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A water elementalist, demonstrating dem hips.

Elementalism is, to put it simply, basically the belief that the universe is comprised of a number of elemental forces that interact in various ways. The two most iconic forms recognized today are "Western" Elementalism (Earth, Air, Water and Fire, sometimes remembering Aether/Ether/Spirit) from Greek mythology and "Eastern" Elementalism (Earth, Water, Fire, Wood, Metal) from Chinese mythology. Naturally, the idea of a spellcaster who focuses on manipulating one or more elemental properties is a very old one, particularly on /tg/ and /vg/. This creates what is known as an Elementalist.

In D&D[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons has touched on elementalism multiple times throughout its life, although no Elementalist ever really caught on. Perhaps partially this might be due to the fact that D&D has experiemented with both arcane and divine elementalists.

Divine Elementalists[edit]

The idea of elemental priests dates back to at least Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition, when the Spheres mechanic debuted in the 2e Player's Handbook for cleric PCs. Here, one of the Spheres of Influence that a god might offer was the Elemental sphere, which was further subdivided into Air, Earth, Fire and Water. Aside from giving the cleric unique spells, there was no real mechanical benefit to playing an elemental cleric by default; it took the Dark Sun setting to introduce some real mechanical might to this idea.

In 3rd edition, Spheres morphed into the Cleric Domain system, and clerics could once again take the Air, Earth, Fire or Water domain from the start. Each of these domains granted the cleric some unique spells, as well as the ability to Turn elementals of the opposing element and Rebuke elementals of the same element. Not exactly a major milestone.

After 3rd edition, the cleric lost its major association with elemental magic. In 4th edition, the druid was largely associated with elemental magic, and that primarily through its damaging spells. And in 5th edition, currently, none of the elemental domains have resurfaced so far; the closest is the Light domain, which combines elements of the old-school Fire and Sun domains.

Athasian Priests[edit]

Dark Sun wanted to stand out from the crowd of other D&D settings, and one of the ways it did this was by removing gods from the setting entirely. There are implied to have been gods in the lost Green Age, as Athas is still home to raaigs - the ghosts of ancient clerics and paladins of faiths now lost to modern Athasians - but the Sorcerer-Kings stamped out all religions other than those venerating themselves or the elements.

In AD&D, all elemental clerics were restricted to choosing the appropriate Elemental sub-sphere. Their rules remained remarkably consistent, staying the same throughout the original campaign boxed set, the revised campaign boxed set, and the Athasian priest splatbook "Earth, Air, Fire and Water". Athasian elemental clerics do not gain followers by levelling up, but they do gain these special powers:

  • From 5th level, once per day, a cleric can "ignore their element" for rounds equal to their level. This lets water and earth clerics move through that material as if it weren't there, lets air clerics ignore the effects of strong wings, and makes them immune to damage directly caused by their elements - fire clerics can't be burned, earth clerics ignore hits from stone weapons, etc.
  • From 7th level, a cleric can summon elemental matter of their element 1/day, summoning 1 cubic foot of material per level over 6th.

They also benefited from the fact that Dark Sun introduced a generic clerical "Conjure Elemental" spell as a 5th level spell, whereas vanilla D&D clerics only had access to the higher level and more specific "Conjuer Earth Elemental" and "Conjure Fire Elemental" spells.

Earth, Air, Fire and Water expanded the elemental cleric by presenting the existence of Paraelemental Clerics (which on Athas are regarded as Rain, Sun, Silt and Magma, rather than Ice, Ooze, Magma and Smoke) and allowing elemental clerics to gain access to their connected Paraelemental and Quasielemental Spheres if they achieved levels over 20th - they gained a new Paraelemental Sphere at levels 21 and 25, and a new Quasielemental Sphere at levels 23 and 27. The high-level elemental cleric's Ignore Element and Gate Elemental Matter abilities function for accessed para/quasi-elements as well.

It also expanded the powers of the standard elemental cleric. Whilst their basic abilities remain as described above, at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, elemental clerics can choose a number of minor powers unique to their elemental sphere. It also presents the optional 5th level class power of "Sacrifice"; this takes the otherwise Earth Cleric exclusive ability to spend hit points to feed a defiler's spell in lieu of it actually draining the life from the land itself, and makes it something that all elemental clerics can potentially do if the DM permits.

Cleric/Psionicists can instead choose to transform into elementals after hitting level 20, in a wimpier analogue to the Athasian Dragon and Avangion transformations.

Playing a paraelemental cleric is more or less identical to playing an elemental cleric. They have the same Ignore Element and Gate Elemental Matter abilities, only theirs only apply to their specific paraelement - sun, rain, silt or magma. At levels 21 and 25, they gain access to a "parent" elemental sphere; Magma clerics gain access to Earth and Fire, for example, and so can use their innate abilities to ignore and conjure those materials. The big difference is lore-wise. In short, elemental clerics, and paraelemental clerics of Rain, are all about fighting defilers and battling to restore Athas - but paraelemental clerics of sun, silt and magma actually benefit from Athas' ongoing destruction by defiling magic, and so are usually evil. This despite the fact that a sun cleric was actually one of the heroes in the Prism Pentad, but hey, it is a pulpy desert-themed post-apocalyptic world.

Unlike elemental clerics, who can take different minor powers as they age, all paraelemental clerics have a defined and expanded list of major powers beyond the Ignore Element and Gate Elemental Matter abilities. These abilities are as follows:

  • Silt Clerics can walk on silt at will from 9th level, and control 1 cubic foot of silt per level for rounds equal to the cleric's level from 11th level.
  • Sun Clerics gain immunity to solar dangers (they don't sunburn, can't be blinded, halve their water requirements, suffer no ill effects from sun exposure, and are immune to the spell Blistering Rays) at 3rd level, and at 4th level gain a +2 bonus to saves against spells involving sun, heat or flame, but a -2 penalty to saves vs. spells or conditions revolving around ice, cold or snow.
  • Magma Clerics gain a +2 bonus to saves vs. heat, fire and magma spells, alongside a -2 penalty to saves vs. water and ice spells, at 1st level. At 8th level, they can evaporate 10 gallons of water per level through an act of will 1/day, but it takes 1 hour per 10 gallons targeted for the evaporation to take place.
  • Rain Clerics become completely immune to storm hazards at 3rd level; they can't be struck by lightning, their health remains unaffected by the rain, and the wind doesn't bother them, though magical storms and lightning bolt spells still bother them - they do have a +2 to saves vs. rain or water-based attacks. However, when in direct sunlight, they suffer a -2 penalty to all saving throws. At 8th level, they can cast Call Lightning 1/day.

In 3rd edition, elemental clerics are simply ordinary clerics who took the appropriate elemental domain.

Arcane Elementalists[edit]

The first time an arcane elementalist appeared was during the days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition. Here, in the Elementalist first appeared as a Specialist Wizard in the "Tome of Magic" splatbook, alongside its more famous sibling, the Wild Mage.

This AD&D specialist functioned much like its kin. The four elements of AD&D - Earth, Fire, Water and Air - were each treated as a distinctive sub-schools within an Elementalist school. As such, the first thing you did was pick which sub-school you specialized in; spells classified as belonging to the "rival" sub-school (Earth/Air, Water/Fire) were your prohibited spells, but otherwise you could learn any arcane spell. That said, you paid for this versatility with greater difficulties learning spells outside of your school; whilst you had a +25% chance to learn sub-school spells and a +15% chance to learn spells from the "adjacent" sub-schools, you suffered a -25% chance when trying to learn a spell that wasn't a member of the elemental school.

Other bonuses you gained from this specialization consisted of:

  • +2 bonus to saving throws against elemental spells from your sub-school.
  • Enemies take a -2 penalty to saving throws against elemental spells you cast that belong to your sub-school.
  • You gain 1 bonus spell memorization slot per level, although these bonus spell-slots must be filled with elemental spells from your sub-school.
  • Once per day, when casting a spell from your elemental sub-school, you can overcharge it, casting it with a level boost of +1d4.
  • When creating spells, if the spell is from your elemental sub-school, treat its level as being 1 level lower to determine the difficulty of its creation (for example, a Water Elementalist trying to create an ice or water version of Fireball finds it only as hard as trying to invent a new 2nd level spell, rather than its actual 3rd level status).
  • At 15th level, you don't need to concentrate in order to maintain control over summoned elementals from your sub-school.
  • At 20th level, you no longer need to fear summoned elementals from your sub-school turning on you when you conjure them.

This specialization was later reprinted in "Domains of Dread", the first attempt at making a proper campaign setting out of Ravenloft. Here, they picked up one new unique bonus: if an elementalist provokes a Powers Check by casting a spell from their sub-school, then that check's percentage is halved (rounding down) - however, the same mechanics that allow them to use their elemental magic to shield themselves from the gaze of the Dark Powers makes them especially vulnerable to attracting their attention through other forms of magic, meaning all other spells cast by an elementalist that provoke a Dark Powers Check increase that check's percentage by half (rounding up). This means that a fire elementalist who casts a spell to perform a deed that would normally provoke a 14% Dark Powers check drops it to a 7% check if they use a fire spell and raises it to a 21% check if they use any other kind of spell.

Perhaps not the most impressive class, but certainly better designed than the crock of steaming shit that was the Arcanist.

Alternative takes on the Elementalist would appear in the Al-Qadim setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, in the form of two new kits (technically variant specialist wizards): the Elemental Mage, and the Sorcerer.

The Elemental Mage was the Zakharan equivalent of the Tome of Magic Elementalist - yes, this was kind of stupid, and they even admitted the idea had been done before in the Tome of Magic. Elemental Mages gained the following bonuses, at the cost of being completely unable to any spell that wasn't either a Universal spell or part of their chosen elemental proficiency:

  • +40% chance to learn spells belonging to your chosen elemental.
  • +2 bonus to all saving throws against attacks using your chosen element.
  • -2 damage per damage die against attacks using your chosen element.
  • +2 to all proficiency and ability checks involving your chosen element.
  • +1 damage per damage die with attacks you make that involve your chosen element.

The Zakharan Sorcerer is a variant Elemental Mage that trades potency for versatility. Their only special advantage is a +20% chance to learn elemental spells - however, they can learn spells from two elements, instead of just one.

To add to their flavor, Zakharan elementalists referred to the four elements as Sand (Earth), Wind (Air), Sea (Water) and Flame (Fire). Also, for flavor reasons, the only native wizards in Zakhara were elementalists and sha'ir, with other kinds of wizard being designated as "Ajamis"; these bastards are regarded with social fear and distrust, and can't learn new spells whilst in Zakhara, as all native magic is based on genie teachings that outsiders can't grok, although they always have the option to convert to one of the native wizard kits.

The next official D&D Elementalist appeared in Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, in the sourcebook "Heroes of the Elemental Chaos". Whilst this sourcebook provided new elemental-themed powers for many classes, as well as elementalism character themes, it also featured the Elementalist: an Essentials sub-class for the Sorcerer. Running on Essentials'... unique approach to 4e classes, the 4e Elementalist had a unique spell source (elemental magic), and also has no daily or encounter powers; they cast a range of metamagic enhanced at-will powers using their own Elemental Escalation ability. Elementalists pick a specific element and run with it, gaining a specific set of abilities depending on whether you favour earth, fire, air, water or heart.

Considering when Heroes of Elemental Chaos was released, any similarity to any characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender is almost certainly intentional. But that's OK.

However, another elementalism class had preceded the elementalist proper. In the pages of Dragon Magazine came the Pyromancy school for the Mage, a form of elementalist focused entirely on killing things with fire. Like all Mage schools, being a Pyromancer translated as a set of three class features gained at levels 1, 5 and 10, with the option to "dabble" in that school by gaining its first two features at levels 4 and 8.

  • Pyromancy Apprentice: You gain a +1 bonus to damage rolls with arcane fire attacks. This bonus increases to +2 at 11th level and +3 at 21st level. Additionally, your attacks ignore fire resistance.
  • Pyromancy Expert: You gain a +2 bonus to Bluff checks and Intimidate checks.
  • Pyromancy Master: When you use an area or close arcane fire attack power that is not already a zone, the area of the attack becomes a zone that lasts until the end of your next turn. Creatures that end their turns within the zone take fire damage equal to your Constitution modifier.
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes
Player's Handbook 1: Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard
Player's Handbook 2: Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden
Player's Handbook 3: Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker
Heroes of X: Blackguard* - Binder* - Cavalier* - Elementalist* - Hexblade* - Hunter*
Mage* - Knight* - Protector* - Scout* - Sentinel*
Skald* - Slayer* - Sha'ir* - Thief* - Vampire* - Warpriest* - Witch*
Settings Book: Artificer - Bladesinger* - Swordmage
Dragon Magazine: Assassin
Others: Paragon Path - Epic Destiny

*·: Non-AEDU variant classes

In Pathfinder[edit]

In Pathfinder, elementalists are some of the earliest wizard archetypes added to the game. Advanced Player's Guide adding all four Western Elementalist archetypes, whilst Ultimate Magic allowed Eastern Elementalists by adding Wood and Metal archetypes.

Because Pathfinder isn't as strict as its 3e basis, whilst it preserves the basic idea of Opposition Schools, wizards can still learn spells from their opposed school; they just need to give up two spell slots of the same level to prepare an opposed school spell. In "classic" elementalism, opposed schools are based on the traditional rivalry handed down from D&D: Earth vs. Air, and Water vs. Fire. If using the Wu Xing (Chinese Five Elemental) style, your opposed school is based on the cycle of overcoming; whichever elemental school "overcomes" your own is your opposed school, with Wood overcoming Earth, Earth overcoming Water, Water overcoming Fire, Fire overcoming Metal and Metal overcoming Wood. Void Elementalists choose one element from the Earth/Air/Water/Fire group counts as their opposed school, whilst Aether Elementalists designate one of ANY of the other seven elemental schools. As elementalists only have one opposed school, they make good use of the Discovery (Wizard only feat) Opposition School Research, which effectively removes one opposition school (except for the obscure bit about a small penalty when crafting magic items). What spells were in each element wasn't expanded on past the initial list for many years until most of them got an update in Planes of Power.

The Air School focuses on wind, sky, cloud and lightning to destroy their foes, and prizes mobility. Its Air Supremacy feature grants a bonus to Fly checks and the ability to cast differing flying spells (Feather Fall/Levitate/Fly) on themselves at will as they gain levels. Lightning Flash lets them produce a blast of electricity several times per day. Finally, at level 8, their Cyclone ability lets them generate aerial turbulence that really messes with the flying capabilities of others in their immediate area.

The Earth School is all about shaping the world around them and drawing strength from stone. Earth Supremacy makes them harder to move involuntarily, and ultimately lets them cast spells through stone barriers. Acid Cloud lets them create short-lived clouds of corrosive vapor. Finally, level 8's Earth Glide lets them move through stone as if it were air for a limited time each day.

The Fire School is all about burning shit. Fire Supremacy gives them Fire Resistance, which ultimately transforms into fire immunity & the ability to turn open flames into an impromptu shield. Fire Jet lets them throw blasts of flame every so often, and level 8's Dancing Flame lets them reshape existing flames and the area of effect for fire spells.

The Water School draws its power from the ocean depths. Water Supremacy gives them augmented breath-holding and swimming abilities. Cold Blast lets them unleash bitter cold as an attack several times per day. And finally, their 8th level archetype ability Wave lets them conjure a great magical tidal wave from nowhere that can douse flames and knock people off their feet.

The Metal School, being a non-classic element, is somewhat different. Symbolically, metal-as-element represents firmness, rigidity, persistence, strength, determination and electricity. As a physical element, traditionally, metal manipulating spells are actually found on the druidic spell list, and thus wizards of this school get chill/heat metal, rusting grasp, and repel metal or stone as bonus spells. Their Metal Rending feature makes their attack spells better against armored opponents, whilst Iron Skin lets them boost their own AC by a level-based amount a certain number of times per day. Finally, 8th level gives them Shrapnel Burst, which basically lets them throw razor-sharp shrapnel everywhere in a 10ft radius, slicing up anyone close by and turning that spot into temporary difficult terrain.

The Wood School is symbolically associated with flexibility, warmth, wind, generosity, cooperation and idealism. As physical plant-control is, again, traditionally the druid thing, this school gets a motherload of bonus spells: entangle, tree shape, plant growth, command plants, tree stride, liveoak, transmute metal to wood, and control plants, plus Sirocco (already a good spell) 2 levels early. Flexible Enhancement gives the wizard a level based "floating" ability score bonus, which they can apply to one of Dexterity, Constitution or Wisdom whenever they prepare spells (two at once at level 20). Splintered Spear lets them fling an enchanted spear at a target which inflicts bleeding several times per day. Finally, level 8 gives them Cooperative Defense, where you can grant allies your saving throw bonus if you are within 30 feet of each other and being targeted by the same attack.

The Void School is based on the Japanese 5 Elemental Style, which makes it analogous to the oft-forgotten Grecian "Ether/Ather/Aether" Element, as it's paired up with the more recognizable quartet of Air/Earth/Fire/Water. It is the "mental" element, in contrast to the more physical quartet, being associated with thought, space, spiritualism and insight. Void Elementalists gain control over energies that bind the earth to the heavens and the planes to their mysterious and eternal alignments, as well as the powers that stitch living beings to their spirits. This gives them several bonus spells (keen senses, twilight knife, wandering star motes, true seeing, moment of prescience) and the features Void Awareness (increased resilience against spells), Reveal Weakness (curse an enemy with lowered defense & penalized saving throws) and Aura of Prescience (emit a temporary aura that grants allies a bonus to all checks/throws/saves).

The Aether Element is based on the spiritual element from classic Greco-Roman thinking, which people tend to forget about. In the Pathfinder cosmology, Aether is a "spiritual elemental substance" that manifests itself predominantly in the form of raw motive force, hence the school's bonus spells (telekinetic projectil, spiritual weapon, spiritual ally, ethereal envelope, animate objects, ectoplasmic eruption, telekinetic storm) and its list of thematic spells. For features, it provides Aether Supremacy (bonus to Sleight of Hand, gain a level-strengthened at-will Mage Hand and, ultimately, telekinetic Sleight of Hand), Telekinetic Protection (grant yourself Damage Reduction 5/Magic for 1 round so many times per day), and Receptive Vibrations (your Dex bonus cannot be negated against attacks from any creature, visible or otherwise, within 30 feet, and add half your Wizard level as a bonus to Perception checks against surprise).

Smoke is a "Focused School" compatible with Air and Fire Elementalists.

Ice is a "Focused School" compatible with Air and Water Elementalists.

Oooze is a "Focused School" compatible with Earth and Water Elementalists.

Magma is a "Focused School" compatible with Earth and Fire Elementalists.

The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition
Core Classes: Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
Player's Guide:
Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
Class Guide:
Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
Ultimate X: Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante

In Spheres of Power, Elementalist is a mid-BAB mid-caster that functions as a full-caster when using the destruction sphere. They get various class abilities focused on the elements.

One notable archetype is the Electrokinetic. At the cost of limiting them to electric blasts (easily the best of the three primary elemental damage types, as it is far less resisted than fire and ice), they get telekinesis at full CL, albeit limited to metal objects. They also gain Electrokinetic Stunts as an option to spend feats on, and these are actually pretty nice things like treating living creatures as metal objects (removing one of the big limiters on its telekinesis), blindsense, and longer range attacks.

The Third Party Classes of Pathfinder
Psionics: Psion - Psychic Warrior - Soulknife - Wilder
Aegis - Cryptic - Dread - Marksman - Tactican - Vitalist
Path of War: Stalker - Warder - Warlord - Harbinger - Mystic - Zealot
Akashic Mysteries: Daevic - Eclipse - Guru - Nexus - Radiant - Rajah - Stormbound - Vizier - Zodiac
Spheres of Power: Armorist - Elementalist - Eliciter - Fey Adept - Hedgewitch - Incanter
Mageknight - Shifter - Soul Weaver - Symbiat - Thaumaturge - Wraith
Spheres of Might: Armiger - Blacksmith - Commander - Conscript
Savant - Scholar - Sentinel - Striker - Technician
Champions of the Spheres: Prodigy - Sage - Troubadour - Dragoon - Mountebank - Necros - Reaper - Warden - Crimson Dancer
Pact Magic: Pactmaker (formerly known as Medium)

Pathfinder 2e[edit]

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A general archetype that...

The Archetypes of Pathfinder 2nd Edition
Core Rule Book: Alchemist - Barbarian - Bard - Champion - Cleric - Druid
Fighter - Monk - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
Lost Omens Setting Guide: Crimson Assassin - Duelist - Guild Agent - Hellknight Armiger
Lion Blade - Living Monolith - Magic Warrior - Runescarred - Sentry - Student of Perfection
Lost Omens Character Guide: Hellknight - Hellknight Signifer - Spellmaster - Firebrand Braggart - Lastwall Knights - Halcyon Speaker - Knight Reclaimant - Scrollmaster - Spellmaster - Swordmaster
Lost Omens World Guide: Aldori Duelist - Lastwall Sentry - Knight Vigilant - Pathfinder Agent - Runescarred
Adventure Path Juggler Dedication - Staff Acrobat Archetype - Zephyr Guard Archetype - Mammoth Lord - Mammoth Lord - Nantambu Chime-Ringer - Crystal Keeper - Drow Shootist - Edgewatch Detective - Eldritch Reasercher - Forlklorist - Game Hunter - Ghost Eater - Ghost Hunter - Golden League Xun - Golem Grafter - Gray Gardener - Alkenstar Agent - Animal Trainer - Bellflower Tiller - Bright Lion - Butterfly Blade - Magaambyan Attendant - Juggler - Jalmeri Heavenseeker - Provocator - Red Mantis Assassin - Sixth Pillar - Turpin Rowe Lumberjack
The Slithering OOzemorph
Grand Bazaar Captivator - Spell Trickster - Wrestler
Monsters of Myth Packbound Initiate
Advanced Player's Guide Acrobat - Archaeologist - Archer - Assassin - Bastion - Beastmaster - Blessed One - Bounty Hunter - Cavalier - Celebrity - Dandy - Dual-Weapon Warrior - Duelist - Eldritch Archer - Familiar Master - Gladiator - Herbalist - Horizon Walker - Investigator - Linguist- Loremaster - Marshal -Martial Artist - Mauler - Medic - Oracle - Pirate - Poisoner - Ritualist - Scout - Scroll Trickster - Scourger -Sentinel - Shadowdancer - Snarecrafter -Swashbuckler - Talisman Dabbler - Vigilante - Viking - Weapon Improviser - Witch
Secrets of Magic: Magus - Summoner - Wellspring Mage - Cathartic Mage - Elementalist - Flexible Spellcaster - Geomancer - Shadowcaster - Soulforger - Wellspring Mage
Guns & Gears: Demolitionist - Fireworks Technician - Gunslinger - Inventor - Artillerist - Beast Gunner - Bullet Dancer - Pistol Phenom - Overwatch - Runelord - Sniping Duo - Spellshot - Sterling Dynamo - Trapsmith - Trick Driver - Unexpected Sharpshooter - Vehicle Mechanic
Book of the Dead: Exorcist - Ghoul - Ghost - Hallowed Necromancer - Lich - Mummy - Reanimator - Soul Warden - Undead Master - Undead Slayer - Vampire - Zombie

In Mage: The Awakening[edit]

In Mage: The Awakening, any mage can style themselves as an elementalist by using the Matter and Forces spheres. There are also several Elementalist-themed Legacies in the various splats.