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Elementals have been part of D&D since its very beginnings. Their basic definition has remained the same throughout: they’re living aglomerations of elemental matter who often take roughly humanoid forms and have powers related to their constituent element. They often get summoned by wizards to fight their enemies, or can be found either as bound guards or as fantasy wildlife.
In earlier editions, you had your four classic elemental planes: Fire, Air, Water, Earth. They were pretty much composed entirely of their naming element and were basically places to summon elementals from, since nothing else could live there. AD&D and its Great Wheel cosmology added a bunch of “quasi-“ and “para-“ elemental planes that served as sources of more exotic elementals. You know how it goes: water and fire equals steam, so there’s a steam plane that’s home to steam elementals, and so on.
Fourth Edition instead has the Elemental Chaos, which we already looked at when talking about demons. It contains all elements, whether they’re the classic four or some of the other mixes. It’s also a lot more interesting in that it’s possible for PC adventurers to go there and have adventures in fantastic and varied landscapes without much in the way of magical life support. It has entire cities and civilizations of creatures with the Elemental origin.
And it also has small-e elementals! Their basic nature remains the same, and they make up much of the “wildlife” of the Elemental Chaos, but much like their new home plane they can be made up of multiple elements. In fact, 4e went so hard for these amalgam beings that traditionalist players began to complain that they never saw plain old single-substance elementals any more. The classics would finally appear in the Monster Vault.
Elementals don’t necessarily band together by element type. Many of them follow orders from more powerful beings from the Elemental Chaos such as efreets and titans, and will form up in whatever way their orders require. “Wild” elementals do like to stick together with others who share one or more of their elements though.
Let’s look first at the Monster Manual elementals, then at the Monster Vault ones.
Monster Manual Elementals
The MM gives us four elementals, all two-element and with levels spanning the paragon and early epic tier. As usual, the reasoning for these levels is that the Elemental Chaos is a place you explore when you hit paragon tier, and so these creatures are a sample of what might oppose you once you’re there. All of them are Large Elemental Magical Beasts, with keywords corresponding to their constituent elements. They have Int scores between 6 and 8, so they’re not mindless but not geniuses either.
Made of Air and Fire, the firelasher looks like a fire whirlwind with long, thin tentacles for arms. It’s a Level 11 Skirmisher with 108 HP, immune to disease and poison, and with fire resistance 25. It flies with speed 8 (hover).
Its basic melee attack is the titular fire lash (Melee 2 vs. Reflex, fire damage). It also has a special attack named Wildfire Cyclone (Close Burst 2 vs. Reflex, recharge 5-6). This does fire damage on a hit, in addition to pushing the targets and knocking them prone. On a miss, it still does half damage. And it can also make a Whirlwind Dash, which allows it to fly twice its speed without provoking opportunity attacks and deal 10 automatic fire damage against anyone whose squares they fly through. This recharges on a 6 and will likely be used whenever available.
This one pairs very well with other creatures that are resistant to fire, since it won’t need to worry about hurting them with its Whirlwind Dash.
Sitting at the other end of Paragon Tier, this Earth and Fire beast is a Level 18 Soldier with 170 HP. It’s immune to disease, petrification and poison, and has Resist 25 fire. It runs at speed 8.
This one really feels like it should be a Brute, because it has two very simple attacks: the Fist of Flame (basic, Melee 2 vs. Reflex, fire damage) and a chucked Brimstone Rock (Ranged 10/20 vs. AC, physical and fire damage). No marks, no additional riders.
A cyclone full of rocks! It’s a Level 23 Controller with 219 HP. It’s immune to disease, petrification and poison, and flies with speed 8 (hover).
The ravager’s basic attack is a simple Slam (Melee 2 vs. Fortitude, physical damage). It can also trap a victim in a Wind Devil (Ranged 5 vs. Fortitude). This does some damage on a hit and immobilized the victim for a turn. It can also be sustained with a minor action, causing the victim to remain immobilized for another turn and take some automatic damage.
The ravager can also surround itself with a Whirlwind (Close Burst 1 vs. Fortitude) which does damage and pushes targets 2 squares on a hit. And finally it can use a Buffeting Blast (Close Blast 3 vs. Fortitude, recharge 5-6) which does damage and stuns for a turn if it hits.
One of your PCs will remain immobilized for the duration of the combat unless they can stop the ravager from spending that minor action every round. Immobilized PCs are of course prime targets for the Buffeting Blast.
To close it out we have a living storm made of Air and Water. It’s Level 26 Elite Artillery with 382 HP, and Huge instead of Large. Immune to disease and poison, it also has Resist 30 to lightning and thunder and a fly speed of 10 (hover).
This elemental has two basic attacks, a Reach 3 Lightning Arc and a Range 10 Lightning Bolt, both of which target Reflex and do lightning damage. It can also emit Thunderclaps (Close Burst 2 vs. Fortitude) that cause thunder damage.
When cornered, it can respond by generating a Charged Mist in a Close Burst 3, which hits automatically for some lightning damage and turns the creature insubstantial for a turn. Insubstantial creatures can still be hit by attacks, but they halve all damage they take (including ongoing damage).
Using Charged Mist also charges up the Lightning Storm power (Area Burst 3 Within 20 vs. Reflex), which does a generous amount of thunder and lightning damage, half on a miss.
Monster Vault Elementals
The Monster Vault tries to address some long-standing criticism from those traditionalists I mentioned at the start of this post: that the good old single-element quartet was nowhere to be seen, and that there were few elementals suitable for low-level adventurers.
It presents us with four entries, the Lesser Elementals of Air, Earth, Fire and Water. They’re all level 1 or 2, and Small in size. Presumably there’s a 3.x-like progression of increasingly powerful traditional elementals, but those are left as an exercise for the reader.
Lesser Air Elemental
This Level 1 Lurker has 23 HP, flies with speed 6 (hover), and has Vulnerable 5 fire for some reason. It has a passive trait named Phantom on the Wind, which makes it automatically turn invisible whenever it starts its turn without an enemy adjacent to it. This lasts for a turn or until the elemental makes an attack.
Its basic attack is a relatively weak slam. Its main trick is the Grasp of Storms (Melee 1 vs. Reflex), which can only target creatures that can’t see the air elemental. A hit does more damage than the slam and grabs the target (escape DC 12). Grabbed targets take 5 ongoing damage and absorb half the damage of any attack directed against the monster while the grab lasts. Only one victim at a time can be grabbed.
A whole pack of these striking from ambush would be Fun (TM), particularly if they manage to grab multiple PCs. More powerful versions, in addition to being bigger and having a higher level, could probably turn Grasp of Storms into a close burst and be able to maintain more grabs at once.
Lesser Earth Elemental
This Level 2 Soldier has 42 HP. It walks and burrows at speed 5, and has Tremorsense 5, allowing to sense anyone in that radius as long as they’re in contact with the ground or a wall.
Its Earth Glide trait allows it to phase through earth and rock at will, and its Brittle Skin trait means it takes a -2 to its defenses for a turn if it takes any thunder damage.
Its only attack is a slam, which does damage as usual and prevents hit targets from shifting for a turn. There’s also the Overwhelming Stone ability, which triggers when a nearby enemy hits one of the elemental’s allies with a melee attack. The elemental automatically knocks the attacker prone! This recharges once the elemental is first bloodied.
More powerful versions can probably use Overwhelming Stone more often, and likely turn it into an attack that can do damage.
Lesser Fire Elemental
A Level 1 Skirmisher with 27 HP, the lesser file elemental runs at speed 8 and flies at speed 4 (clumsy). Its passive traits mean it cannot shift for a turn if it takes cold damage, and causes 3 damage to anyone who misses it with a melee attack.
Its slam attack targets Reflex is remarkable for not doing any immediate damage - it only does ongoing fire damage (save ends). Lesser fire elementals can also shift as a minor action instead of a move one.
More powerful versions should likely add immediate fire damage to their melee attacks, and more damage on missed attacks.
Lesser Water Elemental
A Level 1 Controller with 29 HP, the lesser water elemental walks and swims with speed 6. It is of course Aquatic, and taking cold damage causes it to take 5 extra damage from the next attack that hits it.
Its slam does relatively little immediate damage, but also does ongoing 5 damage. I guess it fills the target’s lungs with water. It also has an encounter power called Whelm (Close Blast 3 vs. Fortidude, affects only enemies). On a hit this does damage, pushes the target 2 squares and knocks it prone.
As a minor action, the elemental can slide each creature taking ongoing damage from its slam by 1 square as it uses the water in their lungs to push them around.
More powerful versions likely can use Whelm more often and perhaps have it cause ongoing damage as well.
Sample Encounters and Final Impressions
The MM has two encounters:
Level 11: A firelasher and a bunch of yuan-ti cultists, placing the elemental as summoned muscle.
Level 18: A rockfire dreadnaught, 2 fire giants, and a mind flayer mastermind. I guess ol’ squidface managed to snag himself some beefy thralls.
As for the MV lessers, I guess it’s actually possible to fight all four of them at once, as they don’t actually get in each other’s way! I’d likely add a second air elemental to make it a proper five-monster band. You can also add them to any band of low-level opponents that include a spellcaster who could plausibly summon them.