Monday, December 19, 2016

Building the Bestiary #9: Elementals

(I will be out of town visiting family most of Christmas week, so I will be posting two columns this week instead. Here's the first one. Expect the other in a day or two.)
Rock Raiders monsters (left, center) and Ultimate Flama (Nexo Knights, right)
Elementals are most commonly encountered as the servants of a conjurer or in areas that have a connection to the elemental planes. These creatures are essentially spirits embodied within a mass of their own element--air, earth, fire, or water. In earlier editions of D&D, elementals of a given type all shared the same approximate shape, but in Pathfinder, their forms are not rigidly set. Elementals can appear in a variety of shapes, but share the same statistics within their element and size category.

The classic form for air elementals is a vortex of wind or smoke, but they also often appear in bird-like forms or as misty humanoids.

Earth elementals often appear as crude humanoids made of rock, soil, or crystal, but can also appear as terrestrial animals made out of those materials.

Fire elementals can be large upright flames or serpentine forms made of smoke and flame. Some prefer shapes that resemble humans, fire giants, or demons.

Water elementals typically adopt wave-like forms, sometimes with smaller waves as limbs, though some take the form of aquatic creatures made out of water.

In addition, elementals of mixed origins also exist: ice, lightning, magma, and mud. This column, however, will be focusing on the four basic types above.


"NRG" Zane, Cole, Kai, and Jay (Ninjago)
There are a number of minifigures available that can be used to represent mostly humanoid elementals:

  • Castle: Ghosts can serve as air elementals. 
  • Elves: These elemental-themed elves are suitable for the "planetouched" or "geniekin" races (ifrits, sylphs, etc.).
  • Legends of Chima: Phoenixes and other flame-empowered heroes make good fire elementals.
  • Minifigures: These collectible characters include two Genies (Series 6 and 12). The Gargoyle (Series 14) makes an excellent mephit or (minus wings) Small earth elemental. 
  • Nexo Knights: The lava-themed villains (Flama in particular) make good fire and magma elementals. 
  • Ninjago: The four main characters are perfectly color-coded to the four elements. (Jay is technically electricity and Zane ice, but their blue and white costumes work nicely for water and air, respectively--and Jay's thundercloud insignia looks a lot like an octopus.) I usually keep their "NRG" versions' minifigures, minus their ninja hoods, on hand as my default for Medium elementals.
  • Rock Raiders: This old theme included a number of monsters that make wonderful earth elementals, particularly the "big figure" Rock Monster.
  • Star Wars: Blue- and green-skinned characters (Aayla Secura, Cad Bane, Oola) can be used as water elementals or undines. 
  • Superheroes: Some characters (like Electro) have elemental powers, making them obvious choices for elementals of the matching type.

In addition, any statue minifigure can be used as an earth elemental, and any minifigure that fits an element's color scheme--especially if the whole character is one color, like a ninja--can be pressed into service as that elemental type.

Brick-Built Elementals

Because elementals have mutable forms, and because they rarely have well-defined facial features, a brick-built model does not necessarily need a great amount of detail. In fact, the model's blockiness can help emphasize the fact that the elemental spirit is only temporarily inhabiting this crude form. In a pinch, a rough pile of bricks of an appropriate color and size will do just fine. I typically use white or light gray bricks for air elementals, red or orange for fire, brown or gray for earth, and blue for water. (See "Building the Bestiary #3: Giants" about size categories.)

The key to building an effective model is capturing the elemental's silhouette or motif: the wave of a water elemental, the flames of an fire elemental, the lumbering bulk of an earth elemental. For Medium elementals, a few bricks to show its size, and to suggest eyes and limbs, is usually enough. Sloped bricks are good for shaping waves or flames, or for suggesting that the figure is arising from a pool of its element.

Earth and water elementals are the easiest to build, as their forms are usually crude and chunky.

For an air elemental, use round pieces of differing diameters to suggest the form of a vortex or funnel cloud. 1x3 or 1x4 bricks can be used to build a cylinder, as shown below. For a larger whirlwind, use larger bricks to build a broader cylinder. The hexagonal model below is built solely with 1x2 and 2x4 bricks, which are among the most common sizes.


A very simple fire elemental can be built by mounting a flame brick on an appropriately-sized base. A standard torch-flame makes a good Small elemental, while larger flames can be used for Medium and Large elementals. A blue torch-flame can also be used for a Small water or air elemental.

 If you have enough transparent bricks of appropriate colors, you can build very striking air (clear or smoke), fire (red or orange) or water (blue) elementals. This is a good way to make us of large cockpit pieces, as shown in this column by Lego Game Master.

A Huge magma elemental,
from the "Gorilla Island" adventure
in my Freeport campaign
The Bionicle and Hero Factory themes are good sources of parts for building larger elementals. Some of the smaller sets can be used as-is, while others can be pared down to an appropriate size. (The Huge magma elemental shown at right was built using parts from a couple of Hero Factory sets.)

Mixels are also a good source for unusual elemental models. Some sets already have an elemental theme (Series 1 and 2 included fire, earth, electric, and frost "tribes"), and others provide appropriate palettes for other types.

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects

1 comment:

  1. Lego recently released the 70904 Clayface Splat Attack which makes for a great earth/mud elemental. Very good set for this since there are very few extraneous pieces.