Elementals are curious creatures in AD&D, similar to demons in that much is detailed as to the details of their summoning. Only one elemental per type, per means of summoning, per day can be summoned by a mortal, requiring staves or devices on top of the typical Summon Elemental spellto get multiples of the same variety.
They are said to be stupid and resentful of being summoned and if concentration is broken (suffering any mental or physical attack suffices) they have a 75% chance to break free, slay the summoner, and wreak havoc for 3 turns before returning to their home plane of existence, with a 25% chance to return home immediately, and interestingly enough, the 'Dispel Magic' spell has a ratio of caster to controller level chance of taking control of a controlled elemental if 'aimed' at the control itself rather than the 'summon,' with the downside of granting the elemental 8HP per HD, doubling the original controllers ability to concentrate (whatever that means) and making the elemental extra-pissed at the failed usurper. This rather odd niche usage of the dispel magic spell definitely seems like a case where a player came up with an idea and a ruling was tossed into the monster manual to be promptly forgotten by everyone, but speaks well of the idea of using the normally rigidly interpreted D&D spells in creative ways even in those ancient days of yore.
(Speaking of odd niche cases, the entry feels obliged to specify that, as a monster that can only be hit with magic weapons +2 or better, or magical 4+HD creatures, kobolds, ghoblins, orcs, and 'etc' are mentioned to not be able to hurt elementals, but ogres can, and a kobold with a +2 weapon can. Why these merited specific explanation is most mysterious indeed.)
In terms of general capabilities, they come in the mighty 16HD variant from direct spell-summoning, the 12HD variety called forth by items like Braziers of Fire and Stones of Earth Elementals, and the 8HD variety called forth by staves. It is also mentioned that more or less powerful and intelligent varieties can be found on the elemental planes, suggesting that the elementals mortals summon are probably the equivalent of dumb animals, compared to the briefly mentioned Air Queen, Earth Boss, Fire Tyrant, and God-King of Water.
Each type has a few weaknesses that allow one to escape their rather high HD wrath, and strengths that suggest their weaknesses-
Earth Elementals are superb at destroying construction, but must pass through the earth beneath water rather than water itself, which would allow escape via boat and heavy delays by crossing deep bodies of water.
Fire Elementals mainly just light things on fire, but cannot even pass over non-flammable liquids, and no minimum depth is given, suggesting that even a puddle from a water-skin might stymie one. You might think they'd throw fireballs but nah, they just walk into things to toast them,
Water Elementals can only go about 20 feet or so from bodies of water, and strike for 5d6-5 instead of 5d6 when not in their element, and their main noted ability is to hold ships in place (1 ton per HP) or capsize and sink them (1 ton per HD). Of some note is that though they require around 1000 cubic feet of water to create one, mostly-watery substances like ale or wine work too.
Air Elementals fly three times faster than an unencumbered human and can form whirlwinds that kill anything with less than 3HD, no save, and deals 2d8 damage to everyone else. This does take a turn to form and dissipate, so much like the Djinni whirlwinds, this seems to imply the formation of a short-lived tornado to clear out hordes of foes and not a special melee attack. It also seems clear that Air Elementals are the most terrifying of the lot as they have both the best crowd control, and cannot be outrun or baffled with most terrain.
3.5 Elementals are pretty much the same conceptually, but come in a larger variety of sizes (good) but have done away with the notes on how their summoning spells work in the assumption that players will only interact with them in order to beat them to death in fair and balanced math combat (bad).
|I originally drew 9 for each but most of them were even worse than these|
Sunset Realm Elementals
There are no 'elemental planes' from which elementals spring- elementals are simply bits of earth, water, or air that have been 'awakened' into a state of consciousness more akin to a biological being. They are the second oldest form of existence- when the light of the forgotten First Sun shone upon the face of darkness, the shadows took the forms of Solid, Liquid, and Gas, and from there, the world came to be, various mixtures of the elements.
The vast majority of elementals are too large to have stats- if a mountain falls on you, you don't roll initiative, you just die. If you are caught in a tsunami, your AC is irrelevant, as you can be tossed around and drowned whether you are wearing an entire blacksmithy, or buck naked. You can have a +5 vorpal sword, and it will do nothing against a tornado- you are an ant with a glowing toothpick. The statted elementals are the ones that are controllable by mortal magics, and/or the size likely to anthropomorphize or try to hunt down human sized undead, so their apparent prevalence is confirmation bias. If there were more people/undead the size of skyscrapers, you'd see more elementals the size of mountains, and there are probably ant-wizards summoning pebble-elementals to destroy each other's anthills, you just never hear about it.
That said, natural disasters can be directed and unleashed- this is one of the duties of Murulu, Lord of Calamities, and there are great and terrible rituals that allow one to command the ocean, the sky, the earth itself to tremble... but when even the deity Murulu is like a small child attempting to walk 3 big dogs on a leash, one quakes to imagine the price exacted from a mortal who dared to take the leashes of the greatest elementals like Typhoon, Tsunami, Avalanche, or others.
So most people confine themselves to more low-key negotiations, for which you should clearly go rip off Skerples
You may note that Fire is absent from this list- this is intentional. Light (and its degenerated offspring flame) is the animating life-force, the will, the soul. This is not a scientific universe, but as an easy analogy, it's basically the difference between energy and matter.
Earth- The sunlit soil, sand, and stones of the surface are the friendliest type of earth elemental, from the human perspective. They build the bodies of babies, and usually can be counted on to stick to the standard blueprint (ie, random bits from the parents glued together). Air and Water flee corpses, but sunlit earth elementals are sentimental(or oblivious) and stick around the longest in the form of bones until the body finally decays, and some favorite biologicals are preserved even longer in the form of fossils.
Earth that obeys not just the ancient Covenant of Light that allows souls to be housed in organic matter, but also the laws of society, is most commonly known as Metal. Silver is the most lawful metal and Gold is chaotic but light-rich.
The most light-rich form of earth is Magma, whose sacred task is to contain Yg-A the undersun at the center of the earth. It occasionally comes to the surface to take a long vacation, but much like a storybook detective going on vacation, lava tends to get embroiled in all manner of drama, mystery, and intrigue upon arrival (usually the destruction of things that have sinned against the elemental covenant or an alliance with the folk of the earth for forging).
But there is a broad, deep, swathe of earth between the fiery depths of Yg-A and the sunlit surface- the dark depths where the sun never shone, where the darkness condenses into twisted caverns and the light of a torch and the swing of a pick is the first introduction to known existence. This is the Dark Earth, and the stones there are cold and vast and pitiless, and unbound by the laws that govern other rocks. Gemstones are one such example- hard but transparent, colored with the swirling hues of phosphenes, wildly variable between brittle and nigh indestructible. Poison rocks, rocks that splinter into swords, rocks that are soft and rocks that are smooth... These elementals are unpredictable, but very useful for those who seek to utilize them for mad ideas the sunlit world could never dream of.
Gravity is a bit of an argument, a sort of tug of war between air and earth over their children. Offend the earth and the sky will take you, as it did the birds and the Kumokumo people (large spider-crab beings who live in clouds) but for the most part earth is happy to massage your feet and air happy to ruffle your hair. Floating rocks are not to be trusted, for the most part, as they are probably rascals and troublemakers banished from the earth.
Air- The air is perhaps the most mysterious of elements, for who has seen the wind? Nevertheless the First Sun shone light upon the air somehow, and so the air is with practically every being their whole life (fish aside), though not for long periods of time, as the air is flighty and comes and goes with every breath.
The sky is home to the clouds, which carry water (the laziest element) uphill, while earth carries it back downstream. The clouds obscure the sun and so have some darkness in them, but they also absorb sunlight and dispense the sun's wrath via lightning bolts to smite the undead and other who would break the elemental covenant of biological life. Dark skies are omens that something is amiss with the natural order of things, and a perpetually storm-shrouded castle is almost certainly home to an undead of prolonged unlife, or yet more esoteric blasphemies against nature. Hurricanes indicate something amiss in the sea, and tornados something amiss in the earth, as Air sees everything beneath the sky and then some, but must whip itself into a howling fury if lightning does not suffice.
This is all, of course, speaking of light-infused air. Dark Air can be found in the depths of the world, sealed away in air-tight caverns that only bother to distinguish between states of matter when someone with light comes along. The dark air of the deep is sometimes called Miasma, and it houses disease, poison, madness, mutation, and every other calamity for the living, for it does not understand life but is drawn to interact with it regardless by breathing and has to make stuff up with no context or comprehension.
There is also the dark air of the high howling night, sometimes called Void, and it is more inert and less volatile than the dark air of the deep earth, but equally inhospitable to human life. It is the subject of much fascination by sorcerer astronomers who fail to commune with the distant stars and moons but make contact instead with the void wind itself.
Water- the least trustworthy of elements, water is associated with trickery, laziness, the mirror realm, but also life, flexibility, and fertility. Water slides lazily back to the sea whenever possible, requiring plants, rain, and rivers to carry it to and fro, and has by far the most accurate and common presence in the mirror realm, as it is naturally reflective compared to air and earth. It provides life, but also takes it most frequently via drowning, freezing, or abandonment. It can turn to air in the form of steam, and to earth in the form of ice, and so it is said water is the element closest to the primordial dark ur-matter which was all things and nothing until the light of the first sun shone upon it.
Water also has its own type of life, which lives without air, but is still part of the elemental covenant and are still biological beings- the fish. The ocean holds many secrets from us air-dependent groundwalkers, and many mages seek tutelage from the Ningen, those giant sharklike merfolk so similar, and yet so different from humanity.
Water is a frequent destroyer of undead- solid enough to tear them apart, and fluid enough to move to do so. Running water repels many of the dead, and the only undead that can survive the ocean for long are either bound to it as surely as a fish is bound to water, or warded against it by powerful necromancy. Holy Water is the most common for this reason compared to Sacred Salts and Blessed Incense, which are the earth and air equivalents to holy water that tend to be better for drawing warding circles or keeping incorporeal undead at bay, respectively.
Waters mixed allegiance- to the sun and the mirror sun, to life and death, and so too to the Winter Moon is nowhere made more clear than in the form of Ice- Ice is water that has sworn allegiance to the light of the winter moon, and must be re-converted via fire and sunlight and the warmth of light from its callous role as winter's deathbringer. The reflections of ice hold the Winter Court of the High Alves too, just another ever-shifting allegiance of water to keep track of, and perhaps there are other, more rarified forms of water under strange moons and in deep pits- acids and non-newtonian fluids, and perhaps oozes are some mysterious type of water too... but one cannot name all the roles water can play.
|this is not a hinn, this is a rejected magma elemental image that I thought looked like it would show up uninvited at midnight to eat doritos|
Hinn(Fire)- There is no such thing as a fire elemental, for fire, light, energy, is something within all elements to varying degrees. Lightning elementals are air, magma elementals are earth, a burning chemical slop would be dark water.
But there is something that is sort-of like a fire elemental- a Hinn. Unlike their cousins the Jinn/Ifrit, who are composed of smokeless flame, or a demon, who is composed of dreams and laws and souls, a Hinn is-or was- composed of scorching fire, a corrupting fire that blackens and burns and ruins all it touches. Jinn are sparks of the broken 1st sun, able to warp reality when aligning their will and light with that of others, but Hinn are sparks of Yg-A, dragon-sun, Undersun, the one that sought to devour the world whole. Even the most rapacious of fire-dragons is sane and temperate compared to a Hinn. The Hinn shape only by destroying, defining themselves by what they are not more so than what they are, because what they are is clear- a corrupt flame that consumes and burns all it catches.
Little is known of the Hinn, for along with the Ghuls, they were exterminated by the Elves at the end of the Second Age, deemed an existence too profane and terrible for the world to bear without breaking into something unimaginable. If even the Serpent Empire could not bend them to the will of mortal beings, what hope would anyone else have? Most of the behaviors that are called 'evil' in men were the natural state of being of the Hinn- they consumed and corrupted in the same way that men breathe, for the spreading of their burning flame was their breath, was their life...
But now only their ashen wraiths remain, less than ghosts, less than shadows, less than reflections. They can be stoked into false flame by sacrifice, and become fiery simulacra of the Hinn, but apart from the intervention of foolish sorcerers, there is nothing for these hollow soot-stains to do but await the end of all things at the edge of the Beyond.