VNV Nation – Colours of Rain
///A Flowing, khaki-coloured skirt over tight-fit, desert-coloured cargo-pants. A black jeans jacket over a light-blue T-shirt. Long, black hair.///
Weather in any RPG is something that often gets overlooked. Sure, there are some old-school games which track adverse weather conditions to make the lives of the PCs that one bit more complicated. But weather can be so much more. Should be so much more.
There are many literally clichés that have to do with weather. It was a dark and stormy night…, indeed. But many of those were started for a reason. Certain weather conditions are evocative by themselves, without much auxiliary writer input. And especially these days, they can bring home certain emotional and intellectual responses that many other descriptions simply cannot do any more. How many people these days have never been in a truly deep, dark, fucking CREEPY forest? How many have not spent time outdoors, wide away from the nearest city’s lights? How many don’t know how downright satisfying a gulp of fresh, river water can be after more than a day of thirst? Sure, one can imagine those things. But they are… Abstract thoughts to many people.
But ask any deep-rooter city dweller about the last time they were in a really strong storm. The last time snow and/or ice shut down their part of the city. That one time the summer was so hot that the streets looked like in those post-apocalypse movies. Weather, these days, can bring some folks nearer to certain mind-states than one might imagine.
A great percentage of us will be able to imagine sitting alone at home at some point in our lives, looking outside a window when wind and rain made a wild spectacle outside. Just shutting out the lights, opening the window and… Look out. Experience it. Perhaps even, in that one moment, decide to get dressed and go out into the rain for a few moments.
And, similarly, even the most jaded “adults” will have a spot in their heart for those summer days when all is almost perfectly, peacefully, still. When you have some crickets or cicadas or [insert annoyingly loud local bug here] chirping in the distance, when the wind is so still that no leaves are moving, when the sun is so harsh that the shadows look like bold dividing lines between the dark and the light, the cool and the hot.
Or those days during the winter, when you step outside and hear that satisfying, solid “CRUNCH” of snow underfoot. And while it may be annoying to drive through, and while it may play hell with your company’s logistics, and while it might make shopping and other necessities harder… There’s still that one moment of a smile playing around your features.
At the same time, weather births smells. And smells bring memories. The smell of rain evaporating on hot concrete. The smell of crisp, cold, biting winter air. The smell of wet grass. The smell of certain perfumes at certain times in the year.
Then there’s also how some weather types are so contextual. When many people think of funerals, for example, they think of overcast, drizzly days. When people think of parties, they think of those not-to-hot-yet-sunny summer days. When people think of a vacation at the sea, they think of windy, clear-skied days. And so on.
While running an Urban Fantasy game, you can (and should!) play with all of those things. With the expectations, the memories and the emotional responses. They’re all connected and thus they can all be used to subtly manipulate your players. To immerse them a bit more into the story.
The same way that music can be used to create leading themes for specific actions and characters and situations (Bill Bailey’s “Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra” is a really good and damn funny way to learn about this, at the very basic introductory level.), so can weather.
Do go ahead. Set sad scenes to overcast, drizzling days. Let the characters triumph during a moment when the sun is high in the sky. Accentuate the monstrosity that is hunting innocents in the city by showing how easy it is to isolate people during a (snow?)storm even in a major urban centre.
At the same time, use contrast to accentuate scenes even more. Make it a peaceful, bright, sunny, summer’s day when a major tragedy happens/hits. Let the characters save the day during a shitty, gray, downtrodden day.
Use the weather like you would use music. Use it to accentuate, to contrast, to compliment and to disjoint.
When you accentuate and compliment, you can use the player’s own experiences with those types of weather help you build the mood. Describe the rain, describe all the reflections, the wetness, the smells, the rushing people, the sound of raindrops against windows and streets and walls. Describe the rustling of the leaves and the clasp of thunder in the distance. Let your players drink this in. They will feel themselves into that moment, and they will work with you from there.
When you contrast and disjoint… You do the same. But you do this to lull them into a false sense of security or fear. You won’t be able to do this often, so use it like you’d use a very fine, expensive, spice. But WHEN you use it, make sure to use it to its full effect. When the scene is being set, describe how the weather is like. Describe the details, the incidentals. Describe people reacting to it. And when your players are going with it, when they’re attuned to their own expectations, the full impact of the planned scene will hit that much harder.
The next time you are planning an impactful scene… Just think about the weather. Talk about the weather, even.
Let it help you. Use it to your, and your group’s, advantage. It’s a really quick and easy way of adding more immersion to your game.
Just a small bonus, this time.
This song is one of my all-time, most favourite songs, to this day.
And it’s a song I so deeply associate with autumn, that I can get a slight shiver of cold when I listen to it on a 32°C day in mid-July.
Listen to it. And “listen” to your thoughts and memories. What kind of weather do you associate with it?
VNV Nation – Beloved [Lyrics]