When you're crafting things in Final Fantasy XIV you need a small handful of elemental shards to go along with the actual raw materials for the item itself. I don't think there's any actual reason for this within the game itself, mostly it feels like that's how crafting worked in Final Fantasy XI and therefore that's how it works in this one too. Back in FFXI you'd need to grind monsters to get these crystals and they'd take up space in your inventory. To start crafting at all you'd need to use one of the crystals and then you'd get prompted to pick some more stuff out of your inventory to combine with the crystal. If you managed to pick a combination that made something you'd try to make it, otherwise you'd get an error message. So the crystals served as an item in the economy and as part of the game interface.
In FFXIV the shards have their own little tab in your inventory and you never directly interact with them in that tab. Instead you craft stuff by opening up your crafting log and finding the specific thing you want to make from a list. Very similar to the way crafting works in World of Warcraft, actually, except you then have to play a minigame to make an item instead of just watching a little bar fill up automatically. Each time you make something it uses up some of your crystals but I'd never paid any attention to them. Unlocking all of the crafting classes gave hundreds of every type of crystal and it felt like they were something to ignore. The gathering classes could choose to mine up crystals instead of ore but they're worth no experience and that just seemed like a bit of a silly option.
Well, today while leveling up my goldsmithing I actually ran out of wind shards. That was really surprising to me, especially when I checked my inventory and saw that I still have 1335 earth shards and more than 400 of the other four elements. Apparently I made a lot of things out of wind shards. Ok, fine, I still want to make more things out of them... How do I get more of them?
It turns out that isn't such an easy question to answer. Final Fantasy XIV in particular is a game where Google searches aren't as useful as they could be because most of the information on the game comes from message boards and blog posts and a lot of it refers to the original disastrous version of the game and not the more recent version that just came out last month. So I found lots of discussions about where to farm up more shards only to eventually realize that you can't actually kill monsters for shards in this game. You could in the first version, but not anymore. Now it seems there are four ways to get shards: quest rewards, killing elementals, mining/botany, and buying them off the auction house.
Elementals are pretty rare to stumble across, you get no experience for mining them up, and most of the quests with shard rewards are early on and I've already done them. There are some repeatable quests which give shards, but they all require you to craft items to hand in and it feels like you consume more shards than you get when you do them. At the very least the one I was doing today took 24 shards per turn in and you could get 4 or 6 shards back. And a lot of money and experience, so it was totally worth doing, but it wasn't a way to generate shards.
Realistically it seems the only reasonable way to get more shards is to buy them from other people. How do they get the shards to sell? Presumably they do the early crafting quests and then give up on crafting. I do have more than 4200 shards of the non-wind elements, after all! I fully intend on leveling all of the crafting classes though, so I don't intend on actually selling any of them off.
I wonder if creating a new character just to grind through the starting quests makes any amount of sense. I actually can't do that right now (it was $3 per month cheaper to get 1 character slot instead of 8) but it might be the 'best' way to get more shards. Which seems really terrible. Especially since if I sold off all my shards in my inventory for the same price I paid to get some wind shards I'd have about 6 times as much money as I've generated so far actually playing the game.