Libris Monstrum #33: Genies Revisited
Good evening everyone (or at least it’s evening right now). This article is a little late, as in: I’ve decided to delay the whole week by a day because I’ve been in a blarg and today (Tuesday) was a Monday. That being said, here we are returning to the genies! There is plenty to talk about here but I think our first entry on the subject did a pretty good job covering your classic genie, from the myths they were to the icons they are. Now I am going to move forward by throwing down some more examples of genie and genie-kin. For the most part these will stem from RPGs and the form they have in books, but there is so much to work with!
I don’t want to go into too much detail about D&D genies because they are some of the most recognizable around. The game kind of created (or at least helped create) the standard of genie-kind that exists in these games. There are four types and each one is associated with a specific classical element. I threw down the names for those last time, but today we’re going to look at the Paizo versions. Of course, these are similar and stem directly out of third edition, but if you haven’t figured it out yet I really love what the writers over at Paizo have done with their lore and world building. These genies have a similar existence as those in D&D but there is also a touch of quality that make them feel a little closer to their roots. In the Pathfinder universe there are five types of genies. Those of earth, air, fire, and water are known as shaitan, djinni, efreeti, and marid respectively. The one difference from D&D is the earth genie whose name is not earth related so much as it holds a name from the same mythos as the other names. But then there is one more genie: the janni. A jann is different from other genies in that it is the weakest type of them all. Interestingly enough it is also the only genie (in this lore) that comes from all the elements combined. It is the more human-ish of the lot, though they would view such description as an insult. Nevertheless, this type of genie provides an interesting middle ground or fulcrum to work into genie and element based adventures.
Beyond the genies, Pathfinder has separate races of half-genie. There is the standard “half” race that tends to frequent these discussions and they come in the form of the half-janni. Needless to say these are most likely to pass as human, but inherit a large range of powers from their ancestry. The others are each individually named and pretty much form races unto themselves. Each has a certain aspect to them and a strong connection to the element of their forebear. Those linked to the shaitan are known as oreads, those linked to the djinni are known as sylphs, those of the marid are known as undines, and finally those born of efreeti are called ifrits. An even more interesting thing to note is that the connection to genies are not 100% and these peoples could be born of other elemental ancestry. Still, they are much more like half-genies than what we have in D&D these days. Which brings me to the next topic.
The genasi are the evolution of the concept of half-genies through the D&D editions, much in a similar way that tieflings have evolved. The main difference that I have seen is that genasi have been what they are for a while but really gained traction as a defined and front-line option during the 4th Edition era. Genasi are humanoid in appearance but their physical features can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. The first is what genies (or other elemental) they are born from. Even that can manifest in different ways. Once upon a time, there were para-elementals frequently discussed. These two-element-elementals expanded the types of genasi to include things like dust, but given a more flexible structure as the editions have grown, it would be simple to associate an earth genasi with sand and dust as much as rock or stone.
During the 4E era, the main D&D world of Faerun underwent some changes to match the system. Separate planes became one plane, and as a result the overall elemental-ness of genasi was strengthened. Any genasi, though born connected to a single element, could learn to manifest other elements and strengthen their own connections to the Elemental Chaos. I really love this version of genie-born beings because it still leaves room for other beings to bring them about, but also allows a lot of interesting story elements to be tied to their journeys and character growth. It also allows players to change physical descriptions based on manifestation or combinations there-of. Perhaps the most wild thing to come out of 4E for genasi were the Abyssal variants that included very strange versions of genasi like plagued or void. Because of the way 4E worked the Abyss sat at the heart of the Chaos and in many ways the two were entwined. These genasi variants are a direct result of that cosmological design choice and, unless they target that setting specifically, you might need to find some homebrew like this to help you out with stats for those.
Nymphs & Vila
Here we are going to wrap back around to mythology, though very briefly. The genies that we see in games today are supernatural beings heavily associated with the elements. Different ones have different attitudes, personalities, abilities, and physical features related to these elements. One of the more fascinating things is that there are other creatures that this tracks more consistently with and many of those are a bit different or unique unto themselves in games like D&D. First among these are the nymphs of Greek mythology. For those only familiar with the nymphs of earlier D&D editions, there is a lot more to them than that. In fact, these female spirits came in many different forms and were equally elemental and wilderness related. For example oreads (sound familiar?) were mountain nymphs. Nymphs were beings distinct from gods but still very ancient. Each type was associated with a type of location such as stream, marsh, or river but this is also where the dryads stem from! Not only that but there are other beings from other myths that are more like nymphs than genies and equally fit the bill for what genies are. These are the vila and they are from Slavic folklore. Perhaps most fascinating to note here is that while Greek nymphs are mostly water related, the vila tend to center around hills, mountains, wind, and storms. Combine the two and you have plenty of room for what genies are without co-opting that mythos. That being said, Pathfinder has their veela introduced in the Bestiary 5 which are interesting elemental beings. They seem to stem slightly from vila a bit but follow a genie-like pattern of four types for four elements. What all this comes down to is that the presence of elements have been strong enough within mythologies that we took genies and their wide range of descriptions and applied elements to them for our own structural purposes. Still, don’t be afraid to explore alternatives or think about things like what other fire-related inhabitants live alongside the efreeti!
Do you know of some element-based creatures that fit this structure? Other type of genies from other games or editions past? Let us know in the comments below!!