Honestly, I never looked at the Wild Mage much before reading this threat.
Part of it was reading 05-06 casting a [fireball] on yourself and your party, but I've taken a good hard look at the different effects and they aren't all that bad. (a 5d6 fireball will deal ~18 damage which will insta-kill a level 1 party). By level 2+ it "merely" turns into a horrible inconvenience.
I'm personally not a huge fan of "random", but I'm a control freak... but don't mind the randomness of Wild Magic Surge, as it's a 5% chance / spell which is minimal. Sometimes it's good to be outside your comfort zone.
I think what bothers me the most after reading through it is how much control the DM has over your character and how little you do with Tides of Chaos.
Tides of Chaos is something a player could choose to use all the time, but the DM controls your feature... that seems dumb. The player should be able to choose how much chaos s/he wish to add to a particular scene at a particular time. (I don't know of a single other class feature which relies on non-player consent in 5e)
I see it as a hold over from previous editions when control never existed. It also just puts the cognitive load on the GM. As a player I be blowing that *constantly*.
This edition feels like it's all about player agency, and it just seems weird that a single class in the whole book has a feature that lacks it. I agree with you filecat that it's about randomness, but I disagree about who should hold that ball of randomness. There can be plenty of randomness, even if the Player keep agency over his character.
Personally I like the fact that this sub class is geared around chaotic elements out of the player's control but that does rely on cooperation with the DM. I've recently started playing a Wild Mage in a new campaign and my DM has already done a couple of interesting things with it:
1) Making wild magic surges RP and context dependent, in addition to the normal rules. E.g. I was in a tavern getting into a heated argument with someone - the stress induced a wild magic surge and I ended up slowly levitating in front of a load of terrified villagers, which influenced the outcome of the discussion
2) Adding in narration to give some indication of the level of risk of a surge. My character has long hair and beard, so the DM may describe how his hair is starting to waft around/stand on end like the character's on a Van de Graff generator, etc...
I agree with others that it makes sense to agree with the DM how to make more use of the feature, whilst ensuring it doesn't dominate the party's activities.
I made a character, Lesstara Vaya, whose unpredictable surges landed her in a asylum in Thay. After her escspe, she eventually made her way back to the Sword Coast by working as a carvan hireling. She desperately tried to appear normal, not helped by the fact she often hears voices she named Red, Yellow, and Blue, each trying to push her in different directions.
I found she was often more paranoid about her powers than her infrequent surges seemed to justify, so I reworked the subclass. I posted it for free in the DM's Guild, under the name "Wild Magic Variant". It increases the surge chance, while keeping catastrophies or super good things balanced against just odd surges. I made a bunch of new surges to fill out the table system, though many are the same you know/love/hate. If you use it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
For several sessions this spell was the Go-To for our groups wild Sorc to the point where I, the DM, felt an urge to cause wild surges every time she cast the spell. In the end I just decided that the frequent destablizing of the magic in the area of the Sorc would cause more significant mishaps for all the magic users in the area after the first Chaos Bolt of each encounter. With a few nat 1's we had several really interesting - far off-the-track - encounters! With time and a better understanding of her abilities, the Sorc has diversified her spell list and, I believe, she has even managed a session or two with a single Chaos Bolt!
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I do not like the word... prisoner. It implies a helpless state, and I assure you, I am never helpless.