Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Articles of Dragon: "Weather in the World of Greyhawk"

Issue #68 (December 1982) of Dragon was the first issue I ever received as part of my subscription to the magazine, though I'd read it nigh-religiously for some time beforehand. Due to an error on the TSR periodicals department, I received two copies of every issue for the next twelve months, one addressed to me at my actual address in Baltimore, Maryland and the other addressed to me in Baltimore, Mississippi, though the zip codes were the same for each (which is why they both arrived in my mailbox). Having two copies was quite useful to me, since it gave me the freedom to chop up and otherwise disassemble one copy while keeping the other pristine for my collection.

In any event, issue #68 included an article by a writer called David Axler entitled "Weather in the World of Greyhawk." Though presented as an unofficial supplement to The World of Greyhawk, the article was eventually canonized by being included in the 1983 boxed set version of the setting. Axler's article was a well-done early example of what would become a staple of Silver Age Dragon articles: a system for introducing "realism" into one's campaign. In this case, it was weather that got the "realistic" treatment, with tables for determining temperature, precipitation, and cloudiness, in addition to discussions of lunar phases, high winds, and "special weather phenomena," such as wind storms and tsunamis.

In truth, Axler's rules are pretty simple to use and presented intelligibly so that even my 13 year-old self could use them with relative ease. And use them I did. Back in 1982, I was all about adding doses of "realism" into my AD&D campaign where I could and, since this article had done all the hard work for me, why wouldn't I use it? Eventually, though, I stopped doing so, because, easy though it might have been to use, I rarely found that knowing just how much rain had fallen or the effects of high humidity added much to my adventures. The extra "realism" serve no purpose other than satisfying my adolescent sense that a good DM should know these sorts of things about his campaign setting. I abandoned that way of thinking a long time ago and I don't think my campaigns have suffered for it.


  1. “Adaptable for use in your world”! That’s priceless! :D

  2. an awful lot of that issue got used at my table way back:

    Ascomoids, Basinidronds, and Phycomoids.
    Two fisted Fighters
    Thrills and Chills, Ice age adventuring
    A number of high level spells that later appeared in UA.
    The Cloistered Cleric
    Aquatic Encounter tables incorporating the MM& FF.
    and the Weather Article.

    Those were the days, back when a single issue of Dragon was a filled to the brim with usable materials.

  3. I remember spending hours rolling the weather for each day and writing it in my 'campaign diary' only to then forget to mention it to my players. Now I pick the weather for dramatic effect - works for me.

  4. I do enjoy reading articles like this and others but only use weather either for tactical effect, to emphasize worldly transitions when the campaign moves from one climate to a markedly different one, or to indicate the passage of time in a long campaign. Unless, of course, you are traveling by ship, then out comes the random weather charts! Good times.

  5. I use the weather tables, but reserve the right to change. Keeping track the weather works well for us, and my players have come to listen for what the weather is like. At times, they will ask me if I don't mention it. Wish I would have been in the hobby in the day, as it looks like there were several interesting things in these publications.

  6. This was my one and only Dragon magazine. I think at this point (1982), my friends had lost interest in D&D and I turned to two-player Car Wars with the friend who was still interested in gaming.

    The magazine is long lost, but I still have to cardboard insert with all the tables on it stuffed into my Greyhawk folio.

    D&D would remain a fondly remembered past time - until 2006 when I decided to get back into gaming in general and now jointly DM a campaign.

  7. "Wish I would have been in the hobby in the day, as it looks like there were several interesting things in these publications."

    Eh, it was so-so. This, right now today, I feel is a much better time to be playing D&D (any version or publisher).

    Back "in the day" the D&D stuff was hard to get, came out infrequently and at times randomly and at other times not at all despite promotion, was largely of questionable use or quality and had a frequent habit of being mocking or jokey toward the game itself (mainly the latter years). When stuff did come out, and you where able to actually get to a store that had it, the good stuff always seemed to be too short and never had follow up while the bad stuff seemed to go on for pages and pages and have many sequels or expansions. My 2 cents...

  8. I believe #68 was one of my first issues. Either the first I bought at the newstand or the first of my first subscription.

    On the one hand, this weather system always seemed too fiddly and almost busy-work to me. I played with one DM who used it religiously, and it became a joke. He’d announce the weather like it was something of grave importance when it never really had an effect on the game.

    On the other hand, I’d like to get in the habit of at least thinking about the weather when DMing. I think that’s the kind of detail—if not too detailed—that can really bring the setting to life.

  9. I used this article (and its accompanying DM screen)to death. I even adapted it to my home world, although it had different months in the year.
    The very first BASIC program I ever wrote was to create weather for my campaign based upon the tables in this article.
    Fond memories :)

  10. @Robert Fisher
    He’d announce the weather like it was something of grave importance when it never really had an effect on the game.
    Weird. Some of the effects (eg, gale) were really dramatic. I remember a whole gaming session during which the players only 'fought' the horrible weather -- no enemy creatures -- and it was really tough.

  11. I recall this article and also using it a lot in my old Greyhawk campaign. For myself, I like including weather because it lends an air of verisimilitude to to an otherwise fantastic world. I didn't go so far as to use things like the effects of humidity on bowstrings, though; my players would have lunched me. :)

    Eventually I stopped because the time needed to generate the weather was taking away from other, more interesting campaign prep work. But now, with programmable spreadsheets, setting up a weather calendar should be hard at all. In fact, Beedo recently wrote at his blog about doing that very thing, using the weather system in the (IIRC) Cyclopedia.

  12. Classic article! I agree about the adolescent satisfaction. It was additions like this that made me feel like I was playing "Advanced" D&D.

  13. I tend to use weather a lot for dram effect in my games. Currently, I use a weather dice, ie. a d6 with pics of suns, rain, storm and so on. I adapt to season and regional climate, and last day weather for sure, but it gives pretty good effects. Escape from the catmen dungeon in the snow, rainy induiqry in Orlane and so on.

  14. I remember that one. Mainly because it prompted my friend to ask "yeah...how come there's never any weather in your game?" I didn't ever use any of the crunch from that article, but it did plant that little "note to self" in the back of my mind forevermore.

  15. I'm inline with the Iron Goat. I've since instrumented my own weather system that needs no chart and can determine the weather with one roll (2d20.) But it was this article that really got me throwing thunderstorms and hail and other goodies at the party.

  16. I am interested in weather for the game (as a DM and as a player), mostly because I am interested in weather in the real world. It effects me, so I think it should effect PCs as well. Most of the time it is simple environmental dressing, but sometimes it can be critical to the adventure... or even become a small adventure in and of itself.

    I've used the Greyhawk charts for many years now and they work well enough (with various personal tweaks), but I am coming around to the thought that they are much more fussy than I really care to be these days. I like to have a certain logic to the seasons of weather, but those charts take things way too far... such as temperature adjustments based on latitude positioning and height above sea level for example. And who really needs to know the exact time of sunrise and sunset based on the season anyway?

  17. This was overall a very important issue for me, and the weather article was among the most formative for my aspirations for D&D -- I've spent a lot of time since then thinking about good weather systems.

    I actually disagree that it was a very simple system. For example: Precipitation would happen for a certain number of hours, which implied that you had to chop overland travel into hour-long increments to implement that (instead of daily, or part-daily turns as would otherwise happen).

    And far more important (which took a long time to dawn on me) is that there weren't any in-game effects mechanical associated to any of those temperatures, precipitations, etc., etc. Now I think that's a practically unforgivable sin. (This overall philosophy was expanded into something like the Wilderness Survival Guide, which I blame for killing my college game.) If there's no in-game effect to something, and it doesn't synch up with clearly thought-out turn increments, then I certainly don't want to spend long periods of time table-generating that stuff to no purpose.

    This is actually still very much a live issue and a raw nerve for me!

  18. And I'm on board with the single-roll weather generation, as others said above. That's what I did in my recent wargame (after checking up stats for overcast/rainy days mid-Europe).

  19. Here's a conceptual idea, James, for all your free time: create a Dwimmermount adventure in the style you would have used "back in the day" and see how it plays out compared to your new style of refereeing.

    I think it would be interesting to see the differences, especially if you're able to actually run both for contrast.

  20. "Thrills and Chills, Ice age adventuring"

    I was always fascinated by that article; never tried a campaign in that setting though. I wonder if anyone did -- it sure looked like a wonderful change of pace.

    Definitely a fantastic issue of Dragon, from a time when it was crackling with great ideas.

  21. I used to use that weather system too, even as recently as a few years ago in my Greyhawk campaign. But these days I just roll a d6...1 means clear, 6 means storm (re-roll to determine strength of storm). In between is, well, in between. Summer is rain, winter is snow, in between might be slush or ice.

    In my weirder campaigns, a reroll of 1 on a 1 means some sort of Fortean weather strikes...

  22. I have a huge collection of clipped PDFs of the "good" articles from the pre-3E era of Dragon, and I tried to focus on the ones with useful tables. I missed this one, but have two other weather systems from other issues.

    Waaaay earlier in issue 15, there's a simple weather system that takes just 1.5 pages called "Weather in the Wilderness". That article lets you roll based on your terrain, then on a subtable for weather type. It even includes weather based disease results (hypothermia, pneumonia, etc.) and a rough idea of how you can further adapt the table to fit 4 seasons. Plus, descriptions of each weather condition include travel, combat, and morale penalties. Super simple, super short, super easy to implement.

    Then, much, much later than issue 68 - in issue 137 - is a weather system called "Weathering the Storms". That article is a full 8 pages long, goes into nauseating anachronistic detail for the weather options, temperature, wind type, precipitation, zones within different terrains, etc. And yet, in 8 pages, absolutely no notes on IMPACT this may have on players.

    I find the arc of these three articles, all about the same topic, to be pretty indicative of the increasing complexity of the hobby's expectations of simulation and completeness of rules.

    A similar thing came up recently when Telecanter was looking for some sea trade rules. Issue 6 of Dragon had a one page abstract system that was incredibly concise and provided "enough" meat to make meaningful impact on the game as played at the table. You could even use the same system for overland trade, too. Meanwhile, decades later, there's a HUGE system for overland travel in one Gazetteer, and a differnt, not at all compatible, and equally huge sea trade system in a separate Gazetteer.

    I think it's funny that as a kid, I would have preferred the much more detailed rules. As an adult, I prefer the simple homebrew systems in the earlier issues. The irony is that those old articles were written by adult hobbyists under the presumption that the reader was also an adult hobbyist with limited time and myriad non-gaming responsibilities.

  23. If anyone is interested in the other two weather systems I mentioned, here they are - just PDF clips of just those individual articles:

    Weather in the Wilderness from Drmg015

    Weathering the Storms - Weather System from Drmg137


  24. Adding to what mega just said... Years ago I wrote identifying as key that somewhere along the line the "playtester" credit disappeared from published TSR modules in the 80's. This sort of symbolizes that the earliest publications (articles, modules) were presentations of things that had happened in a game; while later, the publication became and end-in-itself, and actual testing in play became a side-distraction.

    So it's not surprising that some of those systems became bloated, unwieldy, and unplayable (in fact: paid by the word for articles, bigger is better). But as a kid playing in that switchover era, I trusted unquestioningly that the systems presented would be robust and coherent, until such time as it actually damaged a play session in-progress.

  25. I had stopped reading Dragon by this issue, but another game system had weather tables as well. The Chivalry and Sorcery Sourcebook (1978) had weather tables that I turned into a computer program, so I could run an entire year on about 6-8 pages of printout.

  26. I actually disagree that it was a very simple system.

    Perhaps it would have been better to have said, "I didn't find the system all that difficult to use."

  27. Here's a conceptual idea, James, for all your free time: create a Dwimmermount adventure in the style you would have used "back in the day" and see how it plays out compared to your new style of refereeing.

    I think it would be interesting to see the differences, especially if you're able to actually run both for contrast.

    That's an interesting idea, but I'm honestly not sure I can get myself into that frame of mind anymore.

  28. I wanted to run an Ice Age campaign ever since buying this fine issue. I finally did run one -- as a D&D 3.5 game -- about five years ago. It worked pretty well, though the players were too good (and I kept introducing 'advanced' civilizations) to keep it at the neolithic tech level for very long. Great fun, especially when the players "created" Demogorgon at the campaign's end, by slaying Cryonax.