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Before the Storm

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On September 2, 2011 @ 12:01 am In GMing Advice | 6 Comments

As I write this, I’m waiting for Hurricane Irene to arrive within hours. Being a Pennsylvanian (and New Jerseyan before that), I’m not used to dealing with hurricanes (or earthquakes for that matter – now both events in one week!). We all know it’s coming, preparations have been made and evacuations in highly threatened areas are underway. Given that Irene is taking her sweet time to get here, it’s been a surreal experience these past few days. It almost feels like one of those “end of the world” movies where everyone sits around and pretends things are normal while calmly waiting for the end.

Being a gamer, of course, these last few days have me thinking about gaming scenarios. I’ve seen many adventures and campaigns set during a disaster and even after one (the entire post-apocalyptic subgenre is based on the latter), but rarely have I seen an adventure that takes place just prior to an anticipated disaster. Just looking at immediate events, I see a lot of roleplaying game potential.

For villains, the hours before a storm provide ample opportunities for crime. Businesses and residences are boarded up and abandoned, making them prime targets for burglary. A power company may cut power to minimize storm damage, disabling security systems. Valuables may be transferred to safer but less secure locations, giving villains a chance to steal a cargo in transit or burgle it at the new location. And villains of previous crimes could use the disaster to eliminate troublesome witnesses.

For heroes, the hours before the storm add extra complications, even in adventures that don’t directly relate to the storm. PCs may be asked to investigate a crime when crime scene, as well as critical evidence, may be destroyed within hours. Loss of power can certainly hinder an investigation, especially at night. Witnesses (and suspects) may be getting out of town; some of them may not even survive the storm. PCs may even be recruited into preparations, cutting into their investigative time (or trying to preserve evidence or crime scenes from the disaster).

Finally, a disaster, especially a storm, is a dramatic race against time. The PCs know that they have to wrap things up as the rain becomes harder and the winds begin to blow. Minor accidents and problems may arise before the brunt of the storm, such as falling trees, fender benders, and flying debris.

Again, as I write this, the storm is coming. Initial indications are that it’s going to be less powerful than originally thought, and I hope that’s the case. I also hope it tracks further east. I pray that everyone remains safe and that property damage will be as minimal as possible.

That said I think that the fictional east coast city in my campaign is due for an approaching hurricane…

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.




6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Before the Storm"

#1 Comment By Razjah On September 2, 2011 @ 6:23 am

I like this idea. In fantasy worlds you can easily add magic. Elementals and the like live in the storm and attack those who do not flee. In sci-fi worlds it could be like Dune where the natives use the storms to aid them. The sandstorms on Tatooine can rip the flesh off you in seconds.

After the storm heroes can help find and recover those who are lost, trapped, sick, and wounded. They may even be torn because the BBEG is moving on after the refugees who fled to safer grounds but are now less protected.

Walt, this leads to a whole host of interesting scenarios. There will be a massive storm in my skypirates game this fall.

#2 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 2, 2011 @ 9:57 am

I hate to harken back to comics — once again — oh, what the hey …

I remember the breathless anticipation/tension before the storm being used as a motiff to great effectiveness in the Englehart/Rogers classic Batman tale “The Laughing Fish”, and I’ve employed it many times since. Most recently, I had the approaching storm help build tension prior to the assault on a lich king’s lair.

However, adventuring during the midst of a storm is fun too. I remember when I lived in South Carolina the long wait during a hurricane, and that brief period during the eye when you could get about. And using the endless storm as part of an adventuring scenario is also fun. It has a countdown feel, because you have to finish what you’re doing before the eye passes and hurricane hits again.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On September 2, 2011 @ 11:14 am

I’ve got one: The storm passes, and the players must undertake an increasingly desperate search for a generator in a World Gone Mad as the local power infrastructure proves itself fabricated from largely water soluble materials, the people who are in charge of it – never at their best in anything resembling a crisis – are completely overwhelmed, and what should have been a damaging but recoverable scenario turns into a nightmare.

Close combat skills will come to the fore in such cavernous places as Home Despot and Blowes, where improvised weapons are just a shelf away in the hand tools department, or those preferring two-handed weapons may visit the garden department where the mauls, mattocks and axes are kept.

Once the generator is secured it must be defended against darkness-maddened neighbors while a side quest to locate a five gallon gas can is undertaken on account of the PCs’ family buried theirs under a mountain of crap in the garage over the last year. Rumors abound but the elusive holy grail is not so easily won and the PCs will have earned their XP by the time they return home, possibly empty handed.

Anyone actually starting the generator must make a Will save or be driven temporarily insane (and suffer two levels of deafness) by the sheer volumes of noise the thing produces.

The day is saved, or is it? The PCs now find their entire stock of extension cords are unfit for purpose, being far too light in gauge (except for the big yellow one connected to the swimming pool filter which may be scavenged to bring the fridge back on line) causing voltage drop, current rise and circuit breaker poppage. A new expedition must be undertaken to locate more appropriate, thicker gauge cords. Will they have enough GPs to secure the cable that will give them back a working washing machine or internet connectivity?

Just when the PCs think it’s all over bar sleeping off the fatigue levels they’ve attained and working out how they will pay the Visa bill, have the generator stall under load, overheat as a consequence and resolutely refuse to start, plunging them into a World of Darkness all over again. 1D6/2D8 SAN loss for all concerned.

If the game is time properly, by the time the power grid is back up no-one should be left alive or sane enough to care.

#4 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 2, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

As some of y’all know, I grew up and still have family in southeast Louisiana. Until Katrina hit, I thought I knew how to handle a natural disaster in-game. I don’t want to make light of a really crappy situation, but some of the stories I’ve heard and read since then are going into future games.

Hope everyone’s okay after the storm…

#5 Comment By Redcrow On September 3, 2011 @ 2:02 am

I’ve used a couple of natural disasters as backdrops for gaming. The first was a volcanic eruption on an island in a fantasy game and the second was an earthquake in Cal-Free State during a Shadowrun game. It really added some wonderful tension to the game and I may just have to try a good ‘ol hurricane next time. For some reason I really like the idea of using the hurricane during a zombie apocalypse game… the thought of hordes of ravenous zombies flying at 100+MPH toward the PCs just gives me that warm ‘evil’ GM feeling.

#6 Comment By black campbell On September 3, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

Irene may play a backdrop (a minor one) in the pilot session of my upcoming Supernatural game.


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