I was cleaning out my dice bag the other day when I came across an old gem, the weather die. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, and probably over a decade since I’ve used it in a game. These days the only random element to the game I enjoy are when the PCs take a right turn when I was expecting a left. To me, and I know others will disagree, random encounter detract from the central story that is being told. Random weather is well, random and pointless.
With the advent of skill challenges and tactical combat, taking random weather out of the equation and using it as an effective part of the game is the key.
There are multiple ways that weather can be used as part of a 4e encounter.
Any skill challenge that requires extensive overland challenge is a prime candidate for the use of weather. Adding weather adds additional uses for Nature and Endurance checks. Whether it’s a blizzard, sand storm, tornado or a hurricane adding weather into a skill challenge can up the level of intensity the PCs experience. This is especially true if the PCs are on a time table.
Social skill challenges are another great opportunity to introduce weather elements. They are a great way to introduce mood and atmosphere to an encounter. Nothing makes sneaking through a nobles manor more thrilling than thunder and lightning. Of course the same weather can be used during a social skill challenge. Did the countess flinch because of the question asked or the crack of thunder?
Weather is a great way to add a level of additional difficulty to any existing skill challenge. Whether it’s the adding burden to travelling or the increased difficulty reading an NPCs actions, weather can make any skill challenge more interesting.
Combat encounters in 4e are usually larger set piece battles. Terrain and the effective use of of that terrain can play a large part in how the encounter is resolved. Adding weather into a combat scenario is an interesting way to add terrain elements.
Hail could make all squares difficult terrain, high winds might require acrobatics to maintain balance, and a blizzard could reduce visibility or restrict weapon and power range. Alternately flashes of lightning might fool PCs with low passive perceptions into thinking additional NPCs are entering combat based on tricks of light.
Weather is often overlooked as a DM tool to add the unexpected to otherwise routine situations. It keeps PCs on their toes as they look for ways to overcome a new challenge. Crafty PCs will seize the situation and use the new weather elements to their advantage. How has using weather made a mundane situation more dynamic for you?