What is Elemental Magic? - The Art of World Building
Mar 082021

Using the elements is one way to organize our magic. In addition to the four elements of water, air, earth, and fire, people sometimes decide that spirit is a fifth. We can also invent other elements, especially on non-Earth like worlds. Whatever we decide, this is a convenient way to divide spells because many spells will only use a given element. If we want our wizard to be able to do something with fire but he is a water wizard, this restriction is built in. We can also have rare individuals who are able to do one or all of them. But we don’t need to decide that people can only do one element. Perhaps everyone can do all four but there’s a “high” and “low” magic that distinguishes them. Or some are just better suited to one and, while they can do all, struggle with some.

We can decide that practitioners need the element to manipulate and cannot conjure it from “thin air.” For example, in a desert, a water wizard would have nothing to work with. Or we can decide they’re able to sense and draw it from wherever it is within a given range; while there may appear to be no water in a desert, it’s still there somewhere. Water and fire are the only two that might be unavailable, generally, but even water is usually around. It’s fire that’s less naturally occurring, putting such wizards at a disadvantage.

ElementPossible Uses
AirThe ability to fly, manipulate weather, suffocate others, breathe underwater, cause fog
FireStarting/extinguishing fires, fireball spells, wall of flames
EarthCausing earthquakes/sinkholes, softening or hardening of earth (to create mud or stone), creating or commanding stone golems
WaterDehydrating someone, hydrating them, creating drinking water, parting the sea, walking on water, causing rain, and possibly controlling sea life
SpiritControl, communicate, or summon/banish ghosts


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