What If Weather Tells a Story?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0838

Roleplaying Tips GM Iona has a tip for us today about turning random weather into a storytelling tool, which is a great idea. Take it away Iona….

Dear Johnn,

I love weather tables and I’ve used them in the past for the adventure I created with the Adventure Building Workshop. Something I like to do with my random tables, but especially with weather tables, is to use them to tell a story. This is best explained using an example.

I created two random tables that I rolled on in secret.

The first table was a very regular table. It did have a winter theme to give the world the realism of a specific season, but other than that it was pretty regular.

It was weighted. Regular winter options, such as “A cold day, a light snowfall dresses the world in enchanting white,” had significantly higher occurrence rates than “A flashfrost freezes the sea” (the adventure was pirate themed).

This table was fine and it added realism, but the second table I made was the one I really want to discuss.

My players ended up taking my adventure and turning it into a train wreck. In no time, they had managed to not only turn themselves into wanted fugitives, but they also casually brought on a magical apocalypse in my beautiful fantasy setting.

I wanted to show how their character choices were meaningful by changing the feel of the place, so I came up with the following ‘weather’ table:

  • A blood red sky serves as an ominous sign (weight: 20)
  • Angels and demons are fighting in the skies, their weapons clash like thunder, and magic crackles like lightning (weight 20) (the adventure was angel and demon influenced)
  • Multicolored light from a strange dimension bathes the world in a cheerful light (weight: 20)
  • The skies are blue with the occasional cloud, you could almost imagine life was peaceful (weight: 15)
  • A strong wind whips up the waves, seas are rough today (weight: 10)
  • A strange liquid rains from the sky, and on contact it briefly ignites, small fires start here and there (weight: 5)
  • An icy wind sweeps through the place, carrying millions of tiny dancing lights (weight: 5)
  • The sun burns unusually bright, bathing the world in a blinding light (weight: 5)
  • A gigantic swarm of insects blocks the sun, rendering the world in an eerie shadow (weight: 5) (insects were tied to the adventure in subtle ways)
  • A snowstorm chills everything to the bone (weight: 5)
  • Scores of angels fly by in formation towards a distant battlefield, divine blessing leaks from the sky (weight: 1)
  • The earth rumbles as demons pass through, and demonic wrath weakens those with angelic blood (weight: 1)
  • A natural phenomenon never seen here before: whirlpools (weight: 1)
  • A natural phenomenon never seen here before: a flashfrost freezes the sea (weight: 1)
  • A natural phenomenon never seen here before: players choice (weight: 1)

My advice would be to use the weather table as a storytelling tool. Is your campaign grim? Then your table should be filled with grim weather. Is the region your players are in known for its insects? Then weather tables contain one or possibly more things to do with insects. Is the local villain devious? Then the weather is not always what it seems.

This can go both ways. If my players end up rolling a lot of good, happy weather, then I can use that as a question for my plot: why is it that the weather is so nice despite the apocalypse? Does it metaphorically represent the flexibility of the region to overcome challenge? Is there some kind of good-weather angel or demon involved?

This approach is by no means mandatory, but it can be fun to do and help add depth to the adventure.

This tactic is the strongest when you have at least two tables, because then the players can really feel the difference between normal weather and special theme-based events.

Alternatively, you can make one main table, and give it options such as “Region/story specific option 1” (etc.) for which you then use a small regional table as reference, to save work.

You can add initial tension to the rolling by making certain options a secret. Cover them with a sticky note or call them “Mysterious option 1.” This can be used for cool, unusual things like the player’s choice natural phenomenon.



Graphic of section divider

This is a great tip, Iona. Thank you!

You also gave me a couple of ideas.

For example, what if a GM combined weather tables and wandering monster tables?

Or what if you expanded the table when player choice was rolled? Each choice gets added as a future possible result. Imbuing weather with adventure theme is a fantastic notion. If anyone gives it a shot for their campaign, please let me know how it goes!