Elemental Appearance – Should it depend on the environment?

While driving around during a recent snowstorm (not much snow, but lots of wind), I saw a “snow devil” as the wind whipped across the road and created a mini-tornado of snow and it got me thinking… How would elementals manifest themselves in different environments?

And after thinking about it for a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that elementals most likely change when faced with different conditions. For example, an air elemental may manifest as a dust devil in a desert or arid climate, as a waterspout on a larger body of water, or as a blizzard or “snow” devil… Size would be determined by the materials available as well as by the power of the elemental itself… a minor elemental on a grassy plain might not be seen easily, whereas a supersized elemental in the desert might present itself as a monstrous sandstorm.

Man on FirePutting aside how the elemental got there in the first place (summoned, naturally-occurring, accident, etc.), you end up with some different ways elementals might appear in a game.

I’ve already talked about air elementals… Let’s think about fire elementals…

A fire elemental is dependent on two things – the initial spark that brought it to life and the fuel it needs to survive. So why wouldn’t an enterprising wizard wishing to consult with or capture such an elemental go to a cold place with little fuel or a place where the wizard alone controls the fuel. How vicious would a fire elemental be in a small firepit in the arctic?

But someone seeking to give rise to a large, uncontrolled fire elemental might summon one in a forest to consume it in flames, in a fuel depot (oil for lamps, etc.), or a brewery (or other alcohol-rich depot). Imagine the devastation with such a wild creature loose consuming large amounts of fuel or tinder…

Or what about earth elementals? Far too often I think of the rock monster from Galaxy Quest as your usual earth elemental. What about one made entirely of sand in the desert? Or tiny stones? Or even the silt from the edge of a river or lake?

Water elementals are also very dependent on the immediate environment… An elemental summoned from a puddle would be tiny when compared to one from the ocean or a large lake. Or what happens when one of these has a constant supply of rushing water vs. a finite supply? Then consider the consequences of a slow-moving water elemental made of snow or ice as opposed to one made of freely flowing water…

Then consider battles between different types of elemental and how they might appear in the world. A blizzard may be the battle between a large air elemental and a water elemental or a forest fire raging out of control may actually be a fire elemental and an air elemental at odds with each other. Stormy seas could be air vs. water and tidal waves could be created by undersea battles between earth and water…

Really the combinations are as endless as Mother Nature herself.

So the next time you want to include an elemental in a session… Think about how to introduce it to the characters, what form it may take, and the effects such a creature would have on the surrounding environment.

I know I’ll be paying more attention to the weather. 🙂

Leave a comment and let others know how you use elementals in your campaigns – I know I’d like having more food for thought!


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2 thoughts on “Elemental Appearance – Should it depend on the environment?”

    1. @Sean Holland – Very true. And Avatar was a great place to look at uses for elemental magicks in a setting. Great recommendation. (I have to admit I’m curious to see what M. Night’s take on the Avatar world is in his movie when it’s released, but we absolutely loved the series at my house. 🙂 )

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