Dragon Elementals

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 108: Dragon Magazine Goes “Elemental”




The last series of articles in our catchily titled “cavalcade of mediocre planar content from Paizo’s magazines at the end of 2006” comes from the “Elementals” issue of Dragon (#347, September 2006). This is a bit of a weird one in that by all rights it seems like it should’ve featured some worthwhile content. The issue features six (6!) planar articles dealing with the elementals and the Inner Planes, and as such you’d think there’d be something worthwhile here. And to a certain extent there is, it’s just that the amount of words and space surrounding the meaningful content is small, whereas most of what’s printed is either dull or repeats old information about the planes. Let’s take a look at each of these pieces individually so as to get a better understanding of what I mean.

The issue’s most prominent feature is “The Archomentals: Princes of Elemental Evil” by Eric Jansing and Kevin Baase. While the archomentals are a worthy topic, the problem here is in the execution. The main reason this piece saw publication at all was simply to offer up stat blocks for the five original elemental princes from the first edition Fiend Folio, and given that these range from challenge rating 22-24 each one takes up quite a bit space. Fortunately there is some lore here too… however, quite a bit of it is drawn directly from that original Folio, and when it wasn’t it’s often from The Inner Planes or the Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix III. It was often ripped so directly from these earlier sources that I found myself legitimately thinking that Monte Cook should’ve been credited as a co-author, as much of the actual prose is copied straight from his work. 


That being said, there are a handful of new snippets of information, especially as the article goes on. New alliances with the lower planes are hinted at, as are some rivalries. The fact is, these beings had so little lore that it’s hard not to add something, even if you’re only given a couple hundred words of space. Plus, the inclusion of Cryonax means that the article has to figure out what to do with the dissolution of his entire plane. In addition, the good archomentals are name-checked, and as a result the article essentially does reiterates that what was known about these individuals in the last edition still holds true now. So cool, I guess, though there’s certainly not enough here to make this worth seeking out for anyone who’s read through Planescape.

Andrew Hou’s version of Cryonax. It’s my favorite new depiction of the archomentals, probably because he’s less “pure elemental being” and more “weirdo tentacle monstrosity.”

The article that by all rights I should’ve enjoyed immensely was “Elemental Hazards: An Exploration of the Inner Planes” by Chad Dickow, Duncan Hanon and Mike McArtor. Learning about the weird and wild happenings on the Inner Planes was why I loved The Inner Planes so much, and this article is literally just a list of random features of the Inner Planes. However, a list of random features is just that: a list of random features. There’s no sense of a cohesive location or ongoing narrative in these descriptions, nor do they interact with the individuals inhabiting these planes or their histories. It is just a bunch (nine per plane) of random things players might come across, accompanied by encounter tables in case you want to roll for random encounters as a DM. Some of the suggestions are kinda cool, and some tried to consciously add back parts of the Inner Planes that are now missing (for instance, the vacuum vortex that takes players to “a stationary portal between the Elemental Plane of Air and the Negative Energy Plane”). However, this is related to my other issue with this article, which is that many of these locations feel like they’d fit in much better with the now-deceased para- and quasi-elemental planes. 

I ended up liking the article’s concept far more than I did the actual execution, despite quite a few of these ideas being creative additions to the Inner Planes that should really be expanded upon. If you’re setting an adventure on the Inner Planes, particularly third edition’s version of them, then you probably will find some useful nuggets here. This version of the Inner Planes in particular can really use some spicing up, and the article helps. But it also doesn’t feel of a piece with what’s come before in these locations, and ultimately it is just a list of possible encounters, with as many misfires as successes. I’m glad that this article was printed, but it’s not something I can imagine ever wanting to return to, as random encounters and hazards are simply not the type of thing I use in my campaigns, and more than that something about this randomness deracinated from previous representations of the Inner Planes left me disappointed.

Andrew Hou drew a lot of art for this issue. It is fine.

Neither of the first two articles blew me away, but they’re both masterpieces compared with Paraelemental Paragons. Remember the elemental monoliths from Complete Arcane? Well probably not, as that book was relatively obscure and featured so little planar content that I didn’t even cover it in this column (its coolest feature was the inclusion of the alienist, a prestige class focused on the Far Realm who summons pseudonatural weirdos and ultimately becomes an alien creature with tentacles of their own). As with practically every third edition splatbook, it added a couple new monsters to the game, and these were some of them. However, elemental monoliths are just oversized elementals and there’s nothing interesting about them. Likewise, the paraelemental monoliths are… the same but for the paraelemental planes, sans the planes I guess. There’s also a few templates to make paraelemental monsters. Yay? I guess it’s nice to have these locations (concepts?) acknowledged, but really this is the type of article that feels like it’s trying to have things both ways, acknowledging that we all want smoke monsters and magma monsters and ooze monsters, but also that those parts of the game had been removed. I guess it’s better for this article to exist and offer up those stats than for it not to exist, but only by a small margin.


“The Ecology of the Elemental Weird” is just a pretty good article, with very few caveats. I’ll be covering this series as a whole soon, but suffice to say that Paizo’s revamped version of the “Ecology” articles covered quite a few planar creatures, and the weirds were a nice semi-addition (they’re very changed in third edition from what they were before) to the game. That being said, because there are so many types of weirds none of them get a ton of depth here. As with a lot of this era’s ecologies, my general feeling is that this is really what should be included with every monster. There’s also information about these creatures’ lairs, a page on lesser elemental weirds, and sample prophecies so as to assist with designing your own. It’s all good stuff, and definitely my favorite part of the issue.

And somehow we’re still not done with the elemental-themed articles. “A Mastery of Elements” by Greg Marks profiles nine new magic items with vaguely elemental provenance. Of these, Choker of the Sirens is definitely the most tasteless, while Gloves of Burrowing seem the most overpowered or at least useful. In any case, it’s hard to care. 

I’ve never much cared for the Temple of Elemental Evil. Maybe I need to play the Troika game to get convinced, but on the whole it always seemed kinda dumb and illogical.

Finally, there’s an article with the most tenuous elemental link of all. “Scripture of Elemental Evil” by Owen K.C. Stephens features new spells for worshipers of the Elder Elemental Eye, i.e. Tharizdun. The game was really trying to make Tharizdun into a big deal at this point, and would only do more on this front with fourth edition. Frankly, I never understood the draw, plus his relationship with Zuggtmoy and the archomentals never made much sense and seemed like a weird remnant of adventures written before much of the game’s lore was set in (highly malleable) stone. Most of the spells are accordingly elemental, but at this point in the game’s history adding yet more spell options only serves to make things messier. 


As with the shadow-themed issue from the previous year, I had high hopes for “Elementals.” The Inner Planes are an important part of the multiverse, despite so frequently being given short shrift, and this seemed like an opportunity to rectify that problem. It doesn’t really happen, though, as the bit of lore added here is meager to the point of almost invisibility, while even much of the crunch is only borderline useful. Practically nothing here feels essential or even necessary, and on the whole it failed to make the Inner Planes a more exciting place to set campaigns. 

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