Sunday, July 9, 2017

Weather Dice for RPGs (LSotN Design Post)

I'm way behind in keeping you guys posted about how Lost Songs of the Nibelungs grows and changes. Let's work on that a bit. Here's a little system I use now to give the players a sense of weather. Extreme results are random and possible and in my experience that's an easy way to allow weather having the impact in the game it should have. Here we go ...

Weather, what is it good for?

Weather and the seasons change and guide our behavior to this day, but even more so in, say, the Dark Ages (any time before the 20th century, actually). Extreme examples for this would be storms, winter, but even subtle changes in weather will have an impact on the environment. Guessing the weather is a sport as old as humanity and doing it right made you a VIP in your community. Those "oracles" would be consulted before every travel, actually before every major undertaking a community could come up with.

But what is it actually good for? Well, it depends on the game you play and the atmosphere you want in it. The heroes in our game travel in spring right now and the weather changes a lot: it rains often and there are some really bad weather and travel conditions all the time. Mud, thunderstorms ... the works. Weather makes it's presence felt.*

That can't be real ... [source]
We had a wounded character die because they couldn't find shelter fast enough in a thunderstorm, characters caught a cold once and another time they wouldn't travel to a certain location because the omens weren't right. When we come together to game and the re-cap is done I always jump-start the game with the question what the weather is like and those rolls are dreaded. You might think that it's only because it's spring, but no. Summer will bring it's very own hard weather conditions, like heat and no wind, droughts, you name it.

It brings a certain flavor, if you will, and that changes how the game is experienced. You don't always need this and there are styles of play out there that outright oppose implementing it, but for something like Lost Songs, where life is hard and nature is a threat, I find it a necessity. If wilderness travel is a big part of your game and you don't expect many encounters but want to make it count, weather is the way to go.

How to do it ... basics

There are several solutions to this problem and I've seen some great ones out there. When I started doing this I just rolled a d20 and went from there. High is bad, low is good. Worked well enough, but results ended up being a bit too extreme in the long run (5% for a brutal thunderstorm ... well, it's a bit too much).

So the system was lacking subtlety, but what it really had going for itself was that it worked fast and didn't rely on tables or charts or whatever. Just interpreting a roll of a die and you are good to go. Like an oracle, actually. The numbers stay abstract until you apply them to the current situation. Sense is what you generate in the game ... and I like that a lot. Still had to change some of it, though.

First of all, aiming for the bell curve is always a good idea if you want rare extreme results, so we'll go with 3d6 for now. I always found d6 a nice range for all kinds of shenanigans, so the numbers themselves show you how dry or wet it's going to be, doubles, triples and so on give you wind and wind direction. Weather changes, builds and ebbs, so we need some mechanics for that, too. I'll be going with what Lost Songs' combat already does: 1 are discarded, 6 generate new dice.

You basically roll every now and then and see how the weather builds and changes. Keep winds (doubles, triples and so on) and sixes into the next roll, and roll another 3d6 as soon you think the weather should change. Roll more often if you have lots of wind. Keep the matches only if they are growing, otherwise reduce them to a double and to nothing after that (could be done round by round or every second round, if the area is pretty flat, for instance). Sixes only stay one round longer and are discarded after that. Their value counts for the sum of the follow-up roll.

Clouds should start at a sum of 6 and build up from there. 10 would be pretty overhung, 12 would be light rain, 18 would be hard rain. A double is a light breeze, a triple will get you a nice little wind, a quadruple is a strong wind and so on. If new doubles, triples etc. are rolled, keep them and change the direction of the wind. Go clockwise for higher matches and counter-clockwise for lower ones. If you get three different triplets like that, you'll have a hurricane at your hands. A fourth double will dissipate all winds.

If you end up with more than six active dice this way (don't count wind from former rounds), you have an catastrophic event of sorts on your hand.

Keeping track of weather

Start with the surroundings. What kind of climate are the characters in? How is the area structured? Hills and valleys?** You already know where that wind is coming from or where the weather will "hang" or where it'll just fly over just by looking at the map. The first wind is always coming from the most obvious direction. You have a shore close by? That's where it's coming from, bringing all kinds of salty air and what-not. It's the simple things that work great magic like that.

Add seasons to that. Is it summer? Maybe dice should be discarded with 1 and 2 instead of just 1, to get those really stale summer days with just no breeze (no dice left ...). How high are the characters above sea level, in which climate? All good questions, all answers will shape how weather will behave in your game.

As soon as you have a picture what's possible, you can go and see how it is right now in the game: you just roll 3d6, go with the flow and believe the dice. You have your parameters, all you need now is keeping track of a couple of numbers and see how they change.

By the way, my first roll using this system had been 665, adding another 4 (and a 1, which go discarded). Heavy rain. The players hated it :D

Usage beyond the above (see below)

And that's it, my little weather oracle. It can be all kinds of modded and I imagine it to be quite useful for, say, adventures on the high sea. Experiment with it until you have what you need for your campaign. All kinds of weather phenomena should be within those results, but it gets a bit tricky with things like fogs or mists, which usually occur with the changing season, but can appear unseasonal when cold air meets warm (check the links). At this point you might want to check your map again and compare it with how the wind changes. If it comes from higher ground (say, passing snow covered mountains) you might have some fog happening ...

Just have fun with it and make it count for the players, either by adding some atmosphere or by weather having a real impact on, well, everything. I hope you guys find this as useful as I do. Thoughts, comments and different solutions are, as always, very welcome.

I'd like to see that roll ... [source]
*That's also why the druid spells to summon thunderstorms in D&D is a great, great spell, not appreciated enough. It might not have an immediate effect, but it certainly will ruin your travel plans, in fact it might actually weaken an adventuring group or army or what have you on a very basic level, as everything gets so much harder ...

**Here's what I use: The Random Territory Generator. It'll basically give you altitude and complexity of an area, which is all you really need to know what an area looks like ... if you want an idea how this works for a jungle area, you might want to check out Appendix 1 in this PWYW module I wrote *cough* *cough*


  1. Novel concept, but I don't think I quite understand. So... I tried it!

    First roll, I got 6, 4, 4.

    This sums to 14, moderate rain. The doubles (4, 4), means that there's a light breeze.

    When I decide to roll again, I get 6,5,2,1.

    The 1 is discarded, leaving me with 6,5,2 for a sum of 13. The rain slackens slightly, and the winds die down.

    Last check for the day, it's getting on to evening in this hypothetical scenario, and the 6 from 2 rolls ago is discarded.

    I get 4, 3, 3, 2. Sum of 12.

    The rain slackens once again, and the winds pick back up. It will not be a good night for a fire.

    Did I interpret this correctly?

    1. First of all, if you get results you can work with, you did do it right, imo. That being said, the only thing you didn't do was rolling an additional die because of the six, other than that it's what I had written here.

      I also had the chance to test this a bit more last night and I'm thinking about having each 1 not only taken away, but also reducing the next roll by one die (like the sixes are carried ...). Plus, it turned out to be necessary to reduce each wind string 1 die per round until it's gone. If new results are added to it, it'll just stay longer, but should be gone until you got a freak accident. Actually happened to me, rolled a double 2 the first time and the a triple with the second roll and one more 2 with the third ... so without the discarding we'd have a catastrophic storm with six 2s, while it'd be "only" four when the discarding is used :)

      One lat thing, this should be customized according to the surroundings the characters move in. High plain in summer heat could drop from a string every two rounds (lots of wind) with dice being discarded by 1 & 2 (to get pure heat moments). Or something like that ... it is a work in progress :)