I'm just starting to get into D&D 5e. Magic classes in particular fascinate me, and the one that caught my eye the most is the wild sorcerer. Or, rather, the concept did. The mechanics of the design itself seem particularly lackluster when compared to every other magic class I've looked at.

After quite a bit of searching, it seems I'm not alone in this observation. All over the place, people insist that wild sorcerers are unbalanced/underwhelming/generally unwanted. But I haven't really seen any explanations of what exactly makes them this way, compared to other classes.

I'm now looking at attempting to DM a game with a bunch of other newbies, and trying to figure the game out as a group. One of my players will likely want to play a wild sorcerer. I'm interested in seeing how that plays out in RAW, but more importantly, I want the players to have fun.

I'm new and inexperienced. What should I look out for in the Wild Sorcerer when considering balance, or fun? Are there any gaping flaws in practice for the wild sorcerer's design?

Right now I'm considering using the existing mechanics, but supplementing them with a secondary system of character progression that slowly takes the sorcerer from fearing their magic that's unpredictable, to having some, but not total, control over it. Basically there's a chaos level that increases and decreases based on player ability/spell usage. High chaos means more wild surges, low means less. To get the most out of the design, you have to balance the chaos level (in theory).

Note, I'm well-aware that I should probably stick to RAW during the learning phase. But as someone that works in gaming, I'm also aware that mechanics typically function differently in practice than in theory, and so I want to be prepared for any known "in-practice" shortcomings.

It sounds like the main ones are how often a surge happens (GM overhead, chance of anything happening at all), and exactly what happens (more flavor vs more functionality, which is up to what you want from the game). Both answers were solid, but I'm going with Icy's, since it approached the question more specifically targeting the Wild Sorcerer's in-practice functionality with examples and edge cases.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Be careful of selection bias in your sources. If a significant percentage of commenters are participating in optimization discussions, you may find that the discussions all head in the same direction. Is there a reason that there isn't a homebrew tag on this? You appear to be asking for advice on how to home brew this class. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 11:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast asking for homebrew falls into "give me the CodeZ" and is widely shunned in the stack network (close as offtopic). - - - - - - - From what I am reading, its asking more about the caveats of having a wild sorcerer in the game, and what kind of experiences people had running or playing one. It falls into the "good subjective" if it is from experience, but makes the question harder to answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin Yeah, basically I want to be prepared to handle known shortcomings. I work in game dev, so I'm no stranger to iteration. In the interest of making sure the players have fun, I'd like to be aware of common reasons why Wild Sorcerers are often cited as undesirable, so I can have some optional material prepared if needed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Azareel
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 20:05

5 Answers 5


Wild Magic, as written, increases DM overhead

I've played a few sessions where a player was playing a wild magic sorcerer. After reminding the DM about the wild magic ability, the DM said that he was aware of it. Do you want to guess how many times we rolled for wild magic?

It was zero.

Basically, there are so many moving parts to being a DM that it's very easy to forget a specific character's abilities. Choosing Wild Magic just adds another thing for DMs to worry about. Now, every time the sorcerer casts a spell, the DM has to remember and decide, "should I roll for wild magic?". It's very easy for this ability to slip through the cracks while the DM is juggling everything else.

And such a roll doesn't even have a great payoff--95% of the time it doesn't do anything, and the rest of the time it's still useless, very powerful, or super detrimental. Therefore, the DM is really asking, "should I throw a wrench into this encounter?" While different DMs will have different preferences, I personally would not enjoy this extra randomness.

If you want to homebrew a better Wild Magic, I'd suggest offloading the mental load to the player. The primary criterion of success would be to replicate the randomness of Wild Magic and shift most of the overhead to the player while leaving a bit of DM control. I have no idea how you would accomplish this and I haven't tested anything myself, though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I GM a Wild Mage very simply: every leveled spell requires a wild surge roll. Since the odds of a wild surge are so low, it makes it likely that something will actually happen within the first ten sessions. (The majority of wild surges are harmless, anyway, and just add silliness to the game. The "fireball centered on caster" result is almost the only one that will seriously affect an encounter.) The Wild Mage's player hasn't complained, and since I GM a beer-and-pretzels game, the table welcomes the extra silliness. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 17:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PaulMarshall I took it the other way around, and only trigger Wild Surge on the next spell after the Sorcerer used Tides of Chaos. Which also worked fine up until now. So probably anywhere between "always" and "never" seems to come out okay. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 17:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ To follow on from the previous comment, I have the wildmage in my game roll a d20 + half their sorcerer level, and a surge happens if they get less 10 + the level of the spell. I wrote this on a card and gave it to the sorcerer (to help them remember). This means that a) surges only happen sometimes (not never, but not always), b) surges are more likely when you're reaching to the limits of your power (which feels appropriate) and c) as DM, I don't have to remember surges at all; the sorcerer does it as part of their normal "cast a spell" action. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 21:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @anaximander I suggest that you provide that as an answer to how you applied the rule at your table successfully (PS nice thinking!) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 22:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Our group's wild mage turned into a potted plant while we were fighting plant creatures. It was very funny. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nacht
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 4:58

For a new and inexperienced DM, the best advice I have is the same advice I provide to someone learning how to write creatively: Learn the rules before you break them.

You mentioned just getting into 5e, and I highly recommend it- in my experience, it is one of the most user-friendly D&D rulesets you can get. While some of the rules and builds could use some polish (don't get me started on Leomund's Tiny Hut), a good rule of thumb is that when you see a rule you don't understand, you should try to look at it backwards. Instead of asking, "why can you only sneak attack once per turn," try asking, "what would happen if that rule weren't in place?" The answer to that one is that every single rogue would multiclass into something that granted multiple attacks, and the world would be overrun by rogue/shadow monks... which would be awesome, wouldn't it?

Which leads back to that lovely emphasized advice at the top. Once you understand the rule and why it's there, feel free to break it. Just be aware of what that break does. Remove the one-Sneak-Attack-per-round rule because you want a party full of ninja, not because you thought it was silly.

The same applies to the Wild Magic Sorcerer. You are correct in saying that others have questioned the balance, but the truth is that Wild Magic Sorcerers are simply more prone to DM fiat than some (certainly not all) characters. The whole point of the rule that the DM chooses when to roll is to encourage the DM to let random chance play a larger role in encounters. The question you should ask yourself, then, is not "Do I need to modify this class to allow the characters greater control of their Wild Surges?" but "How often do I want to make them roll for a Wild Surge?" After all, every one of the abilities that can cause a Wild Surge specifically states that "the DM can have you roll." Can, not must.

Given that, you can of course use Chaos Levels, pixie dust, or MacGuffin Juice to provide a nice, flavorful way for the character (and by extension, the player) to influence when you call for a roll. You can also call for a Wild Surge check as the result of environment, good roleplaying, or to get their attention if they don't look up from their cellphone while telling you what their character does. You can even break the rule given in a different direction by taking the Wild Surge away from the character, making the rolls yourself in secret so that your sorcerer always feels a bit of desperate perspiration bead their brow when they risk casting a spell. And if you decide that 08 is really an 18 to avoid a TPK, they'll never have to know, will they?

One more suggestion- if you're feeling that the Wild Surge is a bit lackluster, I'd say what you need is a different table. I encourage making your own- in one of my earliest 5e campaigns, a lovely lady sorcerer caused the hair of every creature within 60 feet to crawl off its owner and then engage in a battle royale, with the victorious hair returning to its owner (which turned out to be the ecstatic lady) and the others disappearing in a puff of scorched hairspray, leaving their owners bald. The baddies were so bemused they called off their attack and everyone walked away, rubbing their heads.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The whole point of the rule that the DM chooses when to roll is to encourage the DM to let random chance play a larger role in encounters ... It would improve your answer to provide some support for that assertion/observation (which makes sense, but I can't recall where I saw that comment before in re dev commentary on the class). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is also a citation in the DM Guide about altering rules that seems to fit your point on "know what the rules are before you try to bend them" or something like that. AFB at the moment. Would be worth adding as support to the answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 13:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just wanted to mention, sneak attack is once per turn, not once per round. If you get to perform an attack as a reaction outside of your own turn, you get to apply sneak attack to that as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – xanderh
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 17:36

Following up on the other great answers, I will say that we have not had issues at our table regarding our Wild Magic Sorcerer. We offload as much as we can to the player, so at every spell, the player rolls a d20 to check if a Wild Magic Surge occurs. The DM can tell him not to roll for some time due to plot or poor RP reasons.

With Tides of Chaos, we have 2 approaches, pre- and post-COVID.

  • At the same table, the Sorcerer got a unique d20 that he placed on the DM's side of the table. The DM, as he is doing stuff, will occasionally look at the d20. When he wants to, he gives it back to the player and the player knows to roll for a Surge. The DM decides this based on different factors, plot, enough time elapsed, being annoyed at the stupid-looking pink rainbow die on his notes, etc.

  • On Roll20, the player puts a pink marker on his token to signal Tides of Chaos are available.

Has the DM ever forgotten Tides of Chaos completely? Yeah, sure. The player reminds him, and role-plays his character getting jittery and increasingly unstable (like a junkie on withdrawal as he describes it).

Every time a Surge occurs, the player handles it on his own. Rolls on the table, describes what happens, damage, targets, etc. We have prepared spell cards and creature cards for all possible outcomes in the Wild Magic Table (sheep, modron, fog cloud, grease, etc).

Definitely fun at many tables, I'm sure, and the Sorcerer can minimize how much he bothers the DM with his shenanigans.


I'm playing my first sorcerer (not first caster in 30 years of playing) and going back to an Irda (have played Wizard of High Sorcerery of course) in a Prime Plane where several Krynn races escaped The Chaos War and Dragon Purge (Dwarves, Minotarus, Irda, Gnomes in two separate caravans). 500+ years have passed since then and we have a some Steam Punk technologies and magic-tech hybrids that will eventually lead to a Starfinder campaign 1000+ years in the future.

Anyway, I was hemming and hawing between Sorcerer Origins, but Wild Magic really seemed like a great fit given the nature of the Graygem (Dragonlance Lore) and the Irda (High Ogres and first people of Krynn). The Wild Magic mechanic was too arbitrary and as cited above, a problem for the DM to arbitrate too much with decisions and randomness.

We're developing a mechanic that places 90% of the rolling in the player's hands and most of the decision-making is left out of the DMs hands. They of course can make the arbitrary call that something so powerful or traumatic has occurred that it will unleash a Wild Magic Surge from the Sorcerer, and we're refining the Overload mechanic of an Entropy Point Level.

Below are initial write-ups. We have not removed any of the abilities, or modified and added a meditative state to lower Entropy Levels (reduce Wild Magic Surge Probability).

Wild Magic: Entropy Points (EPs) and Entropy Level

When affected by magic spells, nearby powerful magic auras, suffering stress (such as damage) having a wild swing in emotion, suffer a penalty to the wild magic roll. This is called the Entropy level. The Wild Magic Entropy modifier roll gets larger as the Entropy level rises.

Example: Wild Magic Sorcerer with Entropy Level 0 is struck by arrow prior to casting a spell on their turn. Entropy Level receives +1 EPs (Entropy. The same sorcerer receives +19 EPs more throughout the adventure and is now at +20 Entropy Level. A third level fireball hits the Sorcerer, and they save for half damage, still alive. However, Entropy Level 20 + 3 EPs (third level spell cast at third level) = 23. Now, when the Sorcerer casts a spell they MUST roll a 1d20 to determine a Wild Magic Surge. However, a roll of 1 through (Entropy Level + 1 - 20 = 4) causes a Wild Magic Surge roll. IE 1 through 4 out of 1d20 causes a Wild Surge.

Surge Overload: Entropy Level has grown above +20 and now can be triggered without casting a spell. Anytime a condition increases Entropy Level, roll a Will saving throw base DC 10 + EPL beyond 20 (27 EPs - 20 = 7) or DC 17. If successful the player may chose to Release the Surge or Repress it. Repressed Surges maintain the new EPL. Released Surges cost no spell points and a Wild Surge is rolled. EPL is reset to 1 plus any environmental EP factors (1 +5 = 6 in direct presence of deity, for example).

Long Rest Meditation: Meditate after a long rest for 30 minutes. Roll an Insight or Arcana Check to gain an initial bonus to your Entropy Point (EPs) pool. DC 10 + Charisma Modifier. The stronger innate Sorcerer attribute (Cha), the more likely Wild Magic is difficult to repress. Successful checks receive negative EPs equivalent to the successful skill check rolled by the Sorcerer.

Short Rest Meditation: Meditate during a short rest for 60 minutes. Use any amount of Hit Dice (HD) available to roll for recovered hit points. Also remove 1d6 EPs per HD used to lower Entropy Level. A negative balance is possible which effectively quells the possibility of a Wild Surge to only 5% chance (1d20 or Tides of Chaos activated) at the DMs discretion. If at full health, any HDs available during a short rest may be used, but will only reduce Entropy Level by 1d6 per HD. No hit points will be gained and those HD will be unavailable for healing until after a Long Rest.

Entropy Points: +X EP (Total Spell Level X of spell targeting Wild Magic Sorcerer, whether successful or resisted -- imbued by the essence of the spell) +1 EP (Physical Damage) +2 EP (Spell fails/countered) +3 EP (Lesser magical aura -- Serene glade, conjured storm, archlich nearby, angelic/demonic aura proximity, minor totem or magical relic proximity) +4 EP (Ally falls unconscious before Sorcerer in battle -- must know Ally well, not a hireling, etc) +5 EP (Incredibly strong magical aura. Demigod, God, Holy Place, Enchanted Location, Legendary Relic/Magical Item)

+10 EP (Ally with strong bond to Sorcerer falls in battle or dies suddenly before them) +15 EP (?) +20 EP (?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to the Stack! We may be a little different than you’re used to—we’re pretty strictly a Question & Answer site, and emphatically not a discussion forum. You can’t just use a Question as an opportunity to discuss the topic—you have to provide an Answer to the question. You have kind of skipped answering the question, and gone right into how you have changed things to avoid problems (that you have never really explained). That’s why you have a downvote (not me, but I get it)—you’re not really answering this question, you’re answering a different one. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 22:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ You could probably convert this into an actual Answer by describing, and documenting and providing evidence or reasoning for, the faults of the wild magic sorcerer, and then segue into a description of how you have addressed those problems. Alternatively, you could ask your own Question, and Answer that—self-answered Q&As are very much allowed here. But please make sure that your Question conforms to the rules, stand-alone, rather than just trying to make an excuse to post the Answer you want. You may want to check out the Tour if you haven’t yet. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 22:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow this a really cool, unique, and well balanced idea! \$\endgroup\$
    – qazwsx
    Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 23:52

Simply remove the phrase "of first level or higher". That way, whenever even cantrips are casted, there is also a chance for a surge. This makes them occur about ever day in my experience, instead of every ten days, making the feature far more fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you used this in game? Were there issues with abusing the feature to try to get surges? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 1:36

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