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I despise the Player’s Handbook version of the Wild Magic sorcerous origin—I think it’s poor, lazy design that causes entirely unnecessary strife at the table. There are ways to capture the feeling of chaos and “wild magic” without resorting to shoving an extra responsibility in the DM’s lap. I think Wizards of the Coast can do better—because they have in the past. And taking cues from those better-designed examples, I think I can do better too. But I don’t know D&D 5e as well, so I need help making sure I’ve got the balance right, and I’d also appreciate knowing if any of my verbiage or formatting betrays my stronger familiarity with D&D 3.5e and Pathfinder.

So this is my take on the Wild Magic sorcerous origin. I’ve written it up in what is meant to be the “official” style, and stylistic/formatting/wording critiques are welcome if I’ve missed the mark on that. And anything found to be confusing or ambiguous definitely needs sorting out. But the larger question, of course, is whether the result is balanced and playable. Balancing should be in line with other sorcerous origins, ideally among the better of them (from my understanding, Divine Soul, Draconic, and Shadow are seen as better than Storm or the original Wild Magic).

Sorcerous Origin

At 1st level, a sorcerer gains the Sorcerous Origin feature. The following wild magic option is available to a sorcerer, instead of the wild magic origin offered in the Player’s Handbook.

Wild Magic

None can tell where your magic comes from; it is fickle, inconstant, and unique. Some might associate it with the forces of chaos, whether Limbo or demons or the fey, or those places in the multiverse where reality is frayed and all magic takes on some of the volatility that yours exhibits everywhere. But none of these is a perfect match; there is no perfect match to be found anywhere else—your magic is yours.

Wild Magic Surge

Starting when you choose this origin at 1st level, whenever you cast a sorcerer spell of 1st-level or higher, its casting time is increased by 1 round. Sorcerer spells ordinarily cast as a bonus action or reaction are not affected.

After each short rest, choose a number of different sorcerer cantrips and/or spells you know equal to 3 + your proficiency bonus. These spells are your “Deck.” You can begin a Wild Magic Surge on any of your turns to randomly draw a number of spells from your Deck equal to your proficiency bonus. Drawn spells form your “Hand.” You may “Play” a spell from your Hand in order to cast it without extending the casting time (it still consumes its usual spell slot). Once Played, a spell is no longer in your Hand and cannot be Played again for the rest of the Wild Magic Surge. On each of your turns after beginning a Wild Magic Surge, you draw one more spell at random from the Deck. If there are no spells left in the Deck at the start of your turn, the Wild Magic Surge ends.

At the end of a Wild Magic Surge, roll a d20. If you roll a number lower than the number of spells you drew but did not cast during the Wild Magic Surge, roll on the Wild Magic Surge table to create a random magical effect.

Starting a Wild Magic Surge is not an action, it’s simply something you can do on your turn. Very few conditions can prevent you from starting a Wild Magic Surge: being petrified, unconscious, or dead, being already in a Wild Magic Surge, or having recently been Overdrawn (see below), each prevent you from starting a surge. A charm effect could convince or compel you to choose not to. But you can begin a Wild Magic Surge in any other condition. You do not need any rest between Wild Magic Surges; you can start a new Wild Magic Surge the moment a previous one ends, if you wish (after rolling on the Wild Magic Surge table, if necessary).

This is what makes a Wild Magic sorcerer all about Wild Magic. They have a hard time forcing exactly the spell they want at any given time, but if they go with the flow, they can cast spells without difficulty. Surging like this can draw upon dangerous energies, though the risks remain low.

This design is based on that of the crusader from 3.5e’s Tome of Battle, which used the same kind of deck (readied maneuvers) that you draw (granted maneuvers) and play (initiating them). That design worked phenomenally for the crusader (seriously, one of my favorite classes in D&D history), but there is a distinct difference between maneuvers and spells in this case: the crusader’s maneuvers were almost all about attacking. It didn’t necessarily matter all that much if you drew fancy attack 3 instead of fancy attack 4. Sorcerer spells are a lot more niche and varied, where drawing Protection from Energy when you really need Dispel Magic is a big problem. What I’d kind of like to do is come up with some appropriate cost you could pay (/risk you could take) to allow you to just cast any spell you know. Fitting such a feature in is tricky, though—this feature is already massive. And I’m not quite sure what the cost/risk should be. It would have to be enough that you would generally prefer not to and prefer to go with what you drew.

Anyway, note that this feature is, entirely, downside. That is relevant to the next feature. Also, in case there was any doubt, the Wild Magic Surge table referenced here is the same as the one in the Player’s Handbook version of the Wild Magic sorcerous origin. I don’t love this—that table has serious problems even if it’s not being thrust into the DM’s lap—but as a risk/cost, something to avoid, it might work, plus I gather some people like it and it’s a bunch of work I don’t have to do. I’d consider an alternative cost if anyone’s got any great ideas, though.

Surge of Power

Starting at 1st level, when casting a spell during a Wild Magic Surge, you may choose to play another spell. The second spell is not cast; instead, the first spell is improved. Choose one of the following improvements:

  • You gain a +1 bonus to any spell attacks made as part of the first spell.
  • The saving throw DC of the first spell increases by +1.
  • The duration of the first spell is increased by 1 round for every minute in its original duration.
  • The first spell is treated as if it had been cast from a spell slot one level higher than it actually was. You may only choose this improvement if the second spell was higher level than the first.

And here is why you might consider bothering with the whole Wild Magic thing—that wild magic can power up your spells. Originally I had just gone with +1 spell slot level, as in the last bullet, without requiring that the sacrificed spell be higher level, but it seemed too strong for something you could theoretically do every round. Still, I do want this to be good, because as discussed, Wild Magic Surge is purely downside.

Note that Surge of Power plays a spell without casting it—since it was played, you can’t cast it. That means it will necessarily count against you at the end of the Wild Magic Surge, increasing the risk of random magical side-effects.

Metasurge

Starting at 6th level, when casting a spell during a Wild Magic Surge, you may choose to play another spell. The second spell is not cast; instead, the first spell gains the benefit of any Metamagic ability you know without spending sorcery points. The level of the second spell must meet or exceed twice the regular sorcery point cost of the Metamagic, however.

Sort of obvious (I think?) extension of Surge of Power. Unsure if the ratio of sorcery points to sacrificed spell level is right, but it feels right looking at the sorcery point costs of the the Metamagic effects in Player’s Handbook. (Does any other source include more Metamagic options?)

Overdrawn

At 14th level, when you reach the end of your Wild Magic Surge, you may choose to become Overdrawn. If you do, you draw your entire deck (even those spells already played during the wild magic surge) and extend your Wild Magic Surge until the end of your turn. At the end of your Overdrawn turn, you gain a level of exhaustion, and you cannot begin another Wild Magic Surge for 1 minute.

This requires surging for three rounds before you can activate it, which means it’s probably only an option in big boss fights—which is kind of the idea! But if you can’t finish things with this power, you’re also kind of taking yourself out of the fight, since for a whole minute you are stuck with extended casting times.

Cataclysm

Beginning at 18th level, if you would die, you can interrupt whatever event is killing you in order to take an immediate extra turn. For the extra turn, you recover any features you ordinarily would with a short rest, you become Overdrawn, and you gain a temporary 9th-level sorcerer spell slot. At the end of this turn, your own magic tears you apart, as if you had been killed by Disintegrate. (Any creature whose action was interrupted does not get the opportunity to choose to do something else with their action as a result of you being disintegrated.)

I love this feature, it seems narratively appropriate, like just the kind of thing you’d expect a Wild Magic sorcerer to do, and the considerable power on offer seems appropriately balanced by the huge and obvious downside—you have to die! Ultimately, though, as much as I love this, I’m not sure it’s such a great idea to dedicate an entire class feature to something you really want to never use. Best case scenario, this becomes a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the end of a campaign, but is it a good idea to have a feature that, in the best case, is only ever used once?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Question: for the Wild Magic feature that extends the casting time +1 round to make casting a levelled spell cost 2 turns of actions, would that also preclude using any reaction spells before the second turn on the spell? (e.g., I start fireball now, will finish it on my next turn, and I can't cast Shield in between) \$\endgroup\$ – MissMisinformation Feb 6 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ In existing 5e materials, there is no casting time unit between "1 action" and "1 minute", so I'm trying to see how you're thinking about it \$\endgroup\$ – MissMisinformation Feb 6 at 23:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think i'm the right person to do a nice, full answer to this, but a possible idea for "spell I need isn't in my Hand but I need it right now" might be to add to the post-Surge roll-under number. That does leave it open to "I don't care about consequences, I'm going to do that each turn" depending on the people at your table though. \$\endgroup\$ – MissMisinformation Feb 7 at 0:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I tend to agree, though I think the fact that Wild Magic Surges occur when the DM thinks of it is even worse. It’s just a weird thing for the DM to be responsible for; it’s not something that would normally be on their radar, many forget to bother with it, and how much the DM calls for those rolls or not changes the functionality of the origin a lot. That’s what I’m trying to avoid here, at least at the moment. But you’re right, replacing the table would be a nice feature; I’ll think on it. For now, though, this is what it is, so this is what I’m asking for reviews on. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 7 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoelDerfner There was a second draft here, and I have done some work revising since then but have not completed a third revision or asked about it here. I think that the answers on both the extant questions give significant credence to the thought that those drafts, at least, were not where they needed to be. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 14 at 15:11
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I will give my notes in order of the features they comment on.

Wild Magic Surge

Actions are not measured in rounds in 5e, spells usually take 1 Action to cast. If you want a spell to take 2 Actions, take a look at the description of the slow spell for phrasing.

While I get the general idea, sorcerers already get a limited spell selection, when compared to prepared casters, which shows in both their spell list and the number of spells known. I have a sorc18/wiz2 who still struggles with not being adaptable to situations and having situationally useful spells burned into his memory that mostly go unused. Further restricting them in this area does not seem like a good idea. If you want something like this I recommend at least compensating for it with additional spells known (1 for every spell level maybe?).

In previous editions prepared spells were lost upon casting, so this draw-from-deck mechanic might have been close to it, but this is not the case for 5e. I can use fireball in all the rounds if I have the slots for it. The once per surge limitation will change how some spells are used and how useful they are.

As that current wording is a bit hard to understand, I would recommend a comment that while you can add cantrips to your deck, their casting is not limited by this.

The last paragraph is also too wordy. I would recommend just saying that "You cannot start a Surge if you are incapacitated". While the clarification is generally welcome, such texts are unusual in 5e features.

I will also note that the original WMS table is biased towards neutral and good outcomes, so using it as a drawback might not be that effective.

Surge of Power

While the cost is not eceptionally high, the benefits aren't either. A +1 to attack or DC is not that much and 5e usually does not use situational bonuses, so it might be harder to keep track of than expected from this edition. Extending spells that last a minute by rounds is completely useless in my opinion. Even the extended spell meatmagic for its measly 1sp cost doubles the duration. Upcasting will be most useful for spells that allow additional targets then, bringing it close to twinned spell and can be quite a decent boost.

Metasurge

Together with the last option of SoP, I worry how this will affect the deck building aspect. It is clearly beneficial to add high level spells to it. This might be completely okay, but I recommend thinking about it.

This might have been your intention, but I would also like to point out that these buffs can be used out of combat pretty freely. You only take an up to 40% chance to roll on the WMS table, can save SP on the metamagic and add a bonus to the spell. There is no chance that you will not be able to cast the spell, as you will draw all your cards eventually and you need only 1 Action to cast. Waiting 12 seconds out of combat is a non-issue. This is a fair ability, but utility spells are pretty scarce on the sorcerer list and often do not use your DC or benefit meaningfully from metamagics. So this is still rather weak.

Overdrawn

Basically what you get is to cast 1 more spell from your deck, instead of just starting a new Surge and deal with a roll on the table. This is very underwhelming. Sure, you get to use any boost by discarding another spell, but those are not that great either. This also gimps you for the rest of the fight. I would have to be extremely desperate to use it, like once a campaign maybe?

Cataclysm

While this is interesting, you will have to consider the spells available to a lv18+ party. Using this ability rules out revivify or raise dead on you and thus will make your death much more permanent. On the other hand sorcerers get wish and they can use clone with it, in which case they just get teleported away, the feature adding no cost or drawback to the situation.

Also, usually what is killing you is death saves. You are just lying on the floor, bleeding out. So the image this will produce is a sorcerer calmly bleeding for about 4 rounds, then suddenly violently exploding. Not sure this is the imagery or "feel" you were going for, though it does look quite unpredictable.

Overall

The limits are too strict and the bonuses are not that powerful. This still does not even come close to a draconic sorcerer's defensive bonuses, at-will flight and fear aura.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very useful to know. I had scaled things back considerably out of deference to 5e’s flatter power curve, but I see I overdid it. I would note that cantrips (and reactions like Shield) aren’t affected—they go in the deck at low levels because the sorcerer doesn’t know enough levels spells otherwise, but since they don’t have their casting time extended, the only point of drawing them is as fodder for Surge of Power. But then fact that this was unclear is very good to know. I’ll clarify in revisions, but for now can I get your thoughts on matters with that clarification? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 7 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ (The original version of Surge of Power, by the way, was to play additional spells up to your proficiency bonus, to upcast the first spell by the same number of levels. So in theory at first level a sorcerer could cast, say, Burning Hands as if from a 3rd-level spell slot.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 7 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would point out that, at the current edit with no 'gotta have X spell not in deck now' mechanic, it reads like while in a WMS you can only cast spells that pull from your deck, meaning you have a 3-round span of time where you either can't cast shield or can only cast it once if you're lucky enough to have pulled it. Squishy sorc just got extra squishy. This goes for Counterspell too, which is extremely useful to have if there aren't many arcane casters in the party. \$\endgroup\$ – MissMisinformation Feb 7 at 15:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Oh, yeah, I misread that. Anyway, that is mostly an issue on its own and does not change my other observations. I would also clarify that you can put a spell in the deck only once, if that is your intention. I will add these and some othar stuff to my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Feb 7 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MissMisinformation Well you can only cast those with 1 Action, you can cast bonus and reaction spells. Although I misread that too. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Feb 7 at 15:35

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