Thursday, May 22, 2014

Weather or not

I'll start with an essay before I get to rules, which is why do we bother with the weather at all. Trudging through a snowstorm isn't too high on the cool scale in an RPG, unless the snow can fight back. (Now there is an idea, but to make it work, we have to have players interact with normal snow, so back to the essay.)

The first reason why we bother is a bit of hue to the game world. Verisimilitude. Giving us more of a reason to care about the game world by making it more true. It gainsays why we talk about how a monster looks, since we want to get a game edge by whacking its eyestalks or not hitting it with a fireball since it's made of water. It's a clear sign that you're dealing with a world with more to it than the dungeon of the night, and it's a way to tell one day from another. This reason has nothing to do with the game at hand, but rather to get the players to show up for the next game. If we want to have a weird weather effect in a game, it's much more effective if we have days of normal weather against which to gauge the weirdness.

The second thing weather does is it changes how much a group can move. Did I say "changes"? I meant "sometimes lowers." We assume that characters walk to the dungeon on a nice day with nothing to hold them back in the tavern aside from a hangover. (If it's a lovely day and you're down in a dungeon, you might be a munchkin.) If you're keeping track of game weather, on days with crappy weather it will take the group longer to get from place to place, like from a town to a dungeon. There will be days where it can't go anywhere. A good GM will have some adventures for when a group is stuck in town.

Coming from the last thing weather does we get to a third reason to keep track of weather, which is to make the game more about resource management. Some old-school types say RPGs were all about this back in 1980, which is horseshit since it was about fun, but there is fun in getting away with a trick in resource management. ("Hey, when we get out of sixth hour, let's get to Chuck's house fast so we can tick off our arrows and rations!") If a group of players scoffs at its GM as he makes them tick off rations and doesn't bother buying more since that cuts into how much treasure it can haul, then on the way home from the dungeon, it will either starve, which is truly not fun, or it will spend its time hunting and fishing instead of getting back home, which means it has more chances for a random encounter.
El Disgusto: "Camping? Why would I want to go camping? Nature kills! Haven't you learned anything the wilderness encoutners tables?" -- Al Bruno III, A Night at the Inn, a Day at the Racists
Some things that come from this. One thing is that a GM can be kind in giving out boosts to overland movement, since if a group moves too fast later, the GM can slow it down with a blizzard. If he's truly feeling like a dick, he can mess it up good with a tornado. Another thing is that if you have rules for this, players will build characters to exploit those rules. That's alright, since they're building characters that do something other than kill. Not that there's anything wrong with killing, of course.

Now for some rules. There are two spots in the GURPS rules for weather to give general effects: overland movement (mostly Hiking, p. B351) and the daily Survival roll (p. B223). I'm worrying about how common weather happenings change those, and not true fuckyouupforlife things like hurricanes or tornados or lightning strikes. My rule-of-thumb for things like those is if you get caught in one of them, you die. Someone who wants more detail can write his own rules for them, though death will be the most common result.

I've talked about movement in another post, but I'll post the same stuff again so I can have it all together.


Per p. B430, when the effective temperature drops below the bottom of a character's comfort zone (for humans, this is 35° F), his movement for the day drops by 10%. At 35° below that (0° F for puny humans), movement drops another 10%. For every 10° below that, that is another 10% drop in movement. If a character has an encounter at any point, he then makes the HT roll as described on p. B430 to see if he is down any FP at that point. The usual modifiers apply; roll 1d-2 FP if he failed the roll.

Keep in mind that movement happens in daylight hours, so for handling movement speed, look at the high temperature, not the low. Unless for some reason a character needs to get hustling at 3 a.m., we don't care about the low here.

Survival follows an akin pattern. If the low temperature for the day is below a character's comfort zone (35° F), his Survival roll is at -1 for the day. If the high temperature is also below a character's comfort zone, his Survival roll is at another -1. If the low temperature is 35° below the comfort zone (0° F), the Survival skill is at another -1, and it's at another -1 if the high is also lower than 35° below the comfort zone. So, on a day when it is at -5° F at daybreak, then rises to a balmy 20° F, the Survival roll is at -3 (both the high and the low are below the comfort zone, and the low is below 0° F), and the characters move 10% slower than normal (since it's below 35° F). That's assuming they're human and there's no snow on the ground or falling, of course.

If a character gets wet, then all penalties for cold are twofold. Feel free to screw over any character who goes ice fishing, then jumps in the lake, crawls out and goes sunbathing. That's pretty much killing yourself.

If the characters are making rolls against Survival (Arctic), then cold is the default assumption. Thus, there are no penalties to Survival for cold until the magic thermometer drops below 0° F (or 35° below a character's comfort zone, if you insist). This isn't for going through the woods near Verbobonc in December, but for truly being in an arctic zone. Also, this little boon is null and void for any characters who get themselves wet or don't dress for the weather.

A last note about temperature before we move on. When we say "temperature," we mean "effective temperature," which includes windchill. I'd eyeball what the windchill is instead of going through the math to keep play moving.
"Watch out where the huskies go and don't you eat that yellow snow." — Frank Zappa, "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow."


Per p. B434, when a character gets to the top 10° of his comfort zone (which, for humans and the like is 80° F), instead of losing FP, the character moves 10% slower for the day. For each extra 10° of temperature, the character moves an extra 10% slower. This is to assume that when a character starts to overheat, he ducks into the shade, and that's where the time is lost. If a character has an encounter at any point, he then makes the HT roll as described on p. B434 to see if he is down any FP at that point. The usual modifiers apply; roll 1d-2 FP if he failed the roll.

For Survival rolls, it's an akin tale. If the high is above the comfort zone (90° F), then Survival rolls are at -1. If the low is also above the comfort zone, then Survival rolls are at a further -1. If the high is higher than 30° above he comfort zone (120°F), that's another -1 to Survival, and it's yet another -1 if the low is also higher than 30° above the comfort zone. These penalties get another -1 for every 10° higher than 30° above the comfort zone.

Like cold, there's a Survival speciality that assumes heat. I lied. There's truly two such specialities: Desert and Jungle. There are no heat penalties for these specialities until you get to 120° F (30° above the comfort zone) so long as you dress for the weather. Sadly for munchkins, this likely means no armor.

Again, "temperature" means "effective temperature." For heat, this includes humidity, though this isn't as big a deal as windchill. It doesn't play into deserts at all; if it did, you wouldn't be in a desert.
"Hot, hot, hotter than hell
She'll burn you like the midday sun, yeah." — Kiss, "Hotter than Hell"

Rain and Snow

First, a little rant about precipitation in roleplaying games. Every goddamn weather chart I see is geared towards having me roll up how much rain or snow falls in terms of how many inches (or whatever it is for you metric folks). I don't give a shit about how many fucking inches of rain have fallen! Nobody in a roleplaying game gives a shit about how many fucking inches of rain have fallen! We care about when the rain falls, how long the rainfall lasts, and how hard the rain falls while it's falling. We want to know how it makes life hard for characters.

When on the ground, rain and snow modify the terrain as p. B351: rain and light snow halve speed, snow deeper than ankle-deep quarters it. Roads don't matter; none of them are any good. Rain goes away after the day; snow stays until the temperature has been over 35° for 10 days with no snow.

When falling, rain and snow halve movement for a time equal to the number of half-hour cells (I'm using the d30 Sandbox Companion) for non-severe storms, and stop it for severe storms. Or, in short, it's -2.5% per half-hour cell of non-severe storms and -5% per half-hour of severe storms. You can round to the nearest 10%, so a half-hour of light rain is no big deal.

Rain can have a penalty on Survival. For a light rain—an hour or less of non-severe rainfall—there is no penalty. For moderate rain—more than an hour of non-severe rainfall—the roll is at -1. For heavy rain—an hour or less of severe rainfall—Survival is at -2. For a downpour—more than an hour of severe rainfall—Survival is at -3.

For snow, sleet or hail, these penalties are harsher. For a light snowfall (or a sleet storm, or a hailstorm)—an hour or less of non-severe snowfall—there Survival roll is at -1. For a moderate snowfall— more than an hour of non-severe snowfall—the roll is at -2. For a heavy snowfall—an hour or less of severe snowfall—Survival is at -4. For a snowstorm—more than an hour of severe snowfall—Survival is at -6.

Weather Sense

Weather Sense is a complementary skill for both movement and Survival. The GM makes the roll. On a success of any kind, he tells the group the weather for the day. On a failure, the GM tells the group the weather for the day before. On a critical failure, make something up, but don't tip off that you're making something up. Tell the players the opposite of what the weather will be or something.

A success knocks off up to 20% of weather-related penalties to movement and -2 to Survival penalties from weather. A critical success lets you ignore up to 40% of weather-related penalties to movement and -4 to Survival penalties from weather. A normal failure has no penalties, but a critical failure lowers movement by 40% and gives a -4 penalty to Survival.

Rolling the Weather

You need a way to roll up the weather, and I don't have one. I'm not about to write one, but I'll make a list of ones I know:

d30 Sandbox Companion. Since you already have this, you can use the weather system in there, though you should nerf gap between the high and low, at least in temperate climates (the normal gap is 15°, and the gap on p. 12 is about 40°-45°). I roll a d5 for variation, and add +1 to the roll if the average temperature for the day before was more than 10° below the monthly average, and -1 to the roll if the average temperature for the day before was more than 10° above the monthly average.

What, you don't have this? Get the hell off my blog and buy it. You need it if you're running a sandbox game, or almost any fantasy game. It's only $5. You have no excuse other than abject poverty.

Wilderness Survival Guide. If you want to waste loads of time rolling up weather, this is made for you. I have it for loads of reasons, but when I was in junior high, I tried rolling up a day's worth of weather with it and it killed a half-hour. I don't think I could stand to do that on the fly, but it does have loads of little goodies in it.

Dungeon Masters' Guide 3.5e. The last version (I don't count the homesick abortion that is 4th edition) has an easy weather system. The system is free on the web, linked above, and is good enough for game purposes. I'll link to Pathfinder's version, buried down the page; I think it's the same.

Empire Weather. It looks like something out of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and it's free. It's bare-bones and vague, and at some point, I'm sure you'll need to override a roll.

HârnWorld. Ah, made by a company that likes diacriticals on funny made-up words as much as I do. I've never tried it, but Hârn stuff is good if you buy into whatever assumptions N. Robin Crossby made with Hârn. It isn't cheap.

Wolfram Mathematica. If you want to ape a real-world spot, you could look up its weather from the recent past.

Look outside. No link for you! Stick your neck out the window. C'mon, I know folks say outdoor air hurts nerds. It isn't true. Really! Trust me!

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