Feed on

Magic Goes Awry

Magic Goes Awry: A high fantasy role-playing system that is light on rules and heavy on magical mayhem

This is a role-playing game designed for people who want to create a fun and interesting high fantasy story together. My goal in creating this game was to capture the fun of Dungeons and Dragons in a game that was free and accessible to a much wider range of people. I created this game to have little math, fewer things to keep track of, and more room for creativity while still having enough options and detail for people to create a diverse range of fantastical characters with exciting abilities.

Right now this game is in the alpha testing phase, so there probably are some bugs and typos to work out. However, the core mechanic of this game is based on Lasers & Feelings by John Harper, which is a tested mechanic. Inspiration was also taken from Scrolls & Swords. Enjoy!

If you want to help me improve this game, please give me feedback by filling out the Magic Goes Awry Feedback Form. Thank you!


This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.


Starting Information

In this story-telling game the participants take on one of two roles: the players and the game master. The players each create a character who is one of the main characters of the story (called a player character). Each player decides what actions their character takes in the game. Dice are used to figure out how effective the character’s actions are and if there are any unexpected results. The game master creates the world, the other characters, and the main challenges of the story. Using the results of the dice rolls, the game masters determine the exact outcomes of the characters’ actions.

Part of making this game accessible is welcoming people who have never had a chance to play a role-playing game before. It is my aim to limit jargon and add the extra pieces of information needed to make the rules accessible to new players. In addition, if you are new to role-playing games and want to learn more, you can find a page of general information and advice on the New Player Information Page.


Players Create Characters

The following instructions allow the players to create their characters.

The decisions you make in each step of character creation can be tracked on your character sheet, which is a special form designed to be a quick reference for character details like skills, abilities, and items. I have created separate character sheets for physically focused characters and for magically focused characters.

  1. Choose a class for your character. This determines your characters main abilities. Note that bards, clerics, and druids all have the capacity to magically heal and it is a good idea to have someone who can heal in your group. Your options are:
    • Mage: a person who casts arcane magic (Wizards and Sorcerers can be made using this class)
    • Fighter: a physical combat specialist (Soldiers, Rage Warriors, and Hand-to-Hand Combatants can be made using this class)
    • Bard: entertainers who imbue their performances with magic (Minstrels and Swashbucklers can be made using this class)
    • Cleric: the worshiper of a deity who can cast divine magic (Priests and Paladins can be made using this class)
    • Druid: a person who specializes in nature-based magic and abilities (Nature Wizards, Witches, and Rangers can be made using this class)
    • Rogue: a person who specializes in agility, cunning, and charm (Thieves, Swashbucklers, and Alchemists can be made using this class)
  2. Choose a race/species for your character. Your options include, but are not limited to: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling (hobbit), Orc, Goblin, Cat-Person, Lizard-Person, Centaur, Satyr, Merperson, Fairy, talking animal, Half-Demon, or Half-Angel.
  3. Choose numbers to represent your character’s ability to do mind (magic; knowledge; social skill; awareness) and body (physical skills: martial abilities; strength; dexterity) tasks. The higher the number, the better you are at those tasks. You have three options for numbers:
    • Mind 5, Body 3
    • Mind 4, Body 4
    • Mind 3, Body 5
  4. Go to your character class and determine your class abilities by making the listed choices (the following links should take you to the page for your class). Note that the key thing you want to be keeping track of is what your character is an expert at, when your character is considered prepared (if you have chosen any abilities that affect that), and what the limitations of your character’s abilities are.
  5. Choose two types of defensive training off the defensive training options list.
  6. Choose six skills off the skills list. These skills (and the ones granted by your class) are the ones your character is an expert in.
  7. Choose one item off the following list. This is in addition to any items you gain from your class abilities and skills. All characters start with the following items: backpack, bed roll, blanket, soap, fire-starting kit, waterskin, chalk, rope, twine, enough rations for several days, a few coins in a pouch, and any non-magical adaptive device the character could benefit from.
    • Magic weapon: Three times a day you count as prepared when using this object to make a physical attack.
    • Enchanted defensive item: Choose an item that matches a defensive ability your character has. Your options are magic armor, a magic shield, an amulet of dodging, an enchanted magical outfit, an enchanted staff, or an amulet of deflection. Three times a day you count as prepared when using this object to defend.
    • Bag of coin: This is enough money to buy a magical item, throw a splendid party, or pay for a significant service (such as chartering a ship for multiple days).
    • Set of books: Choose a knowledge skill. That is the topic of the books. Whenever you take the time to consult the books you count as prepared on a knowledge roll about their topic.
    • Ring of luck: Once per day reroll a single roll.
    • Magical adaptive device: An adaptive device with one magical property. This property can be related to the function of the device, such as a levitating wheelchair or a cane that prevents the holder from tripping. Alternatively the property can be independent of the device’s main function, such as a prosthetic that allows its wearer to transform into an otter or a hearing aid that grants the ability to speak with plants. Keep in mind that the device’s property should be significantly more specific than a type of magic (for example, shapeshifting into a specific animal rather than any animal).
    • Or choose two ordinary items or one specialty item off the items list.
  8. Now it is time for the finishing touches.
    • Name your character.
    • Choose a manner for your character. Your options include, but are not limited to: Adventurous, Dangerous, Hot-Shot, Innocent, Mysterious, Savvy, Scholarly, Secretive, Strange, Tortured, or Wild.
    • Choose a goal for your character. Options include: Fight for an Ideal (choose your ideal), Impress Others, Create (this could be creating art, order, or community), Enjoy, Help Others, Gain (wealth, power, status, skill, or knowledge), Learn, Teach, Discover, Solve Problems, Survive, Prove Yourself, or Serve (this could be serving a group, an ideal, or a deity).
    • Decide on a physical appearance for your character. What are their most notable features? What are they wearing?
    • Make a few decisions about where your character came from and what their past has been. This is their backstory. Note that it is fine to leave some areas of your character’s past open so that you can fill it in later during play.
    • Decide what relationship your character has with the other player characters. Note that relationships do not need to be symmetric (for example, one character can idolize a second character, while the second character considers the first character a rival). Options include: stranger, sibling, childhood friend, trusted comrade, rival, distrusted ally, disliked ally, despised ally, saved your life, owes you their life, teacher, student, beloved, crush, knows your secret, you know their secret, your idol, they idolize you, respects you, you respect them, thinks you are misguided, you think they are misguided, needs your help, you need their help, your protector, you protect them, hired you, you hired them, needs your guidance, and guides you. For types of relationships that are likely to cause animosity and conflict between player characters, please be sure everyone is comfortable with that outcome before selecting that relationship.


Playing the Game

When your character attempts an action that has a significant chance of failure, roll a six sided dice to find out how it goes.

  • Roll an additional dice if your character is an expert. Both skills and class abilities have rules for when someone is considered an expert.
  • Roll an additional dice if your character is prepared. Characters are prepared if they are acting on specific knowledge, they have an item that allows them to be prepared, or if someone has previously taken a specific action to prepare (see being prepared).
  • Roll an additional dice if someone has helped your character (see helping).

The game master will help you determine how many dice to roll, based on your character and the situation. Note that you are only allowed to roll four dice in special circumstances (the game master will help you decide if the current situation counts as special).


Roll your dice and compare each die result to the appropriate number.

If you’re using mind (magic; knowledge; social skill; awareness), you want to roll under your mind number.

If you’re using body (physical skills: martial abilities; strength; dexterity), you want to roll under your body number.


0: If none of your dice succeed, it goes wrong. The game master says how things get worse somehow. Keep in mind that the intensity of the consequences should match the both difficulty of the action and danger in what is being attempted.

  • When magic is being used, this means the magic somehow gone awry. Options include creating the opposite of the desired effect, the magic affecting a different set of people than desired, negative consequences to the caster, or the creation of strange, unexpected effects. There will usually be some relationship between the unexpected effect and what was attempted, though the connection might be quite bizarre. Magic gone awry can benefit opponents, hinder protagonists, or just make the overall situation more challenging.
  • When physical actions go wrong this can be due to a failure on the part of the protagonists, such as a person tripping or fumbling in a way that causes the situation to get worse (something that works best in humorous games with less competent protagonists). With physical actions things can also go wrong because of the actions of an opponent (for example, an attacking fighter could be tripped by a talented enemy warrior) or an unexpected feature of the environment (for example, a stealthy rogue can move silently and still set off a magical alarm).

1: If one die succeeds, you barely manage it. The game master will create a complication, harm, or cost.

2: If two dice succeed, you do it well. Good job!

3: If three dice succeed, you get a critical success! The game master tells you some extra effect you get.


Successful social rolls: It is my strong recommendation that even when players get two or three successes in their rolls to accomplish social tasks (such as an attempt to convince someone that a thief is after their family heirloom), that those characters who are being interacted with retain some agency in how they respond to the successful roll (to continue the example, the person may believe that a thief is after their family heirloom, but they still aren’t going to entrust a total stranger with the protection of their heirloom). This is meant to ensure that the characters of the game world are able to retain their personalities and core values in their interactions with the players’ characters. In those times when the characters don’t get their desired result because it goes against the nature of the character they are interacting with, the game master should ensure that something useful comes out of their successful roll (for example, the person could share a useful piece of information with them).

Being prepared: There are multiple ways that characters can prepare themselves.

  • Characters may take actions in the story to prepare. If these actions are simple things that the character should be able to do with little risk, then no roll is needed (such as using a hammer to chip of a small piece of an unusual rock to prepare for inspecting it).
  • Some preparatory actions come with a significant risk. This risk might not be known to the players (to build on the example above, if the unusual rock is actually a creature, then trying to chip a piece off is no longer easy and low risk). When this is the case, the game master will call for an roll or an appropriate skill or ability.
  • If you have an item or ability that allows you to be prepared under a certain set of circumstances, then as long as those circumstances apply you are prepared.
  • If an item or ability says that three times a day you are prepared when doing something, then three times a day you can choose to activate that item or ability to receive that bonus (no dice roll needed).
  • Certain magical effects, like magical enhancements can also count as preparation.

Helping: If you want to help someone else, say how you try to help and make a roll. If you succeed, they will get to roll an additional dice on their roll. Certain magic abilities (like a cleric’s enhancement magic) are a way to directly help someone.

Turn order: Turn order is about figuring out when each character gets to take an action. This is used in time-sensitive situations where everyone is acting at once (like combat). In less time-sensitive situations players and opponents can take actions whenever it makes sense for the plot. The following turn order system is designed specifically to work well with the mechanics of this game. It is experimental, and while I believe that it works well for Magic Goes Awry, you are welcome to experiment with other options.

  • The game master uses the plot to decide whether the players or their opponents take the first action.
  • The actions of opponents and the protagonists alternate back and forth with the failure or success of each action advancing the plot forward. This happens until each involved character has taken an action. This is one round.
  • Once a round is complete, a new round starts.
  • Each round the players decide what order they act in and the game master decides what order the opponents act in.
  • When players take actions their actions they roll to find out what happens based on the skill or class ability they are using.
  • When opponents take actions the players roll physical defense, magical defense, or an appropriate skill to defend against the opponent’s action.
  • Once the situation is stops being time-sensitive, turn order is no longer necessary.

Play style: The big question none of the above rules answers is, “What is an action? How big or small is it? How big of an effect does it have?” To some degree, this is up to the game master to decide. My suggestion is to treat one dice roll to create a magical effect as a single spell and one dice roll to use a physical ability as several smaller actions together (for example, climbing up a cliff, a charge and several swings of a sword, or multiple shots from a bow). By lumping multiple smaller actions into one dice roll the plot will advance faster and there will be a larger effects from character actions. With this system, simple challenges and easy combats take one to two rounds to complete whereas a really tricky challenge or tough fight might take four to six rounds to complete.

Character death: This is a tricky topic for any role-playing game, and something which has been discussed in depth in other places (Character Death and Four Dangers of Unplanned Character Death). Game systems that create explicit systems for character death never meet everyone’s needs and can lead to hurt and frustration. That is why I don’t have a pre-made system for character death. What I’m hoping participants will do it have a conversation with each other about character death and what each person wants to experience. Some people enjoy a feeling of risk, while others will enjoy things the most when they know none of the main characters will die unexpectedly. There is no right or wrong way to feel. As you start this conversation, here are some options for you to consider:

  • Little or no death in the game.
  • Enemies will sometimes die, but not the player characters or their allies.
  • Anyone but a player character can die at a dramatically appropriate moment in the game.
  • Specific players are open to making secret agreements with the game master for their character to die at a pivotal and dramatic moment in the game (usually at the end of a story arc).
  • Players have control over their character’s life and death. They may choose to kill their character at a dramatically appropriate moment if they desire, but the game master won’t kill anyone’s characters.
  • Based on the plot, the game master is free to kill any characters (including player characters) at a dramatically appropriate moment.
  • To create a feeling of constant risk some kind of wound system is used to track character life and death.


Game Masters Create Adventures

Create a threat and play to find out how the players defeat it. Introduce the threat by showing evidence of its recent badness. Before a threat does something to the characters, show signs that it’s about to happen, then ask them what they do. Call for a roll when the situation is uncertain. Don’t pre-plan outcomes—let the chips fall where they may. Use failures to push the action forward. The situation always changes after a roll, for good or ill. Ask questions and build on the answers.

There are three options for how to create threats and adventures in this system.


Option #1: Create a Quick Adventure

For fast adventure creation, roll or choose on the tables below.

A threat…

  1. A cruel and evil ruler
  2. A sinister magic user
  3. A rogue general’s army
  4. A powerful undead lich
  5. A group of lesser demons
  6. A mythological terror

…wants to…

  1. Destroy / Corrupt
  2. Steal / Capture
  3. Magically bond with
  4. Protect / Empower
  5. Build / Create
  6. Occupy / Make a deal with


  1. Pirate king/queen/ruler
  2. Power crystals
  3. Massive sky ship
  4. Planar portal
  5. Ancient ruins
  6. Mysterious artifact

…which will…

  1. Destroy the kingdom
  2. Reverse time
  3. Raise the dead
  4. Start a bloody war
  5. Tear a hole in reality
  6. Fix everything!


Option #2: Crossroads Adventures

This is a set of quirky, ready-made adventures that I am creating for those who want a detailed adventure to work through.

These adventures are set in my Crossroads setting that I am developing. They are whimsical adventures that take inspiration from fairy tales and medieval culture. Each of these adventures was created to be played on the Unfamiliar Heroes podcast series, and the text of each adventure is planned to be released with the podcast episodes. This is very much a work in progress.

Crossroads Character Creation: This character creation sequence is designed for any of the adventures that I have created for the Crossroads setting. The sequence starts with a bit of background and setting information to get players oriented. Next is the character creation itself. Afterwards there is a mini adventure to give the players a taste of game play.

The Owlbear Reintroduction Program: Coming soon.

Life in the Adventurer’s Academy: Planned adventure.

The Haunted Mill: Planned adventure.


Option #3: Build Encounters

The game master creates their own unique challenges and opponents for the players to overcome.

This works much like game mastering for a standard role-playing game, where the game master creates a world, characters, and challenges for the players to overcome (usually starting small and growing larger). I am working on some tips and ideas for the most efficient ways to do this. More soon!


Additional Information

Examples of play: Games that illustrate the core mechanic can be found on gaming podcasts where they play Lasers and Feelings (which is a star trek mimic game). My favorite one that I’ve listened to is She’s a Super Geek Podcast Episode 4. In the future I will be recording Unfamiliar Heroes podcasts with examples of people playing this game.

Character advancement system: In addition to single session games, Magic Goes Awry is designed for ongoing games that take place over multiple sessions. This is a rough draft of what the character advancement system is going to be. Once fine-tuned I am planning on creating a separate version of the game for games with character creation to avoid confusion.

  • Level 1: Character creation. In the current version of the game all characters gain four main class abilities in character creation (some classes also gain necessary thematic elements like bardic performance which don’t count toward this number). For games with advancement, this system requires starting characters out at a less powerful level by reducing the number of class abilities from four down to three, reducing the skills given out in step six from six skills to four skills, and reducing the number of defensive abilities from two down to one.
  • Level 2: Gain a skill.
  • Level 3: Gain a class ability.
  • Level 4: Gain a skill.
  • Level 5: Gain a defensive ability. (This is the level of the standard game characters)
  • Level 6: Gain a skill.
  • Level 7: Gain a class ability.
  • Level 8: Gain a skill.
  • Level 9: Gain a defensive ability.
  • Level 10: Gain a skill.
  • Level 11: Gain a class ability.
  • Level 12: Gain a skill.

Optional rules: The previous dice rolling system that is closer to that of Lasers and Feelings can be found in the optional rules page.

Coming soon:  Website editing of Magic Goes Awry (fixing typos and clarifying language). Printable character sheets. More accessibility features (links to dice rolling programs + I am going to do more research on how to make this website and game the most accessible possible). Additional discussion of things like hit points (wounds) and initiative (turn order) that addresses these features that are common to many games like Dungeons and Dragons (possibly with rules for those that want them). Optional rules for race/species abilities. Additional items (and services) for the items list. Additional game master information for building encounters and running games. Possibly some example monsters and a mini game module. Different versions of the game for different purposes (a simplified game for short game sessions and a version for games with advancement). Any awesome class abilities that I manage to think up.

Licensing: Magic Goes Awry is licensed under a CC BY-NCSA 3.0 license. This means that you are free to share and adapt this game, but you must give appropriate credit and indicate what changes were made, you cannot use this content for commercial use, you must link to the license, and if you transform or build upon this material then the resulting content must be distributed under the same license. The full details are given in an easy to understand format by following the link for the license. This license applies specifically to this game and not other content on this website.

Note that I retain the copyright for the Crossroads Setting and the Crossroads Adventures (as well as all other content on this website with the exception of certain images and sounds).

4 Responses to “Magic Goes Awry”

  1. Gryphyl says:

    This looks good so far! Looks like you missed out a number on point 3 of character creation though (“Choose your number, from 2 to [?]”). I’m guessing it should be 5?

    Also, you say you can only roll four dice in very special circumstances – but if you do roll four dice and succeed on all of them, does anything extra happen, or is it still a crit the same as with three dice?

    • FayOnyx says:

      I replied to you. I’m sleepy so it didn’t go in as a reply to you and is just in the main thread instead. Thanks for your comment!

  2. FayOnyx says:

    Thank you Gryphyl! It is supposed to be 5 and I fixed it.

    Also, good question! I think I’d leave that up to the game master to decide based on how epic the game is. I’ve done the math and for a character doing what they are best at it is nearly a one in five chance of getting four successes when rolling four dice, so it isn’t going to be super rare.

Leave a Reply