Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Weather Permitting

Copyright ©
TSR Games.
Odd, isn't it, how your player party is traversing a hot, humid jungle, or a cold, snow-drifting tundra, or the scorching desert in search for some long lost tomb, and yet not one character will have changed out of their flimsy robes, padded leather or full plate armour?

This, my friends, will not do.  Time for a weather report.

Admittedly the main thrust of my campaigns have taken place in temperate climes, so a drastic wardrobe change has never been facilitated by the player characters - most likely due to the easy going nature of yours truly, being such a nice guy and all that guff *insert smiley face here*.



Upon reflection, weather does have a major part within the role playing world, and it should.  Not only as a mark of the passing seasons and passage of time, and not only as a mood setter, but it should also move your players to adapt and adjust to the ambient temperature of the setting.

Copyright © TSR Games.
I know history documents very well the ravages of weather upon the Crusades of 1095 - 1270, of which, only the First and Third Crusades were successful ... but I digress; accounts of how thousands of fighting men and knights, merchants and peasants perished due to heat exhaustion, sun stroke, or in battle are common.  Intense heat of the sun, as in the Holy Land combined with heavy European armour equals a recipe for disaster.


As such, any campaign that ventures into such territory with a hostile environment should be reflected in the application of penalties to a character's stats.  This would be an indication of how the baking sun would effect an armour clad warrior who refuses to adapt and adjust his or her armour style.  In a desert climate I could only imagine the robe wearing fraternity being the least effected.

So how can these penalties be translated into physical manifestations upon a character?

  1. Dehydration - limited water supply, intense sweating, increased body temperature.
  2. Fatigue - connected with the above, gradual sapping of strength, speed reduction, loss of endurance.
  3. Heat Stroke - symptoms can mimic those of heart attack, along with nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle cramps and dizziness.  Basically, it is a killer if not treated.
So if applied, these things can drastically alter the threat to a party travelling through desert-like regions without careful planning in regards to equipment and armour.  Forget about mobs, a party refusing to prepare correctly for such an intense climate could pay the ultimate price.

Below is a scanned page from TSR's 'Wilderness Survival Guide' for both players and DMs - you will see I have circled one set of stats.  I would say these figures are inaccurate and should be amended.

At a personal temperature of 120 it would be doubtful if a person would be functional at all - for an average adult, a body temperature of 103 would require hospitalisation.  I know I am comparing real life with fantasy, but seriously, a personal temperature of 120 and still moving?  Behave!  Even role playing games need one foot tapping the borders of reality in respect to certain laws governing undeniable forces, such as nature.

Copyright © TSR Games.

Going the other way, a personal temperature below that of 35 degrees C would place a person within the hypothermia bracket.

Refer to the table below to see exactly how severe drops in body temperature manifest themselves within an average adult:


Hypothermia Symptoms by Body Temperature
CelsiusFahrenheitDescriptionSymptoms
3798.6No hypothermiaNo hypothermia
Below 3595Definition of hypothermiaN/A
32 to 3589.6 to 95Mild hypothermiaShivering
Lethargy, apathy, confusion
Rapid heart rate
28 to 3282.4 to 89.6Moderate hypothermiaShivering stops
Increased confusion or delirium
Slowing heart rate; may be come irregular
Below 28Below 82.4Severe hypothermiaComa
Ventricular fibrillation
May appear deceased
2068Brain activity stops


Basically, what I am saying is that should you, as a DM, decide to implement a campaign setting in some scorched desert landscape, or the arctic tundra, KEEP IT REAL.  Players might whine and moan - that's their job - but they will grudgingly appreciate (and possibly respect) your firm ruling on adventuring in severe environments.  If there was no danger involved, where would be the challenge, or the fun?

Copyright © TSR Games.
Something else you will have to take into consideration is the effect extreme heat and cold has on equipment, items and rations (food & water).

Highlight to your players how vitally important it is to their success, and more importantly survival, that they plan carefully and down to the tiniest detail for their venture into such hostile climes.

If confronted with such statements as, 'Oh, yeah, we've got enough supplies to get us there!', calmly collect all the character sheets and then, BEHIND your DM screen, make notes accordingly of all relevant stats , armour worn, health, equipment carried, etc.  Do not reveal to the players what you have written or done, just hand back the character sheets and then proceed with their adventure.
The players will soon realise as modifiers become applied that their trek won't be as straight forward as they had presumed.  Hopefully they will realise something is sorely amiss, and that maybe, just maybe, they've got things wrong.

Be fair, be firm, and like the weather - don't be forgiving.  At least this way, when the players have reached their goal, be it a tomb, an oasis or a distant desert settlement, they should breathe a collective sigh of relief, feel a buzz of achievement for surviving, and then worry about making the return journey ... and if they don't, well, you are the DM after all.



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