When Fil Kearney saw Wizards of the Coast creating settings and material for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons straight from the planes of Magic: The Gathering like many other players he anticipated the classic five color mana system wouldn’t be far behind. But after six Plane Shift releases plus Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica officially incorporating the worlds of M:TG to 5E D&D magic in the two games remains distinct without any crossover. So like any creative gamer Fil set out to develop his own 5 Color Mana system. Tap Untap Burn is a robust system for incorporating Magic’s classic color wheel into 5E D&D and Fil poured a tremendous amount of work into this to excite longtime Magic fans as well as 5E D&D players without any knowledge of the seminal trading card game. So let’s get into it and see what you can add to your games.
Feel the burn of 5 color mana spellcasting in 5E D&D
If I’m honest I’ve considered tinkering with a project like this myself, as I’m sure tons of other fans of both Magic and D&D have over the years. At the very least Fil took the time to go through every spell in the Player’s Handbook to assign one of the five colors of magic to each one. In addition Tap Untap Burn includes revised spell lists for every class organizing them by color. With these spell lists you can customize and tailor your 5E D&D characters to represent the themes and flavors of each color of magic.
For D&D players who don’t know, Magic uses a system for spells based around five colors, each associated with a particular type of land and sharing similar themes and effects. There’s black, blue, green, red and white magic representing evil and death, mind control and manipulation, nature and creatures, destruction and fury, and protection and life respectively in a nutshell.
People who have Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica might be familiar with some of the concepts in Tap Untap Burn and this particular 5E D&D book blends ideally with the 5 Color Mana system but this is by no means the only way to incorporate it into your games. Fil does a terrific job dedicating space to the other side of these new mechanics. The book answers a ton of questions players and Dungeon Masters might have and in a variety of ways too. These examples and methods really help not only to understand how 5 Color Mana works for 5E D&D but also why and what it can mean for your storytelling. Everything from describing magical effects in evocative ways to running magical investigations into complex spell weaves adds tons of new dimension to playing a spellcaster.
The most important part of this whole project — converting 5E D&D spellcasting to the 5 Color Mana system — takes up only a handful of pages and this is a very good thing. Understanding the mana pool progression and use fits the straightforward design of 5E without getting too noodly, especially considering it replaces existing spellcasting mechanics and doesn’t add to them. The book also streamlines some spellcasting mechanics like durations, most notably expanding Concentration to include more spells and the ability to keep them going. There’s a variant Concentration too that involves tapping your mana pool and sort of holding some in reserve until the spell is released. This also allows multiple Concentration spells simultaneously. These Concentration expansions along with additional concepts introduced like attrition offer a way to challenge spellcasters in dynamic ways.
At the same time, just like the game it takes inspiration from, players could explore the nuances of the system to create a wealth of new character concepts and strategies. Players itching for more intricacy and control over magical effects will absolutely love the material in this book. While reading through it I got a sense this can make spellcasting into a sort of minigame in terms of resource management, timing and effects layering and I know plenty of people who’ll get a kick out of this aspect.
In the 5 Color Mana system spellcasters work with a mana pool determined by class level. Spells of 1st-5th level are considered Common Magic and 6th-10th level spells are High Magic. You read that correctly — 10th level spells. While not a whole new level of spellcasting, using 5 Color Mana you can upcast spells higher than ever before with tremendously powerful results. By engaging with your mana pool and Devotion you can develop unique themes for your characters and discover flexibility in your spellcasting through how you assign the mana in your pool. There are two specific cases of 10th level spellcasting — wish and epic wish. For the former a standard wish spell cast as a 10th level spell adds new safe spellcasting alternatives for each color devotion.
“10W. You grant up to ten creatures that you can see immunity to a single spell or other magical effect for 24 hours. For instance, you could make yourself and all your companions immune to a lich’s life drain attack.”
Epic wish can only be cast by a 20th level character who spends 10 mana in any combination then states their wish to the Dungeon Master. The DM then assigns an additional unique mana cost and along with the initial 10 mana investment. If the character accepts the DM’s terms, the mana is burned and removed from your mana pool permanently. Obviously this represents incredibly powerful spellcasting with equally steep costs, but it’s worthwhile to consider at 20th level what else are you gonna do?!
Along with the mana pool all spellcasters receive in this system there’s a new feat called Color Magic Initiate, a variant of Magic Initiate incorporating Color Magic. A character can take this feat multiple times, devoting mana to a different color each time. As a M:TG player myself I can imagine all sorts of different ways to develop characters the same way we construct decks whether around a certain theme, devotion to a single color or selection of colors and so on. There’s endless possibilities!
Another section in the book covers each of 5E D&D character class with unique ways for them to interact with 5 Color Mana, from bards blending mana colors and resources to Arcane Traditions devoted to each color. Warlocks and their spellcasting are a special case (because warlocks), and in 5 Color Mana they actually change very little. However, each Otherworldly Patron is associated with a color pair making them more thematic. The book also addresses multiclassing and the interaction of monks’ ki with mana.
Rounding out the material inside are several helpful resources for players and DMs alike. A section on allies provides a new way for players to command NPC allies and companions including a variant Beast Master ranger I know lots of players will be curious to try. There’s also a section on sources of magic exploring beyond arcane and divine. One source I’m certain will draw lots of players attention is defiling, which of course sets off those Dark Sun alerts in our nerdy brains. These sources of magic are presented for flavor just like arcane and divine sources and don’t impact spellcasting (except defiling).
I particularly enjoyed the section on alternative spellcasting ability scores to evoke different themes and Magic flavor. A bard whose source of magic is harmonics might rely on Dexterity or Intelligence for spellcasting, and an Eldritch Knight devoted to red magic could draw power from a primal source and use Strength for their modifier. These ideas are explored through sample characters in the book, each illustrating the variety of themes and showing what the new mechanics look like in context for players.
Overall I’m really impressed with Tap Untap Burn 5 Color Mana. It takes a ton of work just to codify all the spells and there’s so much more going on in this book. M:TG fans and also any players curious to expand spellcasting into a more robust system that also packs a ton of narrative flavor and theme into it will love this. At first glance it might look really crunchy but if you consider this replaces standard 5E D&D spellcasting rather than adding another system to track it becomes much smoother.
5 Color Mana bundle
The book is not the only part of Tap Untap Burn 5 Color Mana though, and Fil created a bundle over at DM’s Guild including the core book plus two other titles. Knights and Tricksters takes the core components from the main book and presents it specifically for Eldrtich Knights and Arcane Tricksters in a streamlined guide. Relevant mechanics and spell lists are reprinted and variant class features fold in not only 5 Color Magic but new ways to interact with spellcasting in general. There’s also tips and guides for creating and running 5 Color Mana campaigns and a really cool section on adversaries of the knight and trickster variety. These tools provides a fun way to create on the fly using thematic spell lists and creature components you can put together for unique new NPCs and organizations.
Lastly there’s also a short PDF containing all and only the info for 5 Color Magic, plus a comparison of these Universal Spell Points and the spell point variant in the 5E D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. This stripped down version is great for a quick reference or to introduce some new spellcasting mechanics into your game without diving all the way into the deeper Magic inspired content.
Over at DM’s Guild you can find a bundle containing Tap Untap Burn 5 Color Mana Spell Point Variant Rules Core Mechanics, Knights and Tricksters and Universal Spell Points and High Magic here.