Ripper Ramblings: Snow D&D

I haven’t been very inspired lately, what with the weather and all. I live out here in the Midwest, and we’ve been pounded into submission by old-man winter. It is quite incredible; I’ve lived here my entire life, and have never seen this kind of snow nor these temperatures either. I suppose that I should use this as a lesson in how we survived in days before weatherproofing and electricity.

Twenty years after the end of the American Civil War we got temperatures and snow like this, but our lives are not nearly as complicated these days. It makes me wonder how our ancestors did it. How they handled such things.

Currently, the snows are so heavy that they are breaking roofs, some idiot actually got his snowblower up on the roof, how he did that I’ll never know, and I think that the only thing that I can say about that is that it didn’t end well.

In the mountains and up north, where they are used to getting several feet of snow each year, buildings are built to handle the strain. I’ve seen pictures of houses with mysterious doors up on the second level of the house, which are used in the winter-time, as that is how deep the snow usually gets and it totally blocks the main doors.

Warmth is also a problem, having enough fuel to get you through the winter has always been a problem. I grow up in the country and spent much of the warmer months clearing out trees and chopping them up for firewood for our stove incase the electricity was knocked out, and we could save a lot of money on energy bills by burning wood instead of propane. By wintertime, we’d have a huge horde of wood lined up along the fence-line, and by springtime much of it would be gone.

Back in the day there was no propane, nor electrical power plants. If you misjudged how much fuel you’ll need that winter, then the result was simple; you froze to death.

Cause and effect are typically the main duties of the DM to determine. What would happen if some magical, or spiritual being was the cause of such an extreme winter? Perhaps an ice dragon or an evil wizard bent on altering the weather so that new terrible beings can come through and wreck havoc, of course rewarding him while killing everyone else? Or perhaps the God of Frost is enraged and at war with another God, and decides to take it out on that gods followers. Would the people be prepared for it? And if not, what would happen?

My family and I have had to spend a ton of time indoors, snowed in because travel was all but impossible. It has snowed so much that the cities budget for snow-removal has already been used up. Machines used to plow the snow are breaking down because they aren’t getting any breaks, and now the temperatures are so low that the salts and chemicals that they use to melt ice aren’t able to cut it.

Fires are also a problem, which they always will be. I can’t imagine the risks that our ancestors took. Snow and low temperatures make a winter fire even more deadly. Machinery freezes up, as do the men who operate them. The emergency people are suffering because they have to go out in this stuff.

A fire in a winter catastrophe scenario would prove deadly when you are dealing with a fantasy setting, be it rural or city. Remember the Chicago fire? Buildings constructed out of wood, and built right next to each other. One small fire quickly turned into a citywide catastrophe which killed thousands, and left even the survivors lives in ruins.

Cause and effect: We pull one string and it affects all of the others. Keeping track of all of these strings and their functions is impossible, but as a creative tool, it keeps us on our toes. Personal experience is a great muse for gaming. Studying the real world around you can have great and lasting consequences to the quality of your games, if you let it. Observe my friends, and don’t be afraid to put these observations into your games.


I love dungeon delving, but I also like the game, Find The Door, and this kind of scenario would really fit in with that theme. One has to figure out if a savage winter is natural or not, and if it isn’t, then what is causing it?

On a fantasy level, crap like this would also affect the other beings in the world. Perhaps it would open up a channel for monsters that are normally further up north and away from humans to come down and have free reign in virgin territory and a new prey that is not ready and has no defense against them.

It wouldn’t take much of an imagination to see what kind of havoc this type of situation would create. Whatever discomfort and menace the humans or demi-humans are suffering can be measured ten-fold by the humanoid population which isn’t smart enough, nor have access to the resources to properly battle this problem. This may not even become apparent until well after the fact.

Come spring, it is noted that a natural resource is missing. Perhaps it is something as basic as food, or something as luxurious as a well-loved brandy? Whatever the resource is, all attempts to contact the small village that supplied it have resulted in loss of messengers. No word has come from this place since autumn. Adventurers are needed to travel to the small hamlet, and investigate what has happened too it.

Humanoids, noting the weakness of the people, and their inability to properly defend themselves have taken over the hamlet. Winter had decimated their numbers, parts of the hamlet collapsed from heavy snow, the small militia was kept busy trying to dig people out, and attempting to reach help, however that party met with disaster and the humanoids quickly stole the entire village, keeping those too weak or frightened to fight as slaves and food. What will the adventures find once they finally arrive? Will they be able to save the town? The possibilities are near endless!

The possibilities for mystery are epic, and because of the nature of winter storms, can be quite frightening as it can turn even an entire village into a snowbound menace, isolated and completely cut off from the outside world. Cabin-fever is a result of this, and was more of a problem in the past, then it is now. Imagine being snowed into a one-room shack for months at a time. Ones mind would eventually snap from loneliness, which can result in some fun ideas for role-players. A party trapped in a snowbound fortress, is it haunted, and if so, by what? What if we add an element of insanity into the mix? We can still have a real threat out there, but it can be mixed with the imaginings of a feverish mind. An illusionist could have a heyday with these people! Perhaps out of simply trying to amuse its self? The doomed crew of the HMS Terror became more of a menace to themselves then even the environment provided, the final resting place of this ship is still a mystery! Insanity brought on by food-poisoning, cold, starvation, and desperation. They found a small crew who died while trying to move a large boat full of worthless junk which they refused to abandon.

I suppose that one never really knows if the wolves howling outside of your door are truly hunting people, or if it is just all in their mind. A man who resorted to cannibalism, his attacks so grim that a healthy mind could never even fathom that the victims were savaged by a fellow human. They invent a monster do hunt for, ignoring all of the facts, while the madman, unable to deal with what he has done, erases the terrible deeds from his mind, dismissing them as nightmares; perhaps even leading the party because of some belief that he is psychically connected to the monster? The howling wasn’t a wolf at all, but a trick of the whipping and cruel wind.

Not to say that we don’t want to eliminate monsters completely, they too have their place, but it can be fun, from time to time, to battle the human monster. Perhaps the storm was caused because somebody took something away? An intelligent sword that kept the element of evil winter locked away, and no longer wants to be condemned to such a fate. The sword dominates its savior and wants to put as much distance between itself and the gate which became just as much its prison as it was the wicked elemental god. Something like this can take quite a while for a party to figure out what to look for, and it may take all of their wits and resources to get the sword back to where it needs to be.

These are just a few ideas for quick one-shots, or ideas that can be developed into a full blown campaign with just a little bit of work on your part.


Timeshadows said...

Cool, man.
--Oops, no pun intended. :D

DMWieg said...

As someone who lives in the burg next to yours, I must agree that I've never seen a winter this bad in my 28 years.

I once introduced a group to 3.0 (back in my d20 days) with an adventure centered around an unnatural winter that would not end, and a quest to find the local druid atop Ye Old Foreboding Mountain and ask him what was going on. Unfortunately, the group never made it, most of the party being killed after they alienated the local centaur tribe and then got into a fight over the only tent that anyone had thought to bring... I never did play with that group again.

...anyway, it's cold in this neck of the woods. Hope you and yours are staying warm in CB.

Mark Thomas said...

Great post, thanks for sharing your ideas! And good luck with the winter weather, keep the kobolds at bay!

Unknown said...

Perhaps it would open up a channel for monsters that are normally further up north and away from humans to come down and have free reign in virgin territory and a new prey that is not ready and has no defense against them.

Killer penguins! Beware their savage, steel beaks. (yes, I ripped this off from an 80s board game. I can't remember the game but I sure do remember those giant penguins.)

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