Today marks a divergence from previous Creature Features, albeit one a bit delayed. Where everything so far has been most at home in a science fiction setting, the air elemental is overtly magical in nature. It also would have been before the anacites if I hadn’t taken so long to decide that the elemental article should be split up into the different types, but that’s neither here not there. I’ll move on to the actual analysis in a minute, but first I have to point out another irregularity with the air elemental. Where previous monsters had a set CR, the air elemental uses one of a number of elemental bases with an elemental graft applied to it, fitting more closely with the Starfinder Roleplaying GameTM method of monster creation. These bases come in Tiny (CR 1/3), Small (CR 1), Medium (CR 3), Large (CR 5), Huge (CR 7), Greater (CR 9), and Elder (CR 11) with the air elemental graft, though if you prefer the classics you can always try the PFRPG air elemental stat blocks.
I’ve always loved intersection between magic and technology and the way one would influence the other. It raises the question of why you would make gunpowder if you can shoot fireballs, as well as how magic would evolve to function alongside and in conjunction with technology, and encountering an air elemental in space is an amazing extension of that. Air renewal is a recurring problem on spaceships, space stations, and outposts on barren worlds, but when you can open magical portals to a dimension full of air, that problem gets much smaller. And that’s where air elementals come in. You wouldn’t take it lying down if someone tapped your waterline for their own use, so how would intelligent manifestations of air itself react to their essence being stolen away to fritter on the pursuits of these small meaty beings? At the same time, consider their impact on the universe at large. There are worlds without air, covered in water, or possessed of a differing atmosphere. What would beings from those worlds think of air elementals? On a world without an atmosphere, they bog you down with sudden air resistance, playing havoc with any flying machines. On water worlds, they descend into the depths from a higher layer of unbreathable material, much the way a water elemental would appear to a terrestrial populace. On worlds with different atmospheres, they’re basically living pockets of poisonous gas. Of course, this raises the idea that there may be other forms of air elemental. Not all worlds have the same composition of gasses, so is it possible for there to be elementals formed of these inhospitable clouds in distant parts of the Plane of Air that correspond to alien worlds?
In a gameplay context, all air elementals come packing two abilities, plus a 100 foot fly speed regardless of size. The first is called Air Mastery (Ex), which inflicts a -1 on to hit and damage rolls on any airborne opponents. This probably won’t come up with the smaller versions, but the more powerful versions are probably faced in more unique scenarios than simple summoned cannon fodder. An airborne duel between jetpack equipped adventurers and howling wind spirits as they dart between floating islands, leaping between the walls of a reactor shaft bereft of gravity, you name it, players will find a way to do it. The second ability is Whirlwind (Ex), an ability not present in the Pathfinder version. This allows the elemental to drop its less abstract form and become a swirling vortex of wind. If it moves to occupy the same space as another creature, that creature must make a Fortitude save to avoid taking damage from the howling winds, plus a Reflex save to avoid being ripped off the ground and trapped in the tornado. If your players haven’t acquired a method of flight, this can prove extremely troublesome, as they will have to retry the Fortitude save every turn without a method of escape until the elemental decides to eject them. Here’s a few idea of how to use air elementals in your game:
- A particular embassy has a reputation for rebuffing assassination attempts and preventing violence from breaking out between negotiators. Their secret is a group of powerful air elementals bound into the confines of the building itself. Attempts to draw weapons result in guns and knives being ripped from the hands of attackers without a visible source, while spellcasters find the air pulled from their lungs before they can fire off a cantrip.
- The deepest shaft of a mine has a fearsome reputation among the workers for the casualties invoked in its construction. Survivors tell tales of a shadowy beast that emerged from the rock itself and stripped its victims to the bone, leading the overseers to close the shaft down in an attempt to placate what they view as addled survivors of a cave in. Unbeknownst to them, the stories the miners tell are true. The beast of the mine is an ancient air elemental, bound in a cave deep in the earth to keep the being imprisoned by its antithesis until the miners cracked open its cell. Over its centuries bound to the stone the nature of its opposite element had seeped into it, filling its once pure winds with dark sand that scours away flesh from metal and bone. Daring adventurers could venture to the depths and shatter the stone seal that keeps it bound into the tunnels and caves, but there is no guarantee that this will reverse its condition even as it unleashes the being onto the surface.
- On a barren airless world, massive pods of air elementals roam the surface without discernible patterns. This has led some groups to form wandering communities that follow the elementals the way older civilizations followed herds of animals, drawing air from the beings who ignore the organic beings in turn. However, the pods have been splitting into smaller groups as late, forcing these nomadic communities to fragment with them in order to keep their numbers sustainable to the air they can siphon. Desperate to stop this before their lifestyle becomes unsustainable, they reach out to any who will listen to discover the mysterious reason for the elementals’ patterns and fix things to go back to the way they were.