Wild Magic is an unofficial supplement for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons that I’ve been idly working on since about June 2020 (praise the lockdown). It started out when one of the group that I’m usually a player in asked me to run a campaign for said group for a change, and to “add a huge spoonful of Peter”. Thus, I began redesigning all the rules.
There are two basic ideas, three fundamental concepts, and a ton of inspirational origins (i.e. things I stole from) to Wild Magic. The ideas are that a) magic is not fully known yet and b) it is severely bonkers.
Unknown & Uncontrollable
Wild Magic is for worlds where you can’t simply go to that old wizard’s tower and find the book that has all the answers, including that spell you need to resurrect your friends. Much like in the real world, noone really has a clue as to how the world works. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have wizarding schools and magic universities and the like – quite the contrary; I personally find that they become much more interesting when they don’t have all the answers yet.
Magic in Wild Magic is… wild. Duh. Though I haven’t gotten to play one yet, I’ve always liked the concept of the Wild Magic Sorcerer. Especially because of that sweet sweet table. As you will probably discover if you dig deeper, I really like tables, and the surge table is my second-favorite in the PHB. Surpassed only by that massive two-page trinket table… But I digress. When designing this system, I thought “What if everyone could be a Wild Magic Sorcerer?” as well as “What if surges were far more frequent and diverse?”. That’s when I stopped thinking and set to doing. Lo and behold:
Natures, Circumstances & Surges
… are the three fundamental concepts that make up Wild Magic. Firstly, every character has not only a race, class, and background, but also a nature. Your nature can be air, fire, water, earth or ether. To some, it’s not much more than, say, their zodiac sign, but if you awaken your nature, it grants you specific magical abilities. Remember Naruto? Yeah. Conceptually, it’s pretty close to that. Huge Naruto fan here. Mechanically, it’s very much like multiclassing, but not quite as complex. (Yet? This is still a work in progress.)
Anyways, every nature has two awakening paths to choose from, and they grant you pretty badass abilities. As an air natural, you can either become a Mentalist or go full-on Inception as a Dream Walker. Fire paths are the Pyromancer and the Plentimancer, the latter of which allows you to copy and / or absorb enemy spells. Again, huge Naruto fan. A water natural can choose between the paths of the Alchemist (fairly proud of those brewing mechanics tbh) and Adaptationalist (weird body transformation and telekinesis stuff). Earth serves up some sweet deals as well, with the Keeper and Runesmith paths. The first allows you to store objects and creatures in tattoos and even summon your friends when in need. The second is alchemy but with stones. Lastly, ether naturals are the Wild Magic Sorcerers of Wild Magic, meaning that they are blessed with an extra portion of weirdness. They can become either Travelers (i.e. masters of teleportation and, at higher stages, even time travel) or Oracles. Sound good? Read on.
The second concept of Wild Magic are arcane circumstances. If you’ve seen the fifth season of SyFy’s The Magicians, this will sound familiar. (If you haven’t, watch it. It’s an amazing show once you give it some episodes to warm up. Even got me to buy the books, which I haven’t read yet but can’t wait to. Anyway, off track again.) So basically, magic is this invisible field that surrounds your characters at all times, and sometimes it acts up, causing surges. Surges are the third important concept in this system, and you either already know them from the PHB’s Wild Magic Sorcerer or you’re a remarkably untiring reader for none of the above having made much sense to you. However, there are patterns to the intensity and frequency of surges; i.e. there are days when surges are especially likely and potent, and days that are less fun but more survivable. Every in-game midnight, the circumstances influencing these patterns change. Add two decks of tarot cards for unnecessarily complex mechanics, and that’s pretty much it.
It’s all been done before
As I’ve hinted at throughout this summary, I’ve taken inspiration from quite a few pre-existing products / concepts / worlds. They shall not go unmentioned.
Masashi Kishimoto‘s Naruto (and Naruto Shippuden) manga series as well as their anime adaptations blew my mind at age 13 and continue to inspire me until today. The concept of natures was directly inspired by Kishimoto’s chakra system; though this type of rock-paper-scissors understanding of elements has been around forever and used everywhere; from 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt Red, a wonderful game I’m still only halfway through, all the way back to asian and greek mythology, everyone’s had their take on this. But there’s more! Obviously, the Pyromancer’s spark of death is essentially amaterasu. The air nature’s quick read is similar to sharingan. The fiery birth skill, although not quite as obvious, is me having to at all costs have some kage-bunshin-adjacent mechanics. Keepers form magical pacts and seal weapons and creatures within themselves. Plentimancers copy spells and consume those of others. That’s Naruto af. Adaptationalists contort their bodies in ways similar to Choji, maybe even Jugo, and also that one nameless dude from Kabuto’s team in the Chunin exam. He gave me the idea for their constrict attack. Also, in what other world can people burrow as fast as they can walk?
Another huge influence was Lev Grossman‘s The Magicians book series. Though I haven’t read it. But I promise I will. Anyway, SyFy made a TV show out of it that lasted for five glorious seasons. In the fifth one, which aired a few months before I started my work on this, they introduced the concept of magical circumstances. They even made a point about the difference of inner and outer circumstances. It was the coolest thing I’d heard in a while, and it gave me some of the most fundamental ideas Wild Magic builds on. Apart from this, I’ve never before seen teleportation and psychic abilities linked, and holy crap does it work. Though they’re not connected in my system, both the Traveler and the Dream Walker paths were influenced by Penny. Also, Kakodemons. Way too cool not to steal.
There’s dozens more that I could mention, and a million that I couldn’t. There’s a lovely little actual play podcast called Corpses and Curios that used tarot cards as a large part of its story and mechanics throughout its first season. The clay crocodile for Mentathol I got from Sydnee & Justin McElroy on their Sawbones podcast, who in turn got it from ancient egyptian folk. Apropos Mentathol: Encode Thoughts (which doesn’t only play a role in Wild Magic, but also gave me the idea for the name of this website) is a D&D cantrip, sure, but Harry Potter had it first. The Potter universe is also where I first saw people traveling between fires, and, in the form of the ridiculous spell, something akin to reality warping. I suppose I wouldn’t have come up with the Runesmith path quite as fast without the aforementioned Witcher game, or have wrapped my mind around Dream Walking as easily without ever having seen Inception. But this is where I descend entirely into speculation as to the origin of my own thoughts.
What I know for certain is that none of this would have come to be without the incredible enrichment that Dungeons & Dragons has been to my life these past one and a half years (writing this in October 2020), without Gary and Dave inventing it, without Wizards of the Coast saving it, without my friend Wolf playing it with his friends Felix and Boda and Leo, who have since become mine as well. And without Acquisitions Incorporated, whose shows I’ve spent hours on as plentiful as money on their merch.