Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dangerous Magic: Alternate Magic Rules

With great power comes horrible consequences

Greetings! Will here with something that's not a Failed Magic Items article for once.

A little while back, Jon ran an epic-level evil campaign. Long story short, our evil characters were ultimately given their own alternate multiverse to shape and rule over as the evil gods of evilness that they were. Where Good has lost, men's hearts have darkened, and misery reigns. of these.

Following that campaign, I started another one set in this multiverse. Where the mortals of the Material Plane were locked in an epic struggle against an unstoppable army (that my evil character was the patron deity of by the way) and the hope that good would return to the world was the central focus. And the whole thing turned out be...well, kind of depressing. And pretty onerous. And honestly not that fun to write. So we stopped.

Remember my fellow DMs: You are allowed to end a campaign if you are not having fun.

Thankfully, lessons were learned and I walked away from it having created a number of homebrewed mechanics, settings, and monsters that could prove useful in future, albeit less grimdark, games. One of which was an alternate approach to the rules of magic.

Dangerous Magic

Prior to starting my ultimately doomed campaign, Jon tipped me off to this article over at Last Gasp Grimoire. In summary, it details a mechanic where it's not a question of how many spells a magic user can cast, but how many they can cast safely. Where the overuse of magic could potentially invite hardship and possibly death on the user.

Additionally, it touched on the idea of every spellcaster having a fluctuating "pool" of magical energy at their disposal, one that was as chaotic and shifting as the winds themselves.

It made perfect sense for a setting ruled by selfish and treacherous entities that were perhaps unwilling to share the magical energies of the multiverse, and now the lowly mortals of the Prime Material Plane are forced to pick off of their scraps.

Unfortunately, as well written and compelling as that LGG module is. It's...a lot. And perhaps skirts a little close to being "random table porn" that would be unwieldy during your typical D&D session.

So, I sought to keep the spirit of this mechanic intact while also simplifying it into something an average player could easily wrap their head around.

So what does this mean for said player? Well for starters, there are no longer spell slots. The magic a spellcaster can safely use is determined by Spell Points, the value of which is calculated at the end every long rest by rolling 1d6 per every traditional spell slot level (refer to the official PHB for spell tables).

For example, a 3rd Level Wizard traditionally has access to 1st and 2nd level spell slots, so this character would roll 2d6 to determine their Spell Points until the next long rest. The level of spell a spellcaster may use is also determined by the class’s traditional Spell Slot allotment.

Using the previous example, a 3rd Level Wizard traditionally has access to 1st and 2nd level spell slots, so this character would be able to cast spells at 2nd level or lower. Players may safely use spells for as long as they have the Spell Points to spend on them, the level of spell cast being the determining factor in how many Spell Points that spell costs (i.e. the 5th Level Cone of Cold spell would cost 5 Spell Points).

Cantrips and Ritual Spells can be cast as normal and do not require the use of Spell Points.

Flirting with Disaster

If a spellcaster decides to push their power beyond what their Spell Points would allow, they must do so by drawing energy from other, more dangerous areas of the multiverse, and the entities therein do not look kindly on those who meddle with their power without their permission. This invites hardship upon the offending spellcaster in debilitating and occasionally deadly ways.

When a player runs out of spell points but still makes the choice to cast another spell, they must roll on the Broken Limits Table (listed at the bottom of this article) and suffer the consequences of the result. The level at which the spell is being cast determines the type of dice that is rolled:

Spell Level 
  1. 1d4
  2. 1d6
  3. 1d8
  4. 1d10
  5. 1d12
  6. 1d20
  7. 2d12
  8. 2d20
  9. 3d20
Additionally, if the spellcaster decides to cast a level of spell higher than what Spell Points they have remaining, the Spell Points are subtracted from the spell level and they will roll the appropriate dice. 

For example, A 5th Level Wizard knows the 3rd Level Fireball spell and wants to cast it on a group of encroaching Orcs. Sadly, the Wizard only has 1 Spell Point remaining. Knowing the risks, the Wizard decides to use the spell anyway. This is calculated in the following way:

3rd Level Spell - 1 Spell Point = 2

Therefore, the Wizard would roll on the Broken Limits Table with 1d6. The spell is successfully cast, the Wizard rolls on the Broken Limits Table, and after rolling a 4 gets the following result “You briefly forget where you are, what you’re doing, and have disadvantage on all saving throws until your next turn.”

The Orcs burn, and the Wizard is briefly debilitated for figuratively and literally playing with fire.

Changes by Class


Arcane Recovery

Instead of regaining Spell Slots during a short rest the Wizard instead rolls half of their Spell Point dice (rounded down) to regain Spell Points. A 1st level Wizard rolls 1d6 and divides the result by 2 (rounded down, minimum of 1)

Spell Mastery

The spells you choose for this perk may be cast without spending Spell Points. All other rules still apply.

Signature Spells

The spells you choose for this perk can be cast once in between rests without spending Spell Points. All other rules still apply.

Expert Divination

Instead of regaining a Spell Slot, you regain a Spell Slot worth of Spell Points. All other rules still apply.


Natural Recovery

Instead of regaining Spell Slots during a short rest the Druid instead rolls half of their Spell Point dice (rounded down) to regain Spell Points. A 1st level Druid rolls 1d6 and divides the result by 2 (rounded down, minimum of 1)


Flexible Casting

Instead of your Sorcery Points being used to buy Spell Slots, they can be exchanged for Spell Points. The exchange rate is at a 2:1 ratio (2 Sorcery Points = 1 Spell Point). You may also use Spell Points to buy Sorcery Points, but the exchange rate is reversed (2 Spell Points = 1 Sorcery Point)


Mystic Arcanum

Your arcanum spells can be cast once in between long rests without spending Spell Points. All other rules still apply.

Eldritch Master

Instead of regaining Spell Slots, you regain all Spell Points allotted to you from your last Spell Point Roll.


Divine Smite & Improved Divine Smite

Instead of spending Spell Slots to add 1d8 you spend the appropriate number of Spell Points (i.e. 1d8 = 1 Spell Point). All other rules still apply.

Changes by Race


Your racial spells do not cost Spell Points and are still cast on a “per-day” basis.


Your racial spells do not cost Spell Points and are still cast on a “per-day” basis.

Changes by Feat

Magic Initiate

These spells are still cast on a “per day” basis.

Note for DMs

Monster Spellcasting

A monster’s Spell Points are determined in the same manner as a player’s. For example, An Eye of Gruumsh has access to 1st and 2nd level Spell Slots, therefore this monster would roll 2d6 to determine their Spell Points. All other spellcasting rules still apply.


If there is ever a question or dispute pertaining to spellcasting that this guide does not cover, refer to the PHB and replace any mention of “Spell Slots” with “Spell Points” to determine a course of action. More often than not, if a particular skill or ability does not mention the use or recovery of Spell Slots it is likely that traditional rules still apply.

Broken Limits Table (1d4-3d20)
  1. Your mind strains and you take 1d4 psychic damage.
  2. You become stunned until the end of your next turn, this ignores any resistances or immunities to the “stun” condition.
  3. You feel weak and your speed is reduced by 10ft. for 1 hour.
  4. You briefly forget where you are, what you’re doing, and have disadvantage on all saving throws until your next turn.
  5. You become confused (See the Confusion spell for details)
  6. Your vision fades and you become blinded for 10 minutes.
  7. Your skin inexplicably lacerates, causing 2d6 slashing damage.
  8. You begin to vomit uncontrollably and cannot take actions on your next turn. At the end of your next turn you must make a DC 11 Constitution saving throw. If you succeed, you regain your composure and may act as normal on your next turn. If you fail, you continue to violently throw up. This continues for three turns or until you pass the save.
  9. For 1d4 hours your breathing is no longer automated. Each of your bonus actions must be spent consciously remembering to breathe, if you choose to not use your bonus action for this purpose you take 2d4 damage.
  10. You lose all feeling in your legs and fall prone. For the next 2d4 hours you are unable to walk or stand and can only use your arms to drag yourself at a speed of 5ft.
  11. Any action you take happens 5 seconds after you decide to take it. For the next hour your Initiative bonus is -5, you cannot take reactions, and all attack actions and saving throws are rolled with disadvantage.
  12. You suddenly burst into green flames and take 3d6 fire damage. The fire is otherworldly in nature and cannot be extinguished through conventional means (i.e. water). You continue burning for two turns reducing the damage by 1d6 each time until no dice remain.
  13. You speak in unintelligible gibberish for the next 2d4 hours. You think you make perfect sense in your mind, but no one else can comprehend what you are saying, even through magical means. Spells with the “verbal” component become impossible to cast.
  14. All damage you take for the next 2d4 hours reduces your maximum HP. Your maximum HP returns to normal after this time. If your HP is reduced 0, you die instantly without death saves.
  15. Life energy dissipates out of your body in a bright blue mist, your speed is reduced to 0 and all ability scores drop to 3 for 1 hour.
  16. You are unable to regain HP for the next 2d4 hours.
  17. Animate Objects is cast on the nearest 5 Medium sized objects. They become hostile toward you and any allies that are with you.
  18. An item you are holding, carrying, or wearing permanently vanishes.
  19. You share the effects of the spell cast on the target as if it was cast on yourself.
  20. Your mind and body give out, instantly dropping your HP to 0 and rendering you unconscious but stable.
  21. You instantly suffer 4 levels of Exhaustion
  22. Your hands vanish for 2d4 hours. You cannot grab anything and spells with the “somatic” component become impossible to cast.
  23. You become Petrified for 2d12 hours. This cannot be cured by Greater Restoration.
  24. You cannot regain Spell Points during your next long rest.
  25. You suddenly begin to have masochistic tendencies. Every hour for 2d6 hours you must make a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw. If you succeed, nothing happens. If you fail, you deal 5 damage to yourself. Each failed save increases this damage by 5. In addition, all damage you take from enemies is doubled. This effect ends if your HP reaches 0.
  26. A vision of an apocalyptic cataclysm flashes across your mind, the sheer horror of the vision causes you to take 8d8 psychic damage.
  27. For 2d4 hours, Critical Hits instantly kill you. You cannot make death saves.
  28. You permanently forget the spell that was just cast. You cannot re-learn it. (Note: This does not lower your maximum “spells known” and you may learn back up to your maximum amount on your next level up)
  29. For 2d4 hours, anything that dies within 60ft. of you rises again with full HP. If they die again, they do not rise.
  30. You and anyone within a 20ft. sphere are stripped of any remaining Spell Points until the end of your/their next long rest.
  31. Your mind and body withers and atrophies. All ability scores are permanently reduced by 1.
  32. Your eyes burst from your skull, causing 3d6 force damage and permanently blinding you.
  33. Your left arm turns black, shrivels with decay, and falls off.
  34. Your AC drops to 0 for 2d6 hours.
  35. For 2d4 hours, you shrink to 1/6th of your normal size. Your HP, Speed, all ability scores, and any remaining Spell Points also reduce to this amount (minimum of 1)
  36. The bones in your legs permanently vanish. You fall prone and can drag yourself with your arms at a speed of 5ft.
  37. All damage you take from now on is increased by 50%.
  38. You or a random creature (including allies) within 60 ft. of you vanish into a formless demi-plane for 1d100 hours.
  39. You are inflicted with a creeping decay. For 1d100 hours, your maximum HP is reduced by 1 every 2 hours. Your maximum HP does not recover when this effect ends.
  40. A fiery explosion erupts from your body, dealing 10d10 fire damage to you and anything in a 30ft. sphere.
  41. You instantly and permanently age 1d4 x Character Level years.
  42. Feeblemind is cast on you, it automatically succeeds and only be cured by the necessary saving throw every 30 days.
  43. All knowledge of speech permanently fades from your mind. Spells with the “verbal” component become impossible to cast until you learn how to communicate again.
  44. You are True Polymorphed into a black house cat and must make a DC 18 Charisma saving throw. If you succeed, you revert to your original form after 1 hour. If you fail, the change is permanent.
  45. Good news! You never have to roll on this table again because your connection to the arcane energies of the multiverse is permanently severed. You are no longer able to cast spells.
  46. You briefly blackout and awaken feeling like a completely different person. During your next turn, use the appropriate Background table(s) to re-roll your character’s Personality, Ideal, Bond, and Flaw traits.
  47. All memory is permanently erased from your mind.
  48. Your soul becomes corrupted and your alignment permanently shifts to Chaotic Evil. What is to be done with your character is at the DM’s discretion (i.e. turn them over to the DM, keeping playing as an evil character, etc.)
  49. You become keenly aware that your soul is now condemned to the worst punishment the afterlife has to offer. In addition to taking 4d8 psychic damage, you cannot be resurrected in any way once you die.
  50. You watch your body fall away from you as your soul is released from your mortal form. Until you are returned to your body through magical means (i.e. a Resurrection spell), you are effectively dead and exist as a helpless ghost. You can still be seen and can communicate but cannot affect the Material Plane in other ways and you cannot venture more than 5ft. away from your body. Every 4 hours you remain a ghost your body decays for 4d8 necrotic damage. If your body’s HP reaches 0, your soul is released into the afterlife.
  51. All damage you take from now on permanently reduces your maximum HP to a minimum of 1. This maximum HP cannot be regained (leveling up still adds to your maximum HP like normal)
  52. You feel the eyes of an unknown and incredibly powerful malevolent entity staring into your soul.  You take 10d10 psychic damage and are stunned for 1d4 hours.
  53. Any conditions you suffer from now on become permanent and cannot be dispelled or cured.
  54. You become possessed by a malevolent spirit from beyond the Material Plane. It acts on your behalf (DM control) and you must make a DC 20 Charisma saving throw at the start of your next turn. If you succeed, the spirit is banished back to its plane of existence, your HP is reduced to 0, and you fall unconscious. If you fail, the spirit remains in control until your next turn where you will need to make the saving throw again. Upon failing the throw three times, the spirit permanently takes control.
  55. You expend all of your remaining life-force over the course of 1 minute, rapidly aging and decaying before crumbling to ashy dust. Your character dies.
  56. An inky black tentacle bursts from the ground at your feet and pulls you into the dark ether between multiverses. You die horribly in a manner beyond mortal comprehension.
  57. Your mind breaks and you become convinced that a glorious treasure resides within your chest cavity. Every action you take must be made with the goal of excavating it by any means necessary. No matter how deep you dig, you are sure that the treasure is deeper.
  58. You are violently and painfully torn apart from the inside as a Shadow Demon emerges from your body. Your character dies.
  59. Every vein and artery in your body ruptures causing you to bleed internally for 10d10 damage each turn. In addition, your speed is reduced to zero and you cannot take any actions. Only a healing spell cast at 6th level or higher can stop it. Upon your HP reaching 0, you get no death saves and your character dies.
  60. Your body tears at its seams and erupts in a cataclysmic explosion, killing you instantly and dealing 40d10 fire damage to anything in a 120ft. sphere.
And there you have it! A more simplistic way to make magic dynamic and dangerous. The Broken Limits Table was incredibly fun to come up with, and I encourage anyone who decides to use this mechanic to alter or expand said table with new and horrible ways to punish your players.

Until next time!

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