Mage Burnout Condition in Corive | World Anvil

Mage Burnout

It was a moment of desperation, but I did it. I won, but in that moment, I felt like a candle where the wick burned through, but the wax had not melted. I took decades to recover, and even now, a century later, I am half the mage I was before that moment when I felt I pulled from that never-ending ocean of magical power.
— Surviving Mage, elf, age 176



The first case of Burnout has been lost to prehistory, as every known culture has "timeless" stories of a mage pushed to their extremes by circumstances. Most scholars believe Burnout is a natural phenomenon because every language has words for burnout - even Turvesdzint, the ancient language of the Dwarves when they first met any people of the surface.

Impact on History

History describes Burnout as the last weapon of any mage - poems and plays are written describing the tragedy of battles coming down to a single mage and their desperation to protect their home towns leading to destruction.   It is believed several advances in the study of Magic are rediscoveries, though concrete evidence is hard to find other than the absence and the repetitions through history as records describe a group of people being able to do some feat of magic, and then the skill being lost, while decades or centuries later, another group finds another way to do the same feat.
Chronic, Acquired
Extremely Rare

Mages who have Burned Out

Burnouts are often attributed to those "Magical Dark Ages" of lost settlements and knowledge. In the Adrakian Empire, the dragon-god Athtica had been recorded as trying to prevent such losses with her libraries and her Great Library.   Mages from the Adrakian Empire are believed to have cause most of the rifts and ravines carved across and scarring Soplas and the Theydim region in particular. For Soplas, the fall of the Adrakian Empire has the most recorded incidents of Burnout occurances. Burnouts occured at a declining rate as the regions settled into their eventual cultures.

Modern Day

In the modern day, Burnout occurs most often during combat and in dire situations. Military reports describe family being urged to leave a town to the defense of a singular mage, only for the family to return and see the town partially destroyed and their loved one as the epicenter of the damage.   Burnout, however, has always and still gives magic and those who use it a sense of constant danger, but some mages have used it to leave the ultimate insult to the situations where they are forced to Burnout in order to reach their goal or prevent others from their own goals.

Mage Burnout


The simplest description of the cause is "Magic" as a mage must pull to use more magic than they are able to control in order to fall victim to Burnout.   The more complex answer is based on the memories fo people who were around the event and the observations from priests and mages who have focused their studies and focus to healing Burnout survivors. In general, there is a strong connection to a sense of desperation, a life threatening situation, a mage coming to the end of their ability to cast spells, and their souls.   Burnout survivors have scarred souls, preventing them form being resurrected from the dead - willingly or not. This damage is used for suggesting a theory the mage is taking their own life force, scarring the soul, and then channeling more magic than the body can handle in a single outburst.


Most Burnouts result in a dead mage. The method of death varies from incident to incident, but the most consistent result is a dead mage. Most of the incredibly small number who would otherwise survive, die as a result of the damage caused to their surroundings - falling into a ravine, having buildings or other rubble fall onto them, drowning, or burning as some examples.   Surviving mages are often chronicly weakened and at higher risk of illness.
Mages who survive a Burnout are generally incapable of casting magic at any strength. A smaller fraction of survivors can still cast magic, but usually they cannot cast at the same rate, strength, or ability of before their Burnout.   Contact with magic causes the mage a great deal of pain and could result in the mage having smaller Burnout events.
A mage who has Burned Out, will struggle with being healed magically and cannot be revived from the dead. They may also leave behind pieces of their soul for some time after the Burnout, though the time seems to vary from survivor to survivor.


Those who study Burnout have found two primary variances - Overreach and Life Energy Expenditure. Neither variant appears to make the process more survivable than the other.
Overreach is classified as when a mage pulls for more magic than they can handle by somehow reaching into the Plane of Magic and becoming a living open door for raw magic.
Life Energy Expenditure
Life Energy Expediture is classified as when a mage converts their own life energy into magic, which in turn allows for the mage to become a conduit for a greater source of magic, presumably the Plane of Magic.


Healing generally has to be done with minimal magic, and with a greater likelihood of sickness, the mage often has to take greater care to keep themselves and their environment clean.
The loss of one's magical ability is often a catalyst for a mindset to fall into negative spirals, and becomes a secondary factor against the survivor's rate of recovery. Most survivors have some kind of support network, though the effectiveness of the network varies.
Divine magic also has to be applied with caution and care, as contact with magic can cause more harm than good.


The greatest prevention is the constant awareness and care to avoid reaching the end of one's limits. Mages who study under a mentor mage have some oversight to help prevent Overreach classed Burnout in a controlled environment.   Life Energy Expediture classed Burnout is harder to prevent beyond helping mages learn their limits and recognize the ability as a last and fatal resort.
There is no cure.   There is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a change to come out of a Burnout "fine" - effectively unchanged health, no or minimal scarring of the soul, no loss of magical ability. This hypothetical chance has never been recorded, and is only hypothetical in the sense that the lack of record is not proof of an impossibility of total survival.

Related Conditions

"Physical Burnout"

A phenomenon with a high rate of survival and recovery success among nonmages is when a nonmage is put to an extreme and achieves some impossible feat of ability - a sudden supernatural strength to hold up a collapsing stone building, a burst of speed allowing for a person to pickup and rescue another from certain death as some examples.   However, the physical damage is greater and often results in permanent injury, for example, the person who help up the building may tear the muscles of their arms, back, and legs to a degree they can only hobble. It is possible to heal back a significant amount from the damage over time, but the process is often long and requires constant medical attention.   The reason the "Physical Burnout" is considered to be related because of two common symptoms - extreme pain at contact with magic, scarring on the soul. If the soul is repeatedly or sufficiently scarred, the "Physical Burnout" survivor could not be resurrected from the dead either.

Cover image: by Lyraine Alei, Midjourney


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Aug 1, 2022 07:55

Good article. Interesting that untrained "hedge wizards" may be more prone than the trained. And that they may be blocked from resurrections. Good condition for the prompt.

Aug 2, 2022 02:35 by Lyraine Alei

One of my players said the same about self-taught mages, so two people saying the same means I did pretty well in communicating that idea across. I'm also glad you thought the resurrection factor was interesting, because I want my players to consider that & ask questions.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
Aug 6, 2022 20:53 by Domenick DeMaria

Cool article. I also like how there is a cost associated with the condition. It makes it seem more risky and dangerous to wield such powers.

Aug 6, 2022 22:22 by Lyraine Alei

I will fully admit, it comes from this mental image of a mage having this epic "You Shall Not Pass" type scene, and then having it succeed. Succeed far too well.   I also like magic having a cost and a risk because in Corive, it is a dangerous force of nature and just outside of the understanding of mages.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
Aug 19, 2022 12:41 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Nice article :D I like when mages cannot just push past their limits without consequences as soon as it's plot convenient, and you did not hesitate to be harsh with those consequences :p

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Aug 19, 2022 16:23 by Lyraine Alei

I'm glad you enjoyed the article! Mages are already so OP as a concept, so giving them this big power thing makes it more so, but I really really loved the idea from DragonLance in an older D&D edition where a mage could expend exhaustion or health to power up or continue casting spells, and that idea stuck with me until I found a way to make it happen where it wasn't to be easily used by just anyone for any reason, but could still be used by anyone if everything was set up juuuust right all around them.   And the image of a spiteful mage going "I'm taking you down with me" helps a lot with that. xD   Magic is powerful, and the true reason for why this has severe consequences seems reasonable to me when I compare stuff to say, sticking a fork into a power socket to get more electricity power. (in setting, no one really knows how it works beyond what has been written)

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
Aug 27, 2022 18:53 by Han

Raiiine, this is so well-done. Magical burnout is a concept that's reoccurred through media but your take on it is so fresh. I love that it's something so final that they might be outright killed with that final soulbound permanence.   I wonder, is there any way of preventing a burnout? Can other mages help do so, maybe at cost of themselves?

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Aug 27, 2022 18:59 by Lyraine Alei

The primary way to prevent burnout is to know your limits, and I sort of imply that other mages can help reduce the risk, though that's more because they can help each other recognize how close to limits they're at, but it also looks like (I didn't realize this myself until you asked) I imply that other mages can help reduce burnout.   I will have to look into how often multi-person spells are a thing in the setting, though it makes sense for Big Magical Things.   I'm really glad you like this take, and I really like that so far people like that the risks include death and other permanent risky effects. <3

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
Oct 6, 2022 11:22 by Tobias Linder

It's stuff like this that makes magic in a setting fascinating. It's not what you can do with the magic that's really interesting, it's the stuff you're not supposed to.

Oct 6, 2022 22:29 by Lyraine Alei

It's definitely one of the fun things to consider for a magic system. I have a few arbitrary (in-world) things magic cannot do that have sense knowing the world is meant for a TTRPG (Time-Travel, Teleporting more than one day's travel away per day, Mass Teleporting At All, Flight), but it's fun seeing what happens when people try to do more than they are able to do.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive