So I was watching "Planet Earth", putting off making my next post about how Cragmaw Castle went with my gf, when an avalanche occurred (in the show, not where I live). I was thinking about the Everwood and wondering how I would do avalanches. There's always this problem with things that are not sentient. Players don't care, or they can't really take it seriously because how are they going to avoid an avalanche? Just be quiet?
What about if they see a stampede? Or are worried about waking the dragon in her lair? "Well we just don't get hit by the running animals" or "well, (rolls stealth), 20?"
It's always been really boring, at least to me.
I think the only way to make something non-sentient a real threat in D&D is to make it another game. Sentient creatures have games involved with them. If you're talking to someone there's a bit of a word-game going on there (who can say the best thing?) and when you're fighting something there's a dice game there (who can roll the highest the most?).
So here's how I plan on making non-sentient challenges into games. It's called "don't say anything and just start stacking D6s on top of each other". How do you do it? Well, step one is to be quiet. Step two is to start stacking D6s. Just like four or five (more if the party is being extremely obnoxious).
Stack them up and when they fall, slam your fist on the table and exclaim: "Damn it! You woke up the dragon/caused an avalance/startled the herd/woke up that hooker that you weren't going to pay."
Simple. Fun (for you).