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For example, at level 1, a Wizard has access to the following spells:

Burning Hands, 1d4/CL, Fire, Cone
Snowball, 1d6/CL, Cold, Ranged Touch
Corrosive Touch, 1d4/CL, Acid, Touch
Shocking Grasp, 1d6/CL, Electric, Touch

  • Burning Hands is the only elemental cone attack at that level.
  • Corrosive Touch and Shocking Grasp deal different damage types (an Shocking Grasp even gets bonuses to attack rolls vs. metal).
  • Snowball is the only ranged touch elemental attack at that level.

Is there a balance reason why there aren't equivalent spells for each element at the same level? A cone of cold, electricity, or acid? A missile of acid? etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You mean like Cone of Cold, Scorching Ray, Acid Arrow? (yes, I know, they're different levels...) \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Dec 17 '15 at 3:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus Yes, why are they different levels? Also, Scorching Ray is slightly different as it has MULTIPLE rays, effectively being a different spell. Also, there isn't a Freezing Rays spell that fires multiple 4d6 cold rays. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Dec 17 '15 at 3:52
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Mostly, it’s for variety’s sake. People don’t like it when they pay money for a book and it contains a lot of things that waste space with copies of one another, and the variety gives the elements a bit of identity. Fire tends to be explosive, the “chain” effect is iconically electricity’s, and so on. None of these are hard-and-fast, of course.

On a balance level, the elements are not equal. Fire resistance tends to be most common among monsters; acid resistance the least common, at least out of acid, cold, electricity, and fire (sonic, and even more so force, are very rarely resisted). So on some level, there is some balance concern, but it can be handled. Compare spells to psionics, which have powers like energy ball and energy missile – generic effects that can switch between elements. Pathfinder,1 like D&D 3.5 that it came from, has this as an aspect of the differences between magic and psionic abilities. Also note how cold and fire gain improved damage, and sonic gets reduced damage – this is a nod to the relative frequencies of resistance to each.

  1. Note that psionics was not ported to Pathfinder from 3.5 by Paizo; all psionic material in Pathfinder has been done by Dreamscarred Press.
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    \$\begingroup\$ A lot of the "damage type identify" mentioned in this answer is inherited from earlier editions, where spells were described in terms of effect-in-fiction first and mechanical-effect second; Thus, the earliest spells to do damage with electricity involved generating bolts of it, while the early spells of fire resembled the effects of flamethrowers, bombs and fireworks. The concept of spells whose shape or area of effect isn't tied to the behaviour of the damaging element is a relatively young one. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 17 '15 at 4:24

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