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I am interested in building up the atmosphere of my aquatic campaign, and to do so, I would like to incorporate all the players' senses. But I am at a loss for how to incorporate smell and taste. I know that it would be a major factor of the environment (currents would carry important information) but I'm not certain what information the PCs will get. I'd also like to incorporate weather, but they will be far in the deeps, and I'm not at all certain what weather comes deep underwater. I assume that there will be some weather, and I'm used to foreshadowing storms with hairs raised on arms or a tang in the air, but again I don't know how to do that underwater.

I would like to know the following:

  • What smells and tastes are carried in the water?
  • What weather affects the depths of the ocean?
  • What sorts of fantasy weather would be appropriate underwater?
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I guess a lot depends on what the player characters are and how they interact with the water (how they survive underwater) and the rest of the environment. What system are you going to use, what methods will the PCs use to stay underwater, what races will your PCs be? Aquatic races would experience water rather differently than surface dwellers who most likely would have a layer or two of physical and/or magical barrier between their bodies and the water, let alone a lack of water-specific organs of sense. –  OpaCitiZen Aug 17 '13 at 8:58
    
@OpaCitiZen The system is AD&D 2e. The characters are native aquatic, but there is a possibility that one or more players will want to play surface dwellers exploring with the PCs (this would tend to be for occasional players or players who want a change of pace temporarily). –  cartomancer Aug 17 '13 at 14:40
    
Isn't this three questions?... –  Sardathrion Aug 19 '13 at 6:21
    
@Sardathrion I placed them together because they all contribute to a fuller sensory experience for the PCs. I'd be happy to split them up if you think that's better, but I don't know what to do about the good answers I've received already. –  cartomancer Aug 19 '13 at 17:50
    
@cartomancer: Yes, I can see that... I was just wondering if those would not be best answered separately. Maybe not. ^_~ –  Sardathrion Aug 20 '13 at 6:27

3 Answers 3

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Smells & Tastes

These will be quite similar. In effect, when we smell something we taste little airborne particles of it with our noses, which tells us what it would taste like if we ate it. In water, smells and tastes can be transmitted better as more/larger particles of the thing we are sensing are carried away. However, humanoids won't always be able to smell underwater, if they're travelling magically, or might have a reduced sense of smell. On the other hand, some underwater creatures might have a very strong sense of smell as an alternative to sight and sound (there's not much light deeper down in the water, and sound can be distorted easily).

That said, the things you can describe to your players, based on their level of smell and taste are things like rotting water plants, blood from recent battles (this will be very strong), animals (mostly fish, I'm guessing), some monsters (think about which monsters make sense as being smelly), and other humanoids/creatures.

Weather

Weather won't penetrate too deep into the oceans that I assume you're in, but that not a problem - create your own weather for underwater! Wind equates to currents, and a tornado becomes a whirlpool. Rain could be replaced with air bubbles going upwards, maybe from an underwater volcano. Snow would be small pieces of ice, although I'm not sure about how deep they'd go, and I think that in an ocean setting you can safely ignore cold weather most of the time. Temperature, however, is something you can easily have. Patches of warm and cold water based on how much life happens there and how much sunlight reaches down, combined with hot and cold currents can make this an interesting facet of underwater life. Lastly, dust storms can be added to your currents by filling them with sediment or sand. This will reduce vision even further and may make 'breathing' difficult.

Fantasy Weather

Things like underwater lightning would come under this heading. You could explain this as magic discharges from [setting-specific reason] randomly creating electricity, heat, cold, etc. Large amounts of water suddenly boiling would create a sharp tug towards it for a few seconds, while creating ice would push away as it expands, although these effects are only felt if the players are within a certain range.

Players could also be aware of the oxygen concentration in the water around them, making oxygenated/deoxygenated water currents yet another potential 'weather' pattern.

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Corals have a phenomenal variety of color and forms; as air breathers, we can't say what they make the nearby region smell or taste like, but if you want, you could consider them to be like an undersea spice-rack - a scent of cinnamon for nearby fire-coral, a bit of mint for the fan coral ect. Light and color also change as you get deeper in depth, more and more of the spectrum is filtered out.

As far as underwater or fantasy weather goes, there can in some areas be large releases of methane hydrates from the ocean floor; this is one theory behind the sudden sinking of ships in the Bermuda triangle, they fall into the bubble. Thermoclines are bands where the temperature of the water can shift very suddenly, going from 'this is cold' to 'numbing' in just a foot or two of depth difference. Cave formations can also have a 'wind tunnel' effect on currents (possibly, opening an underwater door can do the same thing in some circumstances).

One thing that divers can experience is something called Nitrogen Narcosis (basically, you suddenly get 'stoned' or drunk underwater. Very dangerous. Although this might not apply to PCs using magic to breathe, you might work it in as a some kind of fantasy weather effect? Wandering pockets of water that effect as a Confusion spell if a Fort Save is failed.

You might find it useful for some more added realism to check out some PADI scuba training materials if you can find copies cheaply, especially around Deep Diving or Wreck Diving. A large part of the manuals will be safety or gear oriented (always having a backup, constantly monitoring your time underwater and air supply) - but this applies double too for adventuring PC's underwater. Spells have durations - how are they keeping track of them? In an underwater environment, the most lethal spell an opponent might have could be 'Dispel Magic' ;) And if you want to see some PCs scurrying away from an underwater fantasy weather effect? A dispel-magic storm underwater will certainly do the trick.

Here's a youtube of a real life ice-column related effect that would be fun to incorporate a fantasy version of as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4cX2EPt2zE

Side note - I think that magical water breathing spells protect from pressure differences and changes, but I can tell you that even aside from the dangers of the bends on ascent, just equalizing pressure in your ears can be painful whether you go up or down. If you put a limit on the spell protection, such as 'you can go up or down no more than 10 feet per round without experiencing d6 damage per extra 10 feet', you may find it adds some more flavor, a little more realism, and allows for 'vertical current' weather conditions that would be significant challenges.

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If it helps you understand what's going on down there, consider this:

You and I are creatures swimming around at the bottom of an ocean of air. There are not too many differences between our air-ocean environment and that of an ocean of water.

Our ocean is simply much less dense, offering less resistance to our movements. It is more oxygen-rich, which helps our bodies out in a lot of ways. The low density means it's harder to remain bouyant, so even birds have to land sometimes - they can't remain floating in our ocean like fish can.

Once you look past the various differences of us having an ocean made of air instead of water, the numerous parallels emerge. In a lot of fundamental ways, air and water environments are not very different.

What smells and tastes are carried in the water?

All things that can be smelled and tasted over the water itself. Just like air currents will carry the smell of fish toward you, water will happily do the same. Smells and tastes are just molecules being picked up off what you're smelling.

I'm not sure how the resistance of water affects how smells would be carried, though. Would they take longer to reach your nose, or less time? Would smells tend to spread out or not?

In your campaign, unless you do some research on this on your own, you should probably just let the scent of smell work the same way it would normally for us people in this ocean of air. Your players don't need to deal with a different way for smells to work, and I'm sure they won't miss it. If one of them is an expert in this, it might bug them, but then you can just ask them how it works and go with that if your players want to.

What weather affects the depths of the ocean?

Currents and underwater waves of various strengths are scraping the surface of windiness, but there's a lot more and very different weather going on down there. There's no RPG-specific information I can provide you with here though: I suggest you ask somewhere else.

What sorts of fantasy weather would be appropriate underwater?

Any you can think of that would be fun! Fierce vortexes and strong currents and underwater waves. Clouds of black water coming alight with electricity - it's magic, it can work. Volcanic geysers and underwater landslides are a real thing, and would be fun there too!

You have water currents instead of wind, numerous things that could occur on the ground (many of which could occur just as easily on our ground), and anything can appear in the water the way it can appear in our air.

Even fire and lightning events are not off the table if it's from a magical source: normally those things are quenched and disperse in water, but this is magic.

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