Weather is so much more than how wet you’re getting

9 11 2009

As a GM how many times do you consider the weather during an adventure?

Most GMs overlook the weather as a useful tool in both setting and also in telling the story.

Many years ago, we relied on the weather and took it seriously. Poor weather affected crops and livestock. Bad weather could even affect health.

Nowadays we have supermarkets that will fly in food from around the world and central heating and air conditioning to ensure we don’t need to vary the climate inside our house.

But it’s deeper than that. Seasons reflect aspects of life and weather can be a great barometer (pun intended) for emotions.

In reality, we all react slightly differently to the weather. Some love the heat and others despise it. Even considering these variances, the majority of people will react similarly to most climactic conditions.

The English language is littered with idioms that reference the season or the specific weather. They don’t need explaining, we all understand exactly what people mean when they use one. That’s because they are understood as a subconscious level. Even the most basic of weather descriptions convey a mood:

Spring = hope, new birth

Summer = adulthood, happiness

Autumn = old age,

Winter = death

Sunshine = happiness, goodness

Storm = trouble, a change

Calm before the storm = trouble or a change ahead

Rainbow = hope, a link between two extremes (sun and rain)

Cloudy = confused, muddled, unclear

Clouds on horizon = trouble ahead

No wind = no change

Windy = changes

Rough weather = problems

Fog = confusion, unaware

Rain = depressed, badness

Snow = coldness, cleansing

This makes weather an ideal setting tool to convey what’s going on in the story or in a character’s head. You don’t need to use the sledgehammer approach but I’d also exercise caution at being too clever.

A few references, subtle ones, dropped in during a scene will convey the message.

As an example, if you used the rain as a portent for something bad about to happen, don’t have a PC thinking, ‘it’s starting to rain and rain is a bad thing.’ Instead, reference the changing light – from bright to muted grey tones. You could even describe the rain, or its effect as resembling something inherently evil.

The use of metaphors and weather work well. Mention the noise that the rain brings, reference something having to stop because of the weather. Consider how inanimate objects react to the weather – or even the characters.

How does the rain affect textures? How does it change how things sound? Does its own noise drown out something the characters were listening to? Does it simply stop whatever was making a noise? Does it therefore bring silence? How does it affect the characters’ senses? Does it affect what they’re doing? And be subtle here – does it affect their mood? Remember to build the mood, don’t dunk the reader in it.

Sometimes a sudden change in mood is necessary and an equally sudden change in weather is appropriate. Sometimes the change, or even the manner of the change is as important as the weather itself.

Let the players join the dots. If you’ve positioned them well enough, they’ll get the picture. You don’t need to go over them with a felt-tip to convey the message.

Finally, setting is an integral part of writing an adventure. The use of weather is just one tool to set the scene – not your only one.




One response

9 11 2009

Despite my near obsession with using climate as a defining part of my game, I don’t think that I’ve ever used weather as you’ve described here. I’ll be sure to experiment with it, using your guidelines.

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