Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weather & Time in D&D

In my over 2 decades of playing D&D neither time nor weather played much of a role, except when it was vitally important to the adventure. From Rules Cyclopedia to 2nd, 3.0 & 3.5 to 4e, weather was only mentioned rarely. Didn't matter much whether it was in the deserts of Al-Qadim, the streets of Sigil, Thunder Rift, or the frozen north. If there wasn't a hurricane blowing, a sandstorm incoming, or a blizzard dumping a foot of snow an hour, the weather was always just... baseline normal for the setting. It was as climate controlled as most of the places we played.

The same thing went for time. Unless there was a literal clock ticking in game, outside of combat it was always very loosely handled, and mostly by DM fiat.

And yes, I've read the DMG where Gary says "YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT."

And I ignored it. Happily. With no small amount of success as a DM. And so did the DMs I played under. It just wasn't a big deal.

Except recently my thinking has changed a bit. I'm playing in 2 games right now, a Castles and Crusades game The Ancient Sagas of Everlance, and a B/X Expedition to the Keep on the Borderlands, and both Mario and Peter (the DMs) keep close track of both time and weather.

A calendar from the Realms

The B/X game is a hex crawl, and it's very much a resource management experience. How much can we explore and still make it back to the keep? Or if we're not going back to the keep, where do we keep our crap, and how many days of rations do we still have unspoiled? If it takes 3 hours to get to the pumpkin-head's cave, and 3 hours back, how long do we have till sunset? Is it worth going out of the keep in the rain if it's going to slow us down, limit our ability to really search the hexes?

In the Ancient Saga of Everlance (no, I don't actually know why it's called that) I've been the game's chronicler, keeping an in-character diary. Knowing what happened what day has made a difference. Things happen in a specific order. And yes, Mario handles travel time a little more loosely, but it isn't a hex crawl, and he keeps very close track of days and of the weather, and that has made a difference in how I'm experiencing the game. Hell, knowing my character had the inn's special for the day (curry owlbear chop) further lends a level of immersion to the game that I didn't expect. I would usually just say something about the stew over the fire and move on. Every inn our characters visit (and we've hit a bunch on the road) is at least a little different.


So maybe Gary was on to something? Since I'm going to be starting a DCC campaign in a couple of weeks (my first ongoing gig as a DM in quite a while) I'm going to make a greater effort to keep track of time and weather in my game.

What's been your experience with time and weather in your RPGs? Do you run it lose, or do you keep a really close eye on things? 

9 comments:

  1. Well, it was always a dark stormy night at the start of every adventure that started in Sharn because I felt like that was a good noir cliche to throw in.

    B10 Night's Dark Terror is such an amazing module. One little reason why is that it includes a table with the weather for the months in which the adventure is set. It's in a code, but once you've decoded a few entries you'll be able to read it with little trouble.

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    1. I'll have to check out B10.

      And sure, it was a dark and stormy night is a great way to start, but by next morning? Partly sunny, 72 degrees, gentle breeze.

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  2. I wouldn't have nearly so much a problem with weather and time if they weren't hardwired into race/class. It seems like the resource management elements should be equal-access to all characters, since it's a test for the players in-character, rather than a test for the characters.

    Put another way, I don't think a player should have to choose between being effective in combat versus being an effective at camping/tracking/orienteering. That just isn't a choice a player should have to make -- they're completely different situations and completely different challenges.

    --Dither

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    1. dither - I never really considered it tied into race/class. Sure, the ranger and druid are probably better at surviving in the woods, but the thief is better at it in town. Doesn't mean the wizard and priest can't have backgrounds as outdoorsy types. Maybe they grew up as the children of loggers, or were in boy scouts. In the games I've played, tracking is a wisdom check. Resource management is for everyone.

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    2. Off-hand? 3e Dwarves have stone cunning which is useless in the woods. 3e Gnomes have "speak with burrowing mammals," which is generally useless in a city. Many playable races have low-light vision or darkvision factored into racial traits -- vision effects are of dubious utility. What if you never go underground or adventure at night?

      Each of these traits counts against your race's traits and many of them may never come into play.

      It isn't a matter of, "why do I have this if I might never use it?" It's that with so many effect types, the GM is challenged to cater to more character types. You can't blame the GM for not catering to each element -- the designers included these effects to "balance" with others and didn't account for the GM workload.

      My problem then, is that these effect types DON'T effectively balance against each other. I'd much rather have the dwarf's +2 to saves vs. spells than his darkvision. I could always carry a torch if I can't see -- but +2 bonuses to saves are hard to come by. The differences in kind are too great.

      It fails both to be "balanced" and "perfectly imbalanced." 3e isn't alone either -- 4e has the same problem.

      --Dither

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    3. Sorry, to paraphrase myself -- I like camping and outdoorsy stuff. I don't like it when resource management features are balanced against combat features because they are too dissimilar. They don't balance. Resource management needs to be its own thing.

      --Dither

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    4. Ok, I can see that. It's been so long since I played 3.x that it isn't the first thing I think of. Like I said in the posts, it's more about old school style gaming - B/X and C&C in this case. And 4e is a great game, but it really should have been called something more like "D&D Tactics".

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  3. We have a calendar, weather, and holy days when they occur. Every time. I can't imagine playing without weather.

    I've yet to find a good "daily specials" food chart but I want one. Maybe I'll ask Chris Tamm.

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  4. I am seeing more and more that tracking time and weather better than I have been as a DM will make the gaming better. I'm in the process of accumulating tow to make this easier. Suggestions? I have a candle/torch/lantern oil tracking chart, and it sounds like I should check B10. Any others?

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