Magic in fiction is mysterious, fantastic, and often fickle. When I make games, magic is both incredibly powerful and incredibly dangerous.
To aid me at the gaming table when things inevitably blow up, I have created these foibles to emphasize the “glass” of magic-slinging, ability-wielding “glass cannons:”
When rolling to see if an ability or spell goes off as expected, a natural 1 (on a D20, doubles under target with 2D6) is a critical failure. The character’s ability to use these powers ceases until they take a short rest and fulfill the requirements of whatever foible they roll a D20 for.
A guideline for D20 D&D-like spell levels/slots to see if they fire:
|Roll Above||Spell / Ability Level|
|15||1, 2, 3|
|20||4, 5, 6|
Roll at or less than the target? No magic – it sputters out.
Want to negate the critical failure so as not to lose powers and gain other ills? Immediately sacrifice a worn or wielded magic item – this foci destroys itself to protect you.
Think these difficulties are too, well, difficult? Get magic items that improve stats or automatically cast the power (scrolls, some wands), commit to rituals (i.e. take a lot of time) to gain advantage on the ability’s use, and get magic-minded friends to help (gaining +1 up to the spell’s level).*
* The idea of blood magic is a fine one to introduce to your tables: when below die target and the roll isn’t a critical failure, spent 1 hit point to improve the roll’s value by 1!
When Things Blow Up:
Putting it all here, but feel free to print the two-pager from Google Drive where any updates go first: https://docs.google.com/document/d/13hq0SjMo_zpYLEpxmFGXVG_bWrKd8arqEzo2t9sBUOQ/edit?usp=sharing
01. The powers turn upon their master. You are the target of the power, it doing only harm.
02. The works you wrought run wild. You and all within 15 ft of you (the room) are targets for harm.
03. This… is too much. Gain +1 exhaustion.
04. Agony wracks through your mind and body as something inside breaks. -1 to a random ability bonus.
05. Something has gone terribly wrong. Develop +1 corruption.
06. This burden has taken its toll. Disadvantage on all actions for D6 game minutes.
07. Your actions weigh heavily. Have no rest for D6 days.
08. It could be worse. Take the short rest before using your talents again.
09. Somehow you are unharmed? Against all odds, your mistakes have not cost you.
10. You blank. Immediately fall unconscious, needing another to wake you.
Wild (random / created / pure chaos)
11. You are known. Your foes will know where you are, always, along with your weaknesses for D6 days.
12. You are gone. You disappear for 24 hours.
13. You teleport. You switch physical space with your nearest foe.
14. You are another. You switch souls with your nearest foe, using their abilities and such while they use yours.
15. You fall. You immediately drop to 0 HP and must start saving throws next turn.
16. You are hobbled from being your best. You do not have surprise or advantage until after a long rest.
17. You are slowed. 10 ft moving speed, cannot fly, and last in initiative order until after a long rest.
18. You are luckless. Find that up to D6 * 100 gold or its equivalent in treasure is missing.
19. You are struck ill. Gain a curse that does not allow for you to add bonuses to your HP, such as level.
20. Chaos births onto your plane of existence. 30 ft away, a monster of impossibility blooms (D66 HP, 2D6 harm, Tier 6 25+ DOOM, 2D6 meters tall, exists D6 turns).
Sponsored (Uses Charisma) Warlocks, Clerics, Paladins
11. Silence is your only answer. (Secret:) Any intervention by the Giver is declined without notice for D6 days.
12. Meet your maker. Invoke a dialogue to know how you must improve your standing.
13. Confess and all is forgiven. Tell a different secret to each friend so that all may hear.
14. Your gratitude for these gifts is found wanting. Make a gold offering of 100 multiplied by your level and the spell level.
15. Your hubris is offending the Sponsor. Make a blood sacrifice, yours or anothers in the name of your Lord.
16. You must prove yourself. Deal D4 critical successes to those unoathed to your Bestower.
17. “I? I am a jealous one.” Only the blessings and methods of your Giver can benefit you for D6 days.
18. This is a blessing and a curse. Your nearest foe becomes endowed with the powers of your Host, increasing a tier of difficulty, restoring full health, and gaining advantage through their conflict now or upcoming.
19. Take penance for your sins. Magic and alchemical methods cannot benefit you for D6 days.
20. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?” An avatar of your Bestower, and agent of vengeance, steps through a portal 30 ft away (Tier 6 25+ DESTROYER).
Learned (Uses Intelligence) Wizards, Artificers, scrolls
11. That’s not right… Roll more than 10 + your level after a day of dedicated study to be able to use your talents again.
12. Is that what you remember? All carried food and drink, alchemical, natural, and otherwise, spoils to mold and sludge.
13. Your work has been for not. Any magic you have bestowed, enchanted, attuned to, or otherwise evoked ends.
14. A backlash of the power freezes your very nerves. Take your level in damage.
15. Well, this is embarrassing. All mundane equipment carried teleports to where you last took a short rest.
16. The lesson sears into your mind. Take 1 psychic hit automatically for D6 turns, starting now.
17. What is known becomes unknown. You are cursed to not be able to use this spell again.
18. This failure has your whole attention. Efforts to harm you count as having surprise until after a short rest.
19. Failure compounds on failure. Roll twice more on these tables.
20. The uncontrollable aspect of magic makes itself known. Roll D10 on the Wild table.
Inherited (Uses Wisdom) Druids, Monks, Sorcerers
11. Perhaps it is for the best. You must take a long rest to regain your abilities.
12. Pushed to the edge, your wares push back. You are unattuned with all your magic items.
13. The strain has been too much. Lose a random sense until after a short rest.
14. You are nothing but a monster, it seems. All who see you break morale and gain Fear of you, friend and foe alike.
15. The thought of your unnatural destruction is the only joy. All foes in the area will not break morale and yearn to take your life immediately.
16. It is the thought that counts. For D6 days, nothing willingly accepts your influence, making all tests of your powers a difficulty higher than they would be.
17. Self-doubt consumes you. Disadvantage to use your extraordinary abilities until after a long rest.
18. Your powers are deeply disturbing to those in your presence. Disadvantage on all social tests for D6 days.
19. Your presence has not gone unnoticed. Something, somewhere, comes for you.
20. Oh… oh no. You injure yourself fundamentally, preventing use of this ability again.
You made it! Will your magic users when you bring these foibles to the table for their fumbles?
Had a lot of fun putting this list together of when things blow up with magic. Will consider a list of martial and tool use fumble tables in the future.
What would you add to these magic lists? To a martial fumble list? What has not worked in your experience and should be avoided?
In advance, thank you for the help – I appreciate your insights! Cheers to avoiding those low rolls 🎲🎲