Caspar’s Guide to Elementals: Review

Caspar’s Guide to Elementals is the ninth of Chamomile’s guides to everything. This zine focusses on elementals, obviously, but also the elemental adjacent creatures you see in games. Think Genies, Giants, and the like. I’m working off a hard copy for the review with screenshots cropped from the pdf (with permission). You can pick one up at Drivethrough or itch, in physical or digital versions.

Playing Elementals is the opening chapter, focused on elemental symbiosis, or your elemental infused folks, Gargoyles, Harpies, a new elementalist class, and a couple of new subclasses.

Elemental Symbiosis is the big one for me here, as I love playing a dude with hair made of fire, or whose legs are actually a cloud, or something like that. Using the transformation rules from the other zines in the series, this lets you dabble a little, or a lot, in elemental themes without giving up on letting you play a Dwarf. And not just in a “you get resist 2 fire” sort of way. This is a three-tier transformation for each of air, earth, fire, and water, triggering at level 5, 9, and 13.

Gargoyles and Harpies are introduced as new playable races. Nothing fancy here, just letting people play more off wall characters as any other racial option. They sound super powerful at first, but when you read what they can actually do, it’s not really that much more than other choices. How useful is pretending to be a statue, actually, most of the time.

The next playable option is Nymphs, which give us some subraces to play with, in Dryads (air), Lampads (Fire), Naiads (Water), and Oreads (Earth). The most powerful feature these give is the Fey type, which gives some nice immunities (Charm person), and advantage against magic. Advantage against magic is huge, but it is coupled with vulnerability vs Iron (including steel) which is also huge. IMO this choice is going to be swingy, some groups are going to find it way too good, and others are going to avoid it because it’s way too weak. That’s probably a fine balance point, but it’s sure to generate conversation at your table when you ask to play one.

The new class, the Elementalist, is presumably a big reason to buy the book. Broadly, it’s going to let you play an Avatar who also can summon elementals. At level 1, you get an offensive spell like ability for each of the four elements which you can use at will. Including a cone of fire, ray of frost, bolt of lightning, and stone casing for your fist. Later, you get the ability to shape an element, and eventually gain the ability to summon elementals or plane shift.

For new subclasses, we get four for the monk, intended to replace the poorly regarded Way of the Four Elements, again one for each element, and an Arcane Knight subclass, which replaces the Eldritch Knight for fighters. Eldritch Knights aren’t the worst choice a fighter can make, but this brings it up a step in power for folks who actually want to play an arcane fighter type.

Running Elementals contains some clarifications and/or revisions (depending on what cosmology you use) for the elemental planes, that I find particularly good. The elemental planes are clearly one plane, you can walk between sections of, with border zones standing for the old quasi and para-elemental planes of ooze and the like. Elementals get about a page clarifying what exactly they are. I like the take and it adds a level of “Why” that a lot of D&D skips.

Genies get about 4 pages (1/10th the book) and they kind of need it. This is something I’ll probably import into my own games wholesale. The elephant in the room is wishes, which everyone agrees Genies should be able to do, while also agreeing that something that can grant wishes at will is probably a game ender. We get some ruminations on the various genies you (the reader) may have heard of, and what their bounds or rules seem to be on how they function. And most importantly their limits. We then get some recommendations for Genies in your games, on how to handle wishes, but also how to handle Genies in general.

The last big monster write up is on Giants. A favorite of mine, who got a big rewrite in this guide. It ties it nicely to the elemental lore from earlier and gives a great cause for conflict. Thats an area these guides really excel at. They define an overall concept, and then lay out the groundwork for multiple believable factions who don’t always get along. It goes a long way to refining the lore, so you can imagine plot hooks when players meet them and gives immediate personality traits for NPCs. The elemental cults section following is similar, in that it explains why people might want to join, and what the cults plans are as well.

I usually pass through the monster’s section of these zines pretty quickly, but this one has something that will really make it stand out. Elemental templates, which let you add elemental themes to any monster. This is a huge win for 5e, and I’m very pro templates. Each one greatly increases the number of monsters you can throw into a given themed faction, without having to write each specific monster. If you are running a level 4-6 fire dungeon, the Monster Manual gives you Fire Elementals, Flameskulls, Half-red dragon veterans, red dragon wyrmlings, salamander, and the young remorhaz as your set. Thats 6 foes, and some are a bit of a stretch. If you start slapping Caspar’s Fire Template on things, you’ve got 75 options in the MM, and some might be a stretch, but Fire Bulettes, Fire Otyughs, or Fire Mammoths sound pretty cool to me.

Reading through Caspar’s, this is a solid worldbuilding book, and touches on some areas WoTC leaves open, or weirdly defined. It certainly makes for a better setting, and I know I plan to ask my next DM if I can have some level of Elemental Symbiosis (probably fire, let’s be real) for sure.

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