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Magic Misfire

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"Damn it, why does that keep happening?!"
"Magic! It is not... an exact science."
Merasmus the Magician, Team Fortress 2

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. If the latter, then this overlaps with Self-Damaging Attack Backfire. In a game, a Magic Misfire can be a subtype of Critical Failure. Derived from D&D's "Magic Missile"note , 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.

Not to be confused with a magic Misfile.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • Girls Bravo: Lisa is a self-taught mage, having used a tome she found in a hidden laboratory to study dark magic. So the lack of proper instruction, plus the fact that she's crazy, means she has a tendency to botch her spells every now and then. But her magic is impressive when she manages to get it right.
  • 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.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi:
    • Negi Springfield has a bad habit of accidentally invoking wind magic whenever he sneezes. This normally results in a sudden gust of wind (always around girls wearing skirts, for some reason), or a clothes-shredding disarming spell. Once, however, it helps him win a Beam-O-War.
    • Despite not having any special or magical ability of her own, Yukihiro Ayaka manages to pull what is called a Pactio Backfire; because of her extreme affection for Negi, she managed to reverse the Pactio system and nearly gave him a Pactio card instead of the other way around.
  • Happiness:
    • Magic Misfires happen all the time in the show. Especially when that magic-user tries any Mundane Utility.
    • In what has to be the strangest example, 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.
  • In Magic User's 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. Renji Invokes this against Szayel Aparro Granz as part of a distraction ploy for Uryu's attack. It doesn't work. It damages him, but they didn't account for the fact that Szayel could eat his subordinates for healing. In the end, it just results in a hurt Renji and Clothing Damage.
  • Free of Soul Eater has been in prison for a long time, and is thus out of practice when it comes to fighting, so he's injured himself with his own spells. 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 no one else can hear it, and 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 by falling on top of Rando.
  • 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.
    • There's also that one weird episode where a spell that was supposed to allow one to read a Pokémon's mind ends up temporarily turning Ash into a Pikachu instead for a few days.
  • One episode of Digimon Adventure has several Digimon trying and hilariously failing to digivolve, due to having no energy. It takes 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!
  • Cardcaptor 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.
  • Spells going wrong and being played for comedy occur so often in Jewelpet that it'd need its own page. In the first season, almost every spell that protagonist Ruby tries to cast ends in an explosion that sends everyone flying, for example.
  • A known issue for spell casters in Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?. Less of a problem for people like Bell with his Quickstrike magic which requires no incantation or those like Aiz who have really short incantations, but definitely an issue for those like Leyfia or Riveria who use longer incantations and learning how to keep a spell under control while dodging monsters that get past the front line is the mark of truly experienced caster.
    • Welf meanwhile has a spell Will o' the Wisp that deliberately induces a Magic Misfire. Used primarily for monsters with magical attacks since while they don't have an incantation like (most) Adventurers they usually have some sort of period where they must charge or prepare their ability as well.
  • Ayakashi Triangle: Reo's attempts to remove Matsuri's Gender Bender curse with her exorcising incense have all failed and sometimes had negative side effects. The first gets rid of Matsuri's breasts for a few hours, but then they come back much larger for most of a day. A later try has no effect on the spell or Matsuri, but nearly causes its caster to disappear (which wouldn't remove the spell, just lose someone who could potential remove it).

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 8 episode 23, the plant people that Careless S. meets have a rather simple backstory for how they came to life - the old grandmaster Xiao Haha accidentally fired a spell from his wand after tripping, and the spell happened to hit the plants.

    Comic Books 
  • 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).

    Fan Works 
  • Harry Potter And The Boiling Isles
    • When Harry first draws a spell circle when he's listening to Eda talk about Boiling Isles spellcasting, the fact that he wasn't intending to do so may be part of it, but the circle is notably malformed and fizzles out without doing anything. Eda even notes that while it's not uncommon to mess up a spell on the first try she's never seen one that's unstable like that, as if the magic didn't want to be in a spell circle.
    • When showing off for Willow and Gus, Harry makes a "spineapple" tap-dance, unaware that doing so causes them to multiply... and attack anyone nearby.
  • 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. Despite a slowly increasing pool of potential spellcasters, Twilight remains the franchise's poster child as in many authors' interpretations of the characters she retains the educational habits of a precocious child (a heavy focus on exposure to new concepts rather than practicing just-grasped techniques) with a similar degree of humility and trust in society which means she's sure one little student can't make a mess somepony else can't easily clean up. This ends up as an approach to magic and emergencies which combines For Science! (spells she doesn't know will work or help) with intentional Forgotten Phlebotinum (anything she's sure will work and help so isn't worth considering).
    • The Oversaturated World, which is based on the idea of the Equestria Girls universe waking up to the magic level of a typical Magic: The Gathering plane, makes this a basic part of the differences between the magics of the linked planes. Equestrian magic favors this trope: it considers a spellcaster's desire and intent and when skill or resource input is inadequate for a spell to work it triggers amusing misfires likely to either help or instruct the caster. Earth spellcasting is far more mechanical: if you're at all lacking in technique, power, or ritual components absolutely nothing happens, and a successful spell does precisely its thing regardless of what the caster was trying for or was willing to accept as a consequence.
  • 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.
  • Triptych Continuum:
    • Striking a unicorn's horn while they are using their field produces backlash, which comes in four stages. Stage Zero, which applies when the field is being used for simple everyday TK or light, simply disrupts the flow for a moment and may cause the unicorn to drop whatever they're manipulating. Stage One, which requires the field to be near a full primary corona, causes some of the disrupted magic to discharge back down the horn into the unicorn. The exact effects vary based on how strong the unicorn is, but can include bruises, soreness, a weakening of magic for a few hours, pulled muscles, and even unconsciousness in especially bad cases. Stage Two, which can only be induced if the unicorn is at a double corona, can easily snap bones and cause severe lacerations. In addition, at this stage some of the disrupted magic will discharge outwards in a semi-random form, heavily tending towards fire, kinetic force, and other raw energies. Stage Three requires the full triple corona and is always lethal.
    • Pegasi have their own version of this trope. When too many pegasi try to use their magic in the same place at once, the conflicting magical signatures will produce a tangle, all the magic twisting together into an uncontrolled tempest that can have disastrous effects on the surroundings.
  • In The Child of Azkaban, the reason why Harry wound up in Azkaban in the first place is that James and Lily's wills possessed a magical clause that would send Harry away to the next available candidate for guardianship (that being Sirius, who had long since been imprisoned) when his then-current guardians were deemed a threat to him.
    Let that sink in readers, Harry Potter was taken by magic to Sirius Black of all people at the tender age of one and a half because the muggle guardians Dumbledore placed him with ABUSED him! But was a childhood in Azkaban truly preferable to one with violent muggles, one that the Ministry should have removed him from at the first signs of friction?
  • Discussed in Beyond the Borders after Rachel tries casting Libra — since she shrieked in pain and fell out of her chair, Aerith and Yuffie's first assumption is that the spell backfired, but Libra is an incredibly simple spell and Rachel says she just flinched because the glow (an intended effect of the spell) was eye-searingly bright (at least to Rachel's light-sensitive eyes), so it's not clear whether or not the spell actually misfired at all. Whatever might have happened in that particular instance, the exchange does firmly establish that magic can misfire.
  • Voyages of the Wild Sea Horse begins with a brawl shattering a magical talisman containing an imprisoned Dimensional Traveler, discharging all of his magic in a massive surge that teleports everybody in range from the world of Ranma ½ to the world of One Piece.
  • Spooky: Tombstones attempts to speed up getting Halloween decorations up by using magic to make them fly. However, he gives the incantation as "Wingordio Gorgonzola" and turns the skulls on the string lights into cheese.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Whenever Ergo the Magnificent from Krull tries to cast Forced Transformation, 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 Forced Transformation 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.

  • One of the universal constraints on magic in A Practical Guide to Evil, regardless of which magical theory the practitioner is using, is known as Keter's Due - a portion of the magical energy escapes as Wild Magic. For most spells the effects are negligible, but for great workings the side effects can be extremely hazardous. The in-universe namer of the effect is from a ritual to open a permanent gate to Hell in the city of Keter - the side effects of which doomed the entire surrounding kingdom to Undeath.
  • 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. His apprentice Wuntvor does far worse whenever Ebenezum (a legitimate master of magic) is then forced to depend on him for spellcasting; Wuntvor is actually incapable (provably, in-universe) of correctly casting a spell should it turn out to have any plot relevance (again, in-universe). Most friendly magic-users get an inkling of this early on and start trying to manage Wuntvor to beneficially exploit this effect.
  • 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 tend to rebound on the caster — i.e. him. This, however, turns out to be a good thing when Gilderoy Lockhart steals Ron's wand and tries to erase Harry and Ron's memories with it. (You can guess what happens.)
    • This is a Running Gag for Seamus Finnegan throughout the films — many of his attempts to use magic literally blow up in his face.
    • This is also apparently a very serious risk when experimenting with creating new spells. Luna Lovegood's mother was killed in an explosion caused by a spell she was researching.
  • This happens all the time to Questor Thews in Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom of Landover books. It's highly psychological; Questor has been promoted far beyond his comfort (never mind competence) level, has been given levels of magical power he (thinks he) hasn't been trained for, and his most recent few years' worth of education have actually been bullying designed to keep him thinking this way. Problems arising from a lack of self-recognition are a major theme in the series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Tough Magic: 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.
  • These are basically Schmendrick the Magician's entire stock in trade in The Last Unicorn (both book and movie version). It's sufficiently bad that his old master finally cast a spell on him to make him immortal until such a time as he finally figured things out, although only the book explicitly mentions this.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • Improvising with the Functional Magic of Channeling outside known "weaves" can result in anything from a new and improved weave, to a harmless light show, to De-Powering the channeler permanently. Elayne once tries to unweave a Thinking Up Portals weave, but it slips out of her control and both ends of the portal detonate a huge radius.
    • This threat is the primary barrier to reusing magical ter'angreal artifacts from the Age of Legends: there's usually no obvious clue to their function or activation method, so researchers have to guess whether any given weave will activate one, make it function in an unintended way, or backfire horribly. One side character was De-Powered by one such test, while another died screaming over ten days because she accidentally did the Magitek equivalent of sticking a fork in a toaster.
  • The Belgariad: If you try to unmake something with sorcery such as by saying "Be not!" it will rebound on the caster fatally instead, as Belgarath explains.
  • Uprooted:
    • If a wizard starts casting a major spell and then abandons it or runs out of Mana, it might run wild and drain their life away and/or manifest random destructive effects. When Agnieszka and the Dragon are interrupted in the middle of a powerful spell, reality around them starts cracking apart into the Void Between the Worlds.
    • Agnieszka Invokes this with minor spells when she doesn't want their full effect. One cantrip summons a Pimped-Out Dress, so she slurs the incantation to create a practical, plain dress instead.
  • In the Johnny Alucard novel of the Anno Dracula series, one of the stories had a would-be unit of vampire soldiers including one codenamed " The Angel". The Angel tried to use his shape-shifting powers to make himself look like one, giving himself golden eyes and bird-feather wings instead of batwings. The strain of the shape-shift caused his brain to burst and blood to geyser out of his eyes.
  • This is a concern for El Higgins from The Scholomance series, as when she casts relatively open-ended spells, they often have more 'oomph' and/or are less benign than normal. Create a Magic Mirror for a Wizarding School project? It starts spouting creepy unprompted prophecies (never a good sign) for GALADRIEL, BRINGER OF DEATH ("Right, yeah, old news."). She'll not even risk using the glamour cantrips some cast to take the edge off of not braving the showers for a few weeks out of concern that it would end up with a few of the more weak-minded following her around whining about how they only want to serve her. It eventually is confirmed that much of the problem is due to her once-every-few-millennia natural strength as a caster making it difficult for her to avoid pumping in way too much mana when casting low-end utility spells or particularly delicate workings.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: In Grandmothers and Other Fearsome Encounters, it's mentioned that this can happen if magic is enhanced beyond a regular spell through adding more power to it, when it's not made to handle it, or just casting it with more, heroic, effort, and if it fails, it can damage the user, or an implied unknown number of other effects:
    Uncle: Piling up spells like that is dangerous. Adding heroic effort to spells is also dangerous.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: While time-travelling to the past to learn a final lesson from the Three-Eye Crow, Bran and his group come under attack by white walkers. Meera's shouting to Bran to "Warg Hodor!" panics him and causes Bran to possess Wylis (who would grow up to be Hodor) in the past he was visiting as well as the present Hodor, connecting all three minds. Wylis can't handle this sudden influx of information and has a seizure, causing him the brain damage that turned him into the Hodor of the present.
  • In every single episode of Wizards of Waverly Place, Alex would use magic to solve a mundane problem and lose control of it which created a bigger problem.
  • Charmed: When Piper Halliwell's powers evolve from freezing things to full molecular manipulation, her misfires make things explode.
  • Aunt Clara on Bewitched. Samantha, too, when she catches a cold.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Willow, several times. 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 an 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.
  • In Kaamelott, Inept Mage Merlin's attempts at magic commonly result in a misfire, if they work at all. Once, trying to cast a spell to make plants grow results in Arthur and Léodagan being afflicted by Glowing Eyes for a while. Léodagan especially isn't happy about the pinkish glow of his eyes.
  • Clare from Power Rangers Mystic Force spends most of the season unable to do magic that doesn’t result in this. Case in point, her attempt to freeze the reluctant Rangers in place turns herself into a sheep.

  • In Warhammer Fantasy Divided Loyalties, set in the Warhammer world, miscasts are a common threat for all magic-users, friend and foe. The main character, Mathilde Weber, starts the quest hunted by the Apparition Wisdom's Asp due to a past miscast. Other miscasts of varying severities pop up here and there depending on the dice rolls, including one particularly bad one where a Magister of the Light Order literally explodes during the Battle of Drakenhof.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Not a general rule, but in 5th edition some spells and magic items can misfire:
    • Teleport has a number of unpleasant consequences for teleporting to unsecured locations, such as ending up near the target location, ending up to the same distance away from the target location (the example given is 18 miles at sea when targeting a coastal city 120 miles away), ending up somewhere similar to the target location, or taking damage and suffering one (or more!) of the above.
    • Wands have a limited number of uses per day. Using up the last charge has a 1/20 chance of causing the wand to crumble to dust.
    • The "Wild Mage" class, best known for appearing in Baldur's Gate II, 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 armor. Deafness and some other conditions can also cause a chance of spell failure, as can being distracted during casting (by taking damage, for instance).
  • Mage: The Awakening: Magic has a chance of causing a "Paradox" where a bit of unreality creeps in alongside the spell. A "minor" Paradox just changes the spell's target or rearranges its effects. More powerful ones cause temporary insanity, rewire physical laws in the area, give the caster a temporary Red Right Hand, or manifest a malevolent spirit.
  • 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. There are other side effects.
  • Warhammer:
    • It 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 an 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.
    • In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, miscasting is a peril for spellcasting of all sorts. While it doesn't stop the spell from working as intended, it does cause potentially dangerous magical phenomena, which can be anything from causing milk to curdle, to rendering the caster infertile, to summoning uncontrollable daemons. Spellcasters using divine magic roll on a different miscast table titled "Wrath of the Gods", which instead represents their deity growing irritated by the summons and doling out a punishment (or, in the worst cases, prayers being answered by other, darker gods).
  • GURPS uses a similar system to Warhammer. The effects range from "nothing," "illusory effect," "wrong target," "opposite of intended effect" all the way up to "summon malevolent demon". Alternate critical tables offer anything from funny to summoning things that are even worse. The chance of critically failing a cast is affected by the mage's skill with that spell. Some very powerful spells (eg, Great Wish) can only be learned up to level 15, which means there's always a good chance of backfire. And that's in addition to the enormous energy cost, of course
  • In the notorious RPG F.A.T.A.L. it is actually possible to cause a magical misfire that destroys the entire world by accidentally casting the spell list's world-destroying spell. And nothing of value is lost. That's just one result out of thousands; the misfire list goes on for a dozen pages and also includes RANDY GAY OGRES!
  • The lengthy spell list for Dungeon Crawl Classics is made even larger thanks to all the different ways a spell can go wrong, whether it be thanks to arcane magic being miscast, or divine magic having the weilder's deity ignore them. A Critical Failure is always counted as a backfire, and it's possible for the downsides to be permanent, with the intensity of the misfire tied to how powerful the spell is.
  • Blackbirds RPG: Attempting to cast a Vitiation or a Spell requires an skill test, and critically or sublimely failing this test can cause some horrible effect to the target or the caster, depending on the spell. For example, attempting to magically empower a nearby weapon will instead destroy it on a critical failure, or destroy all nearby equipment on a sublime failure.
  • The Unofficial Elder Scrolls RPG: As with the earlier The Elder Scrolls video games, casting a spell requires a skill test, failing which causes the spell to fizzle out without any effect besides the caster wasting their turn and magicka. Unlike the video games, a critical failure on this test or a failure to cast a powerful or custom-made spell causes a Magical Backlash, which can have effects ranging from merely annoying or embarrassing to having to make a test against instant death, depending on the result of a die roll and the power of the spell failed.
  • Ars Magica: As with all actions, spellcasting under stressful circumstances has a 1-10% chance of a botch, depending on aggravating and mitigating factors. The effects are open to the Game Master's interpretation based on how badly the dice roll was botched, but the spell might go off-target, have the opposite of its intended effect, invite Demonic Possession, or complicate the magus's day in some other exciting manner.
  • The Witcher Role Playing Game: Fumbling on a spellcasting roll (getting a 1 on a 1d10) has the spell backfire on the user. This ranges from doing mild damage to causing their focus to explode like a grenade and freezing them/stunning them/setting them on fire.


    Video Games 
  • Leif from Bug Fables fights with ice magic. If the player messes up the Timed Hits, Leif's animation shows he got own hand encased in ice.
  • 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 ZAngband, 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.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: At lower skill levels, it is possible to fail when casting spells. The result is the magical "whoosh" of the spell being cast, but no effect taking place. A pop-up message will then appear alerting you that you've failed to cast the spell.
  • 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 contamination that builds up in your system. High contamination causes ill effects such as reduced stealth, harmful mutations, and eventually 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.
  • Monster Hunter 3 (Tri): 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 these 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).
    Additionally, sometimes those monster calls are successfully executed, they still demonstrate a combination of this trope and exceedingly poor judgment. Among the monsters it can summon are Felynes, more of a nuisance than a threat... and Deviljho, which ends about as well as you'd expect a prey animal summoning an apex predator to.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Nadia Grell, the Consular's padawan, is the first and only known Force Sensitive of her species. This meant there was no one around to teach her how to use it. Mix this with a strong affinity for telekinesis and things explode if Nadia gets too happy, too sad, too angry. Her emotions fueling her powers meaning she'd probably make a strong Sith, but she's entirely too sweet to thrive under that philosophy.
  • In Ravensword: Shadowlands, part of the main quest is helping Lamil, the former apprentice of the Archmage, undo the effects of a spell he cast that resulted in him being shrunk and stuck inside of a bottle. He also mentions that he once turned the Archmage's pet frog into a five-legged goat, which is what turned him into the former apprentice of the Archmage.
  • Tales of Maj'Eyal has Chronomancy Anomalies. Chronomancy spells cause the user to build up Paradox, which both increases spellpower and gives a chance for spells to fail and/or cause Anomalies. Anomalies range from helpful (shielding or hastening the caster) to useless (summoning random peasants) to really bad (summoning hostile clones or temporal elementals). Paradox Mages can learn the Flux skill tree, which lets them deliberately trigger Anomalies to shed Paradox and redirect Anomalies at enemies.
  • The Slagilith boss in RuneScape is created when the player character tries to use an Animate Rock Scroll to free a person who had teleported themself into a wall but misses, instead bringing a nearby pile of rocks to life.
  • Marjoly in Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure has two instances of her spell backfiring; the first is when she means to teleport someone away, only to end up turning them into stone. The second time happens when she attempts to finish off the Final Boss, only for her spell to blow her up instead.
  • Vermintide II: Invoked by the heroes in the mission "Convocation of Decay". When they find a group of Chaos sorcerers in the middle of a daemon Summoning Ritual, they jump into the ritual circle and Hold the Line against waves of enemies, causing the magic to destabilize and kill the sorcerers one by one.
    Bardin: The sorcerers are dying! Guess their magic's hungry.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • In Baobab Studio’s short film Crow: The Legend, Crow receives a stick in which The One Who Creates Everything By Thinking lights the tip of it on fire...or at least in the non-interactive versions. However, in the interactive versions, The One Who Creates Everything By Thinking accidentally lights the branches of the Spirit Of The Seasons (played by the viewer) on fire instead. Luckily, when given the prompt, the Spirit Of The Seasons redirects the blazes of the branches onto the stick.
  • Sips in Dingo Doodles is a wild mage, so all his spells have a percentage chance to cause some random effect, a percentage that slowly increases as his curse takes hold. The effects range from fairly benign, like swapping clothes with whomever he targeted, to very drastic, like cancelling out all magic within a 700 feet radius. Which also happened to release the Tarrasque magically chained nearby. Whoops.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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 (1983): 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 Its 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.
  • Robot Chicken has a sketch parodying Harry Potter where potions and spells have a small and disturbingly lethal margin for error. A flower conjuring charm can turn your hand into a face-eating chimpanzee head if you mispronounce a syllable and a potion that changes eye color can shoot your teeth out of your mouth before blowing your head up if you add one extra drop of an ingredient.
  • Most episodes of Sadie Sparks involve trainee wizard Sadie causing one and dealing with the fallout. If it's not a training accident, it's her finding out that Personal Gain Hurts.
  • Star Butterfly of Star vs. the Forces of Evil practices magic with far more enthusiasm than finesse. While her combat spells can do a lot of damage, her non-combat spells often do a lot of damage as well, such as when she tried to remodel Marco's room and instead sucked it into a black hole. And on at least three occasions she's cast a purely decorative rainbow spell...which is somehow on fire, and the fire even spreads to non-flammable objects like stone.
  • Happens often to Zummi (the bear wizard) in Adventures of the Gummi Bears. The Big Bad Igthorn even comments once "I'm yet to see Gummi magic works properly".
  • Oswidge of Dave the Barbarian was prone to these, the usefulness of them varying depending on how funny the results would be. It was eventually revealed he never went to Sorcerer's School and his lack of training is why he messes up so much.
  • The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh had an episode where Piglet tries to perform magic tricks and botches most of them. At the end of the episode when he tries to pull a rabbit out of his hat he somehow produces a clone of himself. In another episode where Piglet ends up in another world, the wizard version of Rabbit only succeeds turning himself into random animals whenever he tries to cast a spell. When Piglet tries to use the courage spell that the wizard taught him, it results in the dragon turning into Eeyore.
  • In "Culture Shock" of SpongeBob SquarePants, Plankton participates in a local talent show, with his first "act" being to steal a Krabby Patty. When Mr. Krabs stops him, he tries using a magical spell to disappear, only to blow himself up in the process.
    Plankton: Well, this stinks.
  • Glyphs in The Owl House can be combined to form more advanced spells. However, stacking them on top of each other is essentially creating a gibberish pseudo-glyph and is likely to backfire in horrendous ways, as Eda learned when she tried to stack a plant, fire, ice and light glyph.


Video Example(s):


"Oh. You're dead."

Blue casts a spell to kill Red's clone, but ends up killing the original Red as well.

How well does it match the trope?

4.25 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / MagicMisfire

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