Sunday, February 15, 2015

It Has to Really Hurt to Count

The Problem

Back in 2013, I tried to introduce a table that would give some teeth to weather; I called it 'New Temperatures Table from Hell.'  And it totally wasn't.

Here's a reposting of the table I tried.

The failure in the table is that it is too much information to memorize, meaning that in the middle of a session it needs to be checked again and again - making it hell far more for me than it ever was for the players.  And it wasn't hard enough.

The left half, for instance, was an attempt to punish players for wearing armor in conditions that were too hot or too cold.  Unfortunately, the wearing of armor is so ingrained in the game's mentality (even when they're unarmored) that we would all keep forgetting who was and who was not in armor.  I would try to keep track, forget to look at my notes and then finish a combat only to find that such-and-such was not actually in chain.  It was not very long before I gave up, simply because it was taking too much energy to incorporate a rule that was confusing.

The right side was worse.  While the 'additional effects' were easy enough to roll across the board, there isn't enough difference in the various grades of temperature to make the players really aware of what the weather is like.  The difference between 'brisk' and 'chilly,' for instance, is fairly immaterial.  That means that everything between 30 and 80 degrees fahrenheit (-1 and 27 C) is just one big bland blah.

And this is the real problem.  For weather to mean anything, the concrete changes that happen at each stage of temperature must be deeply affecting to the characters and their abilities . . . otherwise any system might just as well not exist.  The characters end up living in a perpetual California spring.

I have long wanted to be able to describe a cold day's temperature to a party and have the players go, "Oh, shit.  Let's just stay in."

It would be phenomenal to say that the day is "pleasant" and have the players answer, "That sounds like a great day!"

Impossible?  Has been so far.

Yes, there will be many who will simply groan at the very idea of a fantasy world that doesn't work like the air-controlled interior of a holodeck.  "Why?" they will query - does it get us any more experience?

To which I must regrettably answer, "No, probably not."  But it continues to nag at me.  How can you have a meaningful adventure in south Russia, France or Japan if these three places all have virtually the same temperature just because it isn't very, very cold or very, very hot?


Which brings me to articles like thisthis or this, with studies like this and this, that make it clear that the productivity and effects of temperature drop off pretty fast once the temperature rises above what I've described as 'pleasant' - in the 65 F/18 C range.  Too, these effects are felt right across every human trait - the ability to think, remember, perform, act, work or relate to other people.  It is even worse if you're from an area where 'pleasant' on the chart above is actually cold or warm compared with the yearly norm.  Everyone's norm is based on where they come from - an idea I have long embraced but which has eluded me because of the difficulties in accounting for it in the game.

Not to forget that age and weight are relevant - and presumably race, which would certainly make an interesting study at Colombia University, if we could manage it.  All of this keeps hitting me in the face - that this is an element that is deserving of attention, no matter how damned hard it is to include in the game.

I feel the only way to make it relevant is for the change in temperature to be so adverse to the status quo that the players cannot ignore it.  Change in temperature has to hack the character's entire stat-block, in the worst way, else they will ignore the alteration and the subtlety will get forgotten in the game.

Moreover, to keep the change from becoming too selective and individual to the characters, so that it is hard to remember who is down 1 point versus who is down 3 points (or who made save versus temperature effects), the alteration has to be total, universal and absolute - no saving throws, period and tough fucking luck.  When the temperature is 100 F/38 C, everyone pays.

Proposed Rules for Warmer Temperatures

Okay, keeping it as simple as possible.

Let's say the weather is 'pleasant.'  Let's not concern ourselves with what temperature that describes.  We only identify the ambient temperature with a number through a lifetime of association, which a medieval/fantasy resident would never have had (no thermometers).  So let's simply say that 'pleasant' is the perfect condition for living.  The weather grades above pleasant are 'warm,' 'balmy,' 'sweaty' and 'sweltering' - with the last being far, far less comfortable for adventuring than 'pleasant' is.

Remember.  The goal is to hurt the players with this system.  Like having to work in the outdoors on an unpleasantly warm day, the players need to hate the idea of getting into a situation when the weather hits 'warm' or 'balmy.'  Maybe those aren't bad conditions to lay by the beach or take a swim, but no one wants to fight orcs in this weather.

So, right off - 'warm' means a -1 to every ability, right across the board.  Earlier attempts that I have made were just too nice to be noticed.  However, when the character's strength drops from 17 to 16, the player is going to damn well notice.  The same thing goes when that ignored 8 charisma drops to 7.  This is going to seriously mean something.

We can just extend this straight out.  A 'balmy' temperature will drop all the abilities by 2 points; 'sweaty' by 3 points; and 'sweltering' by 4 points.  Ouch.

That ought to make the party sigh when they climb into the mountains above the desert and their ambient comfort improves.  Let's remember that most medieval lords would forsake the lowlands to seek residence in the mountains - we have many present day examples where this is still standard practice.

In a conversation about this, last night a player suggested that combat ought to increase the ambient weather +1 right across the board . . . beginning around the 5th round.

Thus, if the weather began as 'pleasant,' beginning with the 5th continuous round of combat, your character would quickly heat up and things would quickly become 'warm' - oops, there goes your strength bonus, your constitution bonus (oh yes, you would lose hit points!), your dexterity bonus and so on.  Too bad for you.

We can then suppose that come the 15th round of combat, we can increase that discomfort further - so that things become pretty 'balmy' as you're still hacking away.  Oh, poor baby.

It doesn't have to be the 5th or the 15th - that was the player's suggestion.  I could see it being closer to the 8th, 16th, 32nd and 64th - at which point the weather might as well be 'sweltering.'

Remember reading about battles going on all day?  About combatants that are 'fresh' compared to those that are 'tired.'  Well, we wouldn't just be talking about hit points.  When everyone in your party is fighting with stats that are -3 (and perhaps a similar loss to armor class, movement, even damage done - we can get really brutal here), then you're going to really feel the difference in fighting an enemy that just got started.

You'd want to retreat, to rest and cool down.  We could make this hard by saying that it takes 3 rounds to cool the effects of one round of combat.  This could be speeded by the removal of armor or clothing - but then it would mean either rejoining the combat without armor or spending all that time getting redressed after cooling down.

If this was how a system worked, you'd sure want to start your combat in a place where the temperature started as 'cool,' right?  Damn straight right.

I'm going to take a break now; I will get to the Proposed Rules for Cooler Temperatures next.


  1. Clear, easy to run, and nasty. Love it.

    B/c it hits ability scores it needs little tweaking: ability minuses are bad while traveling, they're bad while fighting, they're bad while exploring. That's the right way to do this.

    Regarding the heating-up rule: also good, and in particular I think that having this component of "exhaustion" handled directly by the weather-penalty rule is very slick.

    An edge case to consider: what if the weather's already high and a fight drags on in that weather? Do the negatives pile on past the "end" of the scale? I suppose "no" is the answer - and that furthermore it would be unlikely for any creature other than a heat-adapted monster to get in a fight with someone in such weather. It'd be an exhausting slugfest, slow and with ragged breathing all around ... but not lacking tension.

    That immediately brought to mind the two lone survivors of two parties fighting, both with weather penalties at maximum, ability scores too low to hit well, HP slowly draining off from one's wound ... maybe the other guy's cavalry will come soon but be demoralized if he's dead on their arrival ... so much fun!

    Who says weather is boring? (too many people I know)

  2. If the weather is already high, then the negatives hit -7 at scorching (130+ degrees). But then, this wouldn't kick in until 256 rounds, and I don't know if I've ever run a combat that came anywhere close to that. Even so, we still have to include rules for heat exhaustion, heat craps and heat stroke, even though the real temperature was not actually that high - as these things can result from too much exertion.

    To your one-on-one battle (which could be the situation all over a battlefield after the first 40 rounds) add that both combatants would concede to stepping back and waiting to cool down, or quitting entirely. Add also a social acceptance that when such a standoff occurs in a battle, neither side wants to intervene, perhaps taking bets on the issue. It might even happen that both armies quit and decide the battle on that one single combat, if it becomes titanic enough.

    THAT'S fantasy!

  3. Coincidently, I started to completely overhaul my weather and temperature system last night, for the exact same reasons, overly complicated and too little teeth. Without skirting too close to rule 2 (hopefully), this was something I thought about:

    Many years ago, I went to my brothers wedding, from the UK to Australia. the day I got off the plane, I had to rush to a suit fitting with a british ex-pat. While I was being measured, she apologised for the cold weather. I looked around and every single person was wearing coats. The weather was 26 C (79 F).

    This led me too two considerations:

    1) Along the lines of the experiment where you put your hands under the cold and hot tap for a minute then dunk them both in average water, noting that one hand feels it as cold, the other as hot - people acclimatise to the local weather. How quickly is debatable, but I wonder if it's worth talking about relative temperatures rather than absolutes, or adding something to character sheets in which you write your acclimatised temperature and the penalties take that into account. Thus the "zulu", fresh of the boat from close to the equator is not at his best in temperate lands, neither is the siberian who spent his life in the arctic circle.

    2) Once you have a system in place for this, what else can it apply too - altitude for example is perhaps something that can use the same thing to represent, what about tolerance to magic, foreign food etc etc

    Hopefully I provided enough interest to negate the skirting of rule 2 I did!

  4. I think you added to my point, William.

    I conveniently run the real world - where I determine everyone's place of birth depending upon where they are found when they 'join' the party.

    Suppose we start with Asyut, Egypt (where my offline party is ultimately bound). Look at this link. It does not only give a breakdown for Asyut by month, but also by YEAR - in this case, 72.7 F/22.6 C.

    For someone from Asyut, effectively, 'pleasant' means 1 weather level hotter than the post describes. The character originating in the Asyut climate thus does not begin to -1 to all stats until the weather reaches 'balmy.'

    Compare this is Haerbin, China: where the year's average is 38.3 F/3.5 C. For this character, 'pleasant' is what everyone in a typical temperate climate would consider 'chilly.'

    This provides perfectly the differing standards for temperature for everyone - without actually changing the system. The fellow from Haerbin would begin losing ability stats as soon as the temperature rose above 'chilly' - making that character hard to play in a warm climate. Conversely, the Egyptian would have a lot of trouble in Manchuria.

    IF the party remained in one place for a time, everyone would eventually adjust to the climate in that one place.

    A short attempt to locate the amount of time has failed. I don't know, a year? Two seasons? My partner has been here in Canada for 14 years and she still wouldn't say she's acclimatized from her Kentucky upbringing. I guess this is a shot in the dark - short of someone providing some useful data.

  5. Here's an anecdotal reference: I moved from Wisconsin to the Middle East in the early '90s, when I just 10-11 years old. For three years I experienced close to the same weather conditions (excepting, of course, the humidity). I acclimated quickly enough. Since then, I've always felt that I fit better into a warm-to-hot, dry climate. Fast forward twenty years and I've changed, of course, but I attribute it to my military training. The bulk of my fitness and combat conditioning have taken place in warm-to-hot, moist climes. When I was deployed to the Middle East a couple years back, I did not feel that the heat was overwhelming. To be sure, when I was dressed in full gear, it got uncomfortable and it did limit my abilities. But when I was in the standard uniform, I felt I could go all day long.

    From my experience, I suggest two considerations: 1) Warriors acclimate faster than other characters and 2) the young acclimate faster than the old. (I think druids and rangers should get a benefit as well, such that druids acclimate as well as warriors and rangers acclimate faster than the rest.)

    How's this for a mechanic? Every week during a given season, roll 2d6 and record the result. The goal is to reach 1 roll for every combination on 2d6, for a total of 36 combinations/totals necessary to become fully acclimatized. (Thus, it would take 1 snake-eyes and 1 box cars, 2 3's and 2 11's, etc.) Note that each season must be tracked separately; this way, it's harder to become accustomed to a region that four distinct seasons.

  6. I am really glad that you took up this subject. Since very recently (a few months) I realized that when running the game in the wilderness there is hardly any difference for the players if they travel through plains, hills, mountains, forests or open fields. I started asking myself and around what can a DM do to make them feel the difference. Make each natural surrounding have its own feel which would influence the game itself, not just be a nice piece of scenography. This lead me to the weather factor. I currently added a pregenerated weather forecast for each month with temperatures, precipitations, lunar cycles etc. Since one of my players has a spell of summoning lightnings from the sky provided there are some heavy clouds I decided to introduce random weather (appropriate for the geo-region and season). It did have a great effect on the game already, but I did not go as far as to impose roll mods. Not yet, maybe I will give it a try inspired by your posts. I still can't believe I began working on it so late in my DM'ing career :/ At least the effect is that I now feel an eensy weensy bit more satisfied with my game. Still a long way to go. Cheers.

  7. Don't feel bad, Yarivandel,

    'Mad Men,' generally considered a brilliant, high-quality TV Show, barely featured the appearance of snow in New York.

    Why? Because it's expensive and difficult. For people with lots of money and hundreds of available technicians.

    Think about that.


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