In the Eberron Campaign Setting, it says that the only ones capable of elemental binding are the gnomes of Zilargo. However, in the same book, the only requirement for the Bind Elemental feat is a caster level of 9. Is there some sort of explanation for this discrepancy?
Magic of Eberron has a entire section dedicated to elemental binding. It says that while the gnomes of Zilargo keep most of the knowledge about elemental binding under their grasp, a part of that knowledge has leaked out to the world.
Part of the leak was caused by the commercial partnership with house Cannith, which provide the items where the elementals will be bound in exchange for a share of the benefits. This forced the gnomes to teach the very basics of elemental binding to those artisans. The rest of the leaked knowledge comes from experiments performed by individual magic users in order to duplicate Zilargo elemental-bound items (think of it as reverse engineering). Thus, the feat represents the most basic form of elemental binding, available to everyone with enough magical skill, but the truth is that the gnomes of Zilargo still keep the best parts of that art as a closely guarded secret. Also...(Spoilers ahead)
The gnomes did not developed the elemental binding techniques themselves, they stole them from the drow of Xen'drik. So they are not necessarily the only source of knowledge.
Caster Level 9th represents the absolute upper echelon of magical ability in Khorvairan society. The leaders of industry and nations top out at 10th-12th level.
Thus, Bind Elemental basically amounts to “you are talented enough to have reverse-engineered Zilargo’s techniques based on the final products and based on whatever leaked information you have managed to get.”
In my games, I may allow a gnome of Zilargo to take Bind Elemental earlier, on the basis of being “in the know” so to speak, assuming the backstory or in-game events back up the idea that the character would have access to this information.
I also require non-gnomes who want to take it by meeting the Caster Level 9th requirement to justify it extensively, and furthermore to justify why they haven’t, to date, shared this information with e.g. House Cannith, to whom it would be immensely valuable. In a typical Eberron game, I generally do not allow players to have already given the intel to House Cannith before the game started, simply because I consider Cannith’s non-knowledge of the intricacies of elemental binding to be an important part of the canon setting.
However, note that this does go somewhat above and beyond the books’ statements on the subject. Eberron Campaign Setting says that non-Zil artificers “of great renown” can bind elementals, which implies that House Cannith is aware of some of the details (I just prefer them to know none of them1), and Magic of Eberron explicitly says some details have leaked.
- Except Merrix d’Cannith, who knows how as a matter of course, but he hasn’t been wildly interested in teaching the rest of the house much of anything for quite some time.