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.
Sometimes, the flow of magic turns 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.
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:
Your burnout die starts as a d12, but each time you suffer burnout the die becomes one size smaller.
As your die shrinks it becomes increasingly more likely that you will trigger further burnout in future—so be careful with your die.
1d12 → 1d10 → 1d8 → 1d6 → 1d4
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.
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.
|01-05||Drained: Lose (spell level) hit dice.|
|06-15||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: You have disadvantage when casting spells 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: You have advantage when casting spells for (spell level) rounds.|
|100||Restored: Reset the burnout die to d12.|
Once a burnout die shrinks, it remains that size until you take a recovery action. There are four primary means of recovering from burnout:
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.
|Die Size||Risk of Burnout|
Not all magical abilities put your body at harm's risk. Some forms of magic are innate, controlled, or otherwise rendered harmless—these safe magics don't require a burnout roll when used:
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.
|1||You mispronounced a key syllable.|
|2||You said the words in the wrong order.|
|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.|
As he rolls to cast Silence, Viridian triggers an instance of magical burnout. The player decides that Viridian accidentally sneezed as he was speaking the spell's verbal component—the resultant shock of interruped arcane power stripped the tiefling of one hit die.
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.
|+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.|
|-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.|
Here we see Clanda approach a vortex of wild magic, making her more likely to burnout when spellcasting.
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. Use sizes that are appropriate for your adventure or setting.
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.
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.
Below are listed two example consumables: mageblood potions and elixirs of inner peace.
This blue potion glows with a faint light when shaken. It tastes of iron and spoils quickly once exposed to air.
You recover a small portion of magical burnout when you drink this potion—the better the quality, the more burnout you recover.
|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|
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.
Magical Burnout is a flexible game mechanic that can be adjusted to suit a variety of settings. But if you want to customize the experience to better suit your own adventure and/or campaign setting, consider the following variant dials.
If you want characters to be able to cast cantrips without any risk, then consider this Safe Cantrips variant.
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.
You may want to use Magical Burnout for just a short time in your campaign—to add theming to one particular region or adventuring site, for example. This can be accomplished with wild zones.
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, characters are at risk of magical burnout.
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).
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.
|Spellcasting Rank||Examples||Maximum Burnout|
|Full Caster||Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard.||d12|
|Half Caster||Ranger, Paladin.||d10|
|Third Caster||Eldritch Knight, Arcane Trickster.||d8|
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.
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.
Burnout consequences can come in many different forms. Depending on your game and campaign setting, you may wish to customize the Burnout Consequences table to make burnout more severe or less punishing.
For example, if your game features Stress, Survival Conditions, and Wear & Tear, consider the variant table below to put a much larger focus on stress, equipment, and supplies—the more powerful the spell, the bigger the damage inflicted during burnout.
|d100||Minor (SL 1-2)||Moderate (SL 3-4)|
|01-45||Gain minor Stress||Gain moderate Stress|
|46-70||An item gains 1 notch||An item gains 2 notches|
|71-80||Gain 1 hunger||Gain 2 hunger|
|81-90||Gain 1 thirst||Gain 2 thirst|
|91-00||Gain 1 fatigue||Gain 2 fatigue|
|01-45||Gain major Stress||Gain monstrous Stress|
|46-70||An item gains 4 notches||An item gains 8 notches|
|71-80||Gain 4 hunger||Gain 6 hunger|
|81-90||Gain 4 thirst||Gain 6 thirst|
|91-00||Gain 4 fatigue||Gain 6 fatigue|