Last Updated on January 22, 2023
What Is Magic in DnD 5e?
Magic in the world of Dungeons & Dragons takes many forms, but it almost always boils down to the ability of an individual, item, or entity to harness the ambient energy of the universe and bend it to their will. Whether this means using that energy to shoot fireballs from their fingertips, read the future, bind powerful entities to their will, resurrect the dead, or any number of other feats ranging from the profound to the profane, it is up to the spellcaster and their knowledge of their craft.
In the Forgotten Realms setting, there is a key distinction drawn between the two main origins of magical power; arcane magic (such as is practiced by wizards and bards) is known as “the art” and stems from an understanding of words of power or intricate rituals that access the ambient energy directly and divine magic (like that which is used by clerics, paladins, and druids), which draws power from a greater entity like a god or even nature itself.
However a mage accesses their magic, both sources (in the Forgotten Realms at least) tap into a deeper, underlying layer of energy known as The Weave.
Spells, then, can be thought of as ways of tapping into that Weave, connecting a spellcaster to it (sometimes via another conduit, like a warlock’s patron) and shaping it into the desired form.
These spells can be broken down into eight categories or “schools”: Conjuration, Necromancy, Evocation, Abjuration, Transmutation, Divination, Enchantment, and Illusion. Magical effects from each school rewrite reality in a different way. Conjuration magic creates matter or transposes energy and spirits from one part of the multiverse to another. Necromancy plays with the delicate balance between life and death. Evocation plays with the flow of energy, healing with a tender touch one minute and harming with a wall of fire the next.
You can read our full breakdown of the schools of magic, as well as the history of magic in Dungeons & Dragons here. You can also check out our full guide to spellcasting.
When magic functions as intended, spellcasters can tap into the Weave and bend it to their will. But what happens when this process goes wrong?
What Is Wild Magic?
When the fabric of the Weave is distorted, stuff starts to get really weird, really fast. Our first exposure to this strange energy was in wild magic zones. In these areas, spells would behave erratically, causing anything from a backfired spell to a plaque of floomphs.
There’s a small callout in the PHB that talks about “The Weave of Magic.” At the very end, there’s a single dismissable sentence that states “… in places where the Weave is damaged or torn, magic works in unpredictable ways – or not at all.” This little tidbit is our first 5e hint at the root of wild magic.
Of course, in 5e, the most common examples of this concept show up in subclasses. Both the wild magic sorcerer and the path of wild magic barbarian have abilities that reflect this chaotic side of the Weave. Interestingly enough, neither of these subclasses directly reference tears in the weave. Instead, they simply talk about an ability to access the raw forces of magic.
The sorcerer, for example, says that you might have received your abilities from exposure to some form of raw magic, like a planar portal or the Elemental Chaos. This concept is great, but it basically just says that you have uncontrollable powers from some strange force.
How about the barbarian? Surely they must give us some idea of how wild magic really works, right? Unfortunately, no. This path of barbarians is all about using strong emotions as a way to access rampant magic throughout the multiverse.
We have to remember, subclass descriptions are often vague so that players can come up with their own unique understanding of their abilities. Because of this, these subclasses actually tell us a lot. While the “official” definition of wild magic might have to do with tears and distortions in the weave, a more broad view of it would define it simply as raw magic.
It makes sense if you think about it. The weave, at its core, is a way of taming the raw and chaotic nature so that we can cast spells and use precise abilities.
Wild magic is any form of untamed magic. It is limitless potential that can only be accessed, not controlled.
Wild Magic and Player Characters
The main way we interact with any form of wild magic is through the abilities given to us by a select few subclasses. In fact, the Wild Magic Surge table, which we’ll cover in a bit, comes from one of these subclasses. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the wild magic subclasses of sorcerer and barbarian to learn more about this fantastical phenomenon.
Wild Magic Sorcerer
Going in order of publication, we start with the wild magic sorcerer, one of the two sorcerous origins that was released with the introduction of 5e. As a sorcerer, they have an innate connection to some form of magic. In this instance, you guessed it, it’s “the wild forces of chaos that underlie the order of creation.”
In other words, these sorcerers are fueled by a connection to some form of raw, untamed magic. Like many sorcerous origins, this isn’t nailed down to one finite cause but, in general, comes from some variety of exposure to powerful magic in its raw form.
A planar portal, the chaos of the Elemental Planes, being blessed by a fey creature, marked by a demon, or just a random fluke of birth — just about anything could cause this, which is pretty interesting if you think about it. I mean, these are sorcerers that can exert some small level of control over one of the most chaotic forces of nature, and it can occur as a random side effect of being born?
This actually tells us something pretty interesting about wild magic. While most sources would have you believe it is restrained to specific areas plagued by magical wars, this just isn’t true.
If just about any magical, or even nonmagical, event can spawn the existence of a magic user with a connection to wild magic, then wild magic is something far more universally present than previously thought. It would seem that it exists as almost a back current to all magic in the multiverse.
Areas of wild magic and characters with the ability to manipulate it are then much more similar to conduits than strange singularities.
That certainly makes sense for the wild magic sorcerer. Beyond just their origins, they’re given some interesting chaos abilities centered around rerolling attacks and ability checks. Of course, the main draw is that they have a chance of rolling a magical effect whenever they cast a spell.
Once they hit 14th level, they even get to exert a bit of control over the wild magic effects they can produce, rolling twice and choosing the effect that’s more beneficial in their situation. I know, that within the context of an RPG, this might seem pretty trivial, but if you take a step back, this is akin to the power of a lesser deity. I mean, these sorcerers can actually control and harness the un-harnessable effects of wild magic.
Wild Magic Barbarian
What about the wild magic barbarian though? This is a class that is perhaps best known for the fact that they don’t use magic, so how do their skills even work?
Well, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything explains that many areas of the multiverse are full of rampant magic that has a deep connection to intense emotions. As barbarians are fueled by their intense emotions, mainly rage, they make an excellent conduit for these unchecked abilities.
Particularly, the path of wild magic is taken by barbarians of magical heritage, such as elves, tieflings, or genasi. Those with a rich cultural history of magic use may seek to infuse their barbaric rage with the mystical currents that run throughout the multiverse.
From a mechanical standpoint, this means that wild magic barbarians roll on a smaller wild surge table to produce an effect whenever they enter their rage. You can picture this as a blast of arcane energy pouring out of these warriors’ hearts and unleashing a particularly nasty brand of chaos on the battlefield.
Naturally, their abilities are much more connected to their status as brutal warriors, forging magic weapons, creating difficult terrain, allowing the barbarian to teleport, and more. While it’s not necessarily canon, you could say that their intense emotions give them a more natural hold over the surges, explaining why the effects are seemingly much less random than those of a sorcerer.
Barbarian Wild Surge
Of course, it might’ve just had something to do with barbarians being known for “easier” gameplay, and making another d100 table could’ve been a bit over the top.
Regardless, both of these player subclasses have an incredible tie to a force that really isn’t studied much throughout the multiverse of D&D. Sure, in the past, there may have been wizards who studied the ways of wild magic and learned true mastery over its chaotic nature, but those wizards seemed to have vanished with the spellplague.
For now, all we know is that mortal beings are capable of tapping into this well of energy with varying levels of success.
Roleplaying a Wild Magic PC
Your characters are always yours to play as you choose, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer a few tips and tricks to create much more effective storytelling at the table. If you want to play a character with access to wild magic, it’s important to consider their relationship to that mysterious force.
Sure, you could play them like any other character, but much like a warlock or a paladin, this particular brand of abilities and origins lends itself to some really interesting character development.
When you focus on how your character feels about the wild magic they’re connected to, you get to influence not only their actions when using the magic but their overall personality in general. A character who fears the powers they are connected to could make for someone very timid. Think of Rogue from X-Men or Elsa from Frozen. Ironically, both of these gloved heroines are portrayed as loners, afraid that their violent powers could harm anyone that gets too close.
They also get to have that amazing moment where they unleash their full power and really embrace it, taking them down a path of isolation, power hunger, or acceptance — it’s kind of dealer’s choice at that point.
In contrast, we have the characters who are as chaotic, if not more chaotic, than the powers that they wield. This doesn’t have to be chaotic in the moral alignment aspect, but it certainly can be. More so, it just means that these characters fully embrace their powers with almost giddiness. These characters can be dangerous because they’ll probably seek to invite randomness into any situation, be that with their magic or not.
Then, we have the characters who are deeply curious about their abilities, wishing to study themselves and learn to control the powers they wield. They might take diligent notes or become fully engrossed whenever they conjure up a power they haven’t experienced before.
There are, naturally, a million ways you could go, but when you focus on the character’s perception of their own powers, you give yourself a huge jumping pad for further character exploration. It also will determine just how willing you are to unleash your powers and how often you’ll seek alternative solutions.
Areas of Wild Magic and Living Spells
Places where the Weave is torn become conduits for wild magic in their own right. Actually, it’s probably a bit more accurate to say that these are wells. It’s easy to imagine the weave as an exceedingly complex system of pipes. An area of wild magic, or a wild magic zone, is where the pipes rupture, allowing insane amounts of energy to pour out and some crazy things to happen.
Areas of wild magic are known for two things. First, they have unpredictable effects on spells cast within them. Second, they can produce unpredictable magical effects all on their own.
Whenever a spell is cast within a wild magic zone, a DM can cause one of a few things to happen. The spell can change its power, change its target, come to life, or incur a roll on the wild magic surge table. Below is a small table to determine which effects might happen.
Casting in a Wild Magic Zone
Spells are fickle things, so all of these effects should be used at a DM’s discretion. If you’d like, you can even have players make an Arcana check against a suitable DC to determine whether or not they have to roll on this table.
You may notice that some effects don’t 100% align with every spell in 5e. That’s fine; we’re not in the business of over-engineering things like WotC enjoys doing. We trust you, as the DM, to come up with suitable solutions.
Perhaps a backfiring healing spell actually heals an enemy. Maybe a divination spell can be overcharged in a different way, allowing the caster to obtain answers far easier or to obtain more knowledge than normal. The point of this isn’t just for your players to have fun; it’s for you to flex your DM muscles and experience a bit more chaos at the table than you might be used to.
Also, you may be wondering just what the hell a sentient spell even is. Well, there is actually some huge precedence laid out for “Living Spells” in 5e. Currently, we have seven such living spells in the sum of the 5e bestiary, and I imagine more are on the way.
Essentially, these spells are infused with the raw power of a wild magic zone and function completely on their own. They make for an interesting unintended result of spellcasting, but they can also make for great random encounters.
In the guide I linked to above, I give an explanation of how to create your own living spells. With a bit more experience under my belt, I’d even revise something I said. Any spell can gain sentience, even if it’s a spell as seemingly mundane as comprehend languages (I imagine it would act much like an extremely intelligent guide to the land with the obvious ability to speak any language).
Living spells gain a full stat block, taking their main abilities straight from the text of the spell itself. Their stats are then determined by their level and the type of spell they are. A divination spell, for example, probably has higher intelligence or wisdom, while something like Bigby’s Hand or Lightning Bolt would have higher physical stats.
Their allegiances, motives, and the extent of their sentience are completely up to you as a DM. Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound could remain a faithful servant or become as violent as a wild dog. A living Darkness spell could seek to shroud everything in darkness, or it could function like a helpful ally, hiding its friends from danger.
Just like any NPC you could roll up, these are creatures with their own motives and goals. Some may even have the necessary intelligence to question their existence, making for an interesting philosophical experience at the game table.
These living spells can go in a lot of different ways, but one thing’s for sure; they’re going to be some of the most interesting characters your players have seen at the table in a long time.
The Wild Magic Surge Table
When magic malfunctions, when the weave unravels, and wild magic seeps into the material plane, the result is known as a wild magic surge. You’re probably most familiar with the concept as part of the Wild Magic Sorcerer subclass, which has a chance to roll on the table whenever they use magic.
When a wild magic surge occurs, you roll a d100 on the wild magic surge table and see what happens next. The results range in impact from harmless sensory effects, like the caster’s skin instantly turning blue, to high weirdness (how about summoning a random number of Flumphs?) and the downright catastrophic. Campaigns have ended within minutes before as an early roll on the Wild Magic Surge table has seen the party sorcerer cast fireball centered on themself and earn the record for the Forgotten Realms’ fastest TPK.
Despite rolling a d100, there are actually 50 possible options on the sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge table. The options largely fall into four categories: harmless sensory effects that present an interesting roleplaying opportunity or maybe a small inconvenience, a sizable mechanical benefit, a serious mechanical drawback, and something that could be good or bad depending on where you’re standing or who the effect targets.
This is honestly a pretty fun spread of options that plays around in interesting ways with the sorcerer spell list. Plenty of the results also become more or less useful, problematic, or interesting based on context, which is fun and, I think, the big reason why this is such a popular subclass.
Everyone remembers the moments where serendipity saved (or doomed) a D&D campaign; someone had just the right item or pulled off the most imaginative spell usage, or the wild magic sorcerer randomly poisoned the BBEG and won the party the battle. Or, what about the time when they accidentally set off some ethereal music that attracted the attention of a bunch of orcs. Good or bad (or just plain weird), Wild Magic surges are memorable.
Randomness and uncertainty are a part of why people play D&D. Not the biggest part, but from the most committed roleplayer to the most meticulous power gamer, everyone holds their breath when the time arrives for a big dice roll. The randomness, the uncertainty — that’s the stuff that separates DnD from kinda bad improv theater.
As a DM, I try to roll on random tables or create outcomes that surprise me all the time. It keeps the game fresh and exciting, and it helps lessen the insidious idea that I’m here solely to curate an experience for my players. I’m here to have fun too, dammit, so maybe I want to be just as surprised by what’s on the other side of the door as the adventurers.
The Wild Magic Sorcerer feeds off that love of the uncertain and unknown. It’s a subclass that’s all about the unexpected, and I frequently find myself working wild magic into my campaigns in one form or another.
However, it’s important to remember that the sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge table isn’t the be-all and end-all of wild magic mishaps. In fact, as mentioned above, both the nature of the spellcaster and the place in which the surge is occurring can have an effect on the results of a wild magic surge.
The Path of Wild Magic barbarian gets to roll on a very specific wild magic table unique to its subclass because the wild magic that its primal path is expressing is being channeled through a certain creature.
Likewise, different areas have different wild magic tables. The wild magic that permeates the city of Gnomengarde in The Dragon of Icespire Peak is significantly less dangerous (you might turn blue, sprout fairy wings, or “experience another whimsical effect of the GM’s invention” — which is an important precedent) than the one in Hazlan, the magically misaligned domain of dread in Ravenloft. In this accursed place, you have the chance to provoke some of the following wild magic results.
- A number (2d4) of the Staring Cats of Uldum-dar appear within 30 feet of the character. These sapient, hyperdimensional cats have uneven numbers of eyes and are not hostile, but they ominously share reports on how the character died in multiple parallel dimensions. The cats vanish after the character’s next long rest.
- A shrieking, skinless, many-limbed horror that has the statistics of (and vaguely resembles) a unicorn appears within 30 feet of the character. It is hostile to them, vanishing after 1 minute.
- The character is frightened of all creatures until the end of their next turn.
These options are significantly weirder and more dangerous than those found on the standard wild magic table. So, with the idea in mind that wild magic can be so much more than the options contained within the sorcerer wild magic table (and that published 5e adventures explicitly give DMs permission to make up their own wild magic surge results), we thought we’d take a crack at our own.
Weirder Wild Magic
One of the things that Scott and I talk about a lot — and incorporate readily into games we play that aren’t D&D 5e — is the idea that magic should feel… well, magical. By magical, I mean weird, otherworldly, and fundamentally out of (or beyond) our control. In 5e, magic feels decidedly tamed. Not tame (fireball and meteor shower decidedly aren’t that) but like it’s something that’s understood.
For all the talk about wizards unraveling ineffable mysteries and warlocks treating with unknowable beings, magic in 5e is pretty much a known quantity. Sure, some spells have slightly randomized outcomes, but mostly you pick a thing, the thing happens, and that’s it.
A wild magic table is the perfect place to bring a little of the kind of magic I like to D&D 5e: magic that feels like the sweaty palms when Faust strikes his bargain, or the raw crackling power of the Warp in Warhammer 40k, or venturing into the heart of the forest to sniff the fumes from a witch’s cauldron — real magic, real power, real danger of everything going very, very wrong indeed.
However, because we wanted some really genuinely bonkers options in here — and because summoning cthulhu as the result of a botched Detect Thoughts spell kinda feels silly — we’re also doing our own version of how to roll for a Wild Magic Surge.
Weird Wild Magic Surge
When you are in an area of wild magic (or some other circumstances create the opportunity for a wild magic surge), roll a d20 each time a spell with a level of 0-9 is cast. On a result equal to or lower than the spell’s level (treat cantrips as 1), there is a Wild Magic Surge.
To roll for a wild magic surge, roll a number of d10 equal to the spell’s level + 1, and compare the total result to the Weird Wild Magic Surge table below.
The Weirder Wild Magic Sorcerer
Wild Magic Sorcerers have a special interaction with this rule. Whenever a Wild Magic Sorcerer rolls on the Weird Wild Magic Surge Table, they roll the number of d10s determined by the level of spell they cast. However, if they don’t like the result of the roll, they can roll again, but they must add another d10 to the pool and reroll all the dice. They can continue doing this until they are happy with the result or they roll 10d10.
Also, a wild magic sorcerer can spend sorcery points equal to the level of the spell that triggered the wild magic surge divided by two (minimum of one) to downgrade the size of the dice they roll on the wild magic surge table. A d10 becomes a d8, then a d6, and then a d4. You must spend more sorcery points each time. If they elect to reroll and add an extra die to the pool as described above, the die they add is also reduced. The total number of dice the pool can be increased to is still 10.
For example: A wild magic sorcerer who triggers a wild magic surge when casting a 4th-level spell would roll 5d10 for a possible result of between 5 and 50 on the table. They can choose to spend 2 sorcery points (4 / 2 = 2) to reduce the size of the dice to 5d8 (range of 5-40), 4 sorcery points to reduce the dice to 5d6 (5-30), or 6 sorcery points to roll 5d4 (5-20).
Unless otherwise stated, the effects of wild magic that aren’t instantaneous (such as a peal of bells or the detonation of a fireball) are assumed to be permanent until removed by a spell such as Greater Restoration.
The Weird Wild Magic Surge Table (d100)
- Arcane Campanology. A peal of bells briefly fills the air around the caster’s head.
- Laughter of a Dying King. Madness overcomes you, forcing you to laugh uncontrollably for the next 1d4 turns. During this time, you must succeed in a DC 10 constitution saving throw to cast any spells with a verbal component.
- Brush With a Cold Lord. A layer of frost forms on all metal, stone, and glass within 30 feet of the caster. Sound is muffled, and you hear the crunching of iron shoes on snow.
- Mutant’s Touch. Chitinous limbs, fleshy eye stalks, or any sort of Cronenbergian features protrude from your body. You gain no mechanical benefits from these features, and they disappear after 1d6 days unless cured earlier by a Greater Restoration spell.
- Yowling Coterie. For the next 1d6 days, you attract the attention of all cats within 100 feet of you wherever you go; they follow you around yelling for food.
- Visions of a Dying World. You are transported to the top of a mountain of bones and flames, spreading for eternity in every direction. The bodies of your allies and enemies, loved ones and acquaintances lie strewn about the ground around you, and you are utterly alone. After what appears to be days, months, or years, you return to where you were. No time has passed.
- Whispers of the Void. The air around you fills with sickening, breathy whispers for 1d4 minutes. You can’t quite make out what the whispers are saying, but they sound mean.
- Echoes of Another Life. Your mind swims with visions of another path your life could’ve taken. You gain a random proficiency in a weapon, language, skill, or tool that you are not already proficient in.
- Voice of a Songbird. For the next hour, 2d4 songbirds erupt from your throat whenever you try to cast a cantrip or spell with the Verbal component, causing the spell to fail. When the effect ends, the quality of your singing voice is much improved. If you are proficient in the Charisma (Performance) skill, you double your proficiency bonus when making Charisma (Performance) checks that involve singing.
- The Sun Warrior. For an hour, every time you deal damage, replace the damage type with fire damage and roll an additional 1d6 per level of the spell that incurred this effect.
- Interdimensional Vermin Incursion (minor). A swarm made up of thousands of skinless, formless flying things with the characteristics of insects, bats, and squid appears in the caster’s space and spreads outwards by 5 feet in every direction each turn. The creatures have the same stats as a swarm of bats and are not hostile, but they fill the air, making the area lightly obscured and imposing the penalties of shooting into three-quarter cover on anyone making a ranged attack roll through the swarm.
- The Black Mask of Death. Your veins darken, and your skin grows translucent. Whenever you touch someone, they must make a Constitution saving throw where the DC is equal to 12 + the level of the spell that incurred this effect. On a failed save, they are poisoned, and their hit point maximum is reduced by 1d6 at the beginning of each turn. They may repeat the save at the end of each of their turns. On a successful save, the effect ends on them and they become immune to your poison. This effect only ends for you if you are healed by Greater Restoration or similar magic.
- Interdimensional Inspection. 3d6 eyes open in nearby walls, your clothes, other people’s skin — everywhere. They vary in size from a human eye to a grapefruit and watch the proceedings with interest for a few moments before winking (get it?) out of existence.
- Alacritous Actions. The next time you enter combat, roll initiative twice. You may act on both turns as normal, and you may make a reaction between each turn you take. After the combat ends, you gain an incredible hunger and must consume 3 days’ worth of food as soon as possible. For each hour that passes without eating, you suffer a level of exhaustion.
- Form of the Destructor. The next food product you think of materializes as a small, vaguely anthropomorphic homunculus (a jelly-man, a roast chicken with baby arms and legs, an animate pile of molten chocolate — use the same stats as a mephit, including the death explosion, but it’s hot oil or something else appropriate) somewhere within 60 feet of you with the sole intention of ending your life.
- Cog-nitive Reasoning. A construct with a CR less than or equal to the level of the spell you cast is conjured in the closest unoccupied space to you. It is completely loyal to you and will follow any command you give it in accordance with Asimov’s Three Laws (replacing human for humanoid).
- Alchemist’s Shuffle. Any of the 10 substances that can be retrieved from the Alchemy Jug (acid, basic poison, beer, honey, mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, fresh water, salt water, wine) within 2d10 feet of you are instantly transmuted into one of the other substances from the list (either determined randomly or chosen by the GM).
- Crown Thief. You become fixated on a quest for the crown. Well, every crown. Whenever you see something that resembles a crown, you are overcome with avarice and must spend all movement and actions attempting to steal the crown from its current owner by any means possible. If you go a week without gaining a new crown, you lose 1d4 points in charisma, and this effect ends on you.
- Serpentine Transmutation. All nonmagical weapons within 2d10 feet of the caster are polymorphed into poisonous snakes. The snakes are hostile to everything.
- Illusions Abound. For each creature in a 60-foot radius, an illusory duplicate is created in their space. These illusions follow the rules of the spell Mirror Image.
- Godsbreath. A gale force wind exudes from the mouth of a random creature within 30 feet of the caster that the caster can see. Every time the affected creature speaks or opens their mouth, they must succeed on a DC 12 Strength saving throw or be pushed backward by 5 feet for every number less than the save DC they rolled (ex. The affected creature rolls a 9, meaning they are immediately pushed backward 15 feet.) If the affected creature impacts a solid surface, they take 1d8 bludgeoning damage for every 10 feet traveled (rounded down). If they impact another creature, the damage is divided between them evenly (if the total damage doesn’t divide evenly, the affected creature takes the bigger amount).
- The Judgment of Primus. Twelve modrons appear in unoccupied spaces near you. All 12 will focus on a single, randomly selected creature within a 60-foot radius of you. The modrons will attempt to restrain the creature and bring it back to the plane of Mechanus. If successful, the creature is taken before Primus, who will give them a rating on a scale of 1 to 10. The creature is returned to the space they were taken from after an hour passes.
- The Procession of Ghosts. You see pale shades of the dead all around you, silently going about their own errands. Sometimes they walk right through you, but they all refuse to meet your gaze.
- The Long Reach of Midas. Every substance made of metal within 30 feet of you becomes pure gold. Weapons transmuted in this way now deal 1d4 damage. Armor transmuted in this way reduces its AC by 4.
- Cosmic Enmity. For the next 1d6 hours, all creatures of a randomly determined type (beasts, fiends, monstrosities, etc.) are both automatically hostile and deathly afraid of you. A creature you have a strong bond with can make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw to keep from attacking you or fleeing but will not permit you to get close to them.
- Extraplanar Potential. A creature type is chosen at random from Aberration, Celestial, Elemental, Fey, or Fiend. Then, the DM chooses a creature whose CR is equal to your current level. Over the course of the next week, you slowly gain a physical characteristic of that creature. At the end of the week, you gain an ability of the creature as if it were a feature you had gained through leveling up.
- Interdimensional Vermin Incursion (major). A festering wound in the fabric of reality tears open and emits 1d6 chimeric, poorly defined extraplanar entities. They resemble twitching, screaming piles of darkness and meat, and they all have your face. They are hostile to everything, use the same stats as any fiend with CR equal to the level of the spell that provoked the wild magic surge (or the closest one, rounding down), and disappear after one minute.
- I’ve Been Here the Whole Time. Roll 3d6 six times, rerolling your lowest roll. In order, these are now your new stats (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha). With the help of your DM, decide upon a character before the start of your next session. The new character completely replaces your old character in the memories and events of the world, as if you had always been playing this character.
- The Death Reflection. If you look into a mirror or reflective surface, you see your death. You either die in a randomly determined way (1. Stabbed, 2. Falling from a Great Height, 3. Poisoned, 4. Drowning, 5. Burned Alive, 6. Devoured by Beasts) or the GM can ask you to invent your own scenario (it can’t be too specific, but it should be more specific than “in battle”; it must be violent). Going forward, you have advantage on all death saving throws when you are at risk of dying in a way the mirror did not predict. However, if you drop to 0 hit points as a result of the fate you see in the mirror, you die after failing a single death saving throw rather than three (you must still make three successful saving throws to stabilize).
- Dragon’s Bounty . A priceless gem appears on your person that you refuse to part with. To you, this gem is worth dying for and worth killing for. After a number of days, an ancient dragon comes to collect his prized jewel. The dragon shares the same unwavering desire for the gem, and this can only end with one of you dying. (Attempting to sell the gem forces you to suffer a level of exhaustion. If you manage to actually sell it, you suffer a level of exhaustion every 12 hours until you get it back.)
- Finger of the Whispered One. You begin to grow an additional finger on your left hand. The process is excruciatingly painful and takes 1d4 days, during which time you gain no benefits from resting or magical healing. When the finger is fully grown, it withers and tries to crawl away like a snake. If you catch it, kill it, and mummify it in salt over the course of a year, it becomes a +3 Spellcasting Focus attunable only to you. The finger also allows you to cast a random spell from your own spell list (of the highest level you were capable of casting when you grew the finger) once per day.
- Misaligned Misanthrope. Your alignment changes, roll a d8 to determine which alignment you receive. You forget about your allies, and your new alignment determines your willingness to associate with them once more.
- Graces of the Crab God. Your skeleton painfully migrates to the outside of your body. Your unarmored AC becomes 17, and your Strength increases to 18. One of your hands is replaced with a great big meaty claw (d8 + STR damage when making Unarmed Strikes) that imposes disadvantage on Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) ability checks.
- Cursed Geometric Patterns. Over the course of the next few days, you begin to see patterns everywhere. Fractals and hidden numbers lie before you in every action, every natural phenomenon, and every act of god as you come closer and closer to a divine answer. Soon, you begin to obsess over your newfound knowledge, unable to achieve a long rest because you sneak from your bed each night to observe the sacred patterns. After a week passes, you arrive at the belief that everything is determined by the rolling of strange cosmic polyhedrons. You gain the ability to choose the outcome of any dice roll once a day. However, if you ever roll a 1, you will believe yourself to be cursed and become frightened of every creature within a 30-foot radius for 1 minute.
- Crystalline Skin. Your body begins to crinkle and turn transparent. Within d4 days, it will be entirely crystal, beautiful, hard, brittle, divine… Your unarmored AC becomes 18, and you increase your Charisma score by 1d4 (this can take your CHA score above 20). You are also vulnerable to bludgeoning and thunder damage, which makes your whole body ring like a bell.
- Unstable Energy. The veil between you and the Weave drops away, giving you full access to the magical potential of the universe. For the next 1d6 days, you don’t use any spell slots to cast your spells, you can choose to have any creature automatically fail your saving throw, your damage-dealing spells deal full damage, and your healing spells heal the maximum amount of HP. When this effect ends, you immediately age 1d20 + 10 years.
- Eyes of the Star Devil. Your eyes turn into pools of liquid silver like mercury. Immediately gain a level of experience. Once per day, you may pierce the veil of fate. Ask the GM a question with a yes or no answer that they must answer truthfully, or either reroll one of your own d20 checks, saves, or attacks or force another creature to do the same instead. Your eyes unsettle and alarm monsters and normal folk.
- Sanguine Thirst. Your skin goes pale, your teeth begin to sharpen to a point, and you feel the cold grasp of undeath begin to replace the blood in your veins. You develop a thirst for blood that must be quenched. Each day, you must drink blood or suffer a level of exhaustion. If you drink blood for seven days in a row, you become a dhampir, replacing your racial stats with those of the dhampir lineage. If you die from exhaustion, you rise again as a vampire, your character no longer under your control. These effects can be stopped early by a Remove Curse spell and a blood ritual.
- The Dark City. Your skin flashes with shadows that seem to writhe within you. In your dreams, you visit a darkened city, where shadowy people live in fear of their incomprehensible solitude. You may find mentors here that allow you to perform magical research, learn new spells, or train with a new skill while you sleep as though experiencing a full week of downtime each night. However, you awaken exhausted each morning. All hit points regained through nonmagical healing are halved unless you can drink yourself into a stupor or are magically put to sleep.
- Know When to Hold ‘Em. Time screeches to a stop around you as a satyr jester of the Seelie Court appears in front of you. He bids you to a game of chance. You must pull three cards from the Deck of Many Things. If you draw the Skull, you lose, and all five effects happen immediately. If you draw the Moon, you win and can choose to resolve any or none of the cards. If you draw both the Skull and the Moon, you may choose any three cards from the deck to keep and resolve at any time you wish.
- Magesong. Your ears start ringing in the presence (20 feet) of anything magical (items, spells, even magic users). While near sources of magic, you have disadvantage on all ability checks that rely on hearing.
- Unbridled Chaos Magic. For every creature in a 15-foot radius, a random spell from the list below (d12) is chosen and cast with them as the target. Concentration spells last for the full duration, and any saving throws are equal to your spell save DC +5. If the spell does not designate a specific target, the creature is counted as the center of the spell’s area of effect. (Instead of rolling, DMs may choose spells at random through any means they prefer.)
- Investiture of Ice
- Hold Monster
- Evard’s Black Tentacles
- Reverse Gravity
- Wrath of Nature
- Circle of Death
- Anointed. Whatever religion or god your character follows, they are somehow remade in their image, gaining physical mutations, powers, or other such “blessings.” Consult with the GM to determine what this means. Some possible examples include:
- Immediately gaining a multiclass level in cleric or warlock.
- Sprouting horns, claws, or wings (gain a racial trait from a playable race that has these properties).
- Choosing a monster affiliated with your deity and gaining one of its abilities.
- Seeing Double. A creature in the surrounding 40-foot radius is chosen at random. Two identical clones of that creature pop into existence in unoccupied spaces 20 feet from the original, and the original is teleported to an unoccupied space within 20 feet from its previous location. Each of these three creatures shares the same memories and stats and is completely indistinguishable from one another. Each claims to be the original.
- Rebirth. Your character is irrevocably changed, transforming into an interdimensional vermin spawn over the next 1d4 + 2 days (each dawn, flip open a Monsters of the Multiverse to a new page and give the PC a physical characteristic belonging to the first Aberration, Fiend, or Monstrosity that you find). Only death and resurrection or a powerful spell like Greater Restoration can halt this process.
- Plastic and Paint. Your soul escapes your body, traveling through the planes at a nauseating speed. You pass through the edge of your crystal sphere, through thousands of crystal spheres, and eventually, through a thin white sheet. Before you are seated an array of cosmic entities, laughing and coveting their strange gems and figures. As you observe the strange ritual they are engrossed in, you notice a small statue that looks almost exactly like you. The master of these entities then looks directly at you and beckons you to return to your world and to forget what you’ve seen. When you return, everything is but a faint memory. However, every day, the DM will change the result of any roll you wish in exchange for your silence.
- Conduit. You hear the whispered echoes of a god’s dying thoughts. You glimpse a fragment of the universe’s scope and your insignificance within it. Your Wisdom becomes 20 (if it is already higher than 20, you are unaffected). Around you, shadows crawl and creep, and strange lights dance beneath your skin. The dying god makes demands of you in your sleep and waking hours alike, telling you to do strange, insignificant, or impossible things. Failing to acquiesce to the dead god’s demands imposes disadvantage on all attack rolls and saving throws for the rest of the day.
- The Illusion of Time. The universe shivers and cracks. Glowing light of impossible colors consumes your vision, and sounds never before heard fill your mind. You and any allies within a 60-foot radius are brought 1d20 days into the past. You appear in the spaces you occupied at the time, replacing the versions of you that were in this timeline.
- Ascent. You are blessed with a fraction of a fraction of an eldritch god’s power. Your eyes become pools of nothingness, crammed with stars and exploding galaxies, and curling horns made from diamond and blue fire begin to grow from your skull. You gain the power to cast levitate at will and regain all missing hit points and spell slots on a short rest. Each time you level up, you may choose to either increase one of your ability scores to 20 or choose any spell from the Cleric list that you may now cast at will. All XP you receive is multiplied by 1,000, and you are not restricted to leveling up once per session. When you reach 20th level, within the day, your character ascends to become a God-Thing and is no longer under the control of you as a player.
- All Men Must Die. A random creature within a 40-foot radius instantly drops to 0 hit points and is considered to have made two failed death saving throws and two successful death saving throws. If that creature dies, nothing more happens. If that creature lives, repeat this effect and roll on the table again.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.