17

Dangerous Magic

Magic is a powerful force that can rewrite the laws of reality—turn ice into fire, restore life to the dead, travel great distances in a heartbeat. Magic can grant unimaginable power, but it is not without risk—channeling raw energies can be deadly to the unprepared.

This chapter introduces rules to make magic a little more dangerous and unpredictable for spellcasters.

Magical Burnout

Sometimes, the flow of magic goes against you. It's hard to shape, it's too chaotic, it's too powerful—whatever the reason, some magic energy lashes out during your spellcasting attempt and causes you some harm.

This is called burnout and it can happen to any caster, whether arcane or divine. Magic is dangerous work, and the slightest distraction can be catastrophic.

Triggering Burnout

If you are a spellcaster, take a d12—this is your Burnout die. Whenever you attempt to cast a magic spell, roll the Burnout die; on a 1 or 2, the power is overwhelming and you trigger a burnout event—two things happen to you:

1. Your Burnout Die gets Smaller

Your burnout die starts as a d12, but each time you suffer burnout the die becomes one size smaller.

Burnout Die

1d12 → 1d10 → 1d8 → 1d6 → 1d4

As your die shrinks it becomes increasingly more likely that you will trigger further burnout—so be careful.

2. You Suffer a Consequence

If your spell is 1st-level or higher, roll a d100 and check the Burnout Consequences table to see what effect your burnout has. Consequences become increasingly more severe the higher your spell level, so beware.

  • Clanda:Ok, these myconids are really starting to annoy me now. Good thing I've been saving this Fireball for a special occasion...
  • GM:As you channel your arcane power, you feel the weave pulling away. Roll your burnout die, Clanda.
  • Clanda:Easy, still on a fresh d12... (rolls 1) ...or not, damn. So that's a 3rd-level burnout with a... (rolls 46) ...hurt consequence, ouch.
  • GM:Some of the raw arcane energy arcs lances out from your spell. Shrink your burnout die one step to d10 and take 6 hit points of damage.
  • Clanda:Fine. I'll channel that anger back into the spell—these myconids are going to burn.

If a consequence doesn't fully apply to you, or doesn't make sense for the situation, pick one that does. Alternatively, the GM may pick a consequence for you.

Burnout Consequences

d100 Consequence
1-5 Drained: Lose (spell level) hit dice.
6-15 Reduced: Lose (spell level / 2) hit dice.
16-40 Shocked: Lose (spell level x 4) hit points.
41-88 Hurt: Lose (spell level x 2) hit points.
89-93 Blackout: Disadvantage on casting for (spell level) rounds.
94 Immolated: Shrink the burnout die to d4.
95 Gifted: Regain this spell slot.
96 Renewed: Regain (spell level) hit dice.
97 Healed: Gain (spell level x 4) hit points.
98 Protected: Gain (spell level x 4) temporary hit points.
99 Energized: Advantage on casting for (spell level) rounds.
100 Restored: Reset the burnout die to d12.

Recovering from Burnout

Once a burnout die shrinks, it remains that size until you take a recovery action. There are four primary means of recovering from burnout:

  1. Spend a hit die: You can spend a hit die during a short rest to grow your burnout die by one step. You don't gain any healing from hit die spent in this way.
  2. Get a good sleep: If you get a good night's sleep, your burnout die grows by one step. Sleeping in a place of magical power (such as a leyline or divine temple) may increase your die by larger amounts.
  3. Take a long rest: Once you complete a long rest, your burnout die is fully restored to d12.
  4. Consume a restorative: Some special consumables—magic, crafted, or otherwise—may help restore your burnout die when ingested.
  • Clanda:Ok, that's the myconids burnt to a crisp. Let's take a short rest, I need to recover some burnout. I'll drink some of Chansi's special arcane tea—
  • Chansi:No you won't, you finished that yesterday.
  • Clanda:Blast. In that case, I'll spend a hit die to channel some power and get this d10 back up to d12.

Your Burnout Risk

The likelihood of experiencing burnout depends on the size of your die—the larger the die, the safer you are. Try to keep your die as large as possible for the best chance at avoiding burnout consequences.

Burnout Risk

Die Size Risk
d12 16%
d10 20%
d8 25%
d6 33%
d4 50%

Safe Magic

Not all magical abilities put your body at harm's risk—these innate or controlled safe magics don't require a burnout roll when used:

  • Class Features: Effects gained through class features—such as Channel Divinity or Lay on Hands.
  • Racial Features: Spells gained through a racial ability—such as the tiefling's Infernal Legacy.
  • Magic Items: These channel their own energies.
  • Rituals: A ritual safely controls the flow of magical energy with complicated sigils and glyphs.

Why Did I Burn Out?

Magic is a fickle thing, even in the hands of the well-trained. If you want an explanation for your burnout, roll a d20 and check the Burnout Reasons table below—or choose your own reason if you prefer.

Burnout Reasons

d20 Reason
1 You mispronounced a key syllable.
2 You said the words in the wrong order.
3 You sneezed.
4 You wrote a glyph incorrectly.
5 You used a low quality spell component.
6 You didn't move your hands in the proper motion.
7 You got distracted by a sudden movement.
8 The weave is wild and unpredictable.
9 Your god is angry with you.
10 Your god gave you too much power at once.
11 Your god is busy with celestial matters.
12 An opposing god is interfering with the power.
13 A nearby ley-line is warping the flow of magic.
14 Another caster is disrupting your control.
15 Your patron is testing you.
16 Your patron wants your attention.
17 Your patron doesn't understand your mortal frailty.
18 The winds of magic are against you.
19 A magic item you are wearing reacts badly.
20 Magical energy is scarce in this region.

Regional Magic

Magical power is not equal in all places. Perhaps you're in a temple or a wizard's tower, where the flow of magic has been tamed? Or you're near an arcane vortex or an elemental gate, where magic is wild and hard to control?

These environmental effects can impact your ability to cast spells and change how likely you are to suffer from magical burnout.

At the GM's discretion, add a regional modifier (-3 to +3) to the size of your normal burnout die. Grow the die to prevent burnout, and shrink it to encourage burnout.

Regional Modifiers

Modifier Severity Description
+3 Serene The flow of magic is abundant, predicable, and easy to harness.
+2 Calm The flow of magic is rich.
+1 Stable The flow of magic is reliable.
+0 Normal
-1 Unstable The flow of magic is erratic.
-2 Wild The flow of magic is intense and hard to control or shape.
-3 Chaotic The flow of magic is raw, unpredictable, and dangerous.

These regional effects can be as small or as large as you like—a few feet, a room, a building, a few miles, a kingdom, or even a whole continent.

  • GM:Pushing through the thick wood, you see an old stone building with a ruined spire in the distance. You feel the calming power of holy ground.
  • Valiant:Finally, Unity Spire. I'll let Viridian know I've found it with a Sending spell.
  • GM:Ok, make your burnout check.
  • Valiant:No problem. Should be rolling d8, but this calm power pushes it back up two sizes to d12. Great.

Here we see Clanda approach a vortex of wild magic, making her more likely to burnout when spellcasting.

  • GM:As you approach the arcane portal, Clanda, you can feel raw magical energies pouring through it. The sensation is almost overwhelming as waves of chaotic energy rush past you.
  • Clanda:I don't like the look of this... I'll try casting Dispel Magic on that portal.
  • Chansi:How close are you to burning out?
  • Clanda:Should be rolling d10, but all this chaotic magic pushes it down three sizes to d4. 50% chance to burnout—could hurt...

Themed Locations

You can limit a regional burnout modifier to a specific type of magic. Perhaps the wizard's tower grants a +1 modifier to only arcane magic, while the abyssal temple grants a -2 modifier to only divine magic?

Use modifiers to add some flavor to key or iconic locations, but try not to go overboard—regional modifiers should be uncommon, and casters should generally have a chance to research this information.

  • GM:As you enter the school, Clanda, you feel an immediate shift in the weave. Many decades of teaching Evocation magic here has warped and shaped the flow of power unnaturally.
  • Clanda:Making it easier to cast Evocation spells?
  • GM:Exactly. The flow is serene (+3) for Evocation magic, but wild (-2) for all other magic types.

Consumables

If your campaign setting allows it, you may be able to find, buy, craft, and consume a variety of potions, elixirs, foods, and drinks to help manage your magical burnout—for example, mageblood potions and elixirs of inner peace.

Mageblood Potion

Item, Potion, Consumable

This blue potion glows with a faint light when shaken. It tastes of iron and spoils quickly once exposed to air.

You recover magical burnout when you drink this potion—the better the quality, the more you recover.

Qualities
Type Rarity Recovery Cost
Lesser Common +1 size 25 gp
Greater Uncommon +2 size 75 gp
Superior Rare +3 size 225 gp
Supreme Very rare +4 size 675 gp

Elixir of Inner Peace

Item, Potion, Consumable

This pink elixir feels strangely warm to the touch. It tastes of cherry and rose water.

When you drink this potion, you may roll your burnout die with advantage for one hour.

Variant Dials

Magical Burnout is a flexible game mechanic that can be adjusted to suit a variety of settings. If you want to customize the experience, consider these variant dials.

Safe Cantrips

Reduce your maximum burnout die size one step (from d12 to d10, by default). Cantrips are now classed as safe magic—you only roll your burnout die when you cast a spell of 1st-level or higher.

  • Clanda:That's one excellent Acid Splash, if I do say so myself. Now let's see if it triggered any burnout.
  • GM:No need—as a 0th-level spell, your safe cantrip doesn't strain your body with wild magic power.
  • Clanda:Even better.

Wild Zones

You may want to use Magical Burnout for just a short time in your campaign—to add theming to a particular region or adventuring site, for example. This can be accomplished with wild zones.

Creating a Wild Zone

Burnout is only active in certain areas—called wild zones. Outside of these zones, magic functions as per normal and burnout is not a threat to magic casters.

A wild zone can be anything—a room, a dungeon, a kingdom, etc—so add them to your game as best suits your setting. Use them to add memorable features to your dungeons and adventure hubs.

Krazak and Clanda approach the Void Sanctum, an ancient dungeon protected with anti-magic seals and sigils. The Void Sanctum is a wild zone—within its walls, players are at risk of magical burnout.

Leaving a Wild Zone

If you leave a wild zone, your burnout remains—your die doesn't reset until you complete a long rest (or perform another form of recovery action, such as spending hit dice or acquiring consumables).

Spellcaster Ranks

Spellcasters vary in their dedication to the magical arts, coming in three basic ranks—full casters, half casters, and third casters. The more dedicated the spellcaster, the more burnout they can endure.

Your maximum burnout die now depends on your spellcasting rank—check the Spellcasting Ranks table below to see what your new maximum is.

Spellcaster Ranks

Rank Burnout Die Examples
Full d12 Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard.
Half d10 Ranger, Paladin.
Third d8 Eldritch Knight, Arcane Trickster.

Note that for the purposes of spellcasting ranks and burnout, warlocks count as a full caster.

Clanda, a high elf sorceress, is a full caster—her maximum burnout die is a d12. Truth, a drow paladin, is a half caster—his maximum burnout die is a d10.

Multiclassed Characters

If you are multiclassed, use the maximum burnout die of whichever caster class you have the most levels in. In the case of a tie, use the largest.

Custom Consequences

Burnout consequences can come in many different forms, and—depending on your game—you may wish to customize the Burnout Consequences table to make burnout more severe or less punishing.

If your game features Stress, Survival Conditions, and Wear & Tear, consider the variant table below to put more focus on stress, equipment, and supplies—the bigger the spell, the bigger the damage inflicted.

Custom Consequences

d100 Minor (SL 1-2) Moderate (SL 3-4) Major (SL 5-6) Monstrous (SL 7-9)
01-45 Gain minor Stress Gain moderate Stress Gain major Stress Gain monstrous Stress
46-70 An item gains 1 notch An item gains 2 notches An item gains 4 notches An item gains 8 notches
71-80 Gain 1 hunger Gain 2 hunger Gain 4 hunger Gain 6 hunger
81-90 Gain 1 thirst Gain 2 thirst Gain 4 thirst Gain 6 thirst
91-00 Gain 1 fatigue Gain 2 fatigue Gain 4 fatigue Gain 6 fatigue

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