Elemental Magic
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Basic Information

Elemental magic is a school, or generally a group of schools, of magic that deals with the traditional elements -or sometimes less traditional ones. These elements may be believed to be the irreducible basis of all matter (as in early Alchemy), the cornerstones of all magic, or perhaps merely associated with mystical outside forces (i.e. Elementals). However, where Elemental Magic is more than a mere ad-hoc grouping, they are always significant in some way.

An elementalist may be able to use workings based on any element, but is traditionally expected to specialise in one. He may then be limited to using that element or may only be barred from using the element in direct opposition to it. More normally he will master that element, the one it overcomes and the one it produces (if relevant) - opposed elements and those that overcome the worker's element are usually barred. Quite often the elementalists chosen element will be related to his personality - which is cause and which effect is debatable.

Characterisitcs and applications of elementalism are detailed below.

Traditional Elements (aka. Classical Elements)

The philosophical traditions of ancient Greece and India revolve around the following four elements, plus Aether. While Aether is traditional in the philosophical sense, it is much less so as a school of elemental magic. Magic traditions (at least as seen most commonly in gaming) tend to recognize things as a Four Elements system instead.

Aether is usually omitted from elemental reckonings as being ultramundane and thus irrelevant to terrestrial activity, of the remainder, air is said to overcome water and be opposed by earth, water overcomes earth and is opposed by fire, earth overcomes fire and fire overcomes air.


Besides literally blowing your enemies away, Air magic usually provides the means to fly. Causing or preventing suffocation also has its uses. When not seen as an element in its own right, Electricity/Lightning magic is often treated as a subset of Air. Since "words are wind" air magic can also govern communications. Advanced air magic will sometimes allow the user to meddle with the weather and will be useful during the age of sail.

An elementalist devoted to the element of air might be expected to be sociable and communicative, but possibly also shallow and flighty.

The alchemical work of the element of air is normally thought to be the Elixir Vitae, placing air at the pinnacle of the tree of alchemy.


Covering loose ground, stone, often mud and sometimes sand, Earth Magic is useful to obstruct and protect, as well as to pummel with brute force. Outside of combat, it can be enormously useful for engineering projects and may be used to tunnel your way under or through a wall. Often, earth magic will govern fertility (of plants more than animals).

An elementalist devoted to the element of earth might be expected to be patient and practical, but possibly also stubborn and possessive.

The alchemical work of the element of earth is, unsurprisingly, The Philosopher's Stone.


See also Pyromancy

The essential choice for damage-dealing, as it generally contains the most iconic, widespread and accessible ways of hurting people. Some creative thinking is needed to find a different use, but firefighting and creating a diversion come to mind. Fire magic may also influence emotions, purify and illuminate - even to the extent of being useful for divination in some traditions. Fire magic may also prove useful in foundries, kilns and smithies.

An elementalist devoted to the element of fire might be expected to be energetic and creative, but possibly also foul tempered and reckless.

The alchemical work of the element of fire is traditionally the isolation of phlogiston, although the alkahest is sometimes said to be the work of fire instead.


Water magic is perhaps the hardest of the four to define. Besides (obviously) moving water about and the probably inevitable connection to ice, there are two further aspects - the innate mutability of water, which lends its nature to shape-shifting magics and the presence of water in all of the humours of the human body (even those governed by other elements) which allows water to be of great benefit in both healing and harming (usually by acids or poisons). Some traditions even allow control of a body's water to give the user control over the body itself.

An elementalist devoted to the element of water might be expected to be kindly and giving, but possibly also impractical and unreliable.

The alchemical work of the element of water is traditionally the Panacea or, where the panacea and the Elixir Vitae are one and the same, water governs the production of the alkahest.

Unusual Elements

Metal and Wood are part of the Chinese traditions, together with Earth, Fire and Water. To the Chinese, wood generates fire and overcomes earth, fire generates earth and overcomes metal, earth generates metal and overcomes water, metal generates water and overcomes wood and water generates wood and overcomes fire. There are no opposed elements in the Chinese reckoning, but plenty of scope for conflict with the other schemes of understanding.

Aether / Quintessence / Void (in the Japanese tradition)

An alarmingly wierd element, having aspects of spirit, sound, distance and movement - generally assigned to things that don't really belong in the material world. A void elementalist - if such things exist - is likely to be a very odd sort of chap, operating on a different wavelength to normal people.

Cold / Ice

Generally a combination of damaging, slowing and obstructing effects. Might be useful for engineering if the climate allows it. Normally a sub-school of water magic.

Electricity / Lightning

Like Fire, this is an element useful for little other than hurting people. It may interact with water and metal in interesting ways, and it is useful against electronics in settings that have them. Usually a sub-school of air, water or both.


Very useful against enemies who use metal armor and weapons. Naturally, creating walls of metal has obvious uses. If possible, creating magic metal out of thin air can drastically change medieval-style societies; if not, Metal magic could still be a great boon in prospecting, mining and processing metal ores. Outside the Chinese tradition, this is usually a sub-school of earth magic.


Given how important wood is as a building material, players are sure to find some use for this. This school is also likely to effect trees and other plants. Outside the Chinese tradition, this is usually a sub-school of earth magic.

Exotic Elements

Raw magic


A "fifth element" found in some RPG settings - tends to overlap with shadow magic but is more likely to be evil. In some traditions, darkness elementalists have access to corrupt versions of spells from other elements.

"Modern" Elements

In a silly or "weird" setting, there might be a corresponding form of magic for anything in the Periodic Table. Needless to say, magical control over elements like Plutonium can hardly but be grossly overpowering1. For very silly campaigns, elements like "surprise" may crop up.


Game and Story Use

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