How to make environmental effects fun?


One of the classic features of wilderness adventures is the struggle against the elements. However, in RPG games, we've found it to just bee tedious, uniteresting die rolling. "Oh you failed your roll, you now have -2 due to heat exhaustion." Has anyone managed to make environmentla effects interesting?
Lay a few skeletons on the ground with outstretched arms and maybe a full flask of water just out of the skeletons reach. That might be interesting.
bradius said:
Has anyone managed to make environmentla effects interesting?

Problem is that the environment isn't so obvious a threat as some creatures. Like Vincent said, it's all in the telling; I'm not that good at the storytelling like some people, but I try. I like to present my players with problem-solving opportunities. When I ran them through Midnight, they were spending lots of time foraging, hunting, and finding shelter. They seemed to have alot of fun with it, especially doing all of that and trying to avoid Orc patrols.

Heck, look how many videos on tv are shot on location in the desert. Ever been to the desert? It sucks, not fun. Thunderstorms are kewl, till ya get soaked.
Most of the rules for environment are designed to quickly pass over the business of trudging through the environment to get the party to the adventure site sooner.

If you want to make the environment the centerpiece of the adventure then design the environment the way you would an adventure. Make the wilderness your "dungeon". Have "encounters" with raging rivers and steep clifs. Make "traps" out of rockfalls and quicksand. The "puzzles" should revolve around hunting and gathering the natural supplies needed to do ... whatever it is they have to do.

Hope that helps.
This has been a subject of debate amonst my group for years. Here is what I have tried to implement and with some level of success.

Instead of telling them the results I have give them a description of the event and let them know that there is some positive or negative effect to them.

I don't tell them the number instead I explain in as much graphic terms as possible what is happening to their character.

For example: I had them on a mountain with loin cloths and after several failed Fortitude rolls they were freezing to death. I described how they couldn't feel their hands and feet, the fact that they were having problems moving, etc. They got the point quickly and built a shelter and was able to scrounge together enough furs and other winter protection to keep them alive.

You have to have players that are willing to let go what is going on in a statistical sense - and that can be difficult.
bradius said:
One of the classic features of wilderness adventures is the struggle against the elements. However, in RPG games, we've found it to just bee tedious, uniteresting die rolling. "Oh you failed your roll, you now have -2 due to heat exhaustion." Has anyone managed to make environmentla effects interesting?

A few things to consider. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, description helps. Things like the environment and passive issues, such as walking along a narrrow cliff ledge, etc. are not exciting and are terrible ways to go - having a character freeze to death due to a failed CON check or fall off a cliff and plummet to his death due to a failed DEX check just is not interesting gaming. But another way to make them interesting is to have the PC describe what they are doing to deal with the effects, making it more of a give or take, so it is more like an active battle than a passive failed check situation, and either (a) give them a modifier to the roll, bonus if good description to minimize effects or penalty if they are proceeding despite the dangers (may need to in an adventure to get somewhere in time, to escape pursuers, etc.), or (b) modify the effect, either a lower penalty from the environment if they take measures against it (huddling together in the cold, etc.) or higher penalty if not.
Only make weather an issue if it adds to the scenario. Example: The party is in a hurry to get from Shadazar to Arenjen. They take a shortcut through some woods. It gets dark and starts to rain hard, thunder and lightning. Lightning hits a tree close by and the horses panic, break loose from their picket, and run off into the night. Delays party and unhorses them until they can round up the herd.

That's what I would do. In fact, Delaying Encounters, may have some merit as a game aid. Just a thought.
I skimmed the thread and didn't see this mentioned so. . .

Iron Heroes. You don't need the core book - just grab Mastering Iron Heroes (basically the DMG for IH). It has all kinds of rules for areas, environment, and all that - called zones. They could easily be transferred to your Conan games, and they're extremely fun.
Hey man, good to see ya. (And everyone else, of course.)

I had a house built last year and it's finished, so I had to take possession, move in (moving is such a pain) and take care of all the things that invariably need to be fixed, dealt with, and done when you buy a house. So I've been really busy and just haven't been able to get online for any meaningful period of time. I should be around more now, though.
Did you put a dungeon in it? But anyway, that's something, I envy you. My place is falling apart. Need to build a new place myself, started by digging a big pit 30' by 30' feet, but that's as far as I got.

Good to have you back, semi-permanently (the paint fumes may just get to you). :D

Speaking of fumes, would a volcano erupting count as a weather effect?
Well the basement is finished, but it does kind of resemble a dungeon, since my office is down here and everything. Haha. Here in Canada we have plenty of wood - so I'll haul it down to you and we'll start working on your house next. ;)

As for a volcano errupting, I think that's more than a weather event, that's a "holy crap" event that one isn't very likely to survive. But if you go cinematic instead of realistic, flowing lava and choking ash could definitely make for a really interesting fight. You'd just have to ignore the fact that it would almost certainly kill you.
You know when bradius brought this subject up, I didn't really take it very seriously, but he makes a good point actually. Back when you couldn't just get in a car and drive over to a friends house and never really feel the effect of weather, weather was a serious problem. In more primitive settings, being cooked by the sun (well, some of us do that intentionally), and being soaked and chilled by a rain storm, isn't something to be taken lightly. If you just roll for a few effects on CON and the like, it really may not mean anything to the player, just another roll of the die and you're ok again.

I think I will start my own weather encounter table for my game. But make it more "interesting." Everyone should do the same, IMO.

Go on, do it. What are you waiting for? Lightning to strike?
I think everyone that is a gamer should go out into the real world and do some camping. Not out of an RV, but the kind where you carry everything you need. Really make you appreciate what you have and also you're less likely to take mother nature for granted.
Tried out some suggestions last night. They went into a swamp looking for Lotus. I used rules supplements from Wildescape. They encounterd Swamp gas, disease, flies, leaches, stinging vermin. Were attacked by a large spider, and threatened by a jaguar. Slept on a miserable patch of dry ground. The climax, in addition to battleing the swamp demon (they all suffered grevously, they failed to defeat it, but did get the lotus), they had to deal with quicksand. The most tense-exciting moments were when one character was drowning in quicksand, he had 0 FP and another character braved the swamp demon, expended all his FP and rescued him, at the last possible moment - as the first character would have drowned then.

Thanks for the suggestions.