Magic is the lifeblood of many worlds. Yet in its raw form, magic is not an ordered force—it is the all-encompassing chaos of possibility. The same energies that can be shaped to create explosive fireballs, raise the dead, divine the future, heal the sick, and summon demons can do that and more without the direction of skilled spellcasters. Normally, this unfocused magical potential does not exist in reality; it lies beyond reality, where it waits to be tapped. Where exactly magic comes from remains a lively debate today, but when magic is unleashed without any attempt to focus it—when it leaks into the world in its raw form—the result is known as primal magic.
In some realms, magic is left to indulge in its raw chaos as it wishes—here, primal magic is often called “wild magic.” On the Material Plane, the world feels the touch of primal magic when the laws of reality themselves have been damaged. Here, magic flows in unpredictable tides and currents. At one moment, a region function normally while at another, magic won’t function at all. Usually, though, primal magic holds sway.
Manifestations of primal magic tend to build up potential before they explode into existence. Just as a thunderstorm doesn’t constantly lance the ground below with a constant beam of lightning, these bolts manifest periodically and almost randomly. And just as lightning can be called with lightning rods, primal magic can be purposefully or accidentally drawn out by utilizing magic in areas where such energies are building.
When primal magic manifests, roll on Table: Sample Primal Magic Events to determine what occurs.
As the primal magic exerts its power, consider crossing off the effect that occurs and designing replacement events and effects. If you want primal magic to play a big role in your campaign, you should try to ensure that no two effects are ever quite the same. One easy way to achieve this is to simply substitute random spell effects with unusual descriptions in place of normal ones, such as a black fireball that smells of roses and deals acid damage.
Spontaneous primal magic effects can occur as often or as infrequently as you wish, but as a general rule, try to limit the effects to one per combat encounter at most. The majority of primal magic effects should instead occur when creatures activate magic items, use spell-like abilities, or cast spells in such an area (simply carrying a magic item or gaining the benefits of a constant-use item or spell effect isn’t enough—it’s the actual act of activation or casting that triggers primal magic). When a creature activates a magic item, casts a spell, or uses a spell-like ability in an area infused with primal magic, there’s a 50% chance that the spell effect is replaced by a primal magic effect. A spellcaster casting a spell, using a spell-like ability, or activating a spell completion or spell trigger magic item can make a concentration check (DC = 15 + twice the spell’s level) to focus the magic and avoid triggering a primal magic effect. Creatures activating other kinds of magic items do not have the option of making a Spellcraft check to avoid triggering a primal magic effect.
When a primal magic effect occurs naturally, it targets a random creature or location in the vicinity around the PCs or whatever region you wish to inflict the event upon. When the effect occurs, you need to determine the CR of the event. If the event is triggered by a spellcaster or a magic item, the event’s CR is equal to the spellcaster’s or item’s caster level. When an event occurs naturally, you can roll 1d20 to determine the CR. Of course, you should strongly consider lowering primal magic event CRs to match or at least closely approximate the average party level of your PCs. Not all primal magic events are harmful, but it’s neither fun nor fair for players to frequently be hit with an effect that’s too far beyond their ability to deal with.
Primal magic events often linger for minutes, hours, or even days. These effects can be dispelled via dispel magic and similar spells. Treat the event’s CR as its caster level in this case.
In Table: Sample Primal Magic Events, “CR” is used to indicate a mathematical value; use the primal magic’s CR to set this number. For example, a CR 11 primal magic event that lasts for “CR minutes and affects an area with a radius of CR × 5 feet” lasts for 11 minutes and affects an area with a radius of 55 feet.
Unleashing Primal Magic
Areas affected by primal magic are like scars upon the rugged flesh of the world, invisibly and intangibly overlaid on the fabric of reality. Generally, areas of primal magic form in places afflicted by forces beyond mortal control—areas scoured by godly wrath, breaches between the planes, sites where powerful artifacts were destroyed. In most of these instances, the primal magic subsides as reality repairs itself, though it might take a matter of weeks, years, or even centuries. In the cases of extreme abuse, an area’s magical cohesiveness might never recover, resulting in areas of permanent primal magic. In general, the location of existing areas of primal magic and the creation of new areas is left up to the GM, but should always be the result of magic of extraordinary force or of an arcane catastrophe of epic proportions. Such should be encountered only rarely, allowing such sites to retain their sense of danger and calamitous history.
Sample Primal Magic Events
||Creatures and objects within a radius equal to 5 × CR are drained of color for CR minutes. A gnome in this area must make a DC 15 Will save to avoid being shaken by this effect for the duration of the loss of color. This is a mind-affecting fear effect.
||A number of strangely colored centipedes appear in the area—these centipedes ignore non-spellcasters and attack only creatures capable of casting spells or using spell-like abilities. This encounter should be a mix of centipedes that equals the CR of the primal magic event.
||Strange music fills the air for a number of minutes equal to the CR. Possible choices include the following (roll 1d4):
- Battle chants
- Opera arias
- Prayers, or
- Monastic chants.
The music instills in those who hear it a strong urge to sing or dance along. A creature who does so gains a +2 morale bonus on attack rolls and saving throws for the duration of the music.
||A zone of unluck and a strange pale violet radiance equivalent to candlelight fills a CR × 5 foot radius for CR hours. All d20 rolls made in this area must be rolled twice, taking the lower of the two rolls.
||One creature’s body and all its possessions reverse into a mirror image of themselves. The binding of any book in its possession is reversed, though the text within remains normal and legible. This effect is unusual but has no actual game effect. Reversing this effect is possible via break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, polymorph any object, or wish.
||A circular pit opens under the feet of a random target. The pit creates an extradimensional space in the ground, not an actual pit. The pit is 10 feet deep per CR, but otherwise functions as create pit.
||A rain of small objects (anything from flowers to rotten fruit) pelts an area with a radius equal to 5 × CR for CR rounds. This strange hail is not harmful, but during this time all creatures in the area gain concealment and must make concentration checks (DC 15 + the spell’s level) to cast spells.
||Positive energy affects a number of creatures not to exceed CR in total. These creatures are affected by a heal spell (caster level = CR).
||Negative energy affects a number of creatures not to exceed CR in total. These creatures are affected by a harm spell (caster level = CR).
||An area with a radius of CR × 10 feet becomes utterly dark, as if from a deeper darkness spell.
||The environment itself suddenly springs to life and attacks all non-elemental creatures in the immediate area. Treat this event as an encounter with various elementals drawn from the immediate surroundings as appropriate, tailored to be an encounter of a CR equal to that of the primal magic event.
||Strange, shifting curtains of color, akin to an aurora borealis, manifest in the sky but are visible only to those in an area equal to CR × 10 feet in radius. Every creature in this area must make a Will save (DC 10 + CR) or be dazed by the shifting colors for 1 round. The colors persist for 1 round per CR. Creatures must make a new save each round to avoid becoming dazed. This is a mind-affecting pattern effect.
||A random number of creatures not to exceed the event’s CR become confused unless they succeed at a Will save (DC = 10 + CR). For each affected creature, this effect persists until that creature’s confusion effect results in “act normally,” at which point the effect ends for the creature. This is a mind-affecting effect.
||A storm of energy (with an equal chances of being acid, cold, electricity, or fire) sweeps through the area in a CR × 5-foot-radius spread. Each round, the storm inflicts 2 hit points of damage per CR; a Reflex save (DC 10 + CR) halves the damage done. The storm persists for CR rounds.
||Strange telekinetic forces rip through the area, attempting to trip all creatures in a CR × 10 foot radius. The event makes a trip combat maneuver check against all available targets, using a CMB of 10 + CR. Any creature tripped by the event has its equipment reorganized and tangled by the mischievous telekinesis. Until a creature takes a minute to reorganize its belongings, retrieving a stowed item is a full-round action.
||Choose two random creatures in the area, then randomly pick one to be the “wielder” and one to be the “target.” Roll on the rod of wonder table to determine what sort of strange effect occurs between these two creatures.
||A teleportation storm occurs. All creatures in the area must make a Will saving throw (DC = 10 + CR). Those who fail are teleported, as if via dimension door, so that they randomly shift places. If this places a creature in an area too small to accept its space, it instead appears in the closest adjacent space that can contain it. If only one creature is affected, it teleports a number of feet equal to CR × 5 in a random direction.
||A magic jar-like effect affects two creatures. A Will save (DC = 10 + CR) negates the effect. If one creature fails this save but the other succeeds, the creature that fails the save is merely stunned for 1d4 rounds. If both creatures fail the save, their minds are switched into each other’s bodies for a number of rounds equal to the event’s CR.
||Roll twice, discounting results of 99–100. Both events generated by these rolls occur simultaneously.