A Pyre Elemental can be summoned only during a time of great mourning. Celebrations like the Feast of the Moon are perfect times while the good people of the hosting city accept the grieving from many different kingdoms. It is traditionally part of the Feast where the dead are remembered and celebrated. But within this celebration hides vast amounts of grief. Although buried deep, the pain can be felt all around.
Upon the lighting of the ceremonial pyre which usually is set to burn a dozen or more valiant dead, the time is ripe for such a ritual. That meeting of the living and the dead gives one access to the twilight of this world. Usually, it means the sacrifice of the one casting the ritual. Much akin to elven high magic in this respect, this dark spell is not to be taken lightly and those who cast it know the cost.
The most potent of willing sacrifices is that of a fire gensai. One of such blood who is willing to desecrate, not only, this sacred event but the holy element of fire itself, brings together the proper elements of sacrifice, desecration and devotion. In this twilight time, usually during the autumn sometime in early harvest, the division of life and death becomes weakened. This and the mourning of those attending this ceremony make wonderful fuel for the pyre.
As the Pyre Elemental consumes the dead within it, it also gives them a new, darker purpose. Becoming flailing, attacking zombies aflame, their job is to increase the number of the dead. This is so that the Pyre can continue to consume the dead and grow in size as well as power. The Pyre Elemental has no hunger for the living, but becomes insatiable once one is dropped dead before it.
The Dread Elementals made their appearance in the Ravenloft series back as far as second edition. The elemental planes do not always interact with the planes of dread the way they do the Material Plane. At times, the dark plane would corrupt the element. You would have to be careful summoning an elemental in a Ravenloft campaign, because, if the elemental summoned was of the corrupted nature, they were always uncontrollable. The game stats allowed for a 20% chance that this would happen. You, as the DM, could actually use this as an option around ‘tainted ground’; maybe a volcano flow has occurred near one of these ‘twilight’ rifts accessing the corruption of some plane of dread or abyssal leakage into your world.
The corruption of fire was the taint of the funeral pyre. The act of summoning such a foul creature included the desecration of the ritual burning of the dead. And the final ingredient to this ritual was the tainted life of the caster. Besmirching the honoring of the dead with a foul suicide was the most sure way of turning the moment into a creation of an elemental most befouled.
The stats above are of an enemy I created for my 20th level all ‘were’ campaign. The players are up against an army of rabid weres of all types, but the real enemy is their master; an ancient Baernaloth who claims to have ‘created’ lycanthropy. Whether the eternal liar did this or not, he has been alive for millennia and brings with him massive amounts of knowledge and scientific and arcane study. One of the discoveries he has made use of is the acquirement of the Dread Elementals.
(Picture rights to Kasefoto on Shutterstock)
I really see this as an epic level type creature, but you could tweak the fire elemental to produce a fifth level encounter simply by adding a few of these ‘pyre zombies’ created along with it. Even at that, I would probably keep this creature in the book until about 10th to 15th level, at least. Add the ‘Pyre Blast’ with a level appropriate damage and maybe even a bit of ‘Rejuvenating Sacrifice’.
Use the Zombies or even the Ogre Zombies out of the 5E Monster Manual and, for added danger, add fire damage. The zombies should be an extension of the Pyre Elemental. So any creature they consume should add to the power of the main Elemental if you are using ‘Rejuvenating Sacrifice’ in any form.
To aid the Elemental’s onslaught, it may be accompanied by a Pyre Wizard or Sorcerer who has also studied the nature and power of the beast and uses such spells in their arsenal. The Big Bad of the afore mentioned campaign has aligned with a renegade Vistani Wizard who has corrupted himself and his ‘school’ in the darker arts of Necromancy which is so on theme with the Pyre Elemental.
Let me know what you think. I’m still cutting my teeth on the numbers end of the game, so mistakes may have been made and there’s room always for improvement and growth. Next time, we will be looking at my corrupted/Dread Air Elemental that takes a bit of a twist that may be unexpected.