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 this, this 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.