"Magic! It is not... an exact science."A character has magical powers. Either because of inexperience, a Malfunction Malady, the magic equivalent of Phlebotinum Breakdown, or some other reason, the spell screws up, often resulting in an unintended effect or Amusing Injuries, or both. In a game, a Magic Misfire can be a subtype of Critical Failure. Derived from D&D's "Magic Missile", it's stock in trade for the Inept Mage. This is a convenient way to make inexperienced characters nevertheless impressive, as their misspeaks can function like a Random Effect Spell and still be potent.
— Merasmus the Magician, Team Fortress 2
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- Pretty much anything Skuld from Ah! My Goddess tries to do with explicit magic, though she fares a little better with quasi-mechanical magic devices.
- Same goes for Yuuma from Magical Pokaan.
- In Scrapped Princess, Raquel's attempt to invoke her powerful Thor lightning spell (after she had thoroughly smashed a Mauser priest earlier) ends with the church in ruins. Shannon reminds her that she has a tendency to overdo it, especially when doing simple tasks, like cooking.
- Negi Springfield of Mahou Sensei Negima! had a bad habit of accidentally invoking wind magic whenever he sneezed. This normally resulted in a sudden gust of wind (always around girls wearing skirts, for some reason), or a clothes-shredding disarming spell. Once, however, it helped him win a Beam-O-War.
- Mana on Yu-Gi-Oh! — she got better.
- Chacha in Akazukin Chacha.
- In what has to be the strangest example, in Happiness, two boys hit with a combination of attack, defense, and butterfly spells are turned into magically sexy girls until expending a one-time magic charge.
- Actually, Magic Misfires happen all the time in Happiness!. Especially when that magic-user tries any Mundane Utility.
- In Magic Users Club, Sae Sawanoguchi's immense (but poorly-controlled) magical power means that the net effect of any magic the club performs as a group is a result of her passing stray thoughts.
- In Di Gi Charat, Puchiko's attempts to use her Eye Beams power cause her eyes to emit strange slime creatures that crawl away.
- A common problem when attempting more powerful kidou in Bleach, Renji in particular seems to have every other kidou he cast explode in his face.
- Free of Soul Eater has been in prison for a long time, and is thus out of practice when it comes to fighting, so this happens to him several times. Good thing he's immortal.
- In YuYu Hakusho Rando has has acquired the techniques of defeated martial arts masters and used a shrinking curse to defeat Kuwabara. He tries the same thing on Yusuke but it backfires. Genkai explains that a curse will affect the user if the intended victim cannot hear it (at that moment Yusuke had algae in his ears). Yusuke is too tired to continue fighting at that point, so he lets gravity finish the job.
- Not magic, but similar in principle, were Ash's Pokémon trying to master new attacks. Most notable were Snorunt's inadvertently freezing Ash with attempts at Ice Beam, Scraggy's Focus Blast spiraling off target and petering out, and (most hilariously) Gible's Draco Meteor not only failing to split like it's supposed to, but invariably tracking down Dawn's Piplup and whacking him instead of the target.
- One episode of Digimon Adventure had several Digimon trying and hilariously failing to digivolve, due to having no energy. It took Agumon a while to notice.
Tentomon: Tentomon digivolve to... (fails) KABU... never mind.
Agumon: Agumon digivolve to... (fails) Greymon! Greymon!! Greymon, yeah I'm Greymon! I'm big and I'm bad!
- Anime§Card Captor Sakura: This is how Kinomoto Sakura's adventure starts off. Without even knowing that she could, she activates the Windy card by trying to pronounce its name and the resulting wind causes the rest of the Clow cards to scatter, leaving her with only Windy.
- Runaways has Nico and the Staff of One, which has the limitation that you can only use the verbal command for each spell once; trying it again will result in something entirely different, such as when she repeats herself in battle and ends up teleporting with a teammate out into the desert.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch features various stories involving this trope (thanks to Sabrina still learning the proper use of her powers).
- Everywhere in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction. Twilight messing up a spell has caused, among other things, body swaps, time travel, long-distance teleportation trips, hauling of multiple creatures from other worlds (most frequently humans), and blasting of Equestria into its component atoms.
- In With Strings Attached, As'taris's ineptness with a stone-to-flesh spell is apparently what causes Paul's transformation. It's actually the C'hovite gods empowering him. Actually, it's Jeft.
Films — Live-Action
- Whenever Ergo the Magnificent from Krull tries to cast Baleful Polymorph, he ends up hitting himself (explained as Hillfolk wizards "lacking the power to do real harm"). He eventually learns how to use this to his advantage.
- Willow's attempts to remove a Baleful Polymorph from his teacher and Big Good Fin Raziel (placed by Big Bad Bavmorda) just turn her into a different animal because he's a magical novice. Either he'd lose control of the wand from pain or he'd be distracted. It's only towards the end that he forces himself to keep chanting through the pain long enough to take her through a series of changes until she finally emerges as human.
- The Harpels of the Forgotten Realms books are magical Mad Scientists who researched utterly bizarre spells and frequently used said spells before they figured out the side effects.
- Fizban in Dragonlance is prone to this; all part of his Obfuscating Stupidity, as he is actually Paladine.
- In the Inheritance Cycle, Eragon tries to bless a newborn child, and his blessing includes a phrase that he thinks means 'May you be shielded from misfortune'. But, not being too good with the Ancient Language (Language of Magic), what he actually said was 'May you be a shield from misfortune', so the child is forced to absorb the pain of others and help them whether she wants to or not. He later finds her and tries to fix it, but she's kinda messed up by that stage…
- The wizard Ebenezum in A Malady of Magicks and all the following books was seeking a cure for his allergy to magic. He could get very creative about avoiding spellcasting, which would make him sneeze fit to blow his head off.
- And of course, The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
- In Discworld pretty much all magic works like this: With the amount of difficulty involved in getting magic to do what you want, as well as its side-effects and leakage, it's treated a lot like nuclear power; it's extremely powerful but is only used by a select few, because the average person would rather just use a bonfire and be done with it than risk using a bar of plutonium to cook a fish.
- When Magrat inherits a magic wand in Witches Abroad that can turn anything into anything else, she finds that the only thing she's capable of producing is pumpkins. She tries wishing as hard as she can, banging it on things, and even shouting "anything but pumpkins!", yet pumpkins is what she gets. At the end of the book, Granny discovers that you need to twist the rings into new positions to make other things. She tells Magrat that wishing for things to happen is useless unless you work out how to make them happen.
- Harry Potter: Ron Weasley has neither the raw determination of Harry or the bookish scholarliness of Hermione, and so can seem to lag behind the other two in magical power or skill, but nothing was worse for him than when his wand was broken. Offensive spells tended to rebound on the caster—i.e. him. This, however, turned out to be a good thing when Gilderoy Lockhart stole Ron's wand and tried to erase Harry and Ron's memories with it. (You can guess what happened.)
- This happens all the time to Questor Thews in Terry Brooks' Landover books.
- Happens constantly to Wodehed, the Inept Mage of the Welkin Weasels. He's turned wineskins into frogs by putting potions in them, leaving the drinker unharmed, attempted to turn a shrew into a human and technically succeeded but the result was still only an inch tall, and caused a rain of apples when attempting to conjure a bottle of juice.
- In The Magicians, casting advanced spells when upset will generally result in the caster transforming into a creature of pure magic, with lethal results (both for the caster and for anyone in the way). As a last resort in the battle against Martin Chatwin, Alice does this deliberately.
- There is a children's book once about a boy who found a magic book, and learned to juggle out of it and do magic. Eventually he is called upon to stop a dragon and save the kingdom, but he can't use any of the spells correctly. The first spell, to create a wall makes a giant paper fan. Against a Dragon. The second spell makes an army of Snowmen. Again, Fire-Breathing Dragon. The third spell Summons a massive, massive group of butterflies which tickle the dragon into submission. It Makes Sense in Context. What was the name of that story...?
- The villains of Kitty Takes a Holiday- or at least the first part- try to lay a curse on Kitty's cabin as part of a Scooby-Doo Hoax to get rid of her. Not only does it not work due to their inexperience, but it winds up attracting a skinwalker which then causes havoc. Curses are not toys, people.
- The Dresden Files: Happens occasionally and usually as a result of another wizard interfering. Interestingly enough, magic is an exact science for wizards, but it's not a consistent one: being able to bend the rules of reality is only predictable after you've been doing it for several decades. Before that, a wizard is functionally learning the boundaries of his or her power and reality, possibly resulting in some... weird stuff.
- Due to being an absenscantia Yil usually had his spells break down in some way, occasionally explosively, until he learns how to get around it.
- A Mage's Power: The spell "Magic Sight" is tricky when you are first learning it.
- Eric accidentally blinded himself when he first tried it.
- Basilard relates a story when he rendered himself color blind and remained that way for several days.
Live Action TV
- In every single episode of Wizards of Waverly Place, Alexis would use magic to solve a mundane problem and lose control of it which created a bigger problem.
- When Piper Halliwell's powers evolved from freezing things to full molecular manipulation, her misfires made things explode.
- Aunt Clara on Bewitched. Samantha, too, when she caught a cold.
- Willow, several times, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Once, she accidentally lets loose her vampire doppelganger in Sunnydale, another time, her argument with Anya lets loose Olaf the troll, and let's not forget the spell that was supposed to erase two people's recent painful memories and mind-wiped the whole group instead.
- The recurring witch-character Amy Madison has this in Season 2. Xander gets her to cast a love spell on Cordelia using Cordy’s necklace as a focal point, but Amy’s still a bit new to magic and she messes up the spell so that it affects Sunnydale’s entire female population (including female vampires and Amy herself) apart from Cordelia.
- Tara Maclay (usually the poster-girl for ethical and responsible witchcraft) has her own solitary magic misfire in the Season 5 episode 'Family'. Believing (falsely) that she's part-demon, she casts a spell to hide this from her friends, but it makes all demons invisible to them. Since they live in a town atop a Hellmouth, mortal danger ensues pretty quickly…
- Similarly, Angel had Lorne's spell to restore Cordelia's memory, which backfired and turned everyone into their 17yr old selves.
- Haruto Soma, also known as Kamen Rider Wizard, is occasional victim to this. His spells take the form of magic rings, but the problem is that there's no way to tell what the individual rings do until he tries them. This trope comes into effect the first times he tries the Sleep ring (puts the wearer to sleep) or Smell ring (makes the wearer emit a horrendous odor). Fortunately, he's smart enough to avoid this happening twice with the same ring.
- Havoc Paradox in Mage: The Awakening causes this to happen to spells, at best causing them to hit an unintended target, at worst rearranging the spell's effect. Given that Paradox is 'the manifestation in this reality of a truly abhorrent flaw in the universe this is always, always a bad thing.
- And Havoc's just one form of Paradox. For instance, there's Branding, which warps your appearance to take on mythic (and monstrous) elements associated with your Vice. And at the top of the clusterfuck chain is Manifestation Paradox, where one of those things from the aforementioned flaw in the universe enters our world and starts rearranging the furniture.
- Warhammer 40,000 has this as a rule for psychic powers, called "Perils of the Warp". In older editions, if the psyker rolled a double 6 or double 1 on their Leadership test when trying to cast psychic powers, Perils was triggered; the psyker took a wound with no saves allowed, but on a double 1 (which is automatic success for Leadership-based rolls) the power still worked. In the 7th edition rules, with the introduction of the Psychic Phase, Perils has been completely retooled. Now, when making Warp Charge rolls with 2 or more dice, seeking rolls of 4+ to create Warp Charges to fuel psychic powers, Perils is triggered if you roll two or more 6s, although the psychic power is still successfully cast (provided the opposing player doesn't negate it). The pysker must then roll 1D6, with the result triggering an effect on a Perils of the Warp table which can be anywhere from the psyker being killed and possibly taking most of his comrades with him to gaining massive benefits, with an entire range of effects (almost all negative) in between.
- Warhammer has an extremely similar rule, Miscast. Here a roll on a chart is used to determine the effect of the miscast, ranging from the spell just failing to the mage getting sucked into the Warp.
- Orc and goblin shamans draw the energy from other goblinoids and consequently aren't vulnerable to the Warp in that fashion. But if a orc loses control of their magic, the extra energy can make their heads blow up.
- In Storm of Magic games, miscasting on an arcane fulcrum is like a regular miscast on crack, with results that can include turning all wizards into frogs, creating a massive power surge, teleporting everyone on fulcrums between them at random, or the wizard and his fulcrum exploding in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics that can level almost anything near it.
- The roleplaying game variants of both the above go into gloriously horrific detail about just how badly one can botch a roll. Best case? Milk around you spoils, and unnatural winds kick up. Worst case? Chaos/The Warp eats you.
- GURPS uses a similar system to Warhammer. The effects range from nothing happening all the way up to a malevolent entity of near absolute power being called into existence with the sole intention of making your life difficult. Alternate critical tables offer anything from funny to summoning things that are even worse.
- The "Wild Mage" class in Dungeons & Dragons, best known for appearing in Baldur's Gate 2, casts the same spells as a standard mage with a 95% chance of expected results . . . and a 5% chance of something else, ranging from dropping a cow on the target to summoning gemstones out of nowhere. For added fun, their unique level 1 spell "Nahal's Reckless Dweomer" can mimic almost any other spell but has a much higher chance of bizarre effects.
- In some editions, arcane spells also have a chance to simply fail outright if the caster is wearing armour. Deafness and some other conditions can also cause a chance of spell failure, as can being distracted during casting (by taking damage, for instance).
- For just about any RPG that uses magic, it's considered traditional to have a long and varied list of the various misfires that can occur when a spellcaster rolls poorly. Hilarity Ensues.
- Wicked. Monkeys that fly, steal a man's heart, make a cripple walk, oh my. Then there's Fiyero... a (preemptive!) Came Back Wrong.
- Happens in the Wizardry series-all spellcasters barring those who use the alchemy spellbook have a skill called Oratory, representing the character's ability to correctly speak magical incantations. Until this skill is built up, spells have a chance of fizzling or backfiring on the party, and errant backfires have destroyed many a party. Alchemists and those who use their spellbook (rangers and ninjas) are fortunately exempt from this, but if they do change to another type of spellcaster, they have to then learn Oratory or their spells will fizzle and backfire.
- It's understandable that Alchemy (potion magic) needs no Oratory, but it is an oddity that Psionics (mind magic) need Oratory. Perhaps the stat translates to a Psionic's ability to mentally concentrate and construct the spell.
- In SaGa Frontier, the spell "Psychic Prison" forces one of these on the target—The next time they try to use magic, the effect "Backfire" occurs instead, damaging them.
- In Final Fantasy II, low-level magic has a higher chance of not working, except for Fire, Ice, Lightning and some other Black Magic, and Cure, which simply do less damage / heal less. Some spells have nasty side effects at low levels; Teleport, for instance, will send you outside the dungeon when cast out of battle, but it drains the caster to between 1% and 0.3% of their max Hit Points.
- In Z Angband, Chaos mages can cause chaotic side effects when they fail a spell. Usually they're not too bad, but they can be pretty awful. Or awesome.
- Final Fantasy X: The backstory behind Rikku's fear of lightning is that her brother once tried to use a lightning spell to protect her from a monster.....and hit her instead. Ouch.
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, one of the random encounter is an Inept Mage trying to cast a spell for flying. He was successful, except he didn't think of a way to get back down safely, so he just fall from the sky to his death.
- In Dungeon Crawl every spell has a chance to misfire, with the consequences growing progressively more catastrophic with the strength of the spell and the extent to which you failed. Botch a routine ice dart and you might get some frost on you, flub a complex translocation spell you aren't qualified to use and you might find that you aren't in Kansas anymore. If that wasn't bad enough these failures cause magical "glow" that builds up in your system. Glow causes ill effects such as mutations and inevitably culminates in a violent terminus for those too desperate or stupid to stop casting.
- In Ultima Underworld 2, your character can damage themselves with their own spells if their casting skill isn't high enough.
- The weakest Imps in the Dragon Quest series, and especially Rocket Slime, fight almost exclusively with these. They're really terrible at magic.
- In Rocket Slime, standing still while an Imp tries to attack you will cause his magic to explode in his face. Running will cause him to chase you, trip, and explode, damaging everything in the area around it, meaning you, other enemies, and itself. This is all they can do.
- In the Monster Hunter Tri games, the Qurupeco species are capable of imitating monster calls and singing various buff-inducing songs, ranging from basic healing to increasing attack or defense to inducing rage mode. All of this can be disrupted with a bomb (Sonic Bombs are really good at this) and leave 'Peco open to free shots (or by wounding most parts, but that works for any monster), but wounding the throat sac during these songs will cause it to buff your party instead (if it attempts the rage song in such an occurrence, you get infinite stamina).
- Merasmus of Team Fortress 2 is actually a reasonably competent mage—he can cast powerful and damaging spells with ease, or disguise himself as a piece of scenery while healing—but he's also a bumbling mage, and his "Wheel Of Fate" is, in theory, just another a way to kill the mercenaries in an amusing fashion. As per Sod's Law, the Wheel of Fate will tend to fail in the worst ways at the worst times. Sometimes the result is detrimental to the mercenaries, sometimes it's actually beneficial, but Merasmus can be relied on to screw up his spellcasting in comical ways. He'll be positively sheepish when he accidentally makes everyone Nigh Invulnerable, and genuinely horrified and apologetic when he makes it rain Jarate.
- Black Mage from Eight Bit Theater once missed a volcano.
- In Sluggy Freelance pretty much every spell cast using the Book of E-Ville invokes this trope.
- Dan has refused to learn or use magic ever since he accidentally hit himself in the face with a rock as a child.
- Ratheel of Juathuur learns the power of words.
- Implied in Draconia Chronicles; dragons can only use Magick at point-blank in the rain, unless they have an Amplifier Artifact.
- In The Dementia Of Magic, miscast spells often produce “nasal flies”: disembodied noses with wings.
- In the Whateley Universe, the mage Fey is powerful enough that she routinely generates hobgoblins by accident. Her teammates have learned to look out if they hear her say "Oops". The first time she had PMS, there were real thunderstorms in the dorm hallways. And monsoons.
- This tends to happen whenever Perf of JourneyQuest tries to cast a spell straight from the book rather than from memory. Later explained by the fact he's suffering from dyslexia.
- Ben 10: Gwen was a frequent victim of this, before she gets her Anodite powers in Alien Force.
- Darkwing Duck: This is a chronic problem for Morgana Macawber.
- Anna Maht's spells in World Of Quest.
- Due to a slip of the tongue in FernGully, Crysta shrinks Zack down to fairy size, as opposed to giving him the gift of fairy sight, but at least he got an important lesson about the environment out of it. Nearly got him killed in the process though.
- Happens in Jackie Chan Adventures when Jade, who shouldn't be playing with magic in the first place, casts a spell and something besides the desired result occurs. This is done typically by casting the spell incorrectly or misunderstanding the spell altogether.
- Dungeons & Dragons: This happens to Presto. What usually turned out to be useful in some manner he hadn't expected, such as a garbage can lid shield giving courage to a coward.
- Orko from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) is very prone to this trope. His whole gimmick is that he was actually a great magician from another world who lost his ability to cast spells properly due to losing a certain magical artifact (which was either a medal or a wand depending on which version you watched). Because of that he always ends up shooting flowers out of thin air whenever he tries to summon a tornado or something. Like Presto above, his shtick got old pretty fast as well.
- Happens repeatedly through Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders. Often to the evil Lady Kale, unable to fully control her Dark Stone (once she even ruined her own castle while trying to blast the Jewel Riders and then made her dragon fall on top of her) as well as the Crown Jewels she captures, ending especially badly (for her) when she manages to steal them all. In "The Faery Princess", all of the magic in the Faeryland was working in a different way.
- Happens a fair bit in Trollz, as spells can vary depending on how you word them.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Happens in the episode "Too Many Pinkie Pies", where Twilight is trying to turn an apple into an orange. Pinkie Pie slams into her twice whilst she's attempting it, leading to both a jaybird and a frog being turned into orange hybrids. The frog-orange becomes important near the end of the episode.
- Her attempt to tamper with the parasprites in "Swarm of the Century" makes the situation worse, the Want It, Need It spell in "Lesson Zero" causes a mess so big Celestia has to step in and ending up having to drive home the aesop of the day, and another attempt to adjust the natural behavior of animals start up the main plot in "Bats!".
- Ziggy the genie from Trust Me, I'm a Genie often has his wishes backfire due to sand in his can.
- Bugs Bunny has some fun at the expense of magician Ala Bahma's dignity in "Case Of The Missing Hare." While Ala Bahma can do no more than pull a carrot out of his hat, Bugs does him one better — pulling himself out.
- On Punky Brewster, the magic powers of Punky's furry little friend Glomer can go haywire sometimes. In "Fish Story" he wants to help Punky win the role of a mermaid in a school play, so as opposed to creating a more quality-like outfit, he turns Punky into an actual mermaid.