Monday, February 13, 2012

Elementals Are Not Boring

In wrathofzombie's latest post, he laments that elementals can be pretty boring, non-scary, and no fun to run, since they're neutral and of low intelligence.  When I read that, my hackles went up and I was ready to disagree loudly -- but then I realized that I never really ran elementals as low intelligence, or as 'boring' forces of nature.  Elementals in my games have always had a little personality, and I try to vary their appearance to mix things up.  Okay, so technically they're probably still 'low' intelligence as per the book, because they're summoned creatures and can't use their own creativity anyhow.  But would it break the game to change the INT stat to 'Average'?  Of course not.

Below are some sample flavors for the bog-standard elementals.  No stat changes involved, just a little personality and a shape to keep things interesting.  Try using one of these, or something similar, the next time you find yourself facepalming over the prospect of 'another boring elemental'.  If it's your PCs who are doing the summoning, giving the elementals personality makes them into a new NPC who offers a possibility of roleplay and repeat appearances ("Ooh, I hope I get Cap'n Slosh again!" is a tell-tale sign that this approach is working with your wizard!)


Ambrosius Phlox, Esq. - A roguish gentleman composed of fire, wearing a smoking-jacket with leopard-print lapels; his eyes are smouldering coals.  Ambrosius carries a lit cigarette at the end of a fancy holder; his flaming hair seems somewhat slicked-back, and he runs a thumb along his carefully-trimmed rockabilly sideburns when he’s thinking.  Ambrosius is a fire of passion, and will make lecherous overtures to any females present, even if he’s otherwise engaged in killing them by his summoner’s order.

Suicide Swarm - A thick swarm of fiery moths and dancing lights.  The swarm appears mindless, but will follow orders, swooping en masse to burn the enemy or set flammables alight.  The moths merge and split willy-nilly - where once there was one, three appear, and they recombine effortlessly as part of a whole intelligence.  The swarm is composed of sliver-remnants of the souls of pyromaniacs - a fire elemental of obsession - and given the opportunity they will torch anything within reach.


Cap’n Slosh - A gigantic bearded head composed of water; his beard is sea-foam, and when he smiles, his teeth are seashells.  Cap’n Slosh has absorbed the very essence of ‘sailor’, and manifests as a caricature of a pirate.  He will shout “yar” and “avast” and “shiver me timbers” and the like while in combat, which he conducts by head-butting his foes as a crashing wave before re-forming as a massive pirate head, or swallowing them whole to drown them.  The Cap’n is particularly good at sinking ships, of course.

The Attackin’ Kraken - This squidlike creature is made of dark water from the depths of the ocean, and represents the mysteries of the deep.  It will lash out with its many tentacles and smack the bejeezus out of its foes.  As the Attackin’ Kraken moves, bones and gold pieces can be seen roiling within its watery body.


Larry the Landfill - This earth elemental is a huge heap of dirt and trash, rolling ever-forward as a ball or sliding like an amoeba.  Larry really enjoys his work, as he incorporates the people and things he destroys into himself, increasing his mass a little bit each time.  As he reaches out and crushes things, he can sometimes be heard saying “Mine” in a deep, dopey voice; he has also been known to fall into giggling fits (“a-hyuk, a-hyuk”) when he pulls off a particularly interesting or devastating attack.  Unfortunately much of Larry is decomposing matter, and he has a definite stench about him.

The Silica Contessa - A statuesque woman composed of glass, sand, and mica, the Contessa has the bearing of nobility and looks down her nose at everyone, even he who summoned her.  Her body takes the shape of the latest high fashion wherever she goes, and she has eviscerated many humans whilst wearing a stained-glass evening gown.  She goes about following commands with either an aloof, disinterested manner, or vocal disdain (“I find your suggestion puerile and plebian, but I shall follow your command, much to your inevitable regret.”).  The Contessa is not fond of sullying her magnificent glass claws with the innards of “meat-people”, and will certainly let you know it.


Tornadude - Although this air elemental has the now-classic ‘whirlwind’ or ‘cyclone’ shape, there’s something different about him, because he’s composed not only of air, but also of the thrill of flight.  First, his behavior is erratic - he refuses to take a straight path when he could instead carom wildly off of the environment as though he were a human skateboarder or parkour practictioner.  Secondly, he’s annoyingly vocal, always talking about “catching serious air” and crying out “whoa, dude!” or “radical!”.   Nonetheless, he is obedient to his summoner and may even compliment a wizard’s “totally groovy beard” before departing.

Lonely Chill - Among those elementalist wizards who catalog such things, Lonely Chill is amongst the most feared of the common air elementals - not because of her size, but her appearance and manner.  Upon summoning her, some inexperienced wizards may at first worry that their summoning has failed completely, since Lonely Chill’s manifestation begins as nothing but calm air.  In moments, however, a cool breeze passes, which then escalates into a bitingly cold wind.  Foes are cut by a multitude of small, invisible blades as frost appears on their skin and hair.  It doesn’t take long for Lonely Chill - an air elemental tied to those who die cold and alone of exposure - to finish her tasks, and as she wraps up, a ghostly little girl, her face an emotionless mask, can be seen in the center of the wind before it drops suddenly to calm air once again - and she is gone.


  1. When I think of elementals, particularly water elementals, I always think of the movie The Abyss. I think that captures the possibility of wonder that elementals offer very well.

  2. Imagine being waterboarded by a water elemental. That's not boring at all.

  3. 'Enhanced Interrogation' even sounds like a spell name already!

  4. Some of those are a bit too humorous for my tastes when I GM but I approve of your ideas! Quite fun and food for thought.

  5. Fair enough - I tend to roll on the whimsical side of things. :)

  6. You're going head to head with Mikey over elementals? Flamewar!

  7. I totally agree that elementals are not intrinsicly boring. I prefer the Paracelsian elementals to the D&D "blob of element," though. I'm also fond of para-elementals (in the D&D and Fritz Leiber sense) and as Zak pointed out in the post where he disses plain elementals--para-elementals are in so ways more evocative.

    I like a lot of your ideas here.

  8. Weird, I always thought the scary part of elementals was that they are neutral and of low intelligence. You can't argue your moral worth with a tornado, nor bribe it with food nor treasure, nor hope it fails a morale check, nor run from something with that kind of movement rate. In context, it's pretty horrifying.