Theory of Elements
'...the experiment performed last year by Michelson and Morley, in which the movement of the Earth with respect to the Ether was successfully measured, has only compounded the problem by adding yet another member to the list of so-called 'fundamental' elements. The seemingly unending proliferation of this 'element zoo' is one of the most pressing questions in natural philosphy and thaumatics...'
'As is well known to any educated person with even the barest knowledge of the classics, the ancient Atavines and Variscans believed that the world was made up of four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Some philosophers also postulated the existence of a fifth element, Spirit, but its existence remained tenuous and controversial.
With the renewed interest in natural philosophy occasioned by the so-called Age of Reawakening, it became apparent that other substances, including Glass, Mist and Sand could be considered as elements. Whether or not these new elements were as fundamental as Earth, Air, Fire and Water was the cause of much debate throughout most of the eighteenth century; however, the discovery in 1783 of the Primordial Slime elementals in the caverns of the Mappel Deilora, followed shortly after by our encounters with the Sand Shamans of the Mareisch tribes of Kaznaristan, seemed to establish these new substances as fundamental elements beyond all reasonable doubt.
There the matter rested; however, during the first half of this century, the number of fundamental elements has multiplied disturbingly. Lightning, Mud and Phlogiston have all been determined to be elements, as have the newly discovered substances of Caloric and Vital Essence. The experiment performed last year by Michelson and Morley, in which the movement of the Earth with respect to the Ether was successfully measured, has only compounded the problem by adding yet another member to the list of so-called 'fundamental' elements. The seemingly unending proliferation of this 'element zoo' is one of the most pressing questions in natural philosphy and thaumatics, for it is now the considered opinion of the majority of experts in the field that any theory in which the universe requires so many fundamental elements is deeply unsatisfactory.
My colleagues and I would, therefore, like to propose a new theory of the elements, though in some ways it could be said that we are merely reformulating the oldest theories of all. Through a number of experiments involving combining the quintessence of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, we have succeeded in creating a number of the other elements; specifically, Glass, Caloric and Slime, or Primordial Slime as it is perhaps more commonly known. Clearly, these latter three, despite their appearance, cannot be truly fundamental. We have thus theorised that a four level heirarchy of elements exists.
Firstly, there are the four primary elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These are the only elements that can be considered truly fundamental.
Secondly, there are the six secondary elements, each formed by the fusion, in equal parts, of the quintessence of two primary elements. These are Sand, from the fusion of Earth and Air, Mud (Earth and Water), Glass (Earth and Fire), Primordial Slime (Fire and Water), Lightning (Fire and Air) and Mist (Air and Water.
Thirdly come the four tertiary elements, the great fluids that permeate all things. These are each formed by the fusion, in equal parts, of the quintessence of three primary elements. They are Caloric (Earth, Water, Fire), Ether (Air, Water, Fire), Phlogiston (Fire, Earth, Air) and Vital Essence or Vitality (Water, Earth, Air).
Finally, the combination of all four of the primary elements gives us the single quarternary element, Spirit.'
From The Annals of the Imperial Society of Natural Philosophy and Thaumatics, 1878. 'A New Elemental Theory', by R.A. Blenkinsop, G. Wainwright and L.L.K. Janovsky'
I view this system as being in place in quite a modern, scientific setting. (Note that by 'modern' I mean 18th-19th century Europe, not current day). This would be a world which knows of gravity and the printing press, where natural philosophers are just beginning to explore the strange phenomena or electricity, of geology, of evolution, of magnetism and so on. Magic also falls within their area of enquiry: whilst wizards have begun casting spells for centuries (just as seafarers had been using compasses), it is now that the mechanisms of how magic works and functions, how it relates to the natural world, is being studied and teased out. Magic is just one more force - mysterious, certainly, but no more so than magnetism.
The fact that the secondary and tertiary elements appear to be 'fundamental' is significant. Not only will you get Mist Elementals and so forth, it is crucial to the performance of magic. A mage (for example, in more 'savage' parts of the world) could learn how to perform, for example, Sand magic, and become devastatingly powerful at such; however, without a true understanding of the heirarchy of elements he would be unable to transfer this knowledge to manipulate other elements. Each element must be learnd from scratch. On the other hand, a 'classically trained' wizard will learn how to manipulate the four primary elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water - and how to combine them: he than then manipulate all the elements with only a little more knowledge. Whilst initially slower, this approach is ultimately far more powerful. In addition, the knowledge of how to combine elements could perhaps make elements that were formerly difficult to manipulate, for example Glass, far more pliable and easier to work with.
Brief Mechanistic Suggestion
I haven't really thought out mechanics for such a system, but one thing that immediately springs to mind is that a classically trained mage could have four innate stats, one for Fire, Earth, Air and Water and could also learn the skill of how to combine them. Thus to cast a Mud spell would depend on his Earth and Water stats and his combining skill. A non-classically trained mage would have to learn each element separately.
What Does Each Element Do?
These are merely suggestions as to what areas of magic might fall under the domain of each element.
Fire, Earth, Air and Water are all fairly self-explanatory.
Mist: Concealment, Silence, Cloaking, Stealth.
Slime: Corrosion, Decay, Rot, Disease
Sand: Desert, Sandstorm, Erosion, Thirst
Glass:: Beauty, Illusion, Imagery, Fragility, Reflection
Lightning: Storms, Lightning, Electricity, Shocks, Speed.
Mud: Weather, Strengthening, Practical uses, Engineering.
Vitality: Healing, Life, Shape-Changing
Phlogiston: Burning, Quenching, Forging, Alloying, Destruction, Chemistry
Ether: Scrying, Farseeing, Spirit Travelling, Dreams.
Caloric: Heat, Emotions, Energy,
Spirit: The highest magics. The Mind, Prophecy, Oaths, The Soul.
This system was inspired by a number of things. One is the proliferation of chemical elements in the 17th-19th centuries, followed by Mendeleev's creation of the periodic table which rationalised them and the discovery of protons, neutrons and electrons which made clear that atoms were not fundamental. Another is the 'particle zoo' (kaons, pions, etc.) of subatomic particles which multiplied alarming in the latter half of the 20th century. This has been resolved by the quark model, which shows that they are all made out of 6 quarks (and 6 antiquarks).
The Michelson-Morley experiment (1887) referred to in the summary was a genuine experiment; however, in our world it was unsuccesful in detecting any movement of the Earth relative to the ether and was thus arguable the key experiment in disproving ether theory. Clearly, the world described here is different (but then it has magic, so why not ether). Similary, caloric, phlogiston and vital essence are all fictitious substances that were once central to mainstream scientific thinking but have since been shown to be incorrect.
I have made this a scroll so people can add ideas as to the nature of the elements; for example, a fleshing out of a type of elemental magic (e.g. Mist Magic) or a description of an elemental (for example a Sand, Slime or even a Caloric elemental).
With all due respect to my esteemed colleagues, R.A. Blenkinsop, G. Wainwright and L.L.K. Janovsky, I cannot fully agree with their assertions on the topic of the elements, specially their consideration of Spirit, or the 5th Element.
In our studies, we have determined that Spirit indeed is a separate element and moreover, it is only through it's influence that the secondary and tertiary elements can exist at all. This replaces their current 4-tiered system with the three, which harmonizes well with the Trinity.
Before Creation, the universe consisted only of four elements, complete in their purity. Once the Universe came to Divine Attention, it was only then that the elements could combine. The pure elements left little avenue for creation of appropriate mortal coils, though beings were created, which we now know as the Elementals. These early elementals still exist today, but bereft of the element of Spirit, they are inferior beings. To provide proper containers for the Spirit, the elements were allowed to mix through the powers of the Spirit.
Upon Creation, the raw elements were touched by Divine attention and became infused with spirit. This spirit enables the elements to mix, bringing forth the existence of the other two tiers of the elements. Since Spirit is necessary to form any of the bonds, all of them include an equal proportion of spirit.
We do not contest the theory of the tiers of elements, only the view of Spirit being a combination of the four elements.
Now, the addition of the element of Spirit brings rise to additional four second tier elements. We refer to these as Divine Elements. No such material has yet been isolated, but once the Grand Elemental Circle at Cambridge is completed in the next five years, we should be better able to delve into this study, and produce samples of the Divine Elements.
At this point, venturing into the properties of the Divine Elements is a matter of speculation and is the subject of our upcoming paper.
Editor's note: R.H. Gainsworth's experimental results have yet to be confirmed by any officially sanctioned facility, and his opinions do not reflect that of this journal.
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? Responses (11)-12
An interesting idea and superb presentation. I look forward to what this thread generates!
A very good well-written idea.
Really interesting stuff and well presented. Got me thinking a lot, and although I wouldn't use it in a game a tpresent I can see how it could be adapted to use in a more 'modern' game (18th cent as you say) quite well.
It almost makes me want to do one just to work with it.
Yeah!!! You're my hero. I had been trying to get something like this on my own, but you did it so much better.
Now that is a useful comment from an anonymous user. A good theory does not only explain things that are known, it can also foretell things that are not. There is bound to be a research for the 'unknown element', like for the elements of the periodic table.
Aside, great work, and a well thought-out foundation for a magic system (providing the theory is true, of course ;) ).
You could even get people trying to predict the properties, with greater or lesser success. Imagine the PCs being sent on a quest for Element X, with about three competing theories of what it should look like.
I think this is an excellent submission - and I plan to add to it - perhaps a debate over the 5th element (Nothing to do with that movie though !)
Really like the addition - thanks for an excellent extension of the idea!
I like this. And a bump for anything that helps people make settings that aren't dark-ages-Europe.
While not necessarily medieval, the core idea can be universal for any magic system. I found myself rereading parts as it is a great system with the crossovers and such.
And kudos to Val for the awesome addition!