Monday, July 16, 2012

Concerning Elementals

Zak says that elementals aren't scary, because the elements themselves aren't (inherently) scary. But the elements in certain configurations (bushfire, tidal wave, etc.) are scary. It's not a coincidence that the old Monster Manual illustration of the water elemental looks like a wave and the air elemental is a tornado. But that doesn't really work because a small tornado with a face is pretty dorky. Sometimes little dust devils like that blow up in my back yard, and I just stand and watch them.

Paracelsus says that the four elementals are gnomes, nymphs, sylphs and salamanders. All things that have their own identity in D&D that's not the same as an elemental.

Elements aren't just not scary, they're friendly. You can't live without being able to breathe, drink, grow crops and warm yourself by the fire. But a friendly thing that turns against you could be even scarier.

Elementals in classical mythology are nature spirits. But at some point in the genealogy of fantasy, the fae/animist nature spirits got separated from the elementals. Gygax's elementals are, of course, explicitly non-natural, because they hail from another plane.

Possibly this is one of the reasons why some people hate the idea of the four elemental planes. Fire is important because it can burn you, it can warm you, it can cook your food, and other things about how it interacts with people and the world. But fire on its own, in a plane consisting of nothing but fire, is pretty pointless. To paraphrase Syndrome from The Incredibles: When everything's on fire, nothing will be.

Here we present a new elemental.

Frequency: Common (but secretive)
No. appearing: 2d20
Armor Class: 14
Move: 120'
Hit dice: 1
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6
Special: control elements, vanish into element, grant blessing
Treasure: Nil

Elementals are small and furtive creatures, generally around 8 inches in height. Their appearance varies by type (see below). They are nature spirits tied to one of the four classical elements. Though they are found commonly wherever their element resides, they are very secretive and will generally avoid contact with humans. They are intelligent but do not speak any language, though they can empathically understand very broad ideas or emotions.

If approached or threatened, elementals will typically retreat inside their element. While thus vanished into the element, they are invisible and can only be damaged by destroying the entire element (i.e. boiling the water, snuffing the flame, etc.). Also while vanished, they may teleport up to 1 mile into another instance of the same element. This makes them exceedingly difficult to catch, though certain charms and seals can block their teleportation.

Elementals can control their element. Though an individual can only affect a small amount, they often combine their powers in large numbers. A group of 30+ elementals can cause a tidal wave, a flood, a forest fire, an earthquake or a tornado. They will sometimes do this because a human has been cruel to them, and sometimes they will do it for no reason at all.

When someone has lived in the same place for a long while, and they are good-hearted, they may develop a friendship with the local elementals, though they will rarely actually see the creatures. Such people often know that it is possible to gain the blessing of an elemental by making a certain offering - the specifics vary by type. The elementals are shy and capricious, and do not seem to appreciate being used repeatedly in this fashion.

Contrary to popular wisdom, water and fire elementals do not hate each other, nor earth and air. Indeed, the two 'opposing' groups are occasionally seen moving together in large swarms, enacting what appears to be a mating ritual - though none can say what the offspring of such a union would be.

Air Elemental:
 Floats slowly or stands still on high branches for hours at a time. Seems very observant. Causes tornadoes, gales or blizzards.
Blessing: The next time you are trapped, entangled or otherwise unable to move, you will unexpectedly become free.
Offering: Powdered musk worth 400gp, scattered on the wind from a hilltop.

 Earth Elemental:
Carries small objects around for seemingly no purpose. Always working at accomplishing nothing in particular. Causes earthquakes and famines.
Blessing: For the next week, any experience points you gain are doubled.
Offering: Two gemstones worth 600gp each, buried at opposite ends of a field.

Fire Elemental:
 appearing at around 2:14
Fast-moving and flighty. Somewhat more changeable and quick-willed than the other types, occasionally given to surprising pranks. Causes house fires and bushfires.
Blessing: For the next week, wherever you make your home will be safe against danger while you are resting.
Offering: Sulphur and nitre worth 250gp, burned in a bowl at dusk.

Water Elemental
 Numerous and uncanny. Appears in groups much more often than the others, and tends to move as a single rippling body. Causes floods, tidal waves and rainstorms.
Blessing: The next time you are brought below 0hp but not killed, within 1d4 rounds you will awaken and return to 1hp.
Offering: Expensive wine, four bottles worth 200gp each, poured into a rockpool at low tide.

1 comment:

  1. I used the offering concept with the Mononoke nature spirits in a game about a month ago. It went over very well. PCs made offerings of food and shinies and the spirits blessed them with good luck. Well, except for the hunter who jeered at them for being "little demons".