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Magic Goes Awry

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

A new version of this game is in the process of being released! This means that this page will be a little rough until the process is finished. 

Follow me on twitter (#MagicGoesAwry) if you want see updates and announcements when the new version is out. Or if you want to receive an email announcement, you can join the mailing list (be sure to confirm your subscription).

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 & 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 the game is still being tweaked and adjusted. If you want to help me improve this game, please give me feedback by filling out the Magic Goes Awry Feedback Form. Thank you!

If you want to check out some actual play examples of this game system, you can listen to character creation and game play in my podcast:

Also, if you enjoy this game, please consider making a donation so that I can keep improving it and producing more content. You can make a one time donation with Ko-fi (Buy Me a Coffee) or give me ongoing support with Patreon. Thank you!

Button that says, "Become a Patron."

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 storytelling game, the participants take on one of two roles: the players or the game master (GM). The players each create one of the main characters of the story (called a player character, or PC). 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 master determines 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 general information and advice on the New Player Information page.


Player Character Creation

Character creation is now on this page. And the character sheet can be found here.


Playing the Game

This game uses six-sided dice to decide the outcome of events. When your character attempts an action that has a significant chance of failure, roll a six-sided die to find out how it goes.

  • Roll an additional die if your character is an expert. Both skills and class abilities have rules for when someone is considered an expert.
  • Roll an additional die if your character is prepared. Characters are prepared if they are acting on specific knowledge, they have an item or ability that allows them to be prepared, or they have previously taken a specific action to prepare (see “Being prepared”).
  • Roll an additional die 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 no more than four dice can be used for a roll.


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

  • If you’re using mind (magic, knowledge, social skill, awareness), each die with a number that is less than your mind number counts as a success (rolling your number ).
  • If you’re using body (physical skills, strength, dexterity, endurance), each die with a number that is less than your body number counts as a success.


The number of successes from the dice roll determines the outcome of your character’s action.

0 successes is a failure. Your character’s action is not successful and the situation is becoming more challenging. This could be the result of an error your character made, but it could also be the result of someone else’s action, an unexpected circumstance, or a new development. The purpose of this is to create a change in the story that drives the plot forward. The game master will describe what happens.

  • The intensity of the consequences will match both the difficulty of the action and the danger in what is being attempted.
  • See “Plot advancing challenges” for details on possible outcomes of failed rolls.

1 success is a partial success. Your character’s action is successful, but just barely. The game master will create a limitation, side effect, or complication that accompanies their action. This is a milder version of the plot advancing challenges that come with character failure.

2 successes is a solid success. Your character accomplishes what they intended to.

3 successes is an outstanding success. Your character is extremely successful. The game master will create an additional benefit that the character receives as they accomplish their goal.


Plot advancing challenges: These are possible outcomes for failed rolls.

  • Magic rolls: When magic is being used, a failure means the magic has 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.
  • Knowledge rolls: The most common result of a failed knowledge roll is a lack of information. For example, in the heat of the moment, the character can’t remember what they learned about zombies. However, if the character has no training in the type of knowledge they are attempting to use, the game master can instead decide that the character remembers a false piece of information. If the character has training in this type of knowledge, the game master can decide that the character remembers an unproven theory that contains both false and true information.
  • Awareness rolls: The most common result of a failed awareness roll is a lack of information. For example, the surrounding crowd is too noisy for the character to overhear what two people are whispering to each other. However, if it is appropriate to the situation, the game master can instead have the character perceive things in a misleading way, such as hearing a phrase out of context.
  • Social rolls: Something has gone wrong with the social interaction. Options include an accidental insult, an ineffective lie, an interruption, a misunderstanding, a person jumps to a false conclusion, an unexpected reaction (such as a character trying to intimidate a skilled warrior and instead being challenged to a duel), social awkwardness (such as a character stumbling over their words), and physical awkwardness (such as a character spilling their drink on the person they are talking to).
  • Physical rolls: When physical actions fail, something has prevented the character from being successful. Options include a fumble, an object breaking, an opponent’s successful action (such as a talented enemy warrior tripping an attacking fighter), an unexpected feature of the environment (such as a stealthy rogue moving silently and setting off a magical alarm), or the appearance of a new obstacle (such as a detective secretly tailing a suspect that is suddenly blocked by a group of children who are chasing after a ball).

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 off 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 a 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, explain how you try to help and make a roll. If you succeed, they will get to roll an additional dice. 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 player characters or their opponents take the first action.
  • The actions of the protagonists and their opponents alternate back and forth, with the failure or success of each action advancing the plot. 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 their characters act in, and the game master decides what order their opponents act in.
  • When the player characters take their actions, the players 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 stops being time-sensitive, turn order is no longer necessary.


Game Play Details

Now that the core rules have been presented, this section dives into the details of game play. These details are intended to help the game work smoothly by clarifying areas of ambiguity. They are also here to help those participants who do best when the different aspects of game play are made explicit.

You can find this section here. Right now I am editing the different parts of this section and posting them as I finish them.


Creating Adventures

Game masters create the world and set up situations. The group then plays to find out how the player characters deal with those situations. Each player narrates what their character is doing. The game master helps by asking question. Each time a character takes an action that has a significant chance of failure, it is time for a roll. The result of each roll is used to move the plot forward.

Certain situations may involve active non-player characters (other characters that are controlled by the game master). In these cases, the game master can choose to have the non-player characters take an action in-between player character actions. Any time that action directly affect a player character, the player can make a roll to use one of their defensive abilities. Dangerous or rapidly changing environments can work in a similar manner, with the situation changing in-between player character actions.

Below are some different tools that have been created in order to assist game masters in creating their world and setting up the challenges of the game.


The 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. The Crossroads Setting will also have a list of characters, locations, and monsters for game masters to work with.

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: The podcasts of this adventure are currently being released.

Life in the Adventurer’s Academy: Planned adventure.

The Haunted Mill: Planned adventure.


Tools for Building Encounters

This will be a collection of tools and advice designed to help game masters creates their own unique challenges and opponents for the players to overcome.

This section is currently being written. More soon!


Additional Information

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.

  • Level 1: Character creation. In the current version of the game, all characters gain four main class abilities during character creation. For games with advancement, this system requires starting characters out at a less powerful level by reducing the number of defensive trainings from two to one (step 4 of character creation), reducing the skills from eight total skills to five (step 5), and reducing the number of class abilities from four to two (step 6).
  • Level 2: Gain a skill.
  • Level 3: Gain a class ability.
  • Level 4: Gain a defensive training.
  • Level 5: Gain a skill.
  • Level 6: Gain a skill.
  • Level 7: Gain a class ability. (This is the level of the standard game characters.)
  • Level 8: Gain a skill.
  • Level 9: Gain a skill.
  • Level 10: Gain a class ability.
  • Level 11: Gain a skill.
  • Level 12: Gain a skill.
  • Level 13: Gain a class ability.

Optional rules: An alternate dice-rolling system, which produces more frequent failures, can be found on 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; plus, I am going to do more research on how to make this website and game as accessible as possible). Additional discussion of things like hit points (wounds) and initiative (turn order) that addresses these features, which are common to many games like Dungeons & Dragons (possibly with rules for those who 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, the Crossroads Setting, and the Crossroads Adventures are all copyright Fay Onyx, 2018.


9 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.

  3. Todd Zircher says:

    Is there a download link so I can read this offline?

    • FayOnyx says:

      Thanks for asking! I am currently working very hard on an updated version of this game and that will have a download link for sure. If you would like to follow this conversation, I would be happy to send you a message when there is a download link available. 🙂

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