New 3PP Campaign Setting Questions: Five Elements


Product Discussion


Hello! I’m developing a new Pathfinder-compatible campaign setting for third party publishing, and I’m eager to gather feedback and suggestions about some of the world’s foundational elements. I don’t want to reveal too much all at once, so I’m focusing these thread topics on specific, mechanical issues – but I’m happy to discuss other aspects of the setting, if they seem relevant to the discussions.

I’m interested in expanding upon the five-element system outlined in Ultimate Magic. In essence, this campaign world will be Godforged from five essential materials – Fire, Metal, Wood, Earth, and Water – with a sixth material (called Source) combining the five elements into one. Unlike the four-element system, which uses direct oppositions, the five-element system is designed to function as a cycle, with each element dominating the next one in the chain.

Some questions I’d love feedback on:

1) If the five elements were associated with Pathfinder’s energy types, which arrangement would make the most sense?

2) I plan to associate a specific element with each race in the campaign world. For example, dwarves might be earth-dominant, orcs fire-dominant, and so forth. What sorts of attributes (bonuses or weaknesses) do you think could arise from this system?

3) Assuming all spellcasters are aligned with a specific element, they might only be able to deal one specific type of energy damage (like sorcerers with the elemental bloodline). Is it too limiting to impose this system upon ALL casters? What mechanical provisions might help to make this system balanced and workable?

I hope these questions make sense; if not, I’m happy to elaborate upon them. Thanks in advance for your input!


"Source" will, at least in my group, result in endless Highlander: The Source-references and face-palming. Not sure if I'm alone with it, but personally, I'd rename that one.

1) Fire-> Fire, Earth -> Acid, Water -> Cold, Metal -> Electricity, Wood ->...sonic? Not fitting, but there's not another damage type on par with these apart from sonic. Force is too strong when compared to the others. If you go for the Wu Xing, have you checked out Heroes of teh JAde Oath by Rite Publishing?

2) Elemental weaknesses can be boring. We've seen the "fire is good versus ice"-angle OFTEN by now. If you go that route, please don't make wood a boring con-bonus etc.

3) Too limiting. And boring. And redundant. Elemental specialists have their place - but honestly, they're no selling point. At least for me. More so if items and low level spells can make you immunity versus the elemental mage-one-trick-ponies.


A campaign setting is no small undertaking. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row before jumping on a project that big :-)


Just an interesting twist I thought about for an elemental based world.

Old ways= Wood, air, fire, earth, water.

New ways= Metal, air, fire, earth, water.

Then I seperated a few casters out to represent certain aspects. Druid would be a good example of Wood and being part of the old ways. While a battle oracle or metal oracle would represent a caster of the new ways.

So then fill in the blanks for the basic elements. You could have an enternal struggle of the people and lands trying to stick with the old ways or push forward to the new ways of things to come. Alchemists and gunslingers could be the new ways of things while monks and druids were the ways of old.

Just an different way to look at things.


Endzeitgeist wrote:
"Source" will, at least in my group, result in endless Highlander: The Source-references and face-palming. Not sure if I'm alone with it, but personally, I'd rename that one.

Thanks for your feedback, Endzeitgeist. It saddens me a bit that such a common word as "Source" can be made bankrupt by a direct-to-DVD sequel. But then, if the alternative is "Force," I guess another franchise has already scooped that. Any other suggestions?

Endzeitgeist wrote:
1) Fire-> Fire, Earth -> Acid, Water -> Cold, Metal -> Electricity, Wood ->...sonic? Not fitting, but there's not another damage type on par with these apart from sonic. Force is too strong when compared to the others. If you go for the Wu Xing, have you checked out Heroes of teh JAde Oath by Rite Publishing?

That's the lineup I figured. Wood/sonic does feel like a stretch, but maybe it's some sort of organic, pulse-of-life, ki-style energy?

Endzeitgeist wrote:
2) Elemental weaknesses can be boring. We've seen the "fire is good versus ice"-angle OFTEN by now. If you go that route, please don't make wood a boring con-bonus etc.

Perhaps, but in the Wu Xing, it is water/cold energy which overcomes fire. When I playtested this campaign setting, it took my players a while to get used to the new system of strengths and weaknesses, but I think they found it a refreshing change from the (Western) norm.

Endzeitgeist wrote:
3) Too limiting. And boring. And redundant. Elemental specialists have their place - but honestly, they're no selling point. At least for me. More so if items and low level spells can make you immunity versus the elemental mage-one-trick-ponies.

Maybe it's just a matter of working an elemental component into the other schools and bloodlines. Any ideas how I might go about making elemental magic more appealing?


Hmmm...

"Source" hearkens to the Highlander-frnachise, "Void" is already L5R and "Force" is already Star Wars - and a damage-type. Perhpas go for something alternate. From your pitch I could glean that you're more interested in a Wu Xing-type elemental model that is in flux and less static - so why not make that the theme of the 5th element? Perhaps via "Stream" or "Flow" - though the latter has other connotations in HipHop.

If you redefine wood as living and sonic as a pulse of life/decay (would fit well with the theme of flux), that might work - though personally, I'd reskin the damage - perhaps by making it positive/negative energy, while still keeping the damage-penalty sonic usually incurs to compensate the added flexibility?

Reagrding elementals versus another: Fair enough, I just wnated to give an example. I'm aware of the Wu Xing and yes, it indeed is a change of pace, but one that could be developed further:

The problem in my opinion with elemental specialists (and aligning elements to races) is that flexibility is lost and builds tend to become one-trick ponies. Now for something completely different that WOULD grab my attention, here's an idea: If the elements are in flux, would it be possible for elemental casters to switch elements? For example fire specialists, via a mechanic, to change their focus?

To give you an example: Fire would be strong versus metal, but the opponent is using water. Instead of throwing futile spells at the foe, the fire specialist opt to "follow the stream" towards earth, which overcomes water. The water-specialist in the meanwhile, has anticipated this move and switched to wood, which overcomes earth... If you can find a way to make this work, it would be awesome - magical combat with actual strategy, standoffs - all possible while fitting seamlessly with the theme of flux. When used for the races, you could add some cool twists - perhaps fire-aligned races could change into others when immersed into other elements or take on characteristics of other races?

The cultural repercussions could be rather interesting and the same holds true for the options of characters - what if fire-aligned sorceror XYZ has a wood-themed bloodline that slowly changes him away from his/her race?

At least to my knowledge THAT hasn't been done and would make this setting rather interesting and potentially plot-hook rich.

Just my 2 cents, of course!


That's a very intriguing idea, Endzeitgeist.

My hope is that whatever changes I make to the magic system could function as an optional template -- something that can be laid overtop of existing PF rules, but removed altogether if the GM prefers to use these campaign materials in a different context.

The elemental flux you describe would fit the bill; races get assigned a starting element, but can then expend points or make checks to alter that element, one stage at a time. Or maybe a spellcaster who needs to throw a lightningball (ie. fireball, but with the damage type shifted to the next element) casts burns a higher spell slot?

It is also a way to distinguish heroes in this world, since the average members of most races won't be able to change their element, even if they could cast spells.

Thanks again for the feedback! I'll be posting some more questions soon; I hope you'll stop by!


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

What about using aether as the "5th element"?


Larcifer wrote:
What about using aether as the "5th element"?

Definitely worth considering. It's a variation of "air," but could be associated with organic energy and/or sonic damage. Plus any word starting with "ae" looks great in a fantasy context!

What do you think about Endzeitgeist's suggestion of elements in flux? Imagine that you have a fire-based spellcaster, and you're fighting an ice elemental (cold damage -- your weakness). You could alter your damage type to earth/acid (cold's weakness), which is three steps along the cycle past fire. What sort of cost do you think would be reasonable?


If you don't provide options for elements in flux I'd be disappointed. The elemental trope is completely tired to me - even the Chinese version. I'd be interested in something that could reinvigorate it...


Okay, so I'm more or less taking over this thread from Gonturan. I'm one of the other designers on this project. We wanted to fill you on what we'd come up with.

The short version is that you have a natural elemental affinity based on race, and if you're a spellcaster (a) all energy-based spells come out as a random energy type, and (b) you are vulnerable to the element that comes just before yours in the sequence.

However, when you cast a spell, you can roll a spellcraft check (swift action; DC 10) to push your element one step forward on the "wheel" (the sequence of elements). For every five points by which you beat the DC, you can push your spell another step on the wheel, which means that you need a DC 30 to have all five elements, which will take a while to reliably roll (we checked the percentages).

The upshot of all of this is that you can, once you get to mid-level, create something like an Acid Ball or a Sonic Bolt either because your target is vulnerable to one of those elements, or because it's just friggin' cool.

Whaddayathink?


I like the chance to change elements - I don't like randomizing the starting-element. I also am not sold on using Spellcraft - much less so with a fixed DC. An issue of tying any mechanic that is not a skill-check to a skill would be the discrepancy in effectiveness - with a d20 thrown in the mix, there are is a lot of variation. And then there's the issue of skills being EASILY buffed with significant bonuses. Finally, spellcraft is usually used to identify spells - this use of the skill further emphasizes its importance. Not sold, sorry.

Honestly, I'd instead tie elemental flux to concentration: Can't be easily improved/power-gamed and you still have a d20 in the mix. But please use a scaling calculation/variety of DCs -as soon as auto-wins become too easy, rolling becomes a chore.

Just my 2 cents.

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

Endzeitgeist wrote:
1) Fire-> Fire, Earth -> Acid, Water -> Cold, Metal -> Electricity, Wood ->...sonic?

Truth be told, Wood -> acid always made more sense to me than earth -> acid. Earth -> force makes sense IMO. Since getting hit by a big boulder would be one big force. Having said that, EZG is correct. The default assumptions of the game makes force is too powerful. But if you wanted to even it up with new spells, then it would be on par.

Of course, if you dropped earth and went with air-> sonic, that would make more sense.


Endzeitgeist wrote:
I like the chance to change elements - I don't like randomizing the starting-element.

So you'd rather start with a set element but have the ability to change it, yes? Do you mind if I ask why randomizing doesn't appeal?

Quote:
I also am not sold on using Spellcraft - much less so with a fixed DC. An issue of tying any mechanic that is not a skill-check to a skill would be the discrepancy in effectiveness - with a d20 thrown in the mix, there are is a lot of variation.

I don't follow. Variation is the whole point of throwing a die. Are you saying you'd rather just have the ability to push the effect or not?

Quote:
Honestly, I'd instead tie elemental flux to concentration: Can't be easily improved/power-gamed and you still have a d20 in the mix.

I'm not sure I follow how that particular skill is any harder to improve. You throw ranks at it and/or buff the stat, same as Spellcraft. I can see what you mean about that skill making more sense, though--the process would require actual concentration--and it certainly avoids the problem of double-buffing; a wizard will already have a high Int, so shifting to Con would knock down the average score (although Con for concentration has always struck me as really ham-handed designer fiat, but that's a whole other conversation).

Quote:
But please use a scaling calculation/variety of DCs -as soon as auto-wins become too easy, rolling becomes a chore.

So what would you suggest, the DC rises with the level of spell?


Dale McCoy Jr wrote:
Of course, if you dropped earth and went with air-> sonic, that would make more sense.

That's actually the conclusion we came to: air/sonic. It didn't match the real-world theology that the design is based on, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense in game terms.


In Chinese/Japanese folklore, Wood = Electricity (since lightning hits trees = comes out from trees). Metal = Sonic could be a good idea too for me.


@The Real onion:

Why not Spellcraft but Concentration for flux? Because concentration is NOT A SKILL in PFRPG. It was in 3.X, but no longer is - no more throwing ranks at it and it is MUCH HARDER to improve.

Don't get me wrong here, the following is not intended as an attack...but if you're designing an alternate magic system, including elemental flux etc....please check and read the basic system on how spellcasting works in PFRPG. Not knowing about concentration being handled differently in PFRPG does not bode well.

Regarding the randomization of starting elements - it's a preference, but could result in weird situations where e.g. starting element in a volcano is water etc. Just my 2 cents, of course.


Thanks for your continued input, folks!

In Orion's defense: He's got lots of RPG design experience under his belt, but I'm the PFRPG expert on the team. Right now, he's helping to solicit feedback while I'm lurking in the background, prepping a beta-test adventure.

Endzeitgeist's suggestion re: Concentration makes logical sense. I've never been fond of the rules governing concentration checks in PF, but I agree it's more appropriate for "pushing" elements during spellcasting.

And yeah, randomization is part of the flavor of the campaign setting. The elements are unstable in the world itself, so it's not inconceivable to get, say, a waterspout in a volcano.

To the Players of the World: does the idea of random and/or customizable damage types appeal to you?


Also, I think we've settled on the following "wheel" of elements:

Fire (fire) ->
Metal (electricity) ->
Earth (acid) ->
Aether (sonic) ->
Water (cold) ->
(and back to fire)

We chose "aether" instead of "air" to avoid confusion, since the element of air is normally associated with electrical damage in PFRPG.

I realize there are a hundred other permutations here, but do these pairings at least make sense?


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Whoops! Rookie mistake about Concentration. My bad.

Gonturan is right; I've done a lot of designing, but I'm not yet a PF expert, which is why I really appreciate you pointing it out! Very helpful.


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