I’m sick of snow.
That might seem like a doomed statement considering it is the end of October and I’m in the northern hemisphere. Heck, I was IN SNOW today up at Crater Lake in Oregon (there was about a foot of it on the ground). But I’m not talking about the approach of winter in North America. I mean snow as a hurdle in fantasy stories.
Winter, snow storms, blizzards, and frozen mountain passes are GREAT hurdles. I’ve certainly had my characters lost in the mountains with the approach of winter a dire threat (they were also having a very difficult time finding any food because of it). And I won’t even get into Game of Thrones and that winter isn’t just coming – it has arrived! Even without white walkers, winter carries a multitude of obstacles: deep snow that will slow your heroes making a timely arrival anywhere that much more difficult, hypothermia, lack of food, wet, difficulty finding shelter or fire, and cold hands and thick clothing that make fighting difficult.
But winter is not the only threatening season!
And it has become almost too overused, especially with Game of Thrones capturing us in its icy grip. It is time to remember that fantasy worlds are vast and dangers should be varied, just like threatening seasons. Need some ideas of weather and seasonal problems that your heroes could face? How about…
In North America, we tend to think only of the four seasons of summer, spring, winter, and fall. But many places in the world experience different alterations such as monsoons and dry spells. Massive storms that deluge the countryside until locals are stuck on high ground or must utilize boats are a fantastic problem that are rarely seen in stories. Livestock and dwellings are swept away. Is there a greater obstacle than a flooded valley as storms continue to descend?
I hate camping in days of rain and the idea of trudging through muddy paths to face flood and more rain has me wanting to quit a quest. Go ahead and make your heroes miserable for a bit with a lack of dry wood, sodden food, damp clothes, clinging mud, and impassible valleys full of water and swollen streams that destroy bridges. Good luck to them to get out in one piece!
Drought/ Dry Season
Opposing the rainy period, droughts are a different type of nightmare. Running out of water is life threatening and is a phenomena not just limited to deserts. Springs and streams easily dry up when no rain falls for months. Deep rooted plants tempt thirsty travelers without any reward.
Fires also become a danger during droughts. From forest forest to grassland, smoke and flame become a barrier more deadly than deep snow. And even before the fire starts, dead plants and little game will mean scarce food as well as needing to carry water – which means extra weight just when you don’t have the energy to lug it further, especially in the heat. This sounds so much more tortuous to me than snow!
Of course, I don’t want you to think that the four season I grew up with in New England aren’t threatening in their own way. The threats just need to be emphasized instead of glossed over or we need to remember the dangers of the seasons that occurred before the Weather Channel and central heating…
Spring is renewal in many ways. Plants, especially in fertile valleys, burst forth bringing flowers and green. But while those plants are growing, mud, spring rain, and melting snow are pretty much the main theme of the season. Sticky, thick, damp, slightly frozen, mud. It will cake wheels, stick to horses legs, and let’s not talk about walking through it. The only thing worse than the mud are the cold, swollen rivers still lined with ice and having to cross them
Food is at that in-between stage where the last of the winter stores are all that is available except for some fresh meat or young greens. And most of the game is also on the move making annual migrations even if only from valleys to high ground. It is too early for more than hope, and hope is easily dashed in days of rain or late storms.
Summer is not my favorite season. Sure, we think of beaches or kayaking or riding motorcycles, but I also think of heat, bugs, humidity, and intense thunderstorms. Epic fantasy does not have nearly enough hordes of biting insects. The valleys may be planted and drying, so now herds of livestock are moved to high, green pastures in the mountains. Food might be plentiful, but sweeping thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, landslides, and plagues of insects can erase fields, farms, and travel routes in moments.
There is a lot I like about the fall… but there is also a lot to fear, especially if you are outside with little shelter. The temperature can turn quickly from a sunny afternoon to an evening of frost or even icy rain. Large storms brew off the seas, bringing hurricanes, flash floods (after months of dry summer), and even early snow. At the same time, fires can sweep through dry grasslands and forests. All this happens while nature is also in motion with animals migrating to winter pastures or preparing for hibernation. NOW is not the time to meet something large, predatory, and trying to store fat for months of sleep. I thought bears were bad, but do trolls hibernate…?
And hey, winter isn’t all bad. Why does snow get such a bad rap in fantasy? Winter is my favorite season to curl up next to the wood stove and write (even if I do prefer a sunny afternoon fall hike, assuming I don’t meat any hungry creatures)!
So, maybe just once, make winter a season of peace and summer a nightmare. 😉
What other seasonal obstacles can you add or have you read? Let me know in the comments!