Monday, June 22, 2009

Elements and Materials in Fantasy

No skepticism in this topic, just geekery.

Got a favorite classical element? Got some favorite non-classicals that different fantasy settings put alongside the standard four?

I've usually been a fan of Air, though lately I've been drifting towards Water. Non-classicals I like are Wood and Metal. Light and Dark tend to be good additions as well, but I prefer they be without the good and evil connotations.

Any particular fantasy materials you like, along the lines of mythril, adamantite, cold iron, etcerta?

Feel free to ramble on about any fantasy setting, homebrew or published.


Joshua said...

The other obvious Fifth would be Aether/Void. Although in its aether form, it's usually less a Classical Element and more just phlebotinum. Which is to say that it doesn't have well-defined characteristics, apart from doing whatever the plot requires. But according to Wikipedia, Void represents creative energy, spirit, liveliness. Quite different from Aristotlean aether than never changes, actually. Hum.

I like the elemental systems, because while they fail at describing actual chemistry, they're usually interesting anyway as attempts to categorise the universe in a parsimonious way.

Anyway, as for the Big Four, I've always liked Fire. Fire is good. Fire cleanses everything. Especially the heretic, the mutant, and the alien. FOR THE EMPEROR!


I don't especially have any favourite fantasy metals.

antelope said...


King of Ferrets said...

Well, I made a system with light and sound as elements, if you remember. You could argue that dark is part of the system, since light magic is control over light in general, including getting rid of it.

As for materials, I was always partial to aurorum. This is mostly because I like constructs, and especially constructs that could be repaired by just tossing their pieces at them.

Dunc said...

Wood and metal are "classical" elements - in China.

How can you have a "favourite element"? It's the interplay between them that's important.

Light and Dark can't be separate elements. It's a fundamental principle of magick that all "opposite pairs" are unified.

Maybe I've just read too much Crowley... ;)

James K said...

I like to see some science injected into elemental magic, like Redcloak does here and here.

Dark Jaguar said...

I like the "video game trinity" of fire ice and lightning. LIGHTNING! said...

I've always had a soft spot for Lamb, which came to me in a dream as part of the five elements: Air, Earth, Fire, Lamb & Water.

It fills the "life-energy" spot nicely, along with warmth (woolly jumpers) and nommability, to say nothing of the implications for a fantasy setting of having an actual living species as a mystical element.

Dark Jaguar said...

Lamb? Forgive me but isn't that a bit... random? Why not Cow or something awesome like Dragon?

James K said...

Maybe its just that I come from a country where they outnumber people, but I have a hard time seeing juvenile sheep as mystical in any way. Tasty maybe, but not mystical.

Lifewish said...

Mordite - aka deathstone - from the Dresden Files series of books. It's a substance taken from beyond the Outer Gates (think Pratchett's Dungeon Dimensions only not as cheerful). It sucks the life out of anything it touches.

I'm not sure how it figures out whether something is alive, but then I'm not sure how someone can throw fireballs or turn into a wolf. Whatever.

Incidentally, wasn't there a book that described the five elements as Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Custard? said...

DarkJaguar: It was a dream. It didn't seem lolrandum XD;;;;; in the dream, and the more I thought about it, the more it worked.

And hey, YHWH did it, so as mythology goes it's got a history.

James K said...

I really like the metals-based magical systems (three of them, all unique to the series) in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.

Dark Jaguar said...

Ya know I like the idea of using the periodic table of elements as the base of an elemental magic system. Complicated? Sure, you'd have to back off the whole "elemental weakness" thing a bit, but it could work pretty well.

Actually, Chrono Cross had something like that. It had over 100 elements, each one basically being it's own spell. Elements had shared attributes called "colors" which filled the role of assigning more traditional RPG elements to the spells. Beyond that, each element has it's own "weight" along a sliding scale of 8 or so levels. Higher level spells could be "forced" as a lower level cast (and vice versa) but it would be cast as a -7 spell and weaker as a result. Further it's interaction with the 3 "field" levels (casting elements affected the field into certain colors) would be different. The weird mixing kinda reminded me of electron shells and casting an element as higher or lower levels was similar to "ionizig" it positive or negative.

That said, a great game who's hidden "true" ending, obtained in a very clever way, ended with a bizarre spouting of the strangest thing I've ever read. I don't mean it was meant as some deep lesson about life the universe and everything, I mean it was like some bizarre cosmology never once really mentioned at all and not really so much mystical as just strange. It was like they made the game and decided that for those who managed to find the true ending, they'd get the guy who made Time Cube to write a special note for them. Seriously, it was just bizarre to the point of being disturbing and had very little to do with most of what happened in the game, and considering how bizarre (in a good way) Chrono Cross's story up until that point had been, that's saying something.

Here's a hint, the bizarre speech STARTS by referring to a planet as an "egg" and living things as "spermatozoa" which will impregnate the planet taking reality to the next dimension. With Timecube level conviction it then states that "THIS IS THE BE ALL END ALL, all life exists for this single moment".

Great game, weird ending. I can't help but wonder if the game's writer started getting into writing pseudoscientific Depack Chopra nonsense (only the Japanese speaking version of it) and that's why Chrono Break got cancelled.

Anonymous said...

I was told quite emphatically that these elements are real not fantasy