Being Original With Elemental Powers:

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1 TheMuse25th Feb 2013 05:51:32 PM , Relationship Status: Browsing the selection
So my series features several characters with elemental powers (control over earth, water, fire) I understand that elemental powers are literally Older Than Dirt, so it's basically an archetypal-like thing. But I want to be somewhat original with this and try to avoid being too similar to things like Avatar: The Last Airbender and such. I was thinking about perhaps adding 'Mind' as well to help alleviate the problem, but I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this.
2 Matues25th Feb 2013 06:00:36 PM from eye on the horizon , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
Try going for more abstract and less literal?
This exists. The rant is old so I don't know if the situation has improved much, but I imagine it would help more than just adding a random new element. As far as I can tell, most real-life elemental systems were associated with mental aspects in some way or another anyway. (Also, since you mentioned AtLA specifically, it did have Spirit...) It's not so much original ideas as a more original feel, but with something like elemental magic, that's probably going to be more successful anyway.

Although if your magic system isn't primarily elemental, you could also downplay it so that the unoriginality isn't intrusive. It's not like having an unoriginal thing will ruin everything.
You will not go to space today.
4 judasmartel25th Feb 2013 07:37:08 PM from Philippines , Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
The Dark Knight
[up] Haha, poor Earth mages. They are almost always ignored in fiction, or if not, are given the Nature Hero archetype.

I kinda find that article funny and useful, as magic also abounds in my story. It's actually interesting to see mages being an actual part of the fantasy society instead of being isolated from their world like it's usually done.

In fact, the most powerful wizard from the hero team in my story is also the best scientist of their world, having contributed so much to their country's reputation of being the most technologically advanced nation.

edited 25th Feb '13 7:38:34 PM by judasmartel

If you're looking for magic or other fantasy things in general, she's got more rants; the trope page would probably be useful for finding the ones you want.

I like magic integrated into societies, and also science being done to magic, so I have a similar tendency. The people with the power aren't necessarily the famous magic scientists and engineers, because power might come from different sources depending on the system, but they usually are doing experimentation of some sort because what's the point of having magic if you don't?

edited 25th Feb '13 7:51:24 PM by greedling

You will not go to space today.
6 Wolf106625th Feb 2013 09:42:23 PM from New Zealand , Relationship Status: In my bunk
Typin' strangely
Do please bear in mind that the "elements" - be they earth, air, fire and water or earth, air, fire, water and metal - stem from early alchemy wherein the practitioners sought to understand the make-up of the universe and opined that it was made up of these "elemental" things - basically solids, liquids, gases and heat (with solids divided into non-metallic and metallic in some systems).

The theory was everything was made up of combinations of these elements and that you could create what you wanted by mixing them properly.

All solids were "earth", all liquids were "water", all gases were "air" and you usually threw random earths, waters and airs together and heated them to see what would happen.

If you (or your assistant if you were a clear-thinking individual) survived the experiment, all the better.

If you were really lucky, you might work out something useful, like how to refine phosphorus from your piss and get to name an actual real element.

Adding things like "mind", "spirit", "willpower", "love" or whatever to the traditional "Hermetic elements" is a vast departure from the actual idea behind those "elements" - not everything has "mind" or "willpower" and you sure as hell can't nail down any of those things enough to stick it in a crucible with your random assortment of "earth", "air" and "water" and bung it over the fire.

Which is why any such additional "elements" are always going to reek of crystals, incense and Dolphin Love on your kundalini.

It's so New Age that it screams 1980's louder than a "brick" cell phone and a Flock of Seagulls hair-do.

Here's a possible twist: have elemental powers based on real elements: Oxygen, Chlorine, Lead, Gold, Fluorine etc.

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
7 Alma25th Feb 2013 11:16:49 PM from Coruscant , Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
Flesh elemental powers.

Some serious potential for Thing-esque body horror there.
You need an adult.
8 fillerdude26th Feb 2013 04:06:17 AM , Relationship Status: Getting away with murder
[up][up] There actually is a manga that used that "real elements" premise, it was very interesting. Shame it was bogged down by its flaws.

I think you could benefit from some Magic A Is Magic A. Have your fire mages follow a set of rules, have the water mages follow another set of rules, and so on.

If it helps, in one of my stories, a mage's elemental powers only depended on what material they "extracted" the element from. In other words, there's no such thing as fire mage, or water mage; all mages could use all elemental powers given the right materials
Terracotta Soldier Man
If you're interested in looking into non-Western / non-classical traditions, you could always use a different baseline set of elements entirely:

  1. Wu Xing, the Chinese system of five elements.
  2. Goudai, the Japanese system of five elements often seen in contrast to the above.
  3. The "three primes" of Paracelsus.
How about a more modern take on the term "elements". As in the elements of the universe: space, time, matter and energy. Space-benders can do stuff like teleport and make portals. Matter-benders would be like alchemists. And so on. Maybe it can be expanded to things like magnetism, gravity, sonics and whatever

edited 28th Feb '13 6:54:14 PM by WSM

11 Wolf106628th Feb 2013 07:12:55 PM from New Zealand , Relationship Status: In my bunk
Typin' strangely
Wouldn't space-time be one element? tongue
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
Also matter/energy.
You will not go to space today.
How about an elemental system of wood, steel, steam and electricity? Or elements based off of some concept of psychology, like having id, ego and superego mages. Or you could base elements on states of being; hunger, fear, anger and lust. Or on ideas of the components of being; considering how the classical elements were associated with the components of the human body, you can easily translate the focus from external elements to internal elements: body, blood, breath and spirit instead of earth, water, wind and fire.

Or if you want a way to be original with a traditional system, you could focus on one element in the system and show, in essence, how different the people who associate with that element are. An example I remember from when I was younger was the Golden Sun games, which got you used to, for instance, water as a more gentle, healing-focused element and fire as a more violent, physically-focused element, and which in the second game flipped those two so you had a tough water warrior and a squishy fire healer. Even more than just variation between people, you could show that a particular element doesn't correspond to a group of people—two completely different nations at war with each other are both made up mostly of the same element; or that in the big city you've got people who have magic that clashes completely and they live happily alongside each other.
Hilarious injoke
I replaced elements with scientific fields and stripped away the magic/superpowers part. Practitioners now carry technology that allows for them to do things related to their specialty in a device called a Klaxipack (e.g. one character, a chemist, carries around what amounts to a portable chemistry lab along with several reactants). This gave me a lot more options to pick and choose from and gave me the potential to rework a lot of cliches.
If you find the text above offensive, don't look at it.
Instead of the classic four elements of alchemy, an interesting route might be to instead use the elements of the periodic table - perhaps with each column of the periodic table belonging to a separate school - with magic users able only to exert control over matter of their respective school.
16 TheMuse1st Mar 2013 06:13:05 AM , Relationship Status: Browsing the selection
Okay, I'm pretty sure I'm going to do a mish-mash of both the Chinese and Japanese elements and include Water, Earth, Wood(control over plants), Fire and 'Spirit.' I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to call 'Spirit' I was thinking about using the term 'Aether' but I realized that it meant something slightly different. Thoughts?
17 Matues1st Mar 2013 06:24:29 AM from eye on the horizon , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
I think trying to make up new associations and complications within the four alchemical elements is more fun than just switching to others and repeating the same problems.

It's fun to find reasonable ways to subvert stereotypes.

For example: Fire Mages are rarely ever hot-tempered loose cannons.

They can't be. Fire, you see, is an element that's easy to use- but hard to control. Fire's most basic urge is to grow as big as it can, as fast as it can. If you can't control yourself, you have no hoping of reigning in the Fire.

So Fire Mages have to be disciplined, calm and controlled. The mavericks usually end up burning down towns before being killed.

18 TheMuse1st Mar 2013 06:28:11 AM , Relationship Status: Browsing the selection
I wasn't planning on using the Element=personality thing that much. One of the fire mages in the work happens to be a relatively down to earth person, but also happens to be very passionate, spontaneous and determined.
19 Matues1st Mar 2013 06:46:03 AM from eye on the horizon , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu

The magic system I had in mind required that a mage learn to utilize an element by means of achieving a magic sympathy with said element. Once they'd done that, the element in question would seem more like an extension of themselves than an outside thing.

Of course, it's easy for them to get so wrapped up in an element that it starts to take over. To go from a person thinking fire to a fire thinking person.

Which is why people have to adopt somethings contrary to the element in order to maintain a degree of distance.

Magic is a balancing act.
[up]x4 Are you purposefully avoiding metal and air...?

Void/sky/heaven links to aether on Wikipedia which isn't necessarily indicative of anything, but if you're not including the philosophical aspects, the Japanese elements are not that different from the western system anyway. Though if you actually mean souls and stuff, then you might avoid aether.
You will not go to space today.
21 Philosopher1st Mar 2013 12:47:56 PM from Behind the Wall
The thing with the red gold crown.
What about using the basic forces of nature? strong interaction, electromagnetic force, weak force, gravitation force
It comes. The corrupter comes.
Don't let it touch the tower lest all reality crumble.
Doesn't Avatar do the whole personality = element thing?

Also, I'm curious, what would "spirit" be? Like fire would be to shoot fireballs, wood is control over plants but how would spirit powers manifest themselves?
23 Matues1st Mar 2013 03:20:16 PM from eye on the horizon , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
Mind Bullets?
24 shiro_okami1st Mar 2013 03:44:09 PM , Relationship Status: Anime is my true love
...can still bite
Doesn't Avatar do the whole personality = element thing?

No, it doesn't. Toph and Katara are just as choleric as Zuko, while some of the other firebenders are actually quite calm.

@OP: Speaking of Avatar, please don't make the Big Bad a fire mage. Fire always ends up getting shafted as bad guy element.

I would have to concur with those who said that adding in another element, especially a non-material one like "spirit", or an organic one like "wood". It's best to just stick with the basic four.

Instead of choosing between the classical elements and real elements, you could actually do both. Have a system based on hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. Earth mages control carbon-based compounds including steel; water mages control hydrogen, oxygen, and heat; fire mages control hydrocarbons, heat, and electrolysis; and air mages control nitrogen and oxygen (the key components of air).

edited 1st Mar '13 3:48:45 PM by shiro_okami

@shiro okami They do the personality thing. They make a big deal about how air is all about fluidity and evasiveness and fire bending is all about impulse and passion. Element just wasn't indicative of the character's personality.

I still think if you want to be original with element powers, you shouldn't make it all "air, fire, etc". If you can do something with the periodic elements or natural forces, then I'd say use that instead.

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