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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #362

Supernatural Weather, Part 2


This Week's Tips Summarized 

Supernatural Weather, Part 2

  1. Design Weather Effects
  2. Make Weather A Plot Element
  3. World Building With Supernatural Weather
  4. Give Your Villain Special Weather
  5. Avoid Apparent GM Agenda
  6. Use Weather During Wilderness Treks

Readers' Tips Summarized 

  1. No Plot? No Problem!
  2. Metagaming Tips To Create Paranoia
  3. Use Post-Its To Prepare Published Adventures
  4. Sample Tracking Spreadsheets
  5. Two Types Of Rules Lawyers: De Facto And De Jure

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

What Game System Are You Currently GMing?

Please take a moment to do a quick poll at the site and let me know what you're currently GMing. I see quite a few GMs are selecting Other - could you e-mail me the game system name so I can properly represent the choices next time I run the poll?

New Articles Posted

I added a couple more articles to the site recently:

  • DM Delegation by Bill Mahmet Aimed at workaholic GMs who could use advice on how to coordinate players and ease the workload a bit.
  • Reviews of HARP and HARP Lite by Lev Lafayette These were up awhile ago, but I didn't link to them well or call them out in the e-zine.
  • Advantages of Amber: Diceless Gaming by Loz Newman Advantages and problems with diceless roleplaying, plus a few diceless GMing tips.
  • Drama Doubloons A nifty GMing tool and how to use it to encourage roleplaying.

Thanks to Kate Manchester, JL Hatlen Linnell, and Niilo Van Steinburg for editing these articles and others!


Johnn Four,

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Homebrew GMs - Why Not Print and Laminate Your Maps in Full Colour & Full Size?

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All map printing can optionally be laminated with 5 mil film for protection, and can be mounted onto 3/16" foamboard for permanent display.

We can print Profantasy Campaign Cartographer files, Dungeoncrafter files, Dundjinni files, and many other formats. All retain their full color.

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Supernatural Weather, Part 2  

By Johnn Four

Thanks again to the following for their help: Robgonzo, Eric FitzMedrud, Gus, Lorele Phoenixjade, Bobby Nichols, Telas.

Here's a suggestion if you have the time this week. Use the tips in this issue and in part 1 to craft five types of weather events that can occur in your current campaign region. Not only is ongoing world-building a worthwhile task, but having a specific design case will help you use and remember these tips better.

Once you have crafted your strange weather, send the ideas on over and I'll put them in the e-zine to inspire other GMs.

Note that stranger is not better. You are welcome to design high-fantasy weather, but often the best supernatural weather for your world, and the type that fits into other campaigns with ease, is that which has something just a little strange or unusual about it. Subtle often plays out best.

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1. Design Weather Effects 

Determine what attributes and effects the weather event has. Some effects might require game rules, and others just a brief description. Think of effects as occurring in two stages:

  1. During the event
  2. After the event

Mid-event effects are based on the direct qualities of the weather. For example:

  • Storm surges - flooding
  • Fierce winds - broken trees and building damage
  • Strange lights - panic, temporary blindness, feelings of peace
  • Post-event effects deal with the consequences once the weather has passed.
  • What kind of recovery efforts are required?
  • How do those affected cope with, or take advantage of the situation?
  • How long until life returns to normal?

Examples might be refugees, a temporary sellers market for magic hail stones, attacks by crazed or supernaturally buffed monsters, incredible stories from survivors.

Another way to think about effects is to classify them as weal or woe. Doing this gives you a sense of the design's balance. A tip from Gus is to avoid events that decimate commoners. Ensure your weather designs don't create worlds inhospitable to life.

Core Attributes

At the minimum, you should record a few weather attributes to get an idea of the base event experience.

  • Temperature
  • Precipitation
  • Wind speed

Temperature: Does it change? By a little or a lot? It can also be a requirement - snow, for example, requires cold. Note any important or relevant details about temperature.

Precipitation: Is there any, what form does it take, how much is typical for the event? Look at temperature to inform what kind of precipitation falls: a warm summer rain, cool spring mist, cold sleet or ice rain, and so on.

A little precipitation gets things wet, a lot might cause problems such as flash flooding or rivers that are impossible to ford, and huge quantities cause disasters.

Wind: Is there any, and how fast is the air moving? Wind is a huge factor in determining destructiveness of your weather. Here's a handy chart to help you out: Beaufort Scale

Supernatural Effects

We didn't come here to just talk about wind and rain. You wanted supernatural weather, right? You should first decide if the weather has supernatural causes, if it has supernatural effects, or both.

For example, a heat wave in winter caused by fire devils is still interesting, even if it just involves a mundane weather effect.

For supernatural effects, the limit is your imagination. You can make it rain goblins, open portals to other dimensions, or unleash plague-curing air tunnels.

If your effects are destructive, try to avoid a design that only does damage. There are so many other things in your campaign that can hurt your PCs that it seems like a waste to have supernatural weather just be another wounds roll. If you want damage, ok, but wrap it into a challenge or something interactive the characters tangle with.

Here's a short list of weather events and effects for inspiration:

  • Animated clouds
  • Aurora Borealis
  • Avalanche, mudslide
  • Ball lightning
  • Brocken Spectres - shadows of mountaineers projected onto low clouds and reflected back by the tiny water droplets in the mist
  • Crop circle
  • Dust devil, water devil
  • Earthquake
  • Extreme temperature shift
  • Flood
  • Hail, sleet, snow
  • Hoar frost
  • Icicles
  • Lightning
  • Meteor shower
  • Methane rain
  • Mirage
  • Radiation
  • Raining animals, such as frogs or dead birds
  • Reverse magnetism
  • Solar wind
  • Sundog - illusion of multiple suns caused by ice crystals in the sky
  • Tsunami
  • Whirlwind

Have any other weather effects ideas to add to the list? Please send them along:

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2. Make Weather A Plot Element 

Get double-duty from your weather designs by making them a plot element. You could involve the fixable cause (see the related tip from part 1), but there are other ways to involve weather in your stories as well:

  • Omen
  • Foreshadowing
  • Clue
  • Prophecy
  • Helping with pre-event preparations
  • Dealing with post-event consequences

I think the last bullet point is the most interesting to me. In the real world, nothing operates in a vacuum. Everything is interconnected to a certain degree. Ye old butterfly -> windstorm chaos theory tale. Therefore, it seems right that after a supernatural event there will be a variety consequences that will take more than a night of healing to deal with. These consequences seem ripe for storytelling, either as sideplots, backdrops, or primary encounters.

For example, suppose an event creates healing rain that can be stored and used for up to a month. After 30 days or so, the rain loses its healing properties. I imagine people would go to a lot of effort to capture the stuff. How would this affect the healing potion business? Perhaps an overbearing religion would declare it a sin to trap the holy water and hire the PCs to enforce the law?

You might strategically build up to the event and then have a torrential rainfall just as combat with a stage boss or villain occurs. What would the PCs do if their foes heals all his damage each round? Along the same vein, imagine the PCs' reaction when the critter they're fighting flees outside into the rain and then runs back inside, surprised by the healing but ready to fight for its lair again.

If enough signs are present, the sick and wounded might rush to the expected downpour location. Perhaps priests divine the event weeks in advance, word spreads, and a region unaccustomed to visitors must deal with a flood of a different kind.

After all this thinking, you might decide that maybe the rain doesn't heal everything. Maybe certain races get healed and others injured. That would create a bit of conflict.

Could be the PCs are quested to determine where the next healing rains will fall. They might need to retrieve a special component for the divination. Foes might be aware of this ingredient and try to find it first and horde it or destroy it.

Maybe the rain gives too much healing. Just like a negative charge is induced when you charge a partially drained battery, perhaps healthy people suffer if they have no need for healing and get caught in the rain.

Too much fun! Time to get on with the next tip.

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3. World Building With Supernatural Weather 

An inspirational world-building exercise is to reverse engineer your weather's effects, and to brainstorm ideas and consequences surrounding the event.

For example, here's a quick brainstorm I've done for lightning hail:

  • Lightning hail strikes once every two months, on average.
  • Each storm kills 1 commoner per village, 10 per town, 100 per city. Non-fatal injuries amount to about 10 times that number.
  • Staying in a fortified, dry structure is the best protection.
  • Hail keeps its charge for a few seconds after landing.
  • Maximum size of stones are 1" diameter, and most average 1/8".
  • Certain creatures have evolved in reaction to the hail. Some are capable of absorbing the energy and go on devastating rampages after a storm, or perhaps they store the energy for future self-defense. Other creatures have developed immunity to electrical damage.
  • Plants can take advantage of the hail too. Lightning trees have long, low-hanging branches that deliver shocks to passing animals. Lightning berries sound like fun. Perhaps some plants have developed resistance and can be made into special armour or lightning resistant clothing.
  • Some believe drinking meltwater from the hail protects you from future storms.
  • After the hail stops, some will risk injury to gather hail stones to melt them down for drinking, or to sell or trade them.
  • Myths, legends, and stories abound about this event as part of a cultural warning system.
  • Give the event a different name in each culture. Thor's Tears, black hail, Mendel's Curse, ha'il.
  • Regardless of the true cause of the hail, use the hook or premise of each of my world's cultures to create their explanation for the event. A religious culture might see it as divine punishment; a primitive, warlike culture will blame it on their enemies; a magical culture will blame an experiment gone awry or ancient mages with too much power.

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4. Give Your Villain Special Weather 

Couple your villain with the presence of supernatural weather to make him appear larger than life. Imagine how memorable and fun encounters would be if lightning storms always accompany the villain, or if an evil wind always preceded his arrival.

You can have supernatural weather occur during villain appearances, or you can make the weather shroud his home base. Both ideas are great and will entertain players.

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5. Avoid Apparent GM Agenda 

A quick note of caution. It's a frequent error of design to prop-up a specific plot hole or campaign weakness; rather than fix the cause, it's tempting to treat the symptom. If the design looks forced or seems to target the PCs directly and unfairly, the players will lose their sense of disbelief or get frustrated.

If you want to design a supernatural event to achieve a specific purpose, such as challenging buffed PCs or providing a reason why a poorly designed predator would not dominate the region, you are better creating an event with general or non-targeted effects, and then tailoring the consequences to suit your exact needs.

Don't make it look like your weather was designed to specifically foil the PCs, weld together awkward plot moments, or prop up unbelievable campaign elements. Avoid strong coincidences whenever possible.

Player: Ok, I cast my fly spell and attack from above.

GM: Suddenly the storm strengthens and all flying creatures are grounded.

Player: Wow, what incredibly believable timing. [Grumble.]

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6. Use Weather During Wilderness Treks 

Perhaps an obvious tip, but for the record, supernatural weather makes for great wilderness encounters. Use sparingly though, else the PCs won't leave the city. :)

Mix things up by having the PCs encounter pre- or post-event conditions. Characters don't need to always have weather happen to them as they travel. Perhaps stormy days preceding their trip caused swollen rivers or difficult road debris. Maybe strange weather, such as sun spots or moon conditions, stirred monsters and other threats, making travel more dangerous than usual. The PCs might get involved in encounters dealing with preparation, helping victims, or stumbling upon uncovered caves and other formerly hidden location entrances.


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Expedition to Undermountain

Expedition to Undermountain is a 224-page super-adventure that revisits the greatest dungeon in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Located beneath the city of Waterdeep, Undermountain has lured countless heroes to their doom.

This mega-module includes source material for the players and a new combat encounter format designed to make the Dungeon Master's job easier, as well as information to help Dungeon Masters adapt the adventure to serve their home campaigns.

Expedition to Undermountain at RPG Shop

Readers' Tips Of The Week: 

Have a roleplaying tip you'd like to share? E-mail it to - thanks!

1. No Plot? No Problem! 

From: Thorsten Hunsicker, Germany

Hello Johnn,

Here is my most valued trick: how to come up with adventure seeds and plots without problem.

When I feel I need a new twist of thoughts, I go to and look up various books from my desired genre. All these authors have already done great work in figuring out some good stories, and you can built on that.

I open a Word document and start copy-pasting fragments of the summaries and reviews, that I like. When I am done, I go through the copied text, sort it out, and get a core story out of the heap of sentences. Then I connect them to my desired story / campaign / agenda / or band of characters.

To get the final touch done, I figure out a way to introduce the plotline and best include the characters.

* * *

I also have a request for help from the community. I want to create a new setting, and I need some good resources for steampunk technology and clockwork magic for my background. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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2. Metagaming Tips To Create Paranoia 

From: Laura

When running a game session, one of the worst things a DM can do is tell players how their characters are feeling. Telling them that they walk into a room and feel nervous will make players dig in their heels and explore with superhuman bravery.

Here is how to encourage players to roleplay fear and paranoia without actually telling them how to feel and without making them fail a fear save:

  • Grant a secret paranoia bonus to scry, listen, and spot. If they need the bonus to succeed, the character sees something, hears something, or feels something. Describe it in detail.
  • Have everyone's scry, spot, and listen stats in a list. Call for d20 rolls. Take the players who rolled successes aside. The ones who succeeded on scry will get an indescribable feeling of Something Out There Somewhere. The ones who succeeded on spot will be told of moving shadows off in the distance. The ones who succeeded on listen will be told that they hear some trees or bushes rustling.
  • Pass notes. Some notes you can pass are eerie descriptions, a request to roll d20, a request from an NPC to ride to the back of the group for something unrelated. The players not getting the note will react to this.
  • Don't tell players what d20 rolls are for when you want to create suspense. Dummy die rolls. Telling everyone to roll a d20 makes players sit up and take notice that something is about to happen. Dummy die rolls will camouflage the meaningful ones.
  • The right time to metagame paranoia will depend on the scenario and where the party is. If there is someone scrying on the party, yes. Traveling through a haunted swamp, yes. As a prelude to encounters with supernatural beings, yes. That creepy village with everyone controlled by a mind flayer, yes. The baron's castle just before the baron springs a nasty surprise on the guests, maybe.
  • Rolling dice is no substitute for good old-fashioned descriptions. Don't tell the players a dragon is flying toward them, tell them a large shadow is blotting out the moon. Don't tell the players they're being attacked by zombies; start with the smell of rotting corpses and describe the pus oozing out of decomposing skin and muscle once the PCs are close enough to see it. Describe the slow steady footsteps as the zombie gets nearer, and don't be afraid to use the horror movie convention of having the slow-moving zombie be right behind the fleeing character who makes the mistake of looking back.

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3. Use Post-Its To Prepare Published Adventures 

From: Tom, Germany

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #202

One little thing I have to add to Jared Hunt's perfect article of How To Prepare A Commercial Module: use little (or big) Post-Its. I use them to write down poison effects, spell effects, feats, etc., so that I have them at hand, when I need them, and don't have to browse the rule books. Just pin them into the module.

The advantage - you won't block any text because you can just flip them to see what's below.

In addition, because I don't like to DM with a screen, my notes (and the module) are lying plain on the table. Not that my players will have a look at them, but sometimes I want to be sure, so I put big Post-Its over important information, stats, or whatever.

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4. Sample Tracking Spreadsheets 

From: M. J. Young,

I keep a referee's spreadsheet on my computer for all my characters - a sort of uber character sheet, on which everyone's ability scores, saves, encumbrance, preferred weapons, or whatever is important to the particular game is listed. This enables me to find what I want to know without always having to ask the players, which is particularly useful when I need to know everyone's numbers on a particular question at the same time. I print it out before the game begins, and so have hard copy for reference in play.

One of the categories on that sheet is depletable resources: arrows and oil flasks, rations and torches, and anything else that has to be ticked off during play. I enter how many are on each character's sheet, and the spreadsheet tells me how many the party has left.

Spreadsheet programs can help a great deal with game management. I've used them to divide and track experience, record treasure and expenditures, manage encumbrance, and organize large hordes of monsters. Probably everyone reading this has one available on a computer, but how many have put it to use?

Thanks for continuing your wonderful resource.



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5. Two Types Of Rules Lawyers: De Facto And De Jure 

From: Mike Lawhorn

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #179


Just wanted to add that I thoroughly enjoyed the The Logic Death Guide to Players. I got a good laugh and several good ideas from it, so thank you. However, I wanted to comment on the Rules Lawyering and attempt to come to their (and my) defense.

I'd like to start by pointing out there are two types of Rules Lawyers, De Facto and De Jure. De Facto Rules Lawyers are the lesser of the two evils by far, and not really lawyers at all, but they are commonly mistaken for De Jure lawyers.

De Facto Rules Lawyers

De Factos are those who've memorized most, if not all, of the rules, and in many of cases are actually created by the very groups that might later come to fear and hate them. De Factos are spawned by groups too lazy to look up the rules themselves and never bother to read the rule books they spend so much money on.

Oh sure, it starts innocently enough with simple questions like, "how much damage does my heavy crossbow do?" Few people are going to tell one of their best gaming buddies, "well, what does your rulebook say?" This is, of course, where it all starts. Soon it evolves into, "how long does the sleep spell last," and, "can I take a five-foot step and still shoot my shortbow without provoking an attack of opportunity from the ogre?"

Eventually, the group creates this symbiotic relationship with its De Facto that is essential to keep the game moving along. If Rules Lawyers are the sharks of the gaming world, then the gaming groups that spawn them are the remoras that hook themselves to the shark for survival. This is especially true in the case of De Factos.

The best spell to prevent the creation of a De Facto has only a verbal component: the words, "What does your rule book say?" This makes players crack that book open and at least make some semblance of finding the answer. If the question's more difficult, say, "how does grappling work?" the group, led by the DM, needs to break out their guides and figure it out together. Alternatively, a good DM will explain how grappling works having already prepared for something like this in advance.

Sometimes DMs aren't prepared to cover certain situations and haven't figured out the rules in advance. This is surely the path of evil when your party harbors a De Facto. No words cause more frustration for De Factos like me than the pathetic phrase, "because I'm the DM and I say so!"

That phrase means, "Crap, I realize now I ruled one way last week and don't want to admit I'm wrong by doing exactly the opposite this week." Or better yet, "Dang, I didn't realize that spell could work like that to give the characters the upper hand against my clever ambush. I better rule that this spell doesn't work because there's an anti-magic field all over the Inn..." You get the point.

My most frustrating story is the DM who ruled that there were no animals in a five-mile wooded area because he was afraid my druid would make friends with one and ask it to scout out a cave where a few low-level bandits were hiding in ambush. He wanted us to have to stumble blindly into their crossbows and by God, it was going to happen, regardless of what the rule for the spell said, or what good idea the party came up with.

No good player is going to hold it against you when you say, "You're right, the modifier is +4, not +2, good call." Great DMs can roll with the party's ideas and say, "yeah, you find an animal and make friends with it, but it won't go near the cave but can't explain why." I mean, really, does anyone not think you're getting jumped by whatever's in a cave in the middle of a forest?

We all realize that life is situationally dependent. I mean, no DM worth her weight in gold pieces is going to make the call in the middle of the game that, "Oh, well in my world, Rogue sneak attack damage starts at 2d6 not 1d6 because I say so." DMs don't do that and if they do, they say that up front during character generation.

Unfortunately, most situations aren't that clear and aren't thought of until a critical moment in the game. If you have changes to the ways that rules work you owe it to your players to make that clear up front, not in the middle of a fight to the death where they are depending on certain things to work certain ways.

De Jure Rules Lawyers

Now to the real danger: the De Jure lawyer. This is the guy that takes one rule from here, one rule from there, and says "because X is true, and Y is also true, therefore Z must be true." This is the player that will argue using terms like "realism" and "fairness."

A perfect example of this is a party whose rogue wants to climb a cave face. The DM rules that, although there are some handholds and a slight incline rather than a purely vertical face, the wet surface cancels this out and the rogue must make a straight climb roll, no modifiers. No problem right?

Well, later the characters are at the bottom of this same cliff face and an orc makes a desperate attempt to ambush the PCs and jumps down the cliff face. The same DM rules that the incline is enough to allow the orc to take one less d6 of falling damage than normal.

That's blood in the water for the De Jure lawyer. "What do you mean less damage?" he'll ask. "If the modifiers cancelled each other out on the way up, then realistically they would cancel each other out on the way down. That's not fair."

The point is that rules extrapolation is rules lawyering...knowing the rules isn't. This is where the DM needs to be firm, and can, in cases like this, fall back on the "that's how it works here," but only if absolutely necessary, and only in moderation.

Next time one of us points out that under "mounted combat" it's perfectly clear you can ride a horse at full gallop and still shoot a bow (albeit at a penalty)...that doesn't mean we're a rules lawyer just because you don't like people galloping and shooting bows. We're only a rules lawyer when we tell you that because it doesn't say "with a saddle" it means you're not allowed to impose an additional penalty for doing the same thing bareback.

Remember, rules don't create lawyers, parties least sometimes.

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The Sinister Spire - Wizards of the Coast

The Sinister Spire is the second adventure of a three-part series, but it can also be played as a stand-alone adventure. In the first adventure, Barrow of the Forgotten King, the heroes stumbled upon an evil plot involving the theft of ancient bones from a king's tomb. In The Sinister Spire, the heroes chase the tomb-robbers into the Underdark and stumble upon a desolated subterranean city with a dark secret.

This 64-page adventure is designed for 4th-level characters and uses a combat encounter format designed to make the DM's job easier.

The Sinister Spire at RPG Shop