The comic says “wild magic,” but what we’re really talking about here is chaos. Things like the rod of wonder, the deck of many things, and rolling for random treasure all fall within the portfolio of the chaos gods. Interestingly, I think that this brand of chaos is different than randomized stats, randomized hit points, or even the element of chance at play in a typical d20 roll. The reason has to do with authorship.

Supposed we look at TRPG campaigns as collaborative stories told by multiple authors. In this paradigm the roster of authors includes game designer, adventure writer, game master, and players, all of whom have input into the general shape of the story. Different play groups may give different degrees of authority to any level of that structure, or even remove levels entirely (plenty of groups play without published modules, for example). For purposes of my theory though, the important thing to take away is that no one person has complete control of the collaborative fiction.

Now suppose we look at 5e’s “wild magic” as an author. I’ll grant you that the table of random effects isn’t a terribly original author. It’s only got fifty ideas, and some of them are pretty mechanical. You might regain a few hit points or deal some damage to yourself for example. However, you might also summon monsters, turn into a sheep, or even wind up on the Astral Plane. These are major turns in a storyline. They represent new narrative elements that get introduced beyond the normal course of play. And as the comic says, if you decide to include a custom table, the effects can become even more extreme (just check out #0000 over here). By including these elements in a game, you are inviting new creative input beyond your control. I suspect that’s why this kind of chaos can be so polarizing. Depending on whether you like keeping a firm grip on your game or prefer the wacky shenanigans of unexpected plot twists, these game elements rise or fall in value.

So how about it? Do you like to add an element of narrative chaos to your games? Why or why not? Let’s hear it in the comments!


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