Excerpts Archive | 1/16/2012
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Elemental Magic
Heroes of the Elemental Chaos Excerpts
Bart Carroll

M asters of fire and earth. Lords of air and water. Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is the definitive sourcebook for creating and playing characters with ties to the Elemental Chaos and the primordial beings that dwell there. It shows how the elements can influence heroes of the natural world and presents elemental-themed character options for players.

Elemental Magic

Theology records a host of myths regarding the world’s formation. Many temple ceremonies celebrate the divine victory over the elemental hosts, capturing the desperate struggle of gods and primordials in the frescoes and paintings adorning their walls and domes. In the eyes of the faithful, the primordials are perilous monstrosities best forgotten. The gods ended their threat and secured the future.

History is written by the victors, however. Attitudes and beliefs regarding the ancient primordial entities and their failed war against the denizens of the heavens have been shaped by the gods and their servants over millennia. The gods point to their victory as proof they were right in their cause, and they claim that the world is now as it was intended to be.

The primordials have been checked in their desire to control and shape the planes, and the faithful of the gods give thanks for a world free of the raging chaos that once overwhelmed it. However, to say that the primordials’ elemental power is vanquished is to propagate a dangerous lie.

The primordials are very much alive. Their bodies are imprisoned—weighed down by chains, sealed in inescapable vaults, or clouded by sleep. However, their minds and spirits still endure. They think. They plot. They hate. And as they do, elemental magic flows from the primordials and the Elemental Chaos that is their legacy, spreading insidiously across the multiverse.

The Nature of Elemental Magic

Major and minor magical traditions can be found across the world and the planes. Arcane, divine, and primal magic are the most ancient and storied of these traditions, their origins tied to the greatest and darkest moments the world has ever known. Less well known but just as powerful, psionic magic waxes and wanes—a mysterious force protecting the world from the alien threat of the Far Realm. Shadow magic pollutes the other traditions it touches, demanding the energy of one’s mortal soul as the price for its power.

Because elemental magic manifests within all other traditions, it resists easy categorization. In fact, many theorize that elemental magic does not exist in its own right, claiming that since it is the product of so many other systems of magic, it cannot be a source of magical power in and of itself.

A Scholarly Debate

The issue of elemental magic as a distinct force in the cosmos has occupied scholars since antiquity. Most magical traditions provide ways of wielding elemental energy. Spells and prayers of lightning, thunder, acid, fire, and cold embody elemental power. No one denies that such energy exists. What remains a point of contention is whether elemental energy can be employed independent of the magical systems used to harness it.

Proponents on both sides of the issue wrestled with the cosmological problems posed by elemental magic, relegating the matter to philosophical debates over hundreds of years. Then the archmage Mordenkainen became determined to settle the dispute. In a lecture to his students, the wizard posited that elemental power is, in fact, the root of all magic—and the underpinning that allows magic to exist in the world. Elemental power underlies every magical tradition, and the methods used to wield it segregate magic into the traditions of the arcane, the divine, the primal, and more.

Not everyone agreed with Mordenkainen’s radical interpretation. Rigby, a high priest and a member of the Circle of Eight, conceded that some magic might originate in the Elemental Chaos. However, he argued that such power could not be the foundation of divine magic. Clearly, the primordials did not create the gods, even as the gods used their power apart from the primordials to shape the astral dominions. If divine magic was an exception, then Rigby believed that Mordenkainen’s theory was void.

Mordenkainen, never one to back down from a debate, countered in a now-famous letter to the priest, writing, “If the gods are of our reality, then they cannot logically predate the primordials. There was no form or substance prior to the primordials’ emergence. Therefore, if the gods were not created by the primordials, they are intruders into this reality from somewhere beyond. It is my belief that upon entering this reality, the gods used the raw energy generated by the Elemental Chaos to establish their immortal forms. Elemental power is the definitive source for the creation of magic, and the traditions we see in the world today are but variations of that single source, colored by the methods used to access it.”

Although the Circle of Eight argued over the nature and origin of elemental magic, the definitive voice on the subject came from the renegade wizard Emirikol the Chaotic. Rejecting Mordenkainen’s theory as naive and Rigby’s response as delusional, Emirikol argued that elemental magic did, in fact, exist as a separate force in the cosmos. Arcane magic, divine magic, primal magic, and elemental magic were discrete forms of energy. The difference was simply one of scope.

Emirikol believed that most forms of magic have no meaning outside their users, and that such magical systems depend on their practitioners to give them context in the cosmos. What is arcane power without a mage to cast a spell? What is divine magic absent clerics to channel the gods’ power? In Emirikol’s view, elemental power exists apart from its practitioners. The Elemental Chaos offers the proof. That plane a place of is raw elemental magic, and the creatures populating it embody that power.

Emirikol also believed that elemental power is not discrete, observing that other magical systems access its underlying energy at all times. A wizard’s cone of cold spell calls forth elemental cold, just as fireball releases a burst of elemental fire. However, these spells do not use elemental power to drive them, instead employing an arcane process that shapes that energy. Such magic does not originate in some personal connection to elemental power. Emirikol observed that many spells, disciplines, evocations, and prayers create or manipulate elemental energy, even as they retain their tradition’s characteristics.

Elemental Influence

Creation could not have come into being without the Elemental Chaos and the entities that ruled its endlessly changing landscape. The natural world and the other planes bear their creators’ fingerprints, and the denizens of all those planes can still sense the power that was used to bind untamed substance into its present forms. One hears their voices in the rumbling earth, in the churning seas, and in the storms that unleash destruction across the land. The primordials—or at least the echoes of their power—are very much alive in the world.

Residual Energy

The most widespread influence of the Elemental Chaos in the natural world is found in the residual energy left behind from creation, and from the subsequent wars of gods and primordials. The artistry of creation is evident in the world. Majestic mountains, vast oceans, primeval forests, the blue dome of the sky—all were made by the primordials, and their power lingers in their creations.

Residual energy pervades the world, not unlike air. Most creatures live their lives without ever encountering raw elemental energy. As with air, however, its effects can be felt even when it is not seen. Magic in all forms connects to this latent energy and uses it to produce miraculous events, from healing the dying to laying waste to whole armies with ice and fire.

Elemental Beings

The primal ban prevents the primordials from taking a direct hand in the world’s events. However, this ancient pact can do little to stop elemental creatures of lesser stature from crossing over to the world.

Across all lands, ancient titans lurk under mountains or in fortresses built atop volcanoes. Elemental lords rule vast ice castles from which they expel glaciers to threaten settled lands. Reckless conjurers call forth elementals, djinns, and other destructive creatures into the mortal realm. From time to time, an ancient relic of the Dawn War is unearthed, enabling elemental monsters dormant for millennia to roam once more. Set free in the world, such creatures unleash chaos and destruction wherever they go. The most powerful among them might turn their attention to unraveling the mortal realm, in accordance with the wishes of their ancient primordial masters.

Primordial Cults

Among the greatest threats to the delicate balance that the primal spirits fight to preserve are the primordial cults. The idea of devoting oneself to a primordial power is anathema to most of those who consider themselves right-thinking people. For them, the gods defeated the primordials in a just and fairly conducted war, and if they had failed, creation itself would have been undone.

Primordial cultists see history differently. In their view, the primordials are more worthy of veneration than are the gods, who staked their claim on creation only after the primordials had finished their own work. If mortals have anyone to thank for their lives, it is the ancient elemental powers that fabricated the world.

Most individuals who pledge their lives in service to a primordial are outcasts, misfits, and enemies of light and goodness. For this reason, primordial cults attract the worst kind of followers. Criminals, deviants, and the insane fill their ranks, searching for something they cannot find in the worship of the gods.

Some people become primordial worshipers to find legitimacy for their own dark desires. Imix would never condemn a mortal for burning innocents, just as Ogrémoch looks favorably on servants who bury their enemies alive. Other cultists are drawn to raw elemental power, hoping to attain it by freeing the primordials from their prisons.

Pressure from religious institutions and widespread intolerance have driven primordial cults underground. Members keep their loyalties to and associations with such entities a secret, fearful of attracting the interest of the authorities. Cults gather in secret places where they can perform their profane ceremonies away from suspicious eyes, or remain hidden in the depths of the wilderness, worshiping at ancient altars raised before the first humanoid cities were constructed. Iktha-Lau, Heur-Ket, and Mual-Tar are common patrons of these groups, and great evil is done in their names.

Though primordial cults can weaken the social order and undermine civilization, the greatest threat they represent is freeing a primordial from its prison. Such an act would have widespread repercussions. Eons spent in chains have driven many primordials mad, reducing them to bestial terrors. Calling such a being into the natural world—an end that many cults seek—might shatter the primal ban that protects the world from extraplanar exploitation. Such an event could trigger a new Dawn War.

As dire as primordial cults are, not all seek evilends. Certain cults are founded to honor worthy primordials—entities that either took no part in the Dawn War or fought alongside the gods. From the perspective of their followers, these primordials are more worthy of mortal adoration than are the gods with whom they shared their creation. The primordials are the rightful rulers of the world, usurped by beings whose lesser power is proven by their inability to destroy those they defeated.

The Cult of the Elder Elemental Eye

The danger posed to the world by any other primordial cult pales in comparison to the Cult of the Elder Elemental Eye. The cult is most often associated with the princes of elemental evil, but they are merely stewards for a vast and unknowable entity. The Elder Elemental Eye is believed to be an ancient primordial being that was cast out from the Elemental Chaos by its fellow primordials. It works to regain a foothold in the planes and resume efforts toward the goal it once sought—the end of all things.

Throughout history, the cult has threatened civilization by raising armies and dark temples, whose priests scour the world for the keys needed to free their master. What gains the cult makes are often sabotaged by infighting and betrayal. Factions rule the cult, each seeking to gain dominance over the others—even if doing so means destroying everything they work toward.

Compounding these troubles are other powers who seek to exploit the cult. At various times, Zuggtmoy, Graz’zt, Iuz the Evil, and Lolth have all manipulated the cult into advancing their own agendas.

The Primordials

The primordials described in this section (and previewed in the most recent In the Works) represent a small selection of the major known primordials that an adventurer might choose as a patron. As with the primal spirits in the natural world, the primordial powers are open to expansion, and DMs should feel free to add new primordials important to their individual campaigns. Likewise, a player might suggest a new primordial to best fit a character’s selection of class features and abilities.

Elemental Princes

To many mortal minds, even those steeped in religious lore and ancient history, the primordial host consists of nothing but figures vast and terrible—violent, warlike beings whose role in creation has ended and who now remain hidden away in the deepest recesses of the Elemental Chaos, wrapped in chains, sealed in inescapable vaults. They evoke fear and misgivings about what calamities they might bring about if freed—yet as dangerous as these beings might be, to conceive of them as an extended family is a foolish simplification. It does not account for the tangled alliances and grudges that pervade these ancient elemental powers and persist to this day despite their status as prisoners, exiles, and dormant monstrosities.

One group, known as the archomentals, is often included in the primordials’ ranks but stands apart from the others in many ways. Some lore suggests that these figures played little or no part in the world’s creation and arose at some point afterward. The archomentals might have been the first servants crafted by the primordials, infused with such chaotic power that they held sway over all other elemental beings beneath them.

Regardless of their origin, the archomentals have only grown in power since the end of the Dawn War, and today they exert influence in the mortal world. Most mortals refer to these entities as the elemental princes. The evil princes Imix, Ogrémoch, Yan-C-Bin, and Olhydra, among others, form a wicked pantheon of sorts, gathering followers and servants from across the planes for some dark and despicable end.

Countering their depredations is the group of archomentals known as the princes of elemental good. These include Ben-hadar, Chan, Sunnis, Zaaman Rul, and more. Although they are characterized as good, their virtue stems from their opposition to their evil counterparts and not from any moral code. If these entities have good intentions, they express them on behalf of the elemental creatures that dwell in their realms. he good archomentals, for the most part, opposed the Dawn War and either fought alongside the gods or abstained from the conflict. Their refusal to participate ultimately enabled them to retain their freedom, because the deities did not subject them to the fate of their defeated kin. But that freedom comes at a price—the good archomentals are the objects of scorn and hatred from the primordials that are bound or locked away. As a result, the princes of elemental good sequester themselves in great fortresses, daring not to stray too far from their realms lest they face reprisals from the cultists and elemental creatures that are still loyal to the dead, dormant, or otherwise imprisoned primordial powers.

Bound Primordials

When most natives of the mortal world think about primordials, what comes to mind are entities that they believe to be sealed away, never again to ravage the natural realm. Whether “sealed away” is accurate or not, the deities have certainly taken pains to imprison or neutralize each bound primordial in a unique and (they hope) effective fashion. Five of the more distinctive stories of these entities are provided here.

Free Primordials

For one reason or another, a small number of primordials were not subjected to the revenge of the deities at the end of the Dawn War. The reasons why they remain unfettered are as varied as the entities themselves.

Roster of Known Primordials

No one knows for certain how many primordials exist. Hundreds were spawned in the beginning of the cosmos, and many were slain in the Dawn War long before any tale of their names or deeds was recorded in the lore of mortals. Even the weakest primordials are monsters of terrible destructive power, capable of crushing all but the mightiest mortal heroes and laying waste to whole kingdoms. The greatest primordials are so strong that even the gods fear them.

The list presented here includes many primordials known primarily from their presence in the world of Abeir-Toril, and a couple found on the desert world of Athas. The Dawn War was a battle with many fronts, and Abeir-Toril and Athas suffered in the war of gods and primordials just as many other mortal worlds did. Whether these Abeiran (or Athasian) primordials are known in worlds beyond their home worlds is questionable; the existence of multiple primordials with similar natures and interests suggests that (unlike some gods) these beings are naturally concentrated or anchored to physical existence in one specific corner of the multiverse, and do not appear in multiple worlds.

Many primordials are categorized as archomentals—beings that rule vast elemental domains and command the allegiance of many lesser creatures. This group includes the elemental princes, detailed earlier in this section. Some primordials are revered as deities by mortals and are counted as members of pantheons. Even though these entities are not divine in nature, they bestow elemental powers on their priests and are venerated by hosts of mortal followers. Primordials that have been wholly transformed or consumed by the Abyss are not included in this list. Creatures such as Demogorgon, Orcus, and Baphomet are more properly described as demon lords, not primordials.

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Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.