D&D 5e - Questionable Arcana - The Rising Tides of Chaos: Alternative Wild Magic Rules for 5th Edition
One of the characters featured in the campaign journal on this site is Bellamy the Wild Mage. Bellamy and I really enjoy the unpredictability of the Wild Magic Surge, but the way existing rules are worded makes the DM determine when a surge is triggered. Rather than saddle myself with that responsibility, I did what any DM would do when confronted with rules they don't like: I made up my own.
There are two primary alternative wild magic rules that I use in my campaign. The first I coined the "Tidal Surge" rule, and the second is the "Rising Tide" rule. The purpose of these rules is to increase the rate at which Wild Magic Surges proc while preserving the chaotic nature of the class.
The Rising Tide accomplishes this by progressively expanding the set of outcomes resulting in a Wild Magic Surge. Tidal Surge, on the other hand, takes a somewhat inverted approach, lowering the number of total outcomes to the point that Wild Magic Surges become fairly common. When these rules are used in tandem, surges trigger (in my experience) roughly 4-6x more often than with Wild Magic rolls alone.
So without further ado... the rules are as follows.
The metaphorical Tides of Chaos function similarly to ocean tides on the material plane. Under normal conditions, the weave of magic ebbs and flows in a fairly consistent nature. A Wild Mage tapping into this chaotic realm causes the weave to contract, causing the Tides of Chaos around the caster to become more dense, and consequently more susceptible to disruption. Wild Mages susceptible to this phenomenon have started to refer to it as the "Tidal Surge" effect due to its resembling the turbulent waters during an intense storm.
After a Wild Magic Sorcerer uses Tides of Chaos to manipulate fate, the odds of a wild magic surge increase dramatically. Instead of rolling a d20 to determine if a Wild Magic Surge takes place, the DM can opt to have the Wild Mage roll a "smaller" die. This die is used until a Wild Magic Surge takes place.
In The Tanius Campaign, I've opened things up by having Bellamy roll a d4 when Tidal Surge is in effect; however, it is up to the DM to determine how severe the impact of the Tidal Surge is.
The Rising Tide
The unpredictable nature of Wild Magic manifests itself differently in different locations. In many areas, when the forces of chaos are tapped, the magical weave surrounding the caster remains stable. In some areas of Tanius, though, chaotic disruptions grow progressively more violent over time. Scholars in these magic zones refer to this increasing intensity as The Rising Tide of Chaos.
Every spell cast by a Wild Magic Sorcerer creates a progressively larger disruption of the magic weave around the caster. Until a Wild Magic Surge is triggered, the range of Wild Magic rolls triggering a Surge is expanded by one after each Wild Magic Surge check.
For example, if a Wild Magic Sorcerer casts a 1st level or higher spell, when the Sorcerer rolls for a Wild Magic Surge, a roll of 1 will result in a roll on the Wild Magic Surge Effect Table. When the Sorcerer next casts a 1st level or higher sorcerer spell, Wild Magic Surge rolls of 1 or 2 will result in a roll on the Wild Magic Surge table.
Once a Wild Magic Surge has been triggered or the Sorcerer takes a long rest the Tides of Chaos settle, and the chances of a wild magic surge taking place return to normal.
Optional Clause 1: Tidal Flooding
As long as a Wild Magic Sorcerer continues to disrupt the magical weave, the Tides of Chaos begin to pool around the caster. While the Sorcerer is alert and active in the world, the Rising Tide around the sorcerer is maintained. While Tidal Flooding is in effect the Rising Tides of Chaos do not settle after a Wild Magic Surge takes place. Only after a long rest do the Tides of Chaos recede and the odds of triggering a Wild Magic Surge return to normal.
Optional Clause 2: Fight The Tide
There are limits to how intense the Sea of Chaos can become. A Wild Magic Sorcerer is capable of containing even most intense chaotic forces. A max roll on a Wild Magic Surge check allows the Wild Mage to hold the forces of chaos at bay and avoid a roll on The Wild Magic Effects table. However, the caster may decide to embrace the tide and unleash the forces of chaos despite his ability to fight it.
Bellamy and I have both been very happy with the dramatically increased rate of Wild Magic Surges occuring with both rules in place. Furthermore, the ability to recharge Tides of Chaos fairly quickly makes Wild Magic Sorcerers much more competitive with Draconic Sorcerers from a meta-gaming standpoint.
One critique of the system in place is that in certain conditions the Wild Mage will know a Wild Magic Surge will take place. For example, a Wild Mage who has cast three spells with Tidal Surge in effect knows a fourth spell will trigger a Wild Magic Surge. Although I do not see this as a drawback mechanics-wise, I do think it's predictability is at odds with the theme of Wild Magic.
Though I have no plans of implementing this in my campaign, I created the "Fight the Tide" optional clause for the Rising Tide rule to address this issue.
But that doesn't sound like any fun, does it?