Elemental Magic

The problem of Elemental Magic came up in the errata thread. There are definitely issues with it, one of which is that parts are unclear (the XP bonus), and one of which is that it seems to be rather weak for a Major Virtue.

For reference, here is the full text:


Major, Hermetic

You have been trained in the ability to manipulate raw elemental forms (Ignem, Auram, Terram and Aquam), and view them as a connected whole rather than four separate Arts. Whenever you successfully study one of these Arts (that is, gain at least one experience point from study), you gain an additional expe- rience point in each of the other three.

Your elemental magics are also more flex- ible than those of other magi — there is no dis- advantage in adding elemental Form requisites to any elemental spell. If an Aquam, Auram, Ignem, or Terram spell has another element as a requisite, you may ignore the requisite. You must still use the primary Art, even if the req- uisite is higher.

I am currently planning to add the current erratum to the first paragraph:

If you gain experience in more than one Form in a single season (perhaps from Adventure experience), you gain a total of one free experience point in each Form, no matter how many Forms receive experience from the season.

What else needs to be done? The first sentence of the second paragraph could be deleted, which would make the intent clear, I think. (The description of the misunderstandings suggests that they rely on that.)

Possibilities that occur to me:

  1. Knock it down to a Minor Virtue. It isn't used by many example magi (just one of the core rule sample characters), so this is not a difficult change.

  2. Boost the number of bonus XP you get. For example, "When you study one element, you get half as many XP in each of the other three elements. If you get XP in multiple elements, you get bonus XP in each element based on the highest applicable gain, not counting the bonus XP, just stop that powergaming right now." This is a lot more powerful, but it might still be OK for a Major Virtue. I bet it would make elementalists take the Virtue… You could also hand out half the gained XP to be distributed between the other three elements, but this is probably not quite powerful enough by itself.

  3. Do something with Similar Spells, so that all elements are similar to each other for the magus.

  4. Allow them to change the element of spells on the fly. This is a lot of work for new players and troupes, but might be the most interesting option.

I'm open to other suggestions, and comments on what is over- or underpowered in my suggestions. Basically, as a Major Virtue, it should be the obvious pick if you want to play an Elementalist, unless your variety of Elementalist is clearly best captured by a Major Magical Focus.

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A (reformatted) post of mine from 7 years ago that I think is still quite valid:

The virtue, as it comes, was quite awkward to me when I first read it: I have the idea of an Elementalist as someone who would have all the big elemental spells, but what I found was that the virtue's main use was that "ignore the requisites" part, which is particularly useful if you have one high elemental Art, and three low ones, so the elementalists I've created tend to be focused in just one element, and then have a lot of spells involving elemental requisites they can happily ignore. Which sounds ok for a Minor Virtue.

I'd go with splitting it in two virtues, Elementalist (Minor), which would give the "ignore requisites" part, and Elementalist (Major), which grants you options 2 and maybe three, and also grants you the minor version of the virtue.

BTW: Another thing that would need clarification would be what exactly "ignore the requisite" is, because I understand it as ignoring it only on the calculation on the Casting Total, but I recall a debate here where some people also argued that it applied on the spell's design, so an Elementalist could create spells of a lower level because they could fully ignore the extra magnitude from the requisite (if it is required by the spell, anyway).

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Option 1 is my favorite of the three. Knock it down to minor and clarify the wording.

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Please also delete the words "from study" and keep the part about getting at least one experience. The from study part generates all sorts of questions about whether adventure and exposure experience qualifies, or whether only reading a book and studying from vis does.

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Option 1 is easy. Elemental Magic currently gives a character not using house rules about as much experience as book learner does. If it is knocked down to a minor virtue, it would be mostly balanced given how the requisites part almost ever comes up in play and is counter-productive to the intent of getting 4 solid arts.

Option 2 works as well. This would compare to having chosen three Affinities, but triggered by studying the fourth element, so as a Major virtue, it would be worth it.

I'll think back on other possible options and reply more later.

Whatever you do, you should consider the other optional rule for Elemental Magic, as without any changes to it it could still apply.

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Once again, I have opinions. I really like elemental magic. I don't think it's very good.

Please do not just downgrade it to a minor virtue. There is a strong theme in the Major Hermitic virtues. It defines your characters style of magic. You are only allowed one. Turning Elemental Magic into a minor relegated it thematically with book learner and Affinity with Rego.

At minimum, it needs some sort of chargen xp boost. then it's merely a weak Major, not be a 3-point minor virtue.

I think it needs a bit more, and not necessarily xp. Either it should grant Puissant in all elemental forms, or allow you to use elemental vis interchangably. Or, similar to Focus, you should always add your lowest elemental form again to casting.
Probably not that last one, too strong. As a Major Hermetic Virtue, I should do more than xp. It should define your magic.


Something like this? The text is provided for the basis of facilitating discussion.

Your understanding of elemental magic as a whole also facilitates how you learn formulaic and ritual spells accross forms. For the purpose of similar spells bonus (see page 101), a spell is similar if it meets one of the following requirements:

  • Same effect but in a different elemental form, at a different Range, Duration, or Target. All three may differ.
  • Closely related effect but in a different elemental form, at the same Range, Duration, and Target.

Two spells have the same effect if a spell guideline is shared between two or more elemental forms at the same level, and the main difference between those guidelines are the elements used. For example, Clear Sight of the Naiad and True Sight of the Air would be considered same effect, as would Ward against Faeries of the Mountain and Ward against Faeries of Water.

Closely related effects include doing damage with an elemental spell, or using intellego magic to speak or commune with an element. In the case of closely related effects, the base guideline level does not need to match between elemental forms.

I could see something allowing spells to be used in the spirit of flexible formulaic magic, by adding a requisite when casting, to allow to change a change in form of the effect. This is in the spirit of elemental magic, and would really incentivize learning four forms.

1 - is simple, for magi fresh out of gauntlet it gives you a similar xp boost to book learner or free study. As making it minor frees up the Major Hermetic Virtue slot, could allow people to have a major focus - could make volcano magics from Hermetic Projects a lot easier, and likewise some things like undersea magic (elementalist + major focus in saltwater) or deep underground (elementalist + major focus in stone). I generally find the "not needing requisites" only really helps if you are deliberately making spells to use many elements, and the few situations where that is useful is where multiple elements meet (like lava, or undersea, or flying rock through the sky, or on a ship, or doing things with air and water deep underground)

2 - reasonably powered if people's study sources aren't overpowered - so reasonable tractatus, study in auras level 3-5. Bear in mind this will stack with the bonus from Book Learner or Free Study and with Study Bonus, so could get overpowered if people are reading amazing tractatus while overlooking a volcano, or studying vis in a regio aligned to aquam.

3 - comparing like with like for the similar spells will be hard, as fire damage for Ignem and Incantation of Lightning are a magnitude lower than burning people with CrAq hazardous liquids, and the base difficulties don't quite map - are you comparing fire with stone or with metal? Be prepared to do a big example after the Similar Spells rules to show how this works in practice.

4 - Do you mean "haha - I use pilum of acid instead of pilum of fire! Now face my pilum of gusting wind!"? A little underpowered for a major virtue but very interesting.

I personally love the concept of Elemental Magic and hope, in the future, to see similar mechanics around Life Magic (Animal, Corpus, Herbam, Mentem).

Thematically, Elementalist to me is a master of creating and controlling the raw forms of matter, almost to the detriment of other forms. Here is a dramatic, but unbalanced and not quite thought through, proposal to consider.

Elementalist - Major Hermetic Virtue

The elementalist is a master of the pure forms - Aurum, Aquam, Ignem, and Terrem but their aptitude and focus comes at a cost.

The elementalist receives:

  • Affinity in Aurum, Aquam, Ignem, and Terrem
  • A Major Magical Focus that must ONLY be applicable to Aurum, Aquam, Ignem, or Terrem (for example, Weather, Fire, Stone are valid, but Necromancy is not.)
  • When gain XP in one element through adventure, teaching, study, or practice, you get one XP in all of the other elements (maximum of one per season).
  • If an Aquam, Auram, Ignem, or Terram spell has another element as a requisite, you may ignore the requisite. You must still use the primary Art, even if the requisite is higher.

However, this extreme focus has its costs:

  • The magus receives Deficient Form in Corpus, Animal, Mentem, Herbem, and Imaginem. This does not count against the limit in Flaws and the magus may not take them again.
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We had a player playing an elementalist who was planning to ... essentially do this, to abuse how resistance works. Well, that and to mess with dimicatio I suspect.
It was a lot more effective than I'd have expected, and is one of the reasons I'd like clarification of the second part of the virtue:

How exactly does this work with similar spells? If I have resistance mastery with PoF I'll also get this bonus against similar spell. What about a spell that uses molten lead? Lava? Something else?
And if this is based on the presence/absence of requisites, how does this interact with the Elementalist?

I would vote for number 2. As an Elementalist views elements in a holistic approach having a large discrepancy in Art forms isn't a match thematically.

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Do a mixture.
Make two virtues. Option 1 make the current version minor.
For the major virtue use options 2, 3 and 4 together.

I consider the elements relatively weak. Fire is popular for the burn mages, but how many air, earth or water specialists do you see? Giving those 3 forms a bit more of a reason to be in the spotlight would be good.

Earth or Water specialists seem more common than fire mages in my experience.

Edit: not nearly as common as mentem, vim, or Creo Corpus mages of various stripes but common enough. There are so many possibilities of specialist within each technique/Form combo that you don’t see any particular one all that often except for those.

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My experience in person games;
My very first game had an Auram specialist, a Terram Verditius, a mentem specialist, and a Flambeaux Ignem specialist.
The second game had a Corpus necromancer, a social mentem Tremere, a terram Verditius, a generalist with a lot of ignem.
The third had a weather-witch and a Flambeaux Ice specialist in addition to the corpus healer and the mentem specialist, and the muto animal specialist.
Our current, barely started game has an elementalist flambeaux specialized in fire, two herbam specialists, an Intellego Bjornaer and Mentem Bjornaer.

I think people like the elementalists for in person games because they're easy to visualize and play with, flashy and adventurous. The play by post games I've seen and been in are more limited, but they tend to be designed for more long-term play and manipulation, and less for adventuring.

So I played an Au lightning specialist in my previous saga, with a Te maga and a He/Aq maga as two of the three other players. In the saga ghat I just ran, one of the three mages was Te with a sprinkle of Ig.

So from my playing experience Te and Co are the most popular arts.

There is a lot of things you can do with the elements, beyond burning your foes. Auram is weather, which makes for quite amazing effects, and gusts of winds can solve a range of practical problems, although often crudely. Terram has the obvious craft magic applications. Also elements are ubiquitous, and some elemental Intellego spells go a long way.

I like playing elemental magic, except for Water for which I have not seen any good ideas yet (someone care to contribute some, @dc444, others?), but I don't see a lot of them in the sagas I play. I see a lot of Corpus and Vim and generalists.

I totally agree with the view that a major flaw is a good idea. A minor flaw is just icing on the cake, but the epic elementalists that we like to imagine are elementalists to the core.

At the same time, I am not very fond of the virtues with an integral flaw, except when the flaw is motivated by social implications (Diedne magic, knight, priest). @LobsterFalcon 's proposal is interesting as it makes for a truly epic elementalist, but the deficiencies are crippling.

TBH I do not see any very good solutions. A good elementalist, in the sense intended by the current virtue, is going to be hard to make in any case, because you need to be good in four forms. You can make truly spectacular warlocks with a single element, but once you try to master the elements plural, you water (sorry for the pun) out your main art. Giving ½XP in every other elemental form alleviates this problem, might just be enough to make good allround elementalists, but I am not sure how it will work in practice. I think it may be too rash for an erratum to be implemented without playtesting, but I am not going to tell @David_Chart how to do his job. It has the side effect that you can use extra sources for your secondary forms to boost your primary form, which can turn out to be more important than anticipated.

The only thing I feel strongly about is the virtue being for the allround elemtalist and not for the narrow-focus specialist. It should boost the secondary elemental arts. To boost one primary art, there are the puissant/affinity virtues already.

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Perhaps to my detriment but (as you’ve seen @loke ) I generally work off concepts more than “effective uses of a particular arts” but the four concepts I’ve seen somewhat focused in Aquam that I thought were pretty interesting:
-Mercere Pirate bigamist, more of a generalist but Aquam was large in their spells and such and quite effective for piracy
-Mercere merchant with Atlantean blood, IIRC he was trying to find his way to Atlantis
-Heron Heartbeast Bjornaer in a neoplatonic Nature Lore cult (didn’t really like the Huntress) has River Lore centered on the Aude (Auram and Mentem are secondary forms)
-A criamon who had an Aquam Summoning, based on the Terram Summoning of the Terrae cult

None of these ideas were my ideas and, TBH, Aquam isn’t an art that grabs me either so I’ve never made a character of that focus myself. The elemental Forms bum me a little since I always wish there was more of the metaphorical meanings of them inherent but they are purely physical* the way that Hermetics divvy up the Forms.

* with the caveat of creating elementals or summoning a spirit of that form or warding that form.

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My suggestion for mechanics of a changed variant of the Elementalist virtue:

Whenever you study one of the Elemental forms you also get one-third (rounded up) as many xp in each of the other three Elemental forms. This effect can only happen once per season, so should you study more than one of the Elemental forms in a single season (for example through Adventure experience) you must choose which one of them will be used for the calculation.
Study includes all sources of study, including Exposure, but not including bonus xp from this virtue or from Secondary Insight or similar.
If an Aquam, Auram, Ignem, or Terram spell has another element as a requisite, you may ignore the requisite. You must still use the primary Art, even if the req- uisite is higher.
You can mix and match vis for the Elemental forms, so if you, for example, need Ignem vis for something you can use any of Ignem, Aquam, Auram, or Terram vis in any combination.

Changes from existing virtue is more xp, and letting you interchange vis for the forms.
This should make the virtue more attractive, but hopefully without making it overpowered.
(I haven't playtested this version, but I suspect that it is still slightly on the weak side for a Major virtue, though a lot better than before.)