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Rune symbols
LIGHTNING BASED
FIRE BASED HOLY BASED ICE BASED
DARK BASED
In the diagram: North is Lightning, West is Fire, East is Ice, South is Dark, with Holy in the center.

In Dragon's Dogma, spells and weapons either have or can be given elemental attributes.  There are five elements: Fire, Lightning, Ice, Dark, and Holy.

When referring to spells these five elements are known as and often referred to as the "Five Archmagicks".

Spells, enchantments, and equipment based on one of the archmagicks will indicate which realm they are in through the associated display of the relevant elemental attribute icon or rune symbol.

Overview

Three of the archmagicks (or elements) have secondary effects or debilitations associated with them.  These are: Fire - burning; Ice - frozen; Lightning - thundershock. The Holy element is associated with healing, as well as damaging all undead or re-animated creatures, whilst Dark attacks can inflict critical hits; Dark magic is generally associated with the infliction of debilitations, which can include any or all of Blind, Torpor, Silence and/or Poison.

All spells except the core spells (such as Magick Bolt) have a specific element associated with them, e.g., Fulmination is Lightning, Maelstrom is Dark, Gicel is Ice, Bolide is Fire, Seism is Holy.

Damage and Use in Battle

Clever use of elemental effects can radically alter the course of a battle. An ill-equipped party without a wide elemental range can find itself in deep trouble, while the same fight's difficulty can be dramatically reduced if the correct element is utilized. Conversely, poor choice of enchantments caused by lack of knowledge can make even an easy battle difficult, and in some cases aid the enemy.

Elemental damage is a percentage modifier on magickal damage. For example if using Magick Bolt - if a target's relative elemental weakness to fire is 100% then a magickal attack with that element does the same damage as an unenchanted magic bolt; but if the weakness is high, as with Undead, where it is 400%, then 4 times damage is done; similarly if the weakness is low, such as with Hobgoblins and dark magic (at 75%) then the damage is reduced to three quarters of what it would be from a non-elemental magick attack.

Secondary effects

The secondary effects of attacks or spells based in one of the five Archmagicks such as certain debilitations and effects are not necessarily the same as their corresponding elemental attributes; an archmagick spell may inflict a non-archmagick physical debilitation.

For example:

The spell Comestion does Fire based damage and may inflict Burning, however only the initial spell damage is archmagick based. The Burning damage is Fire-based elemental damage, but is physical in basis. As such archmagick fire resistance provided by an item such as the Ring of Gules does not protect against Burning, but will mitigate some damage from Comestion.

Another example:

The Sorcerer spell Miasma does initial "poison" damage, based on the Dark element, and may inflict physical poisoning as well, but only the initial effect is archmagick based.  The initial poison damage, is "channelled" or caused by dark elemental magick, and elemental weaknesses (or resistances) to Dark, as well as physical weaknesses (or resistances) to Poison modify the effect on the target. The secondary effect, the poisoning debilitation, is not archmagick based.

Non-archmagicks

Non-Archmagicks generally refer to the debilitations.  Confusingly some of these debilitations can be caused by an archmagick spell, though they can generally be caused by some non-magickal physical method such as Poisoning via poison flask, or Burning via throwing a burning torch made by igniting Kindling

The elements

Fire

FIRE BASED

Fire magic and weapons have a chance to inflict a burning status on enemies, which gradually reduces health the longer the effect lasts. Enemies set ablaze may run away, begin to roll on the ground or grow frenzied.

Fire can also ground flying enemies if their wings begin to burn.

Ice

ICE BASED

Particularly useful against cold-blooded enemies like Saurians, ice attacks have a chance to freeze opponents solid, preventing them from attacking or dodging incoming attacks. Enemies killed while frozen will shatter.

Ice can also encase the limbs of larger foes like Ogres or specific Dragonkin weak to Ice, rendering them temporarily blind if their head becomes encased, or impeding their movement if their chest or arms freeze.

Lightning

LIGHTNING BASED

(Also known as Thunder) May stun enemies - the knockdown effect of being stunned by lightning is known as thundershock. Cyclopes are easily stunned with lightning magick or weapons' enchantments. All physical and magical attacks with a lightning element will occasionally arc, chaining lightning to nearby enemies and objects for extra damage, and will often inflict Thundershock.

Dark

DARK BASED

Weapons enchanted with the Dark element have a chance to cause critical hits.  Generally, Dark magic often acts as a conduit to inflict debilitations and other effects; spells that inflict Torpor, Blindness, Sleep and so on are all Dark based.

Many enemies resist Dark-elemental attacks, including all Goblin variants and Undead. Only three enemies possess a weakness to Dark: Direwolves, The Dragon, and Saurian Sages. Despite this, Dark-elemental attacks that deal small-increments of dark damage quickly, such as High Miasma or Maelstrom, can still be effective even against Undead due to special effects that ignore resistance, such as the fall damage from Maelstrom.

Dark magic debilitations

Dark magic spells can cause a wide variety of non-elemental debilitations, e.g., sleep (Sopor), torpor (Lassitude), blindness (Blearing), silence (Silentium), poison (Miasma).  These effects can be resisted by having resistance to the specific debilitation regardless of dark magic resistance.

In particular the augment Resistance gives powerful resistance to a wide range of these debilitations, and can block both effects of the Miasma spell, giving immunity to the initial damage and any secondary poisoning.  Resistance only blocks the debilitation effect, not the archmagic; it is sufficient to block the damage.

Holy

HOLY BASED

Holy attacks are especially potent against Undead enemies. Holy-elemental attacks also have a chance to heal the user for 10% of their magick defense stat.

The area of effect from curative and defensive Holy magic (Anodyne, Halidom, Spellscreen) will inflict Holy damage on the undead; this still has the chance to heal the user.

Very few enemies in the game are actively resistant to Holy, making it the most useful all-purpose element. Holy-resistant enemies are Saurian Sages, Giant Saurian SagesDeath and the Dark Bishop (not his pet Cursed Dragon, however).   

Trivia

  • The compass arrangement of element rune symbols is oft seen on magick shields, as well as elsewhere - the symbols themselves curiously mimic the English letter representing the points of the compass.

See also