Tempestarii
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“You did what?!” Jenkins yelped.
“I needed some rain on the north forty, so I pulled some clouds in from the hills. What’s wrong with that?”
“Jones brought in a northeasterly to pollinate his sunflowers! When it pushes your clouds over the ridge, it’ll flood the Aaronson place for sure.”
“Well, it serves Aaronson right,” Dan Friedlander grumbled. “Dumping hail on little Susie Atkins’ birthday party just because his Jenny wasn’t invited – what kind of person does something like that?
“That’s beside the point, Dan! I also happen to know that widow Sawyer needed that rain for her tomatoes, and you just went dumping it on Vic Aaronson!”
“Well, how am I supposed to know that? It’s not like Emmeline Sawyer talks to me these days!”

Jenkins sank his head into his hands. “Everybody does something about the weather, but no one talks about it.”

GURPS Magic S. Jackson et. al.

Basic Information

The Tempestarii are weather-wizards from French Mythology and the folklore and superstition of Middle Ages Europe in general. There's a couple different versions or tropes…

In some accounts, they lived among the common folk. Some villages had their own Tempestarii whose livelihood was paid for by the community in exchange for protecting the town from storms. This version might be a profession something along the line of being a cunning man (or a conman if you don't actually have powers, know that fact, and are just fooling everyone). It may be the weatherly equivalent of insurance or the Eastern notion of a community doctor that gets paid when people are healthy instead of when they are sick: the tempestarii gets food and generosity during pleasant weather, but has to fend for themselves in the aftermath of any blizzard, flood, or other meteorological disaster that they failed to prevent.

To other communities, the tempestarii were feared as a dangerous outsider, sort of a weather-focused witch to be distrusted, shunned, or driven out of town. This sort of tempestarii may be living as a hermit in the wilderness, or in a shack at the edge of a community. Fears of a hidden tempestarii no doubt led to a lot scapegoating and persecution after any weather-related tragedy. Power over weather is frighteningly potent, especially in an age without weather forecasting or the easy ability to import well-preserved food from distant lands where the crops didn't fail.

A third version of tempestarii folklore said that they lived high in the clouds, in a hidden flying land called Magonia, or in some sort of airship. This version is less like a hedge wizard and more like an almost-steampunk sky-pirate. These people of Magonia were said to appear in the sky above people, sometimes abduct them, engage in bewildering or mysterious behavior, control the weather, unleash storms, steal grain or destroy crops, etc. In fact, the tropes of these tales have elements that have made some connect the dots between 9th Century superstition and modern UFO phenomenon.

Sources

Bibliography
2. Agobard of Lyon's On Hail and Thunder talks about 9th Century beliefs about weather-magic, tempestarii, and Magonia
3. Jacque Vallee's Passport to Magonia talks about Magonia to suggest UFO sightings go way back

Game and Story Use

  • A helpful tempestarii NPC in a community might:
    • Be a potential hireling for the PCs, or at least someone you pay to secure you good weather before a long voyage.
    • Act as a powerful patron or pillar of the community that hires the PCs. The tempestarii is already taking care of the community in regards to weather, so it's only natural they might decide to be proactive about other ways to protect the community, such as by hiring a group of heroic adventurers.
    • Be a complicated NPC that is far more than they appear on the surface.
    • Given the latin name, an alternate history might feature a Roman Empire in which a network of tempestarii worked by Imperial appointment, operating a networked weather control system over the empire that ensured that the best weather possible was provided for commerce and agriculture - and perhaps diverting excess rain into the catchbasins of the aquarii's aqueducts. After the End those who inherit the title are left as isolated individuals, cut off from their network and relying - after the first generation at least - on teachings handed down from their predecessors rather than taught in an Imperial college. One more infrastructural collapse that made the fall of Rome that much worse.
  • Tempestarii as a big bad evil guy might use subtle ritual magic. Assuming that they don't have to make some big flashy gestures on a rooftop and scream at the clouds to do their magic, it would be easy to set up a scenario where the fact that there's weather magic going on isn't even obvious to the players for many sessions.
    • At first the players will think the "coincidental" bad weather is just the GM making things interesting: setting battles in the midst of an epic lightning storm, using a flood as a plot device to explain monster migration or political upheavals, calling for survival checks for challenges outside of combat, etc. Eventually, the players will start to find the coincidence strains credibility… so the GM keeps an eye for the first time they mention that, and say "yes, that does seem suspicious, doesn't it?" with a knowing look and a wink. The players suddenly realize it's not just the GM being a jerk: there's a secret weather manipulating NPC out there somewhere! They wrack their brains and compare notes to figure out if there's any particular NPC who seems to be benefitting from the bad weather. (Are they the tempestarii? Or are they being framed?) You can have a sudden pivot in the campaign, that feels like a surprise twist ending to a movie, because it was happening right under the players noses for weeks or months without them even realizing there was a mystery afoot.
    • This works especially well in the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, where it's basically a default part of the setting for miserable weather to be happening in the background at least every second session.
  • The Magonia style Tempestarii can be an epic and exotic villain, rival or foil.
    • A good match for a pulpy campaign style. Who doesn't love sky pirates and derring-do?
    • It may just be a lens or trope you apply to a weather god to subvert expectations or fine-tune them to your subgenre. Thor, Zeus, or Marduk might have a flying boat or lightning-powered magic zeppelin or flying saucer.
    • Cloud castles are a popular trope in European folklore - albeit often inhabited by giants rather than thieving wizards. Possibly the two tropes could be combined with the tempestarii serving, or at least tracing their magical traditions from, storm giants dwelling in cloud castles.
    • There are also other flying base traditions to work from, notably the city of Laputa - chose your version from Swift or Miyazaki.
    • Alternatively Verne's Robur the Sky Pirate may be heir to a much older tradition.
  • The existence of tempestarii suggests a School of Magic or magical tradition that a (N)PC might specialize in.
    • Fun Fact: D&D 5th Ed already has a Tempest Domain for Clerics that would make a great template for any of the three varieties of Tempestarii.
    • It's also possible that rather than being a branch of magical training, the tempestarii might just have a single talisman or other magic item that gives them influence on the weather.
  • The PCs arrive in town as a trial or execution is going on. Lightning struck the windmill or grain silo three nights ago, destroying the stores the locals need for winter and/or disrupting the grain-based local currency. The angry mob of villagers has picked some unfortunate outsider for a brutal punishment, on the assumption that the disaster must have been caused by a tempestarii. Do the PCs intervene? Did the angry mob catch the right criminal, or an innocent victim? Does the bad weather fortune actually have a supernatural or magical cause, or was it just an act of the gods?
  • Plenty of room to transplant them into anywhere weather control would be useful (which is pretty much anywhere). A tempestarius wandering the central US during the Dust Bowl and working as a rainmaker, anyone?
  • A magical storm is entirely reasonable as a botch result for them, or a sending against an enemy.
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