is coming is through signs and warnings. These should be visible or noticeable by PCs, else the effect is lost.
It helps to divide potential event signs and warnings into four categories.
For each category, think about:
- How they react. Behavior, actions, activities. For example, humans might board up windows, plants might curl up their leaves, animals might get nervous and make noise.
- Warning time. How much notice do you want to provide? Start the signs and warnings at this point. For example, winter omens might indicate certain storms in the summer, or fleeing creatures might indicate an event is minutes away.
- Location. How far away do the signs reach? If the PCs are deep underground or just in a building, will signs reach them?
- Precision. Are the signs accurate? Do they indicate the exact event, a range of event possibilities, or just that something is not right? Best case is the signs create a puzzle for the players to figure out, such as a code or pattern.
- Coping strategies. The signs might take the form of preparation. Some might just weather the storm (sorry for the pun) and heal or repair afterwards. Others might take steps to achieve protection or immunity. Alternatively, some might try to maximize advantages from events with good effects, such as by placing containers out to capture healing rain.
Creating a few signs to warn of an upcoming event gets you more value out of that event. It also provides a few extra details that have relationships or can spawn additional GMing ideas:
1) Encounter details. Reveal the signs over several encounters. They might pose a bit of a mystery, and will add interesting details to encounter locations or backgrounds. Signs don’t need to be the basis of these encounters, but can be picked out or noticed by players who like to get into that type of thing.
For example, an encounter with a monster could start with the PCs noticing a creature digging a large hole (for protection against an impending storm). The PCs fight, parley, or evade as normal, but the extra detail lends additional flavor and might make them curious.
Another encounter involves helping merchants with an overturned cart combined with a wild dog attack targeted at one of the horses. In the background, observant PCs can spot birds fortifying their nests and other animals fleeing south.
Upon arriving at the village, all the buildings are empty. The place is quiet, though cooking pots and chimneys boil and smoke away. As the characters move through, they hear a strange moaning. They approach the noise and find all the villagers engaged in some kind of ceremony. To interrupt would win the people’s wrath. To participate wins their friendliness. To watch gives a chance to figure out what the ceremony is about. Regardless of the PCs’ choice, a storm is coming….
2) World building. Daily life is a difficult thing to develop for each culture in your world. Create different reactions and coping strategies to supernatural weather to add new cultural details.
Next week I conclude the supernatural weather tips with advice on designing weather effects, making weather a plot element, world building with supernatural weather, and more.
A Brief Word From Johnn
You Can Search RoleplayingTips.com
Last week I hooked up Google search to the website. This is a long-overdue feature to help folks find tips at the site.
Articles Section Updated
Another recent site update: the articles section has been reorganized. Hopefully it’s easier to scan what articles are available and find such classics as So You Want To Be A GM?, Running Adventures With little Preparation, Hierarchy of Evil, and The Mother Of All Character Questionnaires.
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have some GMing advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Let Players Change Your World
From Rick C.
Nothing angers players more (other than trying to tell them what their characters are thinking or feeling) than not allowing them to affect the game world. I know GMs who would never allow PCs’ actions to affect anything more than a very low level of the game world. Sure you can save the king, defeat the orcs, etc., but eliminate a god? Change the landscape? Alter the order of things? Never.
One GM had a favored entity that sprawled across the landscape. It was enormous in girth and power and could regenerate from any wounds. I was playing a PC that was a mage and had a resourceful mind. The party was in danger from this entity, and the GM was loving bashing us around with his uber-monster (what fun…).
So, I did something he did not expect: with the help of another mage, my mage cast a rain of acid spell that covered a good portion of the entity. Mostly a nuisance since it could regenerate, but then my mage added a permanence spell to keep it going. A continual acid rain. Regenerate from that!
Since he had allowed those spells in his game, the GM had no choice to accept what I had done. His face fell as my mage’s quick thinking allowed for us to escape. Later, he decided the monster was able to mutate and adapt to the magic acid. It even started to get stronger on it. While that is kind of interesting, it angered the group because it was a prime example of how we could not change anything major in his game world.
So, a good piece of advice for GMs is to be flexible and to allow the PCs to change your world – even if it is drastic. After all, it doesn’t do much good to have this game world that no one wants to play in because it is completely static and unchangeable.
I have a player who still has fond memories of the time his characters accidentally burned down more than half of the imperial capital by causing a riot to break out. They managed to stem the tide by casting a wall of stone across several key streets. Skip forward about a century in game time and the player – returning to the game after college hiatus – was enormously pleased to find a memorial to the Great Fire and another to his PC (who had actually caused it!) for his saving of the city with the walls of stone – which had been maintained by the city as a historical landmark.
The same player has had PCs who have drastically altered the world by killing a god or two, unleashing untold evils by accident, and throwing their support behind kingdoms that would have (and were planned to have) fallen if not for them.
NPC Personality Matrix Tool on the Web
From Peter Sidor
This is an NPC Generator inspired by the tip from Manuel Ebert in Issue #219. It generates a personality for the NPC, and tries to assign it an occupation fitting to its mental characteristics.
Advanced Excel Sheet Examples
From Loz Newman
Multiple-file data concentration.
Sounds intimidating? It’s actually easy, once you know how. What is it and why use it? Players have the pesky habit of changing characters, which means you get to type a new one into your spreadsheet.
But, what if your Excel file for the PCs is full? You have the choice of over-writing a slot, losing the potentially-useful-in-the-future old character, or….
There’s a technique for grabbing all the Group Stats info and putting it into another file, then selecting the PCs you want to show on a instantly customizable Group Stats sheet. This can show the stats on the group of PCs that _you_ pick, even if the PCs are in different Excel files. That’s called concentrating the data from multiple files.
How? Download this article, which includes a tutorial and examples – 361 Advanced Excel
Treat NPCs Like Heroes From A Different Angle
From Tyler Elkink
Hello again, Johnn. When I saw the section on paranoia in Issue #211, I couldn’t resist adding my two cp.
I am renowned for my “evil, evil GM” ways. Outside the game, when asked to describe me in one word, my players used “evil,” or even, “My God, man, you only want one word? Is evil-horrible-evil-evil a word?” Suffice to say, I’m terribly pleased with the reputation.
The whole reputation, which causes new players to cower and experienced ones to wince or sob openly, is based on two tactics. First, and least important, I feel it’s necessary to balance not just good and evil, but the abilities of the PCs and the NPCs. While I abhor killing PCs for anything except dumb mistakes, every player knows that major enemies are not just capable of matching them, but overwhelming them.
I treat NPCs like heroes from a different angle; why should they be without spectacular magic items, rocket launchers, or the city-levelling power of the PCs? In one memorable instance, an earth mage NPC in my GURPS campaign managed to barely evade the would-be fatal attack by the air mage of the party. Seeing his life in mortal danger, he cast his most powerful spells immediately, and summoned three huge earth elementals. The PCs spent the next 2 hours scrambling like rats as the living rocks smashed warehouses and collapsed skyscrapers.
Secondly, and far more effective, I ensure the party needs an NPC to fulfil some role. Perhaps they need a guide in an underground city, or their healer is out of commission. In extreme circumstances, a ruler may threaten them with messy death if they don’t take his nephew along on their adventure. Once the NPC is in the party, I make him indispensable and/or useful.
In the GURPS campaign, the PCs were desperately trying to find The Tragametopolist, a serial killer, powerful illusion mage, and skilled alchemist. They were also heavily dependent on helpful John Bull, a cocky healing mage who stayed in the background until the battle was over and they needed their limbs reattached. For what must have been about four months’ real time John Bull tagged along, helpful and cheerful, as other guides turned traitor and stole essential items, magic rings, and helpless party members. The party more than once screamed, “The next helpful NPC we find, we kill!”, and they did.
Several NPCs I provided simply for the purposes of information or item creation were mercilessly slaughtered, causing the group unending problems in the magic community as they gained a name as serial killers. It was delightful. Finally, however, the group found the necessary magical item, found the Tragametopolist, and in a huge, climactic battle, killed him.
Then the illusion of the cultist horde and their mage leader dissipated. The PCs looked around, astonished at the fading carnage, and saw John Bull, smirking at the entrance to the stadium. His image wavered and fell, and there was the Tragametopolist, holding the magical item. As an added bonus, he’d been in the group long enough to develop and administer (while “helpfully healing”) potent magical poisons that reduced each person’s primary ability; magic, strength, even psionics!
To this day, whenever I see people from that campaign, they shake their heads and mutter dark imprecations.