My morning commute provided me time to think of all the awful situations that can occur weather-wise in a d&d setting. Be it driving a lightning rail through a thunderstorm or fighting a white dragon in a icy mountain pass, bad weather can really ruin one’s day.
In my experience weather rarely comes up in an adventure. A long time ago I tried using the random weather tables in the 2E DMG to track weather on a daily basis; since we never used it in-game, it was a piece of color that faded into the background to be forgotten. When weather does factor into combat, it usually provides some attack adjustment (like concealment or distraction). Personally, I find it annoying to have to keep track of yet another effect in combat. Especially in 4e, the number I announce as my result is so far removed from the roll of the die with all sorts of situational modifiers, that the extra flavor doesn’t seem worth it
This is too bad because when used appropriately weather can really mix things up and give a sense of reality to a fantasy world. Since one of the reasons why I don’t like weather is keeping track of modifiers, I’ll try to explore non-modifier options.
The first thing that comes to mind is weather as terrain. For example, let’s say there’s a type of terrain called “slippery driveway” that counts as difficult terrain and any character moving more than 1/2 speed through it has to make an Athletics check or fall prone. Or there can be a constant sleet over a set of squares that does a set damage per round or slows characters caught out in it. How about a fog that emulates low light conditions? The DMG talks about extreme weather taking away daily healing surges, which is a good non-terrain option. In those cases, the DM should really try to press the party to make lost surges count.
Weather can have roleplay effects too. Some NPCs and mounts might not want to go outside on a rainy day, or frost can threaten to ruin the season’s crops, or a heat wave might kill off weaker villagers. Weather gives a character a chance to brag about how great it was back home or that he’s spent winters in Icewind Dale. Weather gives him something to talk to strangers about at the Inn. Nature-y characters should be able to show off in bad weather with tracking monsters, finding food or shelter, or detecting unusual patterns of storms.
When going to to an ice planet, hopefully the characters know to buy coats and bring along some Tauntauns. But what if it’s an average spring and but the party gets caught up in a freak blizzard? Unexpected weather provides a great way for the DM to apply those effects because it catches the PCs unaware. Weather also gives the PCs an excuse to use rituals like Endure Elements and Control Weather, which hopefully don’t break the game.
D&D is a fantasy game, so I expect to see some magical weather. Make it rain donuts, have the snow fall upwards, and of course, the ocassional bout of Purple Rain.
While I’m talking about the weather, does anyone else think the monsters that live in extreme climates don’t make sense? If a Frost Giant [DDI] has resist cold, it’s reasonable to expect that the Ice Lions they eat also have resist cold. Therefore shouldn’t it make sense for the Frost Giant to use fire attacks instead of cold ones?