magic side effects

Magic Side Effects

When it comes to magic, sometimes things just don’t go well. As a writer or roleplaying gamer, that’s an opportunity for you to apply some magic side effects to your story or scenario. In this write up, we have looked at the side effects of magic from a number of angles and brainstormed a cauldron full of fun ideas. 

How can magic side effects happen?

There are a lot of variables in the casting of a spell, the creation of a potion, or the reading of a magic scroll. With each variable added, the possibility of outrageous magic side effects increases. That’s lucky for us creative writers but too bad for our characters! For example, while attempting to summon an elf to do some gardening, our character can accidentally invoke a deranged golem which means we have a whole new spin-off adventure to write.

So, at cre8opedia, one of the first things we brainstormed was a list of reasons for stuff to not-work-right. Here are some possible reasons or justifications for the blunders your magic users might commit in your stories (provided with support of the International Society of Fictional Wizards):


Innumerable things can go wrong when casting a spell if you don’t have all the components just right. If, for instance, you have the wrong length of sprig of wolfsbane, your spell is likely hooped. Another thing to consider is the age of ingredients; they can spoil, rot, get musty, and so on. That’s the thing with magic, it’s pretty particular. If you’re off by a hair (or have the wrong type of hair), things get… well… hairy. Have fun with this list we brainstormed for ingredients gone bad.

  • expired materials, dragon claw not the correct age, wrong variety of rat, stale spices,
  • rotten eggs, moldy cheese, sour milk, rancid oil
  • flower petals were plucked counter-clockwise instead of clockwise,
  • wrong gesture, pointed with the incorrect finger,
  • whoever wrote the spell forgot a word
  • couldn’t remember the words, guessed at the last line, incorrect preposition,
  • ancient elvish word was misspelled on the scroll, wrong ink used in the writing, blood (for the ink) was not fresh enough,
  • staff has a crack in it, sceptre of power is low on batteries,
  • far from a magic energy source, outside a realm of magic, disconnected from magic source, inside a magic protection circle,

Spellcaster’s demeanour

When it comes to a successful spell, the caster’s mood has a huge impact. As the old (really old) saying goes… a tired wizard is a dangerous wizard. It’s true! If you’re throwing magic around, you want to be at your absolute best. For this reason, we hope you take care of the magic users around you. Here’s a list we brainstormed of things that could have that magical mind off its game:

  • didn’t pray to your god, your prayers were weak, haven’t fulfilled your destiny, strayed from your path, acted without virtue,
  • caster’s heart just wasn’t in it, lack of belief, disbelief, doubt,
  • fatigued, tired, exhausted, ill, sick, nauseated, got the flu,
  • angry, distracted, fazed, dizzy, self-doubt, self-loathing,
  • drunk, inebriated, high, intoxicated
  • distracted, restless
  • dazed, confused, stunned
  • too much caffeine, not enough caffeine

Verbal error

Some spellcasters are dramatic with their incantations, their chants and recitations captivating and entrancing. But if they get one word wrong or use intonation that is slightly off, the spell can flop like a fool’s hat. This is why they have to practice so much, why they always have their noses buried in books, and why rarely have time to hang out at the tavern like the fighters. Wizards and such are serious because there is literally a lot on their mind when it comes to spell casting. Hopefully one of these ideas grabs your attention:

  • forgot to rhyme a line in the chant
  • forgot the Latin name for a newt, mispronounced a word,
  • If the magic user is a bard: sang the wrong note, missed a beat, snapped a string on the lute
  • accent on the wrong syllable
  • pitch was off,
  • voice dropped and now they can’t hit the high notes of spells they once loved
  • breathed in instead of out at the wrong time
  • paused too long between stanzas
  • sneezed while saying an important part
  • mixed up prepositions (“in” instead of “on”)
  • lost their place in the recitation and accidentally repeated the dangerous part
  • said a hard “w” instead of a “v” like people pronounce “Wagner” (these little things matter in magic)

Extenuating Circumstances

A sorcerer can’t control everything. Casting in the rain is very different than casting on a clear night. Just like that, there are many elements that can cause difficulty in every spellcasting situation.

  • wand was wet, scroll was damp
  • smoke irritating caster’s eyes
  • fog or smoke obscuring vision
  • fire, heat, smoke,
  • too dark; too light
  • wrong time of day for the particular spell; wrong season
  • too much noise, distraction,
  • caster is bumped, hit, tripped, jostled
magic side effect creative writing
Something’s not quite right with this spell.

Magic Side Effects

Magic side effects create an exciting potential narrative twist. Whether the spell works or not, it may have a cost associated with it. Perhaps the caster screwed up the command words or only had half of the object of power required.

Lots of side effects will befall just the caster, but don’t rule out massive effects that can affect an entire party or tribe. Things like curses on entire villages have great narrative potential. In other words, someone who mishandles magic can affect the greater world.

Have a look at some of these things that could occur and have fun working them into your story or roleplay…

The spell itself might manifest differently…

  • opposite or reverse of expected result,
  • amplified result, redoubled, exponential result,
  • fizzles out, dud, flops
  • the spell stores up in a different plane, only to erupt in full force later… of course, at a very inopportune time
  • spell jumps to a different target
  • spell goes sideways, upwards
  • spell happens but it’s comically tiny
  • a strange sound or odour accompanies the spell

Magic side effects that could happen to the spellcaster…

  • fatigue, energy drain, exhaustion,
  • life drain, aging, fading, crossing over to death, (powerful spells often do this kind of thing)
  • vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, (often associated with drinking potions, if you’re not used to them)
  • pain, burning sensation,
  • dry skin, rash,
  • magic user begins to fade, dissolve, disappear, go invisible,
  • profuse sweating,
  • spiritual change, loss of faith, new belief, divine inspiration, blessed, cursed,
  • caster wells up with intense anger, sadness, enthusiasm,
  • stricken with disease, break out in blisters,
  • fever, chills, aching joints, inflammation, arthritis, rheumatism,
  • lowered immune system (susceptible to disease, illness, the common cold),
  • frequent and intense need to urinate, juggle, eat, spit, speak in riddles, blurt out obscenities, see the head of your order,
  • loss of voice, change in voice, hoarseness, voicebox changes to that of an animal (lion, magpie, mouse, hyena)
  • brittle bones, osteoporosis,
  • transport to another world; teleport to another dimension; pop into a pocket in space-time; fall through a wormhole; blink out of existence;
  • gas, farts, belching, bloated feeling
  • paranoia, delusions, anxiety, malaise, melancholy, hopelessness, insomnia, (see other forms of fading sanity here)
  • when spell caster talks, bubbles (or smoke, fire, acid, ooze, slobber, steam) emanate from mouth, bleeding ears, black goo drips out of nose,
  • paralysis: temporary, partial, protracted, complete,
  • catatonia, fall into coma, vegetative state,
  • invisibility, phase shift, blinking in and out of material world, ghost form, gaseous figure, incorporeal, slowly disappear from existence,
  • levitation, teleportation, start floating up (when nervous), heaviness, inability to jump (must always have one foot firmly grounded),
  • curse, hex, poltergeist attaches to you, demon shadows you, angel harangues you,
  • illusion, mirage, double image, echo,
  • speak gibberish, incomprehensible, stricken with babble,
  • mutation, alteration, change, metamorphosis, morph, shift, shape shift, begin to grow feathers, mouth and nose turn into a snout over a 5 week period, shedding skin and transformation to reptilian skin, fingers become grossly elongated, sprout wings,
  • tiny second head of a demonic nature grows out of left clavicle, rat-like tail begins to grow, become lycanthrope,
  • caster’s head: erupts in a fireball; is teleported away; becomes invisible; becomes that of a crow (or other animal); is switched with that of someone else in the room (maybe the target of the spell); begins to take on the shape of a horse’s head,
  • grow leopard spots, zebra stripes, strange whole-body tattoo, fur, tusks, nasal resonance cavity (honking noises),
  • intense craving, need, desire, 
  • spell caster falls deeply in love with target, next person seen,
  • a crow follows the spell caster and as each day passes another crow joins the murder,

Something could happen to an item used for the spell…

  • spell book is stolen by a shadow lord or demon
  • wand passes to another plane of existence
  • scroll erupts in flame, scroll envelops caster like plastic cling wrap
  • wand/vial/scroll becomes sentient and animated, object turns into a snake or other animal
  • ring grows in size and falls off caster’s finger
  • magic item turns to: water, goo, mist, acid, sparkling lights
  • magic item blasts off like fireworks
  • magic item glows
  • golden talisman becomes lead
  • ring becomes cursed with a poltergeist
  • the caster’s wand suddenly weighs 400lbs
  • spell book transforms into Tolstoy’s War and Peace
  • staff becomes a giant wet noodle (yes, it’s edible)
  • orb of power turns into a basketball
  • magic amulet quadruples in size
  • scroll becomes animated and attempts to smother the spell caster
  • potion climbs out of the drinker’s stomach and goes back into the bottle where it cowers

Area effects of a spell-gone-wrong…

  • the entire area: becomes anti-gravity, is enveloped in a bubble and teleported to a foreign land/planet/dimension, is smothered in a thick fog, becomes temporally slowed (when characters emerge from the area an entire decade (year, century, week, month, three days) will have passed,
  • implosion, black hole, immolation, spontaneous combustion,
  • stink, smell, aroma, offensive odour, pheromones,
  • creature is randomly summoned, monster appears, caster’s mother suddenly materializes, caster’s guild master teleports to location, arch-nemesis arrives by magical means,
  • spontaneous combustion, immolation, burst into flame,
  • turn (in whole or in part) to stone, ice, bark, flame,
  • emotional reaction, rage, go berserk, insanity,
  • make something gooey appear, such as: slime, goo, juice, Jell-o, muck, ooze, blob,
  • another idea is to introduce inclement weather: rain, snow, sleet, wind, tornado, squall,
  • flock of birds materializes and attacks,
  • strange writing appears on a wall, on the floor, on caster’s forehead,
  • all metal within twenty feet turns to rust, wood, ice, marshmallow,
  • explosion, fire, lightning, energy blast,
  • a gate appears, a door materializes, a portal is summoned and demands a guest,
  • spell caster switches minds with their familiar, nearest animal, another character, a plant, a rock,
  • caster’s arm turns into a venomous snake, an octopus tentacle, a rope, a whip, a sword, a puppet of Donald Trump, an anvil, a bugle that won’t stop tooting,
  • a rain cloud forms over the caster’s head; a thick mist blankets the room;
  • caster can only babble incoherently, becomes mute, loses intellect, becomes a simpleton,
  • caster becomes suicidal, homicidal, lustful, jealous, suspicious,

Notes and Ideas on Magic Side Effects

  • The duration of side effects can vary from fleeting and temporary to permanent and even possibly eternal, you know, for spiritual kinds of backlash. The gods do get angry from time to time.
  • Some magic can take on a life of its own. Magic items can have an insidious affect on characters, creeping into their minds, talking to them, or making them do bad things… like shoplift from gypsies. Magic spells may also have personalities that interact with spell casters making things uneasy for those who dabble. The magical force in your world, for that matter, could be a living force or supernatural being that can toy with the will of those who tap its energies. Fun stuff!
  • In a lot of stories, the elements have ongoing conflicts and these are effective when throwing a side effect at your magic users. A pyromancer who gets side-effected with a continual rain may have trouble with his soggy fireballs, for example.
  • Even learned scholars and wise mages can have a “brain fart.” Let your casters make mistakes and use some of the ideas on this page to help develop your story around little mishaps or colossal blunders. Surgeons leave instruments in patients and pro athletes score “own goals”, so why can’t a sorcerer forget a component of a spell? Enjoy the calamity!
  • When in doubt, just turn someone into something else… always an entertaining narrative move. Try some of these things: rat, weasel, goblin, sprite, snake, cat, elephant, fish, mollusk, half-shark, zebra,