Walkin’ in a Winter Wasteland

In my Kingmaker campaign, the PCs are about halfway through the first adventure, “Stolen Land.” They’ve explored roughly the northern half of the overland map, and by my calculation, they’ve spent about three months of game-time doing so.

Now, I didn’t keep track of exactly what season it was when they started the campaign; I didn’t give it any thought, which in hindsight seems like a bit of an oversight on my part. I say that because I’ve been rolling on the weather table in the Pathfinder Core Rules (p. 439) and so far they’ve been mostly getting fair weather with the occasional thunderstorm.

Which seems easier? A wilderness adventure through here...

However, after three months, they’re now adventuring in a new season. That’s not such a big deal if they started the campaign in, say, early spring – now they’re in early summer. But if they started in the summer, it’s now going to be getting cooler as autumn rolls around. And if they started adventuring in autumn, well then…winter is here.

Running an overland adventure in the winter changes things, especially if the PCs are low-level (as mine are). Snowfall, cold temperatures, freezing winds…all of these things add challenges to the game that aren’t there during the warmer months. It can be a great tactic to turn nature itself against the players when they’re used to dealing with enemies that they can bludgeon to death.

The problem with this particular idea is that, for all its virtues, the Pathfinder Core Rulebook doesn’t have a good layout for these sorts of environmental hazards. To be fair, it does a fairly decent job, as most of the relevant sections are close together (collectively found in Chapter 13: Environment), but there’s room for improvement. Mostly, this is because sections tend to be artificially divided, and rules refer to other rules on other pages, making it somewhat difficult to get all of the relevant effects in an easy manner.

For example, the effects of snow are listed under the “Weather” section of the chapter, while exposure to cold temperatures is later on under “Environmental Rules.” In the former section, it notes that heavy snowfall has the same game effects as snowfall (and the entry for snowfall says that it has a lot of the same game mechanics as rain), but also the same game mechanics as fog, which is a few pages further on, etc. Page-flipping and cross-referencing galore.

As such, I’m going to spend this blog entry reposting the rules for snow and other cold-related environmental effects, along with taking out cross-references so that each entry is complete unto itself.

The first thing I’m going to do is divide up the environmental rules for winter into four sections: ground conditions, snowfall, wind, and temperature. Why do this? Because each of these has a different effect on the relevant mechanics – conditions on the ground affect movement, snowfall affects visibility, wind affects ranged combat and flying, and temperature affects a character’s hit points. Each section reprints all of the relevant rules, so this way you won’t have to skip back and forth from section to section (in one or two places, however, this is unavoidable; likewise, two of the snowfall conditions also necessarily include wind conditions). Finally, other relevant hazards are listed at the end.

...or here?

With this, when your PCs are adventuring during the winter, you can just grab the relevant condition (if any) from the four sections below to create the weather conditions for their location. Now you’ll know what to do on a day that has heavy snowfall on the ground, light wind, no snow falling, and is severely cold, versus what it’s like on a day with no snow on the ground, no wind, light snowfall, and (normal) cold. Easily done!

Note that I’ve made some small changes to these entries where the rules didn’t make sense, or contradicted themselves. For example, heavy snow grants concealment (because it references the fog rules), whereas snowstorms and blizzards just offer penalties to Perception and ranged attacks – hence, I had them also grant total concealment. Little things like that help to make the rules more consistent and easier to use.

GROUND CONDITIONS

Snow: It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a snow-covered square. A day of snowfall leaves 1d6 inches of snow on the ground. Snow counts as very soft ground for purposes of tracking creatures with Survival. This is the ground condition created after a snowstorm (q.v.).

Heavy Snow: It costs 4 squares of movement to enter a square covered with heavy snow. A day of heavy snow leaves 1d4 feet of snow on the ground. Snow drifts, 1d4 x 5 feet deep, are also possible. Heavy snow counts as very soft ground for purposes of tracking creatures with Survival. This is the ground condition created after a blizzard (q.v.).

Ice: Characters walking on ice must spend 2 squares of movement to enter a square covered by ice, and the DC for Acrobatics checks increases by +5. Characters in prolonged contact with ice might run the risk of taking damage from severe cold (q.v.).

SNOWFALL

Snowing: Falling snow reduces visibility ranges by half, resulting in a -4 penalty on Perception checks and ranged weapon attacks.

Heavily Snowing: Heavily-falling snow obscures all sight beyond 5 feet, including darkvision. Creatures 5 feet away have concealment (attacks by or against them have a 20% miss chance). Heavy snowfall has a 50% chance of extinguishing small, unprotected flames, such as candles. Ranged attacks and Perception checks suffer an additional -4 penalty.

There is a 10% chance that heavy snow is accompanied by lightning, which can pose a hazard to characters without proper shelter (especially those in metal armor). As a rule of thumb, assume one bolt per minute for a 1-hour period at the center of the storm. Each bolt causes between 4d8 and 10d8 points of electricity damage.

Snowstorm: A snowstorm reduces visibility ranges by three-quarters, imposing a –8 penalty on Perception checks. Ranged weapon attacks become impossible, except for those using siege weapons, which have a –4 penalty on attack rolls. Creatures 5 feet away have total concealment (attacks by or against them have a 50% miss chance). It automatically extinguishes candles, torches, and similar unprotected flames; protected flames, such as those of lanterns, dance wildly and have a 50% chance of being extinguished. Fly checks take a -8 penalty.

Medium creatures are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Small and smaller creatures on the ground are knocked prone and rolled 1d4 × 10 feet, taking 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet, unless they make a DC 15 Strength check. Flying small or smaller creatures are blown back 2d6 × 10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage due to battering and buffeting, unless they succeed on a DC 25 Fly skill check.

A snowstorm leaves snow (q.v.) on the ground afterward.

Blizzard: A blizzard reduces visibility to zero, making Perception checks and all ranged weapon attacks impossible. All creatures have total concealment (attacks by or against them have a 50% miss chance). Unprotected flames are automatically extinguished, and protected flames have a 75% chance of being doused, except for those using siege weapons, which have a –8 penalty on attack rolls. Fly checks take a -12 penalty.

Large creatures are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Medium and smaller creatures on the ground are knocked prone and rolled 1d4 × 10 feet, taking 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet, unless they make a DC 15 Strength check. Flying medium or smaller creatures are blown back 2d6 × 10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage due to battering and buffeting, unless they succeed on a DC 25 Fly skill check.

A blizzard leaves heavy snow (q.v.) on the ground afterward.

WIND

Light Wind: A gentle breeze, from 0-10 mph, having little or no game effect.

Moderate Wind: A steady wind, from 11-20 mph, with a 50% chance of extinguishing small, unprotected flames, such as candles.

Strong Wind: Gusts, from 21-30 mph, that automatically extinguish unprotected flames (candles, torches, and the like). Such gusts impose a –2 penalty on ranged attack rolls, Perception checks, and Fly checks.

Tiny creatures or smaller are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Severe Wind: From 31-50 mph, in addition to automatically extinguishing any unprotected flames, winds of this magnitude cause protected flames (such as those of lanterns) to dance wildly and have a 50% chance of extinguishing these lights. Ranged weapon attacks, Perception checks, and Fly checks are at a –4 penalty. This is the velocity of wind produced by a gust of wind spell.

Small creatures are unable to move forward against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or a DC 20 Fly skill check if airborne.

Tiny or smaller creatures on the ground are knocked prone and rolled 1d4 × 10 feet, taking 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet, unless they make a DC 15 Strength check. Flying tiny or smaller creatures are blown back 2d6 × 10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage due to battering and buffeting, unless they succeed on a DC 25 Fly skill check.

Windstorm: From 51-74 mph, this is a snowstorm (q.v.).

Hurricane: From 75-174 mph, this is a blizzard (q.v.).

TEMPERATURE

Cold: Cold weather (40-0 degrees Fahrenheit) requires characters to make a Fortitude save each hour (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. A character wearing a cold-weather outfit does not need to make a save against the effects of cold temperatures.

A character who has the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (DC 15; Gain a +2 bonus on all Fortitude saves against severe weather while moving up to half your overland speed, or gain a +4 bonus if you remain stationary. You may grant the same bonus to one other character for every 1 point by which your Survival check result exceeds 15.).

A character cannot recover from the damage dealt by a cold environment until she gets out of the cold and warms up again. Once a character has taken an amount of nonlethal damage equal to her total hit points, any further damage from a cold environment is lethal damage.

A character who takes any nonlethal damage from cold or exposure is beset by frostbite or hypothermia (treat her as fatigued – can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity). These penalties end when the character recovers the nonlethal damage she took from the cold and exposure.

Severe Cold: Severe cold (-1 to -19 degrees Fahrenheit) requires characters to make a Fortitude save every ten minutes (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. A character wearing a cold-weather outfit only needs to save against severe cold once every hour.

A character who has the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (DC 15; Gain a +2 bonus on all Fortitude saves against severe weather while moving up to half your overland speed, or gain a +4 bonus if you remain stationary. You may grant the same bonus to one other character for every 1 point by which your Survival check result exceeds 15.).

A character cannot recover from the damage dealt by a cold environment until she gets out of the cold and warms up again. Once a character has taken an amount of nonlethal damage equal to her total hit points, any further damage from a cold environment is lethal damage.

A character who takes any nonlethal damage from cold or exposure is beset by frostbite or hypothermia (treat her as fatigued – can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity). These penalties end when the character recovers the nonlethal damage she took from the cold and exposure.

Extreme Cold: At-20 degrees Fahrenheit and below, a character takes 1d6 points of lethal damage per minute (no save). In addition, a character must make a Fortitude save (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. A character wearing a cold weather outfit reduces this duration to once every ten minutes.

A character who has the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (DC 15; Gain a +2 bonus on all Fortitude saves against severe weather while moving up to half your overland speed, or gain a +4 bonus if you remain stationary. You may grant the same bonus to one other character for every 1 point by which your Survival check result exceeds 15.).

A character cannot recover from the damage dealt by a cold environment until she gets out of the cold and warms up again. Once a character has taken an amount of nonlethal damage equal to her total hit points, any further damage from a cold environment is lethal damage.

A character who takes any nonlethal damage from cold or exposure is beset by frostbite or hypothermia (treat her as fatigued – can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity). These penalties end when the character recovers the nonlethal damage she took from the cold and exposure.

OTHER HAZARDS

Avalanche (CR 7): An avalanche can be spotted from as far away as 1d10 × 500 feet by a character who makes a DC 20 Perception check, treating the avalanche as a Colossal creature. If all characters fail their Perception checks to determine the encounter distance, the avalanche moves closer to them, and they automatically become aware of it when it closes to half the original distance. It’s possible to hear an avalanche coming even if you can’t see it. Under optimum conditions (no other loud noises occurring), a character who makes a DC 15 Perception check can hear the avalanche or landslide when it is 1d6 × 500 feet away. This check might have a DC of 20, 25, or higher in conditions where hearing is difficult (such as in the middle of a thunderstorm).

A landslide or avalanche consists of two distinct areas: the bury zone (in the direct path of the falling debris) and the slide zone (the area the debris spreads out to encompass). Characters in the bury zone always take damage from the avalanche; characters in the slide zone might be able to get out of the way. Characters in the bury zone take 8d6 points of damage, or half that amount if they make a DC 15 Reflex save. They are subsequently buried. Characters in the slide zone take 3d6 points of damage, or no damage if they make a DC 15 Reflex save. Those who fail their saves are buried.

Buried characters take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage per minute. If a buried character falls unconscious, he must make a DC 15 Constitution check or take 1d6 points of lethal damage each minute thereafter until freed or dead.

The typical avalanche has a width of 1d6 × 100 feet, from one edge of the slide zone to the opposite edge. The bury zone in the center of the avalanche is half as wide as the avalanche’s full width.

To determine the precise location of characters in the path of an avalanche, roll 1d6 × 20; the result is the number of feet from the center of the path taken by the bury zone to the center of the party’s location. Avalanches of snow and ice advance at a speed of 500 feet per round.

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2 Responses to “Walkin’ in a Winter Wasteland”

  1. rorschachhamster Says:

    Thanks, that will come in handy. I looked it up myself and came exactly to the same spot of cross refencing nonsense…

  2. UWTartarus Says:

    I had the same trouble when I had the PC trek across a comet from a portal to an observatory, so much page flipping I ended up creating a “Comet Environment” cheat sheet to utilize.

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