Worldbuilding: Icy Reflections

I don’t care how the calendar marks it. As far as I’m concerned, winter starts when it gets Really Freakin’ Cold. Which it did this past weekend. Call it an arctic blast or a blue norther, it’s really cold.

(Also, it tends to blow ragweed pollen down off the Great Plains, adding allergic injury to insult.)

Extreme cold, like extreme heat, is tailor-made for adding both setting details and increasing the level of difficulty for any situation your characters find themselves in. Both physical and mental. It’s hard to aim when you’re shivering so hard your arms are shaking, and it’s hard to think your way through a clock-is-ticking plan when every thought has to crunch its way through ice-crusted snow in your brain.

Not to mention manual dexterity of the bomb-disarming kind very much depends on your nerves, tendons, and muscles all working fluidly – and that only happens when they’re warm. Exposure to cold robs you of this long before you risk frostbite. It adds tension if your character has to decide when to literally take the gloves off, and if they guess wrong….

Don’t leave out fumbles due to stiff feet, toes, or knees, either. Exercise may help keep your core temperature stable, but if your skin is continually stripped of heat, the joints just under it will not be happy.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch the pure glum and grump that may be affecting your character because everything hurts, or just because they hate being cold. Which led to this….

Jason (burrowing under blankets): I’m not getting up this morning. You can’t make me. There’s snow out there.

Writer: …I put you in Korea in the spring. There’s no snow on the ground.

Jason: On top of the mountains. I can see it. Anyway spring here is cold as a Gulf Coast winter, and why did I ever think this was a good idea. Why. I mean, even before the dragon.

Writer: Critical saving throw against depression, remember?

Jason: …Why do you have to think in terms of gamebooks.

Writer: Because good sourcebooks are pure awesome! And I can picture you guys and your world as an Eberron-style sourcebook, artwork and all. Given how bad I usually am with all the visual stuff, that’s got to mean the idea’s working, right?

Jason: Still no excuse for snow.

Writer: I have it on good authority that people get used to the cold. You ought to acclimate in two to three-

Jason: Months?

Writer: Years.

Jason: (Facepalm.)

Writer: At least your knees can take it now?

Jason: Snow. You know what loves snow? Tigers.

Writer: …Well, yes. The tigers were kind of a given.

Jason: I’d blame Korean historical dramas, except I know you devoured Man-Eaters of Kumaon and never got so much as a nightmare.

Writer: At least you’re not on Lake Baikal?

Jason: Yet.

Writer: Sheesh. You get one little idea for demons rising from the vasty deep of a rift lake and no one trusts you anymore….

Jason: Still not getting up.

Writer: They’ll drag you out. Archery practice. Among other things.

Jason (burrows deeper): They can try.


23 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Icy Reflections

  1. Oh, Jason, you poor kid! *goes back to her characters, who are complaining and/or talking over each other* Guys, can we *please* have some order here? Sort yourselves out, get in a line – and no, I am *not* taking new applicants today…!!! Augh, why do you *do* this to me?!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I always figured it was a variation on “Aaaah QUIT BICKERING here, an official date, now stop! It’s mostly cold after this point, and mostly not before, at least in most places, SHUT UP!”

      Because I, also, go off of “it is flippin’ cold.”

      Liked by 3 people

  2. My MC doesn’t like the cold either, though his is more trauma than just *hate being cold*. He’s much happier with the heat of the forge, but this has affected his weather fashion sense.

    “Why are you wearing that?”

    “I’m cold.”

    “It’s near ninety degrees! How could you possibly be cold?”


    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know what you mean. We had a foot or more of snow a week or so ago and temperatures in the 50s/60s this week. Some years we get blizzards in November, but at Christmas time you can be outside in shirt sleeves, no problem. But for some reason, it’s like a switch gets thrown. We may or may not get a lot of snow in December but by January we definitely get hit by winter weather.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. It was really cold where I am too, in the 40s, almost freezing.. Yes. It did get down into the 30s.

    …It’s a good thing Fleur is from a place where there is snow in places all year round. She’s not cold. She also loves her home.

    Her friend Noyan, who is from what amounts to a bunch of desert islands, very much disagrees. Yes, the nights can get bitterly cold, your point? Noyan very much hates being cold.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. …and I’m laughing ruefully because when I saw we were consistently getting temperatures in the 40s this past week, I was delighted. Because the week before, the lows were in the single digits and negatives and the highs were in the teens and twenties.

      Which is another important aspect to writing temperatures: what counts as “cold” depends a lot on where you live, what you’re acclimated to, and even what the temperature norms have been recently. 40s after it’s been in the 80s is chilly. 40s after it’s been in the teens? Balmy!

      …also personal variation. I’ve been reliably informed that I must have antifreeze for blood…

      Liked by 4 people

      1. It also depends on how humid things are too. I’ve lived my life on a coast, and then spent a winter in a desert. My roommates at the time grew up in the area. They were bundled up like they were going to Antartica, I was wandering around in a hoodie. It was really hecking weird to glance at a thermometer on my way up to campus and realize it was several degrees below freezing and I was wearing a hoodie, at seven or so in the morning.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. :grins:

        I carefully didn’t comment, because well our hostess is in Florida, and like I said soggy cold SUCKS, and I wouldn’t like someone laughing at me when I’m dying because it’s 85% humidity and almost 100…..

        I grew up with “cold” being “highs were single digits; positive, unless things got bad.”

        Now I’m in Iowa and it’s “cold means highs in the mid-twenties, unless things are bad, and bad might mean it goes over freezing so the roads all ice.”

        Liked by 2 people

  4. One thing I’ve noticed is that build affects how and where and why you lose the most heat. I’m thin and tall (not exceptionally so, but enough), so if I know I’m heading out into the cold I avoid drinking very much at once, without offsetting it with something solid… otherwise my stomach becomes a cold water bottle _inside_ me, where the insulation of layers does no good. Also, I lose heat fast through my eyes (or at least _feel_ cold there) in even only mildly cold weather, but if I wear close-fitting glasses/sunglasses I’m fine (at least from _that_ direction).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. St. Josemaria Escriva invented a devotional practice called “the heroic minute”.

    It is getting out of bed right away, with only a pause to dedicate it to God. (Or you can do it the reverse way, and get out of bed first.)

    Liked by 1 person

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