Dread Elementals: Written in Blood

With a book coming out in May bringing back the feel, flavor and lore of Ravenloft, it gets me thinking of what they could possibly be bringing to the table. We already know that, unlike Curse of Strahd, we’re getting not one but a multitude of varying domains and big bads as well. As I did a deep dive into the Ravenloft books and lore not long ago, a few things are fresh on my mind. Of course, if you read my article on the PYRE ELEMENTAL, you know the one thing that had a lasting impression on me was the Dread Elementals.

The Dread Elementals were elementals which had been tainted by the corruption of the mist. Tragic reflections of what they were; they now pollute whatever plane, domain or world they infect. Past that, besides individual traits and powers, there’s not much given. As I see it, this blight upon reality can’t be summoned by normal means. Much like Elven High Magic like Mythals, it would be cast in ritual and the more participants, the more powerful the summoned creature. Even as magic like Mythals demand a high cost, sometimes taking the life of one or more of the casters as payment, these Dread spells even more so take break and blood to cast.

And with the mention of blood, we come to the most visceral of all the Dread Elementals: The Blood Elemental. (This creature was created for my 20th level all Lycanthrope campaign but can be scaled down for lower CRs)

The Blood Elemental

The Blood Elemental is drawn, as you would expect, to blood.  But it’s more than that.  These Dread elementals linger in the mists of the inbetween, somewhere between the living and the dead.  They are only summoned by means of heinous acts of the most violent kind.  So, the simple spilling of blood will not do for this ritual.  Oh, no, the blood spilled will need to be on the level of a massacre event to get the Blood Elementals attention and it usually includes the outright murder of a whole village, city or encampment.   Usually, the larger the body count, the greater the power of the summoned elemental.

But the monsters who cast these ‘dread rituals’ have perfected the art of summoning the most horrendous of creatures into the mortal realm.  For the Pyre Elemental, it included the desecration of the funeral pyre via the zealous suicide run directly into the fires once honoring the dead.  To summon a powerful Blood Elemental requires the willing death of a number of ritual casters which usually occurs at their own hand.  Once again adding suicide into the ritual empowers the strength and hunger of the Elemental.  It becomes more and more an exact opposite of High Elven Mythals.

Anyone entering this macabre scene would only perceive the end of a terrible attack.  It’s up to the DM, of course, but with the Blood Elemental being very patient and highly intelligent, my players had to attempt to succeed at a high perception check (DC35) to realize that something more was going on.  Although one came close with a 34, in the end, no one understood what was about to transpire.  Besides the scene being littered with dead bodies, vast pools of blood lined their way.  There is almost no walking through it without stepping in blood (maybe a high dexterity check). 

At the center of this city, town or encampment, arranged around a meeting place, are the bodies of those who took their own lives to cast this putrid ritual.  Taking very exact position around the complex, their bodies, still kneeling, are all placed in perfect symmetry around whatever building suits both your needs, as DM, and their needs, as vile cultists.  As the Elemental lies in wait, so too does an accomplished wizard steeped in the dark art of blood magic.  At times, much like before, a corrupted water gensai is lead astray into this dark, despicable art.  But, instead of becoming adept at the manipulation of water, they turn their dark studies inside to the fluid that brings them life and keeps them that way.

Across the many editions, D&D has given sparse information about how to play out this vile magic and with good reason. This magic is not for campaigns played by the young or those who do not react well to a heavy horror motif. This creature is from the torrid pages of Ravenloft for Richtenstein’s sake! Even if the Dread Elementals make it to the pages of the up and coming tome, I really don’t expect anything as graphic as what I’m giving you. But for lovers of gore and horror, this monster fits perfectly.

As I began looking up information about Blood Magic to ‘flesh out’ the accompanying Blood Mage, I found next to nothing. But this only emboldened me to begin work on what might become a bigger subject which I may publish down the road. There were only two references that I found; one in fourth edition and one in fifth.

The Blood Mage shows up in the 4th Editions Player’s Handbook: Arcane, Divine and Martial Heroes (p. 169) as a Paragon Path for the Wizard. Now this archetype could be developed easily as any spellcaster type. A sorcerer with the natural ability with blood seems totally natural as would a Warlock gleaning power from a deity steeped in murder and blood. But, in my campaign, a group of wizards have specialized in elemental magic and necromancy; bridging the gap between the living and the dead, raising these dread creatures in their service and the service of one decrepit Baernaloth.

This is the main reason the adventure was 20th level. Having a big bad of such incredible age, lore and power demanded that we go big or go home. But you can just as easily chose a lower CR boss and scale these beasties down for your campaign. And a pack of despicable Mages corrupting the elements and breaking the laws of the land and nature itself to give a necrotic touch to everything in their wake. Fourth Edition is perfect for this since a lot of what they did ripped past 20th level and came out both deadly and challenging.

But Paragon Paths aren’t taken till 11th level, so some of the powers are bit big for a 5E Arcane Tradition. But they can give the DM plenty of ideas to make this campaign creative and interesting. But most of the abilities make no sense in a 5E game.

Alea Publishing Group has published a third party supplement that gives us not only an Arcane Tradition for 5E, but archetypes for just about every class delving into the practice of blood magic. I highly recommend it. With it, I could see a group developing a the whole part with some connection to the dark magic.

Most of your Blood magic entails a lot of self harm which is, once again for more mature audiences. But in 5E, we received a new class on top of the core given in the player’s handbook from Critical Role DM, Matt Mercer. The Blood Hunter was a fresh class that saw player characters turn what was once deemed dark arts against the darkness itself and used as instruments of the hero.

Dancing on the edge of dark and unsavory acts, The Blood Hunter takes the magic and power of their enemies and uses it to fuel their hunger to hunt them down. The centerpiece is the willingness to harm yourself in the cause of virtue. Blood being the centerpiece, Mercer took what was a forbidden trope and turned it on its ear. And, although I’m usually against creating any new classes, this one has its place and especially fits amidst the horror motif. Having a Blood Hunter dealing with an unsavory pack of Blood Mages (especially since they are also Lycanthropes), could be an amazing addition to the campaign I’m running and will someday publish.

Another thought would be a warlock, paladin or cleric that worshiped or owed his power to a dark deity that relished in blood and murder. There are a few gods of D&D that might fit the bill, but none so perfect (IMO) as Bhaal from Forgotten realms.

Cited as the god of violent, ritualistic murder, Bhaal could definitely be the source of such a dark ritual used in summoning The Blood Elemental. And it would explain more the violent, zealous nature of the dark practitioners of Blood Magic. This could be a way that you could scale down the challenge rating of the adventure since my group is going against a Baernaloth; one of the most powerful and ancient fiends in the multiverse. This way though, you can keep the dark, horror motif and bring the challenge down to their playing field.

One of the techniques I’ve been using with my group is ‘reskinning’ spells in a certain fashion not portrayed in 5E yet. I have one player who fashions himself a storm mage so all spells whether they display lightning, wind and storm or not, now display themselves as outcroppings of his sorcerous origin. In most cases, if plausible, I allow him to shift the damage type to lightning or thunder damage. In the case of the Blood Mage, these spells take the aspect of blood and usually change to necrotic damage since the pack of Mages in my game are delving deep into the school of Necromancy.

Be sure to leave feedback in the comments or hit us up on social medial. Let us know how you used Blood Magic in your campaign! And also tell us if you’d be interested in something more concrete published. We’re weighing our options right now but there will be a sourcebook for Scarecrows and Halloweenie type material for just as dark a setting as you’d see in my Blood Magic campaign.

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