It is once again the time of year where there’s snow on the ground and a nip in the air. It is also the time of year where I start making more and more of my classic characters. Well, that was a lie. I just happened to think about the cold and how hard it was for one of my players to build a cold-based Druid in 5e and I got thinking about the rather lacking representation of elemental based spells these days. So, here’s me thinking of ways to not just add more spells to the game based around elemental magics, but also ways to convey the raw power and beautiful nature of these potent forces in your games.
1) More Spells
The obvious answer. Want to make the world have more elemental magic in your game? Add more elemental magic in your games. There are hundreds if not thousands of homebrew spells out there on the internet. Sure you’ll likely have to sift through a great deal of underpowered and overpowered material. Some of it will be so specific that you’ll know it was meant for just one character out there. But I have found some genuinely interesting and creative elemental spells out there.
However, if that’s not your speed, I came up with a creative - if not obvious - solution to this awhile ago. Just swap the damage types and descriptions of certain spells. Take Scorching Ray and make Shocking Ray and Frosty Ray. Make them their own spells (just to clarify, I mean if you know Scorching Ray, you can’t just go and cast Shocking Ray instead.) They’re their own separate spells with similar mechanics and different damage types. Sure, it’s a little boring and on the head, but it makes it easy and it makes sure it’s balanced.
Another idea that I will always stand beside is ripping someone off. In this particular instance, video games. RPG’s have a large variety of spells. Obviously. Some of them are classics we’ll all know such as a fireball. However, the Dragon Quest series has a great deal of elemental spells to look at. Crack (as well as its more powerful variants Crackle and Kacrackle) are an excellent example. In short, the spell shoots a massive icicle up from the ground to stab an enemy (or group of enemies). It’s cool. It’s simple. It’s easy to understand. And there’s a whole lotta room to do something interesting with it.
2) Elemental Creatures
Now, let me explain. I don’t just mean making/adding more elemental creatures to the game. I mean making them interact with everything more often. Elementals working docks in cities, or forges, or as the winds that push sails forward. Small elementals that exist to create random acts of nature, that you would never guess weren’t natural, like stepping into a puddle or the wind blowing away an important document. Hell, even consider that perhaps normal animals that get shunted off into an elemental plane could come back with strange mutations. Like an elk with antlers made of solid stone.
I’m of the opinion that the themes created by elemental imagery of terrible storms, volcanos, tsunamis and the likes are harsh renditions of elementals as portrayed in many TTRPG’s. I think there should be more benevolent elemental creatures. The only ones I can really think of off the top of my head are Djinni and kind of the Azer.
Gentle fire elementals that come close to campfires and warm people in the cold winter nights. Shy earth elementals that gift small gems and other nick nacks they find underground to people who are suffering. I understand that in essence Elementals are raw representations of the energies that exist in our world, but while our world is violent and untameable, there are places of serene beauty, and I feel elementals should reflect that.
3) Influence in Your World
A massive open field with an ocean of grass and a single fifty-foot area of blackened grass, permanently scorched by the very essence of fire. A village with random and steep elevations, some of the buildings are ruined, others are simply raised up into the air by massive pillars of displaced stone. A river that occasionally floats up above the old riverbed, flowing through the air enchanted by an old water elemental who was simply enjoying itself.
The elements are frightening, fascinating and fantastic all at once. But above all - in most TTRPG’s they’re inherently magical. Their influence in your world can be shown in a hundred thousand different ways. Some less subtle than others. Everything from the ground your players walk on to their air they breathe, to the fire they cook with are all things that can be controlled or influenced by random elemental forces. Show the connections the things we do every day have with the elements.
Another, perhaps less subtle route to giving elemental forces some influence in your world would be putting powerful elementals into the world. Have a kingdom that was recently usurped by a genie suddenly cease all violent actions against other kingdoms, arousing simultaneous relief and suspicion. Maybe there was a city that has nearly been completely devoured by Xorns or some other rock-eating creature. The obvious followup question, after situations like these, have been handled is “where did they come from?” This paragraph presents ideas very similar to the last bullet on this list but please understand that I have been creatively bankrupt since I was born.
4) Natural vs Elemental Magic
This is less of a way to add elemental influence and more of a food for thought section. But I’m going to type this out anyway. I’ve always thought that (in D&D in particular) a lot of games draw a strange line between “Nature” and “Elements.” I suppose you could argue that nature as we see it is an intermingling of all the elements and from this intermingling, there is a delicate equilibrium created between the raw chaos of the basic elements and the more gentle chaos of the wild and natural world. Counterpoint: that’s stupid.
Nature magic and Elemental magic (at least from my perspective) should be far closer together in their use. After all, people favoured by nature, like druids, are already able to control the elements. Surely, you could find spaces where earth elementals and Ents are living together in quiet harmony. Really, the only blatantly destructive elementals are fire elementals. At least in the way where they simply stand still and completely destroy a house. Elementals have a place in the natural world is really what I’m trying to get at, and keeping that in mind opens up a pretty big world of opportunity in regards to adding them to your games.
Yes, they’re overpowered. Yes, they’re overused. Yes, it’s a little underwhelming from a storytelling perspective. But I’ll be damned if having some silly MacGuffin that legally makes you the King of the elemental plane of fire kicking around somewhere in your world isn’t a novel concept.
Creating artifacts is a good way to get your homebrew and world-building juices flowing. Partially because there are so many questions to ask yourself during the process. Partially because being creative opens up the door to continue being creative. Mostly because making interesting and earthshattering objects of power that your players may only ever get the chance to use once is just incredibly fun.
A hammer made by an Azer for an Efreeti Noble that has the power to instantly melt steel, lob giant balls of molten metal and force magma up from the earth, but it can only be used by someone pure of heart and devoted to the God of the Sun. It’s an interesting thought. Why these powers? Why did the smith make it but make it so the one who commissioned it couldn’t use it? Where is it now? What has it been used for before? All important questions.
Our world is full of places that seem extreme. Extremely hot, extremely dirty, extremely deep, extremely isolated. And if there’s one place you’re going to find adventurers, it’s in some of the most extreme places in the world. As such, when it comes to adding elementals and their influence into your game, I think it’s best to go to the extremes.
And while we’re on the topic of elemental effects of your setting, I’ll take this opportunity to mention Snowhaven. The new setting we at High Level Games have published. I actually did a little bit of work on this setting, and I know everyone at High Level Games would appreciate it if you just even took the time to look at the preview.
Jarod Lalonde is a young roleplayer and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games