How would this Army of Elemental Magic uses stand up against a modern military like our own?

The Elementals do not carry weapons or armor. They despise the use of most tools, especially in war. Everyone in the elements army can use at lest one element. Elementals have an Elite fighting force whose members can control two or more elements.

When you control two elements you get one additional power:

  • Fire + Air: the ability to manipulate and create lightning.
  • Earth + Fire: the ability to turn earth to Lava and control volcanic eruptions.
  • Air + Water: the ability to take over your enemy's body and turn him into your puppet.
  • Water + Fire: can change water to acid.
  • Earth + Water: can control the way plants grow.

The Elementals have trained several types of animals who can also manipulate the elements:

  • Elemental creature: dragons use fire and air to fly and breathe fire.
  • Earth turtles: gigantic turtle with a tropical islands on their back with the power to control earth and water. Can make earth quakes, tidal waves, and sea currents.

Assume the following:

  • Both sides have an equal number of troops.
  • The modern military is equally divided between Navy, Army, and Air Force.
  • The environment is equally divided between urban, rural, jungle, and water.
  • The Elementals are on the defensive.

My question is: Can these Elementals hold back a modern army, or would they be massacred because they don't use weapons or armor?


closed as primarily opinion-based by AndreiROM, fi12, Hohmannfan, bilbo_pingouin, Rob Watts Mar 12 '16 at 2:40

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Can the Fir+Air people easily create lightning? If so, then they would practically disable the backbone of any modern military force. Any high level tactical oversight (Lieutenant and above) requires GPS, radio contact, UAV systems, internet, satellite, etc... Not to mention that lightning would obviously fry the electronics of any modern vehicle. No more gunship support, the engine of a MBT would be inoperable, and air support is impossible. $\endgroup$ – Carlos Danger Mar 11 '16 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion, your Elementals will certainly win, since they can turn mother nature which we depend on, against us. $\endgroup$ – Javert Mar 11 '16 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ The one thing that needs to be clarified is this: What are the limits of the Elementals' power? Do they need Line of Sight? Do their powers tire them? Are they limited in how much of their element they can manipulate at once? Are they protected against the effects of their own powers? To what extent can they manipulate their element (i.e. degree of control)? Without clarification here, this question is not properly answerable. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Mar 11 '16 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ "Can make earth quacks" it must certainly be disconcerting to hear the earth quacking.... I think that the modern military would turn to biological weapons and call it the day $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Mar 11 '16 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ Bullets. Bullets are much harder to stop than any fantasy/superhero writer ever wants to think about. And they can have an incredible range. And they are relatively cheap, so they can be blown at an enemy in the thousands. Missiles are even hard to stop, and have an even longer range. And if we ever actually got desperate, there's always Nukes. In fifty-plus years of reading fantasy and superhero stories I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen something that would have a real physical chance of stopping a Nuke (despite their author's claims). $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Mar 11 '16 at 18:38

It would depend on the limits of the Elementals' abilities.

AndreiROM points out the distance factor, and this is a good assumption. After all, if an individual can create earthquakes in an arbitrary location on the other side of the world, there's not much anyone can do except a preemptive or sea-based attack.

But I'll propose a new situation. Suppose Elementals teamed up into groups of four: one for each Air, Earth, Fire, and Water.

The Air Elemental commands the air/wind to form a powerful tornado around the group with winds in excess of 500 mph that reaches up into the stratosphere. The Earth Elemental induces powerful, continuous tremors that neutralize any effective resistance and detonate mines in the area. The Fire Elemental causes the sparks from enemy weapons to become blazing bonfires, eliminating enemy troops that continue to fight. The Water Elemental simply extracts the water from enemy cells; instant death.

The modern army would need to use either preemptive strike capability or orbital bombardment to defeat Elementals with this level of power. If you want the Elementals to win the confrontation, they need to have more power than the army. A stalemate requires roughly even power. A loss is less power.

If there is any significant difference in power levels during a conflict, it is inevitable that one side will eventually win.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget that they also have earth turtles and fire dragons $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Mar 11 '16 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ If any elemental could create such inclement weather then we'd be in trouble. However, I think you'd have to dig pretty deep to find so many powerful elementals. Some of them will have far more mediocre powers. And even against the talented ones, there's always radiation based weapons which will not be influenced by fire, or high winds. That sort of display might account for one or two won battles, but the war would still be lost in the face of our technological superiority. Or, we deploy biological agents in the area and simply retreat. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 11 '16 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure You mentioned creatures and extra abilities in your question, and AndreiROM covered them well enough. I was focusing on the Elementals themselves, which (I assume) form the core of the Elemental forces. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 11 '16 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM in the question the elementals are an army, this would imply training to work and act together. Most of your arguments read as if this is not the case. The gist of your arguments still stand however: Individual losses can add up, and in a war of attrition, he who can sustain the highest losses will win. $\endgroup$ – Mr.Mindor Mar 11 '16 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM You are right, not implied. An army is explicitly stated: Double check the first line of the question: "How would this Army of Elemental Magic uses stand up against a modern military like our own?" Also where does it state or imply that they would be geared toward battling other elementals? Depending on how long the elemental culture/country has been around I'd expect their military would be based around defending from others. (if they are the only elemental country, no point in training an anti-other elemental military: who are they going to fight?) $\endgroup$ – Mr.Mindor Mar 11 '16 at 21:24

These elementals are certainly dangerous, however they would ultimately lose.

Sure, they can summon dragons, and they can turn the ground to lava, however they have to do so within line of sight.

We can have a sniper positioned 2 Km away who blows their heads off before they even know they were under attack.

Similarly, we can plant mine fields in their paths, rain down artillery on them, target them with cruise missiles, etc.

Any concentration of elementals could easily be targeted with bombs dropped by drones, or simply launched from so far away that our troops would hardly even be in danger.

For smaller groups trying to move inconspicuously ambushes could be set up, etc.

Their only chance would be to fight a guerrilla style of war, however, if they posed a real and definite threat we would simply learn to identify them and prioritize wiping them out (not to mention run a massive propaganda campaign demonizing them, which would lead to any citizen noticing something suspicious ratting them out immediately).

There are some who seem to think that the elementals would be able to counter anything we could throw at them. In a way, you're right.

A UAV could be downed by a dragon - until we deployed anti-dragon UAVs (many more than they have dragons).

Electronics could be taken out by lightning - except when your lightning elemental doesn't know that a biological agent has been released in the area and that he's actually carrying a deadly virus back to his buddies.

Team of elementals and scary creatures can perhaps take on hundreds of infantry, and even armored vehicles - until that one drone circling at 2000 feet gets an opening to drop a single bomb in the middle of your little party and dozens of unarmored, unprotected elementals die in a single blast.

Quite frankly, there's nothing they can throw at us that we can't handle. And if they got really scary and tried to pull some extinction-event level stuff on us then we'd just drop a lethal virus on them and watch the entire population die off in less than a day. Or simply nuke them.

I'd like to see a dragon/earth turtle survive a smart bomb to the face, or walk out of a 20 kiloton blast.

  • $\begingroup$ If "Earth + Fire: the ability to turn earth to Lava and control volcanic eruptions" is true, they just have to blast yellowstone and other megavolcano and then the Earth goes in Winter Era. Everybody dies, except elemental who can create their own water, heat and food $\endgroup$ – Carlos2W Mar 11 '16 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Carlos2W - wherever this is taking place, the elementals also live there. I doubt they would destroy their own world. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 11 '16 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it's clear that "control the way plants grow" necessarily means "survive an ashcloud snowball earth by growing your own food", elementals can't make sunlight. And arguably the humans, or at any rate their leaders, could win by the same criteria. Fire off all the nukes and live in some bunker that you've prepared until you die of old age. Well done you, you sort of won ;-) That said, you'd be very wary indeed of threatening these guys with annihilation, for the same reason NATO is/was wary of conflict with Russia: they have a weapon of last resort and we don't want them to use it. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Mar 11 '16 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that you wouldn't have to build anything new to counter the dragons -- any 3rd gen or later fighter jet in the hands of a competent pilot would turn your average dragon into laughingstock even before the beast dies to guided missiles or a hail of cannon shells. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Mar 12 '16 at 0:01

Consider that we actually do have control over the elements via technology.

We have flamethrowers. We have batteries and tasers. We have high-power water cutters and refrigerators. We have giant fans. But we don't really use them for combat. Maybe in some cases, but overall, we use bombs (arguably fire-elemental) and guns. Why?

One major reason is cost/energy, which--depending on the elementals--might not be a concern. But another is that they're just not as effective.

Fire needs fuel, so you can't send it through the air like in comic books without an octane spray or something (which will be low-range). To effectively use electrical attacks, you have to complete a circuit, and any attempt to transmit through the air is unpredictable and depends on variations in air pressure from point to point (see: the way lightning strikes move in jagged paths), plus you have to get really close or it'll just arc to the ground. And combat-grade water cannons would be subject to Newton's third law of motion like a mofo, not to mention the sheer volume required to keep a continuous stream going.

All of those drawbacks compared to just pointing and shooting with a gun. A bullet costs pennies.

Just food for thought though, because in the end, it depends too much on how powerful the elementals are. Maybe setting a whole city on fire is a trivial task, and they can cover the whole battlefield in water twenty feet deep. Maybe they can summon tornadoes and wreck everything. Maybe the physical drawbacks above are magicked away somehow.

Or on the other hand, maybe lighting a pine cone is a struggle.

Although some of your combination powers seem to imply they're on the overpowered side (turning the ground into lava is... well...)

  • $\begingroup$ "We have giant fans" - why is it that, compared to flame throwers and tasers that "giant fans" just seem kinda lame... That said, we have some very ... awesome ... fans!!! $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 11 '16 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa - The ones in the middle link aren't fans. They're in fact the opposite of fans. Fans turn electricity into wind. Wind farms turn wind into electricity, and they don't move all that fast. (They can only move as fast as the wind blows them, they don't produce any wind on their own.) $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Mar 11 '16 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman They're large machines that demonstrate our mastery of the element of air. The air elemental has the ability to make lightning, well dammit SO CAN WE! $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 11 '16 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman a generator and a motor are quite similar, I guess it wouldn't be that hard to create a fan which does the inverse transformation. Though it won't be very effective. $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Mar 12 '16 at 1:48

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