A quick look at TV and movies and you might notice something, 1) “It’s amazing how England looks nothing like Southern California”, and 2) it’s always sunny…unless something dramatic is about to happen. It always rains at a funeral. It’s never foggy unless there’s a killer stalking in the mist. Weather can be a very good means to not just create a challenge for your players, or for establishing atmosphere in a scene, but it can also help define the space the players’ characters inhabit.
Example 1: Most folks know Scotland is a rainy place…but as we said in the Army, “It’s one thing to know it’ll suck, and another to feel the suck.” Scotland doesn’t just have rain — it’s got a plethora of ways it can rain. It’s often foggy in the mornings around the resepective firths (bays.) There’s “smir” — that mist that is statically charged so it stick to f@#$%ing everything. Wearing glasses? Good luck seeing. Wanted to check the map on your phone? Say that screen got wet faster than immediately, didn’t it? There’s drizzle. There’s a soft rain. There’s downpours of such astounding frigidity as to take your breath away. Snow. Sleet. And it can go on for longer than Noah was floating about.
As one of my cousins once wrote on Facebook, “I’d go for a walk, but I don’t have a boat.” People don’t do well with things when they’re uncomfotable. Sure, they can ride to the occasion — but cold, wet feet are simply the worst!
How could this affect the characters? When there’s a deluge of freezing cold water, people tend to look down. They tense up. They naturally look for someplace where the air isn’t trying to drown them. That’s a bit of a bitch in a footchase down the shops in Sauchiehall Street, ennit? “Whaddya mean ye lost him?” “Well, sir, it was pissin’ doon and…”
Example 2: What’s a car chase like in the snow?
Example 3: You live in Victorian London — or modern day Shanghai — it doesn’t have to be a dark, smoky night for the “London Fog” of industrial filth to have some kind of an effect. Shame you got all dolled up to meet that important person, but your white shirt is now a sort of grey-yellow when you arrive hoping to make the best impression. Maybe you’ll got allergies. Or asthma. Shame about losing that guy in that footchase on the Bund because you were hacking up a lung from your 400 pack a day habit of just breathing the air. What’s it like to try and finish a fistfight when you’re hacking up a lung from the soot?
Example 4: What about it being sunny and warm all the time? It’s lovely in the Southwestern American desert. Except you get thirsty. And sunstroked in a matter of minutes or an hour. Maybe you were fine when you were out there, but not that you’re indoors and mostly hydrated again, you want to sleep. For a week. It’s a bit hard to concentrate on sorting through those clues when you want to collapse on your desk and sleep. Or you’re getting ready for the Nasty Brothers, of whose kin you just shot saving that Wells Fargo stage, but man! this chair is comfortable!
Example 5: You’re in Houston. Or anywhere along the Alabama to Texas coastline. It’s 100F, somewhere between 100 and 600% humidity, and you’d be drier in the shower. Your clothes stick to you. You feel like you’re breathing sweat and decaying fish soup. You’re not certain if you’ve gone incontinent or that sweat in your underwear. You’re only goal is to get into an air conditioned building that makes the climate something approaching a sauna instead of a credible facsimile of Venus.
Example 6: Speaking of space…what’s it like in a spaceship? They outgas a lot of humidity. The air is nosebleed dry and static electricity is a constant danger. What about the spots where there might be heavy water use? Mold and mildew! Better get cleaning.
Example 7: Low or high gravity. Sci-fi games are good about putting this in there rules sets, but I’ve yet to see anyone do more than lip service to different gravity. Even habituated, it’s a beast to have that chase or fight in half gravity on Mars. Or in a centrifugal gravity torus. You thought that ball was going to fly straight, but look at that! Physics! What about heavy gravity? Suddenly, you’re not a svelte 170 pounds, but 210…your knees and feet hurt all the time. It feels like you’re walking or running uphill, all the time. You’re out of breath, headachy, and a bit tired because your blood isn’t getting to the brain that well.
Creating character for your location doesn’t just make for verisimilitude, but creates the space as an ancillary character. The place becomes important not just to the plot, but something interesting in an of itself. How did Miami become a sort of character in Miami Vice, or Burn Notice? How did Louisiana define True Detective? Making the setting ‘real” can create of love of the place — think about Babylon 5: after five seasons, the space station felt like a real place that you wanted to visit; watching her scuttled is nearly painful.
How would the character of the place play into where players go willingly, or dragged there complaining endlessly? You couldn’t get me to go to Houston with a cattle prod and the promise of a million a year salary…no, wait, that last bit would work. But I’d hate every second of it. I love the desert, but I’m from environs where it’s cold, wet, and dark a third of the year. Move back? Screw that! (But it’s better than Houston.)
Weather or climate — it fells create your setting as much as the look of a place.