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Author Topic: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?  (Read 292 times)

jhkim

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How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« on: September 23, 2020, 08:53:12 PM »
I've been continuing to work on an Incan fantasy setting for D&D. I posted about it in a previous thread. (And I've been taking time to read a book recommended in the earlier thread.)

https://www.therpgsite.com/pen-paper-roleplaying-games-rpgs-discussion/no-politics-incan-fantasy-in-dd/

One issue that has come up in cosmology is that D&D has an assumption about the four elements as air/earth/fire/water. In Andean cosmology, though, it seems more fitting that there are only two elements: earth and water. Within D&D, one approach is that water would include sub-elements of ice, mist, and air. Earth would include sub-elements of stone, metal, and fire. That means there would still be air and fire elementals (along possibly with others), but some assumptions still would have to change.

Would this mess with the assumptions of D&D for players, do you think? Should it be skipped for simplicity? Or could it work for adding flavor to the world?

Omega

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2020, 09:12:10 PM »
In alot of D&D settings the elements are practically non-existent, or just a part of a larger whole, or divided differently.
Examples:
 In AD&D the elements are there, but only in the background really.Whereas in BX and likely OD&D its non-existent really. Theres elementals. But no cosmology to them. They are just... there.
2e and on you start to see all sorts of odd approaches from very there, to kinda there, to not there at all. Usually because the focus is elsewhere in some manner or the setting in question does not support it.
 So you can present the elements however you want. Or not at all and they are just aspects of some larger whole as it were.

S'mon

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2020, 02:33:54 AM »
Just do it.  :D
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Pat

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2020, 03:19:30 AM »
Elements aren't that important in D&D. Dump, expand, contract, or change at will.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2020, 01:44:00 PM »
I can't see it being a problem.  There are already "elemental" things in D&D that don't fit--electricity, "thunder" or sonic", etc.  "Radiant" might as well be an element in some ways. 

When I've done alternate divisions, the thing I usually run into is where to set the boundaries on the water/ice divisions.  For example, I've used fire/ice, wind/stone, storm/wood, light/dark before, and made it work.  (Yes, I know that storm/wood looks out of place, but I'm simplifying for sake of a shorter answer.)  I mainly went with lightning/thunder in "storm" and left the pure high winds part to "wind", but that was me doing a home brew idea, not trying to model another source.
I think you get those kind of ideas no matter where you set it, and it isn't as if the base D&D rules don't already have them.

Zirunel

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2020, 02:34:38 PM »
If you're looking at Andean cosmology then yes it probably works better with binary oppositions like earth/sky, male/female, land/sea than anything "elemental"  in D&D. Especially since those oppositions will cross-cut and fit poorly with the D&D or medieval quadripartite  alchemical elements.  On the other hand, the Incas did have a quadripartite (social/ political, not entirely cosmological) division of space that you could tweak. So the southern quarter (high altiplano) could be sky, the northern mountain quarter earth, the western (Pacific) quarter water, and the eastern (upper Amazon) quarter fire. Not quite right cosmologically, but doable. Different elemental cults could be associated with the four quarters.


It kind of comes down to how much you really want to drill down into the cosmology and rework D&D, vs.  drill down into D&D and rework the cosmology.

I think sometimes one of the shortcomings of historically authentic settings is the temptation to overthink. And in the case of elementals, they are as important as you want them to be. At some level, S'mon is probably right, just make something up and do it




« Last Edit: September 24, 2020, 02:58:37 PM by Zirunel »

deadDMwalking

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2020, 03:59:18 PM »
In general, a division (or redivision) of the elements isn't going to make a difference.  The only way it would is if spell lists/access are generally limited.  If every wizard and cleric has to choose Earth or Water and that defines their spell list, that is going to have major ramifications for the setting and what players can do.  Drawing a firm line like that can be helpful - it gives you a chance to let the party have two characters that are nominally the same but have very different characteristics.  Likewise, if the division has implications for other classes as well it becomes more meaningful. 


You can determine how meaningful a change to cosmology is by how often and how deeply players interact with it.  If you leave everything else unchanged players will really have to go out of their way to even notice that fire is a sub-set of Earth. 
When I say objectively, I mean 'subjectively'.  When I say literally, I mean 'figuratively'.  
And when I say that you are a horse's ass, I mean that the objective truth is that you are a literal horse's ass.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. - Peter Drucker

HappyDaze

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2020, 07:18:21 PM »
In 5e, we had a few characters with proficiency in Gaming Set (Playing Cards). We had air, earth, fire, and water as the four suits of the card sets in the world. That was exactly how important they were.

jhkim

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2020, 07:28:27 PM »
If you're looking at Andean cosmology then yes it probably works better with binary oppositions like earth/sky, male/female, land/sea than anything "elemental"  in D&D. Especially since those oppositions will cross-cut and fit poorly with the D&D or medieval quadripartite  alchemical elements.  On the other hand, the Incas did have a quadripartite (social/ political, not entirely cosmological) division of space that you could tweak. So the southern quarter (high altiplano) could be sky, the northern mountain quarter earth, the western (Pacific) quarter water, and the eastern (upper Amazon) quarter fire. Not quite right cosmologically, but doable. Different elemental cults could be associated with the four quarters.
Good point about the binary oppositions. It's because they're important to the culture that I'd like to keep that for the flavor in the fantasy game. I think having the binary fits better with the cosmology than the quadripartite which is more social/political.


I think sometimes one of the shortcomings of historically authentic settings is the temptation to overthink. And in the case of elementals, they are as important as you want them to be. At some level, S'mon is probably right, just make something up and do it
Yeah, that would be my default - but it's good to hear confirming voices. It's a fantasy setting, not a historical one -- but I'd want it to convey some of the cultural flavor.

Razor 007

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2020, 10:09:02 PM »
It's mainly just important for Elementals.  I don't really use Elementals much, but a campaign featuring the Princes of Elemental Evil might be fun?
I need you to roll a perception check.....

spon

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2020, 07:31:42 AM »
Maybe keep all 4 elements but have 2 in a subservient position to the other, so you keep all the elements there, but you have the duality remaining as the important distinction. So elemental-tinged creatures like Efreet and Dao have a "natural" hierarchy - Dao (Earth - major) rule over Efreet (Fire - minor). That way you get the best of both (or 4?) worlds. 

Null42

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Re: How important is Air/Earth/Fire/Water to D&D?
« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2020, 08:25:49 AM »
Seems like at lower levels you're going to have to be more worried about the fire/cold/electricity aspect of attack spells?

Reskinning the iconic fireball and lightning bolt as an earthball and steam geyser would go a long way toward establishing that 'this world is different'.