Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dynamic Elementals

So, yesterday I encountered this comment on the AD&D 2nd edition forum on Facebook (yes, one of my personas does occasionally spend time using that service, just remember that anonymity is the only true form of privacy when dealing with that company).,,
The D&D (Planescape specifically) depiction of the Inner Planes is a great deal more complex than the core four elements of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. First you have the places where the four core elemental planes intersect: Magma (Fire + Earth), Ooze/Mud (Earth + Water), Ice (Water + Air), and Smoke (Air + Fire). Then you have the two diametrically opposed "Energy" planes: the Positive Energy Plane and the Negative Energy Plane. Lastly you have the regions where the four core elemental planes intersect these two energy planes : Radiance (Positive Fire), Mineral (Positive Earth), Steam (Positive Water), Lightning (Positive Air), Ash (Negative Fire), Dust (Negative Earth), Salt (Negative Water), and Vacuum (Negative Air). All told, this gives you 18 different inner planes, each with its own type of elementals.

So...What would happen if you cast energy drain on an elemental?

The primary way that mortal characters (Primes) interact with elementals is by summoning them to the material plane usually by means of a spell like Conjure Elemental (see 2nd edition AD&D version or 5th edition version). An interesting aspect of this spell (throughout the editions of D&D) is that it requires a volume of the appropriate element corresponding to the elemental being summoned. In essence, it does not create elemental matter, it summons a spirit to animate the existing elemental matter (for example, if cast on a bonfire, a fire elemental will emerge).
From the perspective of the mortal caster, the nature of the animating spirit is completely irrelevant, only the material involved. Unless the DM's campaign involves the PCs traveling to one of these elemental planes, the caster may never have to think about how the conjured elemental came into being. This creates a convenient hole in the narrative that a clever DM could fill in a variety of ways. Perhaps the elemental matter is animated not by a spirit from the corresponding elemental plane but by a demon, or an angel, or the spirit of a deceased ancestor. 

What if the "Elemental Planes" don't even exist in your cosmology? 4th edition does not have inner planes at all, instead introducing the "Elemental Chaos" which blends the idea of Planescapes inner planes with Limbo and the Abyss, implying that all primordial elemental matter comes from the same place...and that is the same place one finds demons as well.

So, let us say, for the sake of the original question, that when you summon an "Elemental" what you are summoning is not a being from a fundamental inner plane, but an animating spirit of a broader and more general nature that is able to inhabit and animate elemental matter. Let us also assume, that as a DM, you want fights with elementals to be really awesome and interesting, and don't mind added complexity. Let us lastly assume that you are running a version of D&D (like 2nd edition or Pathfinder) that has a wealth of para-elementals and quasi-elementals available to you.


So...What would happen if you cast energy drain on an elemental?

What happens is that it changes to the negative-intersecting version of the elemental in question. Cast enervation on an Air elemental and you suddenly find yourself fighting a Vacuum elemental.

But let's not stop there.

If we're talking about 2nd Edition AD&D, we have 18 different "elemental" types to deal with from the various Inner Planes, plus some fundamental elemental-like creatures from other planes (like the Nature Elemental, the Darkness Elemental, the Blood Elemental from Ravenloft, and Time Elementals from the demi-plane of time), and also aligned elementals such as the Elementals of Law and Elementals of Chaos from the Mystara setting. Because this already gives us a vast wealth of creatures to play with, we'll exclude all of the elemental beings that do not specifically have "Elemental" in their name (genies, sylphs, water weirds, etc) and unique beings like the Princes of Elemental Evil.


So what do we do with all of these creatures? We make Dynamic Elementals...

Dynamic Elementals are spirits that bind to and animate available matter. When conjured into the world, the spellcaster who initially summons them gives them a specific form based on the base matter provided, but this form is not strictly fixed. Any exposure to any spell or magical effect that conjures or manipulates one of the fundamental energies of the universe may change the current state of the elemental.

When a Dynamic Elemental comes in contact with a spell effect of an appropriate type, it takes no damage nor any of the other normal effects of the spell in question. Instead the elemental is stunned for 1 round as it undergoes an involuntary shift to a new form. At the end of this time, the elemental's statistics are replaced by those of a similarly-sized elemental of the new type.

Obviously this can also be used by the original conjurer of the elemental to adapt his summoned creature to new situations (catching his conjured Water elemental in the area of a fireball cast at his foes not only burns the foes, but changes his water elemental into a flight-capable Smoke Elemental).

Current Elemental Form Spell Type New Form
Air Elemental Positive Energy/Electricity Lightning Elemental
Negative Energy Vacuum Elemental
Lawful Anemo
Chaotic Eolian
Water/Cold Ice Elemental
Fire Smoke Elemental
Animate Dead/Create Undead Mist Elemental
Earth Positive Energy Mineral Elemental
Negative Energy Dust Elemental
Lawful Kryst
Chaotic Erdeen
Water Ooze Elemental
Fire Magma Elemental
Animate Dead/Create Undead Grave Elemental
Fire Positive Energy Radiance Elemental
Negative Energy Ash Elemental
Lawful Helion
Chaotic Pyrophor
Earth Magma Elemental
Air Smoke Elemental
Animate Dead/Create Undead Pyre Elemental
Water Positive Energy Steam Elemental
Negative Energy Salt Elemental
Lawful Hydrax
Chaotic Undine
Earth Ooze Elemental
Air/Cold Ice Elemental
Animate Dead/Create Undead Blood Elemental
Magma Fire Fire Elemental
EarthEarth Elemental
Ooze Water Water Elemental
Earth Earth Elemental
Ice Water Water Elemental
Air Air Elemental
Smoke Fire Fire Elemental
Air Air Elemental
Lightning Negative Energy Air Elemental
Positive Energy Positive Energy Elemental
Mineral Negative Energy Earth Elemental
Positive Energy Positive Energy Elemental
Radiance Negative Energy Fire Elemental
Positive Energy Positive Energy Elemental
Steam Negative Energy Water Elemental
Positive Energy Positive Energy Elemental
Ash Positive Energy Fire Elemental
Negative Energy Negative Energy Elemental
Dust Positive Energy Earth Elemental
Negative Energy Negative Energy Elemental
Salt Positive Energy Water Elemental
Negative Energy Negative Energy Elemental
Vacuum Positive Energy Air Elemental
Negative Energy Negative Energy Elemental
Positive Energy Air Lightning Elemental
Earth Mineral Elemental
Fire Radiance Elemental
Water Steam Elemental
Negative Energy Air Vacuum Elemental
Earth Dust Elemental
Fire Ash Elemental
Water Salt Elemental 




Obviously certain spells such as Transmute Rock to Mud will have the obvious effects when cast on an appropriate elemental (Earth turns to Ooze/Mud), even if they do not appear on the above table.

In addition to the more typical elemental transformations, a few unique transformations are possible. Any spell that creates magical darkness cast on an elemental of any type will transform that elemental into a Darkness Elemental. A Time Stop spell cast on an elemental of any type will transform it into Time ElementalFour casters working together can change any type of elemental into a Nature Elemental by simultaneously hitting it with spells of each of the four primary elements (such as a gust of windfireballmeld into stone, and create water simultaneously). Nature Elementals, Time Elementals. and Darkness Elementals, once manifested, cannot be transformed.


Imagine now a fight between some player characters and a conjured elemental. The evil wizard has summoned an Earth Elemental for our heroes to do battle with. The party's fighter is armed with a +2 magic sword, and can thus hold his own, but the mage and cleric are not so armed and only have their spells to back him up.

Hoping to win the fight quickly, the party mage casts a fireball at the elemental before the fighter can engage. Instead of damaging the creature, the fireball melts the elemental, turning it into a much more dangerous Magma Elemental. The cleric thinking likewise, but acting just a beat slower, drops a flame strike on the creature, turning it into a full-fledged Fire Elemental. The fighter, seeing the foe stunned from the transformations, charges in and hacks away at the elemental.

The next round, the cleric places a resist fire spell on the fighter. The mage, seeing that fire does not work, tries to weaken the elemental with a enervation spell, transforming it into an Ash Elemental, making the fighter's fire resistance useless as it begins draining the heat from his body...

and so on...