Everybody has their favorite creatures, and I find the longer you play D&D the more favorite creatures you have. Some combination of the mechanics, the backstory, the art, and all the bits of a monsters tickle you in some way, and you learn everything you can about that monster and seek out ways to use it, especially ift’s it’s a monster everybody else rapidly forgot. A few of my favorite monsters made the cut this month, and I’m glad this one did because it factored into a campaign through no fault of my own.
In 4E, elemental is primordial is chaos is evil. Elementals, the creatures, are still exactly as ethical as their component parts, but elemental energy itself is a holdover from when the primordials fought the gods long before the time of the loosely-defined campaign setting. Among the solders of the elemental armies were archons, faceless, legless creatures who harness their own elemental energy to fight against the enemy immortals. They come in every elemental flavor, and they tend to exist in the paragon tier where characters are dipping their toes into multiverse adventuring.
I love archons. I love how they come in a million different varieties, from the fire and frost archons in the first Monster Manual to the crystal and slime archons to which the books allude. I love how they’re willing to work together toward common goals, so you can mix and match them however you want without worrying about infighting or how easily the players prepare for an all-lightning-damage adventure. I love their power level, right when 4E gets interesting but before campaigns are all gods and dragons. I love their miniatures, translucent plastic in exactly the style my mother likes. I love how they don’t have faces, because I’ve always liked faceless things for a weird psychological reason I choose not to explore. They’re just fun, and I wish I’ve ever in my life had the opportunity to play one.
But we’ve really only used one archon in a meaningful way in our campaigns. In the Great Tower of Oldechi, the players met two ice archons. This was after I had decided to apply real-world accents and language to D&D races, in which elves were French and dwarves were Scottish, etc. Archons spoke Primordial, and the players asked what language that was. I shrugged and said “I don’t know, Italian?”. The archons gained an Italian accent (that is, because I don’t have a good Italian accent, they sounded a lot like Mario), and they prepared to fight the party. Byut the players had a bard who functioned as an avatar of chaos largely because his player did, and through conversational calisthenics and lucky rolls he convinced the archons to fight to the death. During the battle he began cheering for the one who was winning, and after it killed its friend, the bard healed it and convinced it to join the team.
Enter Eligio, ice elemental warrior with a Wisdom of 4, who believed anything and everything you said to him. When he fought alongside the party and defeated the villain on that floor of the tower, he gained a level and sufficient will to ascend it himself. He showed up a few times from then on, usually allied with the party, and though he joined their enemies late in the campaign he died off-camera before they could fight him. Eligio became such an endearing character that he also showed up a few times in Delve Night, our blackjack-and-hookers version of D&D encounters. In one fight he grew in size and power every time the players killed him, and he actually killed them all before he reached his final form. The second time he went the other way, from Eligio, Ice Titan to Eligio, Deeply Screwed Ice Elemental.
He remains one of the more memorable and interesting parts of both campaigns, and the players liked both working with him and punching him in his smooth, featureless face. We remember him now for being unlucky and overly trusting, but endearing and a steadfast ally as long as nobody convinces him otherwise. His key trait remains his gullibility, which began as a one-off gag to reward a player for a fun idea. He’s nothing like the serious, militaristic archons of the books, and that’s what made him fun (take a drink). It’s a shame archons don’t exist in any other edition, but 4E is the only place where elementals could be unified against a common foe. I mean, unless the DM creates a common foe…