The underlying magical forces at work in the universe, or at least in this section of it, are, quite literally, alive. And more often than not, they are completely amoral. At best they are whimsical, in a way that would normally be completely harmless. They just want to play. (Speaking of which, the dire wolf over there also just wants to play. We advise you go play with the dire wolf. It's safer, trust us.)
But if you are not so lucky, you may trip over a sentient magical force that wants something. Maybe it's hungry, and wants to eat your soul. Or maybe it's lonely and tries to get you to stay a while. You know, just for a few eternities
. Not to be confused with cases where someone either gets lost in the underlying magical fabric of the universe all on their own, or decide they like it there so much there that they're staying
Casting a spell with this kind of magic is often extremely dangerous. You either have to convince magic to do what you want it to, subdue it in a battle of wills, or accept that you are basically tilting the metaphorical pinball machine of reality. Another danger of using wild magic to cast spells, generally more prominent when using methods 1 or 3, is a Heroic RROD
. New users may also Go Mad from the Revelation
Particularly powerful Wild Magic may take the form of a Background Magic Field
that renders reality unstable. Or, in other words, reality is a Reality Warper
. It will frequently mistake your mind for a set of inspirational prompts. Think happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts very, very, hard.
Contrast Ritual Magic
, where the casting and effects of magic are very rigid. Compare and contrast Magic Realism
, which on the one hand treats magic as having a life of its own but also makes it subtler and/or weaker.
Anime and Manga
- Most magic in Slayers is either rule magic or theurgic, but Lina's Dangerous Forbidden Technique is wild magic. The Giga Slave is a version of a powerful theurgic spell, modified to call upon Chaos itself. As Chaos is both powerful beyond everything, and more than a little chaotic, there's the minor problem that a miscast Giga Slave could destroy the entire universe. Or not. The Lord of Nightmares is a very capricious being, and her mind always follows her power, so it really all depends on how she's feeling.
- Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four doesn't like magic for this reason. Doom once trapped Reed by locking him up in a room full of magic tomes that could only be opened with simple apprentice level magic. Reed followed the instructions in the books exactly, and the magic backfired because it turns out magic doesn't like people taking an academic approach to it.
Live Action TV
- Enemy Glory: very active in the North Country, where reality seams to be on a constant quest to turn into the most grandiose metaphor for itself that it can come up with.
- The Last Unicorn: Schmendrick's quest is to learn to use his magic. He can't make it do a single thing, but he can let it do what it wants ... which has some surprising results.
- Forest Kingdom: oh boy. Not only is it alive. It wants the world as its playground. The first book is about trying to stop it. The second culminates in going into the world where the embodiments of magic live and then going on a killing spree
- Greenwitch, the third book in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series. The Greenwitch is part of the Wild Magic, a force apart from (but equally as powerful as) the Light and the Dark. It's possible for others to control it, but attempting to do so is extremely dangerous.
- Discworld - in general, but especially in areas which suffered a direct strike in the Mage Wars, such as that around the Wyrmberg. Generally, the higher the amount of magic in an area, the more likely it has a personality of sorts ... and probably not an especially nice one.
- All magic in The Death Gate Cycle draws from the Wave of Possibilities, or Omniwave, which is also the force responsible for maintaining the universal balance. Normally the Wave affects individual spells very little, except to correct small flaws in them so they work, but in order to maintain balance it can cause the most powerful spells to have... interesting (and opposite) side effects. For example, any time someone is raised from the dead by necromancy, somewhere else another person will die untimely.
- Daine from the The Immortals uses Wild Magic, which could also be called 'animal magic' because it lets her shapeshift and talk with animals. It doesn't quite fit the above description, but it's explained as a genetic ability from her God of Hunters father and overusing it can cause regression to a primitive state of mind, at last until Numair teachers her how to control it. It's specifically called "wild" magic in the books because there is only so much control she can exercise over it.
- Circle of Magic gives us academic magic and ambient magic, ambient magic being a little more like wild magic. Academic magic is more Ritual, but ambient magic taps into the magic of the world itself and manifests itself in activities, such as cooking, weaving, gardening, sheer nothingness, and the weather. For particularly powerful mages, this can turn into Blessed with Suck.
- The Dresden Files has Demonreach, a sentient island somewhere in Lake Michigan that you can only arrive at if you mean to and which actively opposes people who try to settle on it.
- Hell, most magic. In the Dresdenverse, magic (alongside physics) is the fundamental building block that the universe is built upon. Sure, humans and various supernatural entities can draw upon magic (including using Ley Lines), and channel it to their will, but it's still wild.
- Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms has the Tradition, which pushes people who are susceptible to it into the paths of traditional fairy tales — the heroine of the first book is a Cinderella whose destined prince is still a child. If the magic of the Tradition can't be channeled into a tale, it simply accumulates around the person until someone decides to take it... or until the circumstances are changed until they no longer fit the story.
- In the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Wild Magic (channelled through white gold) is the only force powerful enough to destroy the Arch of Time. Naturally, Lord Foul spends the first two trilogies trying to get his hands on Covenant's white gold ring.
- The Old Kingdom series uses both this and Ritual Magic, though the latter is used much more often than the former, due to Free magic being extremely dangerous, as described in this trope. This actually ties into the main plot; originally, Charter magic didn't exist, but seven of the nine great spirits who created the world sought to create something more organized, and bound Free magic using the Charter. This was then used to organize and create the known world.
- Rather obviously foreshadowed in A Sudden Wild Magic. Zillah, a mage with little to no self confidence, has been constantly referred to the Arth mages of what amazing power she has, and also fittingly has no control of it. It comes to show when she manages to teleport Marcus, Josh, Philo, and herself out of Arth and into Petarchy.
- In Laura Anne Gilman's Retriever series the use of "current" borders between Force Magic and Wild Magic. Over use of it runs the risk of "wizzing out" which results in a mage that is both extremely powerful and completely insane.
- The Bas-Lag Cycle has this in the form of the Torque, which is something like a cross between this trope and The Virus. While some of the more layman characters believe it works like any of the setting's many other forms of Functional Magic, nothing could be further from the truth, and in reality, every previous attempt to harness or control the Torque led to some form of Body Horror on a massive scale.
- A fundamental part of the world of The Obsidian Trilogy. Wild Magic is essentially the consciousness of all life in the world, and works to ensure as much life survives as possible. Using Wild Magic is essentially a series of bargains; whenever it does something for you, you have to do something for it in return; what that something is isn't revealed until you cast the spell, and is rarely if ever the same twice. For instance, a spell to heal a minor injury may cost "Plant twelve acorns" one day, and "Travel in this direction until you find something to help, then help it" the next. The costs are extremely variable, but are always, always fair. At one point, Idalia Tavadon casts a spell to stop a huge, long-lasting drought which has turned a rainforest into a tinderbox; this spell carries the cost of "you must die". The time of death isn't specified, however; all the caster knows is that Wild Magic will inform them when the time comes. The next spell they cast, and any subsequent spell up until their now-inevitable death, ends up being free, or more precisely "This spell has already been paid for", due to the immense worth in dying to permanently prevent demons from ever invading the world.
- In Mogworld, magic is said to have a will of it's own, and gets upset if a spell is finished by another person if the original caster is incapacitated in some way, and it really doesn't like being used by corpses (ie, the caster is killed midway through, and someone aims their severed forearm at their enemy and finishes the spell).
- This is effectively what the "solar wind" in Cirque du Soleil's Widget Series Solstrom is. The sun creatures who wield it are affable and playful Trickster figures, but they can't fully control its effects. When it touches a person or environment, it can have positive effects — granting magical abilities, bringing lovers together, and generally acting as a Blithe Spirit. But it can also cause heaps of trouble; in "Howling Wind", an episode heavy on Black Comedy, it turns a rundown hotel into a Hell Hotel / Haunted Castle hybrid and several of the people within it into eccentrics and even monsters. By the end, two characters are dead, two are undead, and one is a Wolf Man — and the magic causes that last one to vanish to parts unknown in The Stinger.
- The Hollow from Charmed. A sentient magical force, its purpose seems to be to devour and absorb magic into itself. Powerful and difficult to control, it cannot be destroyed, merely contained and watched over by representatives of both good and evil.
- The Warp in Warhammer 40,000': Some people can harness it, but it's very dangerous for them and others.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Eberron features the Mournland, which used to be one of the most populous countries in Khorvaire until a magical disaster befell it. One of the common features of the landscape is living spells — ambulatory fireballs, crawling cloudkills, self-propelled acid arrows...
- The Forgotten Realms had Wild Magic Zones, where magic sometimes backfired on its caster or had some other weird effect.
- Several settings have an entire plane of existence (such as Limbo in Greyhawk, or Kythri in Eberron) where Wild Magic is a normal planar trait, just like gravity.
- 2nd Edition has Wild Mages whose magic always has the chance to produce random, and often extremely powerful, results. A first level spell is the voluntary release of Wild Magic to produce a randomly determined effect. It's effectively a straight gamble on whether it will be helpful or not. The class returned in 3.5 Complete Arcane as a prestige class.
- By 4th edition it is a power/spell source for some sorcerers, it has different bonuses based on dice rolls.
- There are also magic items in most editions of the game that produce random effects. They usually have some sort of theme (summoning a random animal or traveling to a random location), but some, such as the Rod of Wonder, could just as easily be beneficial, harmful, or irrelevant (but always interesting).
- The Mage: The Awakening Sourcebook Night Horrors: The Unbidden discusses how the magic that the Awakened use can go wild, especially when it is able to accumulate in one place (as a result of repeated spells or activity of supernatural beings, or for entirely unknowable reasons). It also talks about how such magic can spread, and the severe effects it can have.
- GURPS Fantasy II. The strange effects on magic cast in the Madlands.
- The Nightbane Supplement Through the Glass Darkly included rules for spells that had come alive and gained sentience. Later on this lead to aclass of Magic Users who deliberately did this everytime they caste a spell called the Spell Breather.
- In Ironclaw necromancy draws upon the power of the restless dead, if someone rolls three sixes for any roll involved with black magic (casting, resisting, countering...) the spirits do other, horrific things.
- The Book of Mysteries supplement introduces Druid and Lutarist magic, which has some spells that carry a similar risk.
- In Dragon Age, magic draws its power from an Eldritch Location known as the Fade, where the minds of humans and elves travel to in their dreams. The use of magic is dangerous, since the Fade is also home to demons and abominations that are attracted to magic users, which can lead to demonic possession, leading to distrust of mages by others, particularly Templars. Blood Magic is especially feared by many since its use makes it easier for demons to take control of the user, in addition to being far more powerful than other schools of magic.
- Roza's blood magic acts without her control.
- Goblins has the magic item named the Shield of Wonder, which causes a random magical effect when being hit. Most of them are beneficial to the user of the shield (i.e. they harm the attacker), but are very often dangerous to him, too.
- In Roommates also its Spin-Off Girls Next Door magic is... fickle. As an acknowledged plot device it's highly susceptible to the powers that shape these comics, mostly the Theory of Narrative Causality and Fanservice. So yes. Saying something even vaguely similar to the Right Words can create a magic effect (even if it takes some creative interpreting) if the result is interesting from a narrative or fan pleasing POV. And spells will backfire if/when dramatically appropriate... except if the characters count on that or something that is.
- The enigma from Phaeton is believed to be Wild Magic. If it had a caster then that caster is probably long gone by now.
- Young unicorns in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic can run the risk, when very startled, of their magic going out of control. When Twilight Sparkle (one of the most powerful in recent memory) got her Cutie Mark, her uncontrolled magic turned her parents into houseplants, turned a baby dragon into a giant dragon, and came close to leveling the royal palace. Baby unicorns are even worse in this regard, since their magic is purely instinctive.