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The great outdoors—a realm of mystery, danger, and unpredictable peril that keeps even the most battle-hardened adventurers on their toes. But I’m not just talking about dragons, trolls, or enchanted forests here; natural hazards are an often overlooked yet vital element in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. They can add an extra layer of tension, complexity, and realism to your wilderness adventures. So, gather your dice and sharpen your pencils; it’s time to delve into the world of natural hazards in D&D wilderness settings.
Venturing into the untamed wilds of a D&D campaign offers far more than just combat scenarios with mythical beasts and villains. Natural hazards are an integral component that, when utilized well, enrich the story and challenge players in innovative ways.
Imagine your party trekking through a dense forest, the tension palpable as you scout for potential ambushes. Suddenly, the ground shakes, trees topple, and fissures open in the earth. An earthquake is reshaping the terrain before your eyes. Beyond the immediate danger of falling into a ravine or being crushed by falling debris, the earthquake itself can alter your adventure’s direction.
Paths might be blocked, requiring detours that lead to unknown dangers, or perhaps the quake opens up an underground passage revealing new opportunities for exploration. An adept Dungeon Master can use natural phenomena like earthquakes to raise the stakes, create memorable moments, and even introduce fresh narrative elements.
Then consider the impact of weather phenomena, such as thunderstorms, blizzards, or sandstorms, on a journey. A violent storm could surge at the most inconvenient time, perhaps when the party is in the midst of battle on an open plain. Now, not only do they have to contend with their foes, but also with gale-force winds that make archery nigh impossible, or a blinding sandstorm that obscures vision and makes communication difficult. Here, the environment becomes an additional “character,” actively participating in the unfolding drama.
The cunning DM might also incorporate wildfires into the wilderness experience. Imagine your party needs to reach a destination within a time limit, and a rapidly spreading wildfire cuts off the most direct route. Now there’s a pressing need to find an alternative path while also avoiding the encroaching flames and the hazards they bring—like smoke inhalation or panic-inducing heat.
A wildfire can also drive wildlife and even monsters out of their habitats, setting the stage for unexpected encounters. Alternatively, savvy players might use a wildfire strategically to trap an enemy or clear an obstacle, though with significant risk and moral quandary attached.
Incorporating these elements into a campaign offers more than just the thrill of surviving nature’s wrath; it encourages creative problem-solving. Players must think on their feet, weigh risks and rewards, and sometimes make hard choices that impact the narrative down the line. Whether it’s deciding to press on through a snowstorm or finding a way to cross a newly-formed chasm, these moments allow for meaningful character development.
So, the next time you find yourself planning a wilderness adventure, remember that the environment can be just as formidable as any dragon or warlord. By including natural hazards, you’ll enrich your storytelling, diversify gameplay, and create a living, breathing world that captures your players’ imaginations in entirely new ways.
The ultimate pyrotechnic spectacle of nature, wrapped in danger and swathed in dread. Imagine your party stumbling upon a seemingly peaceful mountain, its last eruption so distant it’s become the stuff of forgotten local folklore. But before you know it, tremors reverberate beneath your feet, and the ancient titan awakens from its long slumber, hell-bent on unleashing centuries of pent-up fury. Within mere hours or even moments, what was once serene is now an apocalyptic stage for your adventure, spewing molten rock, ash, and gas.
Or picture a more restless behemoth that smolders and rumbles on the regular, every few weeks sending plumes of ash and smoke into the air. It’s like a grumbling old sorcerer—never enough to cause widespread havoc, but just enough to serve as a constant, looming threat. Every so often, it coughs up a reminder to those in its shadow that someday it may very well decide to do more than just clear its throat.
Now, let’s talk about the kinds of eruptions, each one a unique dance of destruction. Crucially, a volcano isn’t fickle; it picks its signature move and sticks to it. You won’t see one blowing its top with a molten lava fountain today and an ash plume tomorrow. Each style of eruption not only differs in its visual spectacle but also in the distinct set of life-or-death challenges it throws your way.
So, the next time your party gazes upon a seemingly innocent mountain range or feels a subtle tremor beneath their boots, remember this: Volcanoes are the ultimate wild card in any D&D wilderness adventure. They serve as ticking time bombs, dynamic battlegrounds, or even potential allies if you’re audacious enough to harness their power. Their eruptions are performances of cataclysmic splendor, each with its unique rhythm of ruin. Whether you’re fleeing for your life or trying to turn the situation to your advantage, when a volcano gets involved, you can be sure your adventure just got a lot more explosive.
Volcanoes with red-hot lava may seem like scenes from a thriller, menacing and dramatic, but they actually pose relatively low risks to people who can see them erupting—as long as those people don’t remain stationary, allowing the molten rock to reach them. When an eruption occurs, lava bursts from a reservoir of molten rock beneath the volcano’s mouth. Depending on the magma’s consistency and the underground pressure, the erupting lava can either spray forcefully from the volcano’s crater or ooze down its sides.
Interestingly, the viscosity of the magma determines the nature of the eruption. Fluid magma leads to less violent eruptions, while thicker magma can result in powerful bursts that spray lava into the air. Sometimes the lava even exits through fissures on the volcano’s sides, if such structural weaknesses exist, partially relieving pressure at the main vent but not entirely eliminating the risk. The lava can flow for miles before cooling, depending on the slope of the terrain. It incinerates anything flammable upon contact and remains hot enough to cause severe burns for several weeks after it has ceased to flow.
If you’re mobile and alert, avoiding this slow-moving lava is usually straightforward. Lava typically moves at an average speed of 250 yards per hour and doesn’t gush out all at once. However, the risk isn’t just from the lava; pyroclastic materials—semi-hardened chunks of magma and rocks—are also expelled. These projectiles can be hurled great distances by the eruption’s force, posing significant risks to anyone who is unfortunately positioned.
The length and type of an eruption can vary. Fluid magma eruptions can last several days, and if you find yourself closer than 500 yards from a significant source of flowing lava, expect to take some heat damage. Near the eruption, air temperatures can soar by 50 degrees, with the increase tapering off the further you get from the eruption site.
For thicker magma eruptions, expect similar heat-related threats, though these types of eruptions also come with an additional danger: pyroclastic projectiles. These can cause significant burn and impact damage, especially for those who are within 1,000 yards of the eruption. The risk and severity of injury increase the closer one is to the eruption.
So, while volcanoes with their flowing, red-hot lava may look menacing, understanding their behavior and characteristics can significantly mitigate the risks they pose.
Approximate Safe Distances from Various Volcanic Hazards
|Factor||Description||Approximate Safe Distance|
|Type of Eruption||Explosive eruptions can eject material high into the air.||3-20 miles|
|Lava Composition||Different viscosities and temperatures.||100-500 yards from lava flow|
|Gas Emissions||Toxic gases that can be harmful or fatal if inhaled.||1-5 miles|
|Changing Conditions||Eruptions can change rapidly, with new vents and increasing violence.||Variable; stay updated|
|Lava Flow and Wind Direction||Both can change, affecting where lava and toxic gases go.||Variable; stay updated|
These distances should be viewed as minimums and are not guarantees of safety. They’re provided to give a general sense of the hazards, but they can be heavily influenced by various factors including topography, wind conditions, and expert advice. Always consult current guidelines and information provided by experts in the field of volcanology for the most accurate and personalized safety recommendations for your adventures, or just make it, players won’t know any better.
Volcanoes known for ash eruptions also occasionally release lava, but the primary concern is the enormous ash clouds that they generate. Unlike eruptions characterized by violent explosions or intense heat, the main danger from ash eruptions lies in the widespread dispersal of ash, dust, and small lava particles.
These eruptions usually start suddenly, propelling an ash cloud that can reach heights of 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the volcano’s opening. The lighter ash particles can travel dozens of miles before settling on the ground, accumulating to depths of three to four inches in areas far from the volcano. Closer to the eruption site, the ash blanket is much thicker and heavier. While ash can kill plant life upon settling, its chemical composition actually serves as an effective fertilizer, leading to rapid plant regrowth within a few months.
Taking Mount St. Helens as an example, its eruptions between 1980 and 1981 were primarily ash eruptions. They caused not just ash spread but also initiated mudslides covering over 100,000 acres. The force of the initial blast was immense, and the mountain’s height was reduced by over 1,300 feet as a result of the eruptive activities.
Ash Eruptions Key Aspects
|Feature or Aspect||Description||Impact or Consequence|
|Eruption Type||Ash eruptions with some lava||Ash spread is main concern|
|Onset||Sudden, with high-rising ash clouds||Immediate area heavily impacted|
|Ash Dispersal Distance||Lighter particles can go dozens of miles||3-4 inch accumulation far away, thicker closer|
|Ecological Impact||Ash kills but later fertilizes plants||Rapid regrowth post-eruption|
|Case Study: Mount St. Helens||Eruptions in 1980-81, ash and mudslides||Reduced mountain height, covered 100,000 acres in mud|
In contrast to ash eruptions, explosive volcanic eruptions are far more difficult to categorize because they come in various forms. However, they all share one common feature: immense power. When these eruptions commence, the initial burst can be so forceful that it essentially decapitates the volcano.
The explosion causes the rock surrounding the mouth of the crater to crack and disintegrate, leading to the collapse of the volcano’s peak into the underlying magma or ash chamber. Such eruptions pose mortal danger to any living beings within the sight range of the event. A massive cloud of ash and pyroclastic materials is likely to be expelled, affecting the nearby areas. Additionally, a fiery avalanche of dense lava and heavy ash can flow from the volcano, threatening to consume everything within a 3-5 mile radius.
This ash cloud or avalanche will also produce superheated air and toxic gases that can be lethal to breathe. While explosive eruptions are highly dangerous, they often provide preliminary signs such as smaller ash clouds, minor lava leaks, and ground tremors for a few days before erupting fully, offering a warning for those in proximity.
Explosive Eruptions Key Points:
|Feature or Aspect||Description||Impact or Consequence|
|Eruption Type||Explosive eruptions in various forms||Immense power is commonality|
|Onset||Sudden, with intense initial burst||Can blow the top off the volcano|
|Material Expulsion||Ash, pyroclastic material, and lava||High danger in 3-5 mile radius|
|Air Quality||Superheated and noxious gases||Lethal to breathe|
|Early Warning Signs||Minor ash clouds, lava leaks, and ground tremors||Offer a few days of advance notice|
When the earth shifts, nothing is truly safe unless it’s airborne at the precise moment. Although earthquakes are relatively rare and usually localized, their impact ranges from benign to cataclysmic. While mild tremors are generally harmless, intense earthquakes can drastically alter landscapes and pose immediate danger to all life forms in the vicinity. The risk is not primarily from the shaking itself, but rather from the earthquake’s impact on the surrounding terrain.
In urban settings, the aftermath can be devastating, but for the purpose of this discussion, the focus is on earthquakes in wilderness areas devoid of permanent human settlements. Earthquakes generally occur along fault lines where tectonic plates exert pressure against each other.
A quake is triggered when this pressure exceeds the rock’s ability to contain it, causing a shift in the rock masses and sending shock waves through the ground. These waves often cause more damage than the initial fault line shift. Secondary earthquakes can be triggered by the first, and aftershocks can continue for days as the earth settles into its new configuration until the next seismic event.
Earthquake Key Elements
|Frequency||Rare and usually localized||Mild to cataclysmic|
|Main Danger||Alteration of the landscape, not the shaking itself||Immediate threat to life|
|Areas of Occurrence||Wilderness areas along fault lines||Localized impact|
|Trigger||Pressure exceeding the rocks’ strength||Causes fault-line shifts|
|Aftereffects||Shockwaves cause more damage than the fault-line shift, aftershocks possible||Ongoing risk|
In gaming terms, we can categorize earthquakes into three levels of severity: light, moderate, and severe.
This level feels like a brief vibration underfoot and generally lasts only a few seconds. While not directly hazardous, it can disrupt activities that require focus or balance. For example:
- A spellcaster loses concentration and can’t complete the spell.
- A thief has a 50% chance of failing at disarming a trap, even if they initially succeeded.
- High-wire acts or similar balance-dependent tasks have their success rate halved. A Dexterity Check is needed to prevent a fall.
Lasting 10-30 seconds, this level can unseat characters from less-than-stable positions and imposes various penalties:
- Requires both Dexterity and Strength Checks to stay balanced on a tree branch or similar perch.
- Climbing checks suffer a -50% penalty.
- Ranged attacks have a -2 to -7 penalty depending on proficiency and distance.
- Melee attacks take a -3 penalty, with a risk of falling if the attack fails.
Additional environmental risks are present:
- Rockfalls or mudslides may happen near cliffs or slopes.
- A 1 in 8 chance exists for characters under a tree to get hit if it falls.
- Ground fissures are rare but possible, with falling and subsequent crushing or suffocation risks.
This type can last from 40-90 seconds and has the same effects as a moderate earthquake but doubles all penalties and risks:
- Climbing checks have a -100% penalty.
- Melee attack penalties increase to -6.
- Chances of environmental hazards like rockfalls are doubled.
The best course of action is usually to find cover and hope for divine intervention.
Earthquake Type Chart
|Earthquake Severity||Duration||Spellcasting||Trap Disarming||Tightrope Walking||Climbing||Ranged Attack Penalty||Melee Attack Penalty||Environmental Risks|
|Light||Few seconds||Disrupted||50% Fail Chance||Success Rate Halved||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Moderate||10-30 seconds||Disrupted||50% Fail Chance||Success Rate Halved||-50%||-2 to -7||-3||Possible|
|Severe||40-90 seconds||Disrupted||50% Fail Chance||Success Rate Halved||-100%||-4 to -14||-6||Highly Likely|
Earthquakes Triggers Natural Events
Tsunamis: An underwater earthquake can displace a large volume of water, giving rise to tsunamis that can devastate coastal regions.
Landslides: Earthquakes can unsettle slopes and hillsides, triggering landslides that can bury homes, roads, and anything else in their path.
Avalanches: In mountainous areas, the shaking can dislodge snow and ice, causing avalanches.
Liquefaction: In certain soil types, the shaking can cause the ground to behave like a liquid, swallowing up buildings, cars, and people.
Sinkholes: In areas with limestone or similar soluble rocks, earthquakes can trigger the sudden collapse of the ground, creating sinkholes.
Mudslides: Particularly after heavy rains, earthquakes can trigger mudslides.
Volcanic Eruptions: While less common, the seismic activity can sometimes contribute to the destabilization of volcanic systems, leading to eruptions.
Fires: The destruction of infrastructure like gas lines and electrical grids can cause fires, which may then be fanned by winds or spread due to additional chaos.
Infrastructure Collapse: Not a natural event per se, but the collapse of dams, bridges, and buildings can create secondary disasters such as flooding or hazardous material spills.
Gas Emissions: In some cases, earthquakes can release hazardous gases from underground reserves, which can be harmful or even deadly to people and animals in the vicinity.
River Course Changes: Severe earthquakes can change the course of rivers either by direct movement of the riverbed or by triggering landslides that block the original path.
Coral Reef Damage: Underwater earthquakes can also result in the breaking or shifting of coral reefs, which has a longer-term impact on marine ecosystems.
Iceberg Calving: In polar regions, seismic activity can lead to the breaking off of large icebergs from glaciers.
|Natural Events Triggered by Earthquakes||Likely Affected Areas||Potential Impact|
|Landslides||Hilly & Mountainous||Moderate to High|
|Avalanches||Mountainous/Snowy||Moderate to High|
|Liquefaction||Areas with Loose Soil||High|
|Mudslides||Slopes & Riverbanks||Moderate|
|Volcanic Eruptions||Volcanic Areas||Variable|
|Fires||Urban Areas||Moderate to High|
|Infrastructure Collapse||Urban & Industrial||High|
|Gas Emissions||Various||Low to Moderate|
|River Course Changes||River Valleys||Moderate|
|Coral Reef Damage||Marine Ecosystems||Low to Moderate|
|Iceberg Calving||Polar Regions||Low|