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DSS2 Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (2e)
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DSS2 Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (2e)

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On a world with no gods, what do priests serve? The priests class on Athas is unique and distinct from the priest classes of any other AD&D campaign world. Athasian priests worship no gods, collect no followers, and carry edged weapons. 

Earth, Air, Fire, and Water answers all your questions about this singular class of clerics. Here are the elemental priests who serve the elementals and Athas. They strive to return their barren and battered world to its former state of lush green valleys, forested mountains, and cool waterfalls.

Here are the paraelemental priests who oppose the restoration of Athas, serving the paraelements whose power and might is growing as defiler magic continues to plunge Athas further into decay and ruin.

New priest kits allow PCs to become an Athasian elemental priest of Earth, of Air, of Fire, or of Water-but they can only serve one, for the elements are jealous masters. Each kit contains unique powers, limitations, and proficiencies. Each offers four different ways in which to bring about the regeneration of Athas: as a Wanderer, as a Guardian of a shrine, as a City Cleric, or as a Shaman of a tribe. But beware of the paraelemental priests-their success depends upon the failure of the elemental clerics!

Product History

DSS2: "Earth, Air, Fire, and Water" (1993), by Shane Lacy Hensley, is the second Dark Sun Sourcebook. It was released in September 1993.

Continuing the Dark Sun Series. If you add together the "DSS" and "DSR" books, "Earth, Air, Fire, and Water" was the sixth standalone reference for the Dark Sun line. Most of the previous references were background books that described the geography of the setting or else detailed its organizations — like the Slave Tribes and the Veiled Alliance. However, the series had also included one previous splat book for players: DSR2: "Dune Trader" (1992). "Earth, Air, Fire, and Water" continued this trend, but instead turned its sights toward the "divine" spellcasters of the setting.

A Different Sort of Priest. When TSR introduced the Dragonlance setting (1984), it was theoretically a world without gods. However, the return of the gods was part of the Dragonlance campaign's story, so players could take on the role of normal (but rare) clerics starting with DL1: "Dragons of Despair" (1984).

Athas more daringly presented a world without gods and stuck with that precept. To account for this gap, the Dark Sun Boxed Set (1991) introduced new ways for PCs to wield divine power: clerics receive it from elementals, templars draw it through the evil sorcerer-kings, and druids wielded power through their ties to specific features of the land.

"Earth, Air, Fire, and Water" expands this innovative paradigm with new spells and new details about all three sorts of divine casters. It also introduces another twist: the paraelemental priests — who are never good and who instead worship magma, rain, silt, and sun.

A History of Paraelementals. Jeff Swycaffer first suggested the idea of new elements that lie between existing elements in "Elementals and the Philosopher’s Stone" in The Dragon #27 (July 1979). In his cosmology: hot lay between fire and earth; moist lay between earth and water; cold lay between air and water; and dry lay between air and fire. However, Swycaffer didn't stop there: he also added fertility, pleasure, light, beginning, barren, pain, darkness, and ending to his elemental mythology.

Gary Gygax was quick to jump on board, saying in The Dragon #32 (December 1979):

"Dave Sutherland and I were discussing the various Elemental Planes, concentrating on the borderland areas between them, i.e. where Water touches Air and Earth and where Fire touches Air and Earth. Mr. Swycaffer’s ideas were good indeed, and if vapor is substituted for 'moist' and dust is used to replace the term 'dry/dryness,' you will have a good idea as to how the borderlands between Elemental Planes will be treated. Naturally, the denizens of these regions, 'para-elementals' … and other things, will also add to the overall scope of the game."

Gary Gygax's articles appears to offer the first actual use of the word "paraelemental". It was soon followed by Deities & Demigods (1980), which indeed showed the four paralemental planes of dust (Swycaffer's dry), heat (Swycaffer's hot), ice (Swycaffer's cold), and vapor (Swycaffer's moist).

The paraelementals then showed up Monster Manual II (1983) … but as has been the case throughout D&D's history, the paraelemental names had changed again: the dust plane begat the smoke elemental; the heat plane begat the magma elemental; the ice plane begat the ice elemental; and the vapor plane begat the ooze elemental. These paraelementals would continue to appear in these forms in later books, such as the Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix III (1998). Meanwhile, Gygax also added the quasielementals to his mythology: "The Inner Planes" in Dragon #73 (May 1983) depicted these eight intersections between the elemental planes and light and darkness — and in doing so approached the complexity of Swycaffer's original design.

When Dark Sun decided to make use of the paraelementals for an alternate type of priest, it did so by once more switching up the paraelemental names: the smoke elemental has become sun; the ice elemental has become rain; the ooze elemental has become silt; and the magma elemental has stayed the same.

elements D#27 (1979) DDG (1980) MM2 (1983) Athas (1993)
water + earth moist vapor ooze silt
earth + fire hot heat magma magma
fire + air dry dust smoke sun
air + water cold ice ice rain

Expanding the Inner Planes. "Earth, Air, Fire, and Water" contains an extensive description of the inner planes and what players might encounter there. In this description it notes:

"The inner planes that surround the world of Athas are somewhat different than those found in other campaign worlds. The elemental and paraelemental planes make up the entire region, and quasielementals are but a small portion of the larger bodies."

Athas had always been somewhat cut off from the rest of the D&D multiverse, but this was the first indication that it had its own Inner Planes that were separate from what was found elsewhere. This in turn suggested the first break in the monolithic Great Wheel cosmology of D&D — an idea that would be further exploited in later editions of the game.

Expanding Athas. Besides providing numerous details on the priests of Athas, "Earth, Air, Fire, and Water" also describes elemental shrines located throughout the world.

Future History. TSR would detail the other spellcasters of Athas in two future sourcebooks: The Will and the Way (1994), describing psionicists; and "Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas" (1996), detailing magic-users.

When 4e rolled around, bringing with it the Dark Sun Campaign Setting (2010), the Athas priests described in this book would lose some of their uniqueness: templars would become arcane warlocks and the elemental priests would be turned into a background.

About the Creators. This was Hensley's first freelance project for TSR, following a few books for West End. He would return to write City by the Silt Sea (1994), but would later become best known for his work on Deadlands (1996).

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Thanks to Robert Adducci for Dark Sun advice. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

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January 4th, 2008
Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! [...]
July 28th, 2003
Good detail on the rites and rituals involved in becoming a cleric and a useful list of all cleric spells in the setting. [...]
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on June 10, 2014.