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In the last several years we’ve all witnessed an increasing number of natural disasters in the U.S. and around the world. From record-breaking firestorms in California to a series of violent hurricanes striking the eastern parts of the United States, Mother Nature is upset.
If we think of our gaming campaigns, these sorts of things often get overlooked. It’s true that our campaigns should be about the heroes and their stories but those stories are about challenge, struggle, and defeating insurmountable odds. Confronting a master villain and her undead army is one level of challenge. Doing so during a monsoon is yet another level. And what if that disaster was not so natural?
Let’s examine some causes of “natural” disasters and see how they can be used to enhance your gaming campaign.
1) The Gods Are Angry!
In a campaign where magic is real and the faithful of a deity can be granted the powers to heal and more, gods are a fact of life. If they are remote entities such as in Game of Thrones, it is unlikely that their wishes or influence will touch the mortal realm. But if your gods and goddesses are more like the soap opera of the Greek or Roman mythos, there are countless ways to find yourself out of favor.
If you are important enough or perhaps the country you are in offends one of the gods (not enough sacrifice, uttering sacrilege, favoring a rival deity), they might unleash true wrath. The form of this anger depends upon the god. A god of the seas would likely send a typhoon to drown the mortal insects that displease him. A goddess of health and vitality might turn a blind eye to a virulent plague to which no prayers or spells are effective. A god of the earth itself? Well, get ready to rock and roll and perhaps have half your country slide into the sea.
The adventure comes in surviving the wrath and finding a way to placate the offended god or goddess. A harrowing quest, a great sacrifice, or a holy crusade against believers of a rival god may end the pitiless disasters.
2) Things Man Was Not Meant To Know
If there are deep, unspeakable forces of evil hell-bent on destroying our world or reality itself, delving into their secrets can have drastic consequences. The impact might be everyone in an extended family, a whole town, or even a whole nation. If a mortal were so foolish as to attempt to draw power from such an abyss of evil, to even craft deals with forms the abyss conjures before him, an evil surge might be released of epic proportions.
These sorts of disasters would feel less… natural. Storms might bring tornadoes and boiling rain. The earth would quake over and over again, disrupting any attempts to save people or fix the damage. All birds and animals might become hostile and blood thirsty.
Closing the gateway to such evil would challenge the mightiest of adventurers while dealing with a world gone mad.
3) I Am All-Powerful!
Perhaps great power is all around us, a magic without its own purpose, accessible only to those who sacrifice, toil, and study. If someone makes years of such sacrifice, they could wield tremendous power and bend it to their own purposes.
Simply the release of such power for any purpose could incidentally cause huge natural disasters. Some might occur immediately: firestorms, tornadoes, or torrential rains. Other consequences might only appear over time: plagues, drought, and famine. Still, the cause of these disasters would not be apparent. They might even be attributed to natural events.
But if our great and powerful mage wished to bend these events to their own purposes, perhaps inflicting them upon countries which would resist his rise to power, we would return once again to great destruction at the will of great evil.
Consider if the mage did not expect these far-ranging disasters to come from their magic and inflicted it on their own land first by accident. To divert attention or blame, he might inflict it on his neighbors as well, confusing who is behind the disasters and what purpose they might have. This would certainly create a multi-layered villain that would challenge our heroes.
A disaster is a great way to shake-up your campaign world, even reshape it in some ways. Tying it to a classic fight against great evil would make for an engaging and challenging adventure arc.
Jim Davenport founded Dragonlaird Gaming Studios in 2005 as a channel for his original tabletop RPG work. He’s an accomplished freelance writer with Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine (as a columnist) from Kenzerco, Margaret Weis Productions (Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Cortex), and many others. He published Savage Characters Volume 1 a couple years ago and has plans to release a series of Savage Adventures soon. You can find his website at www.dragonlairdgaming.com.
Picture Reference: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/339177415659538518/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.