Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Wish I May

Wish: The same spell as found in a Ring of Wishes (DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, MONSTERS & TREASURE, page 33). Using a Wish spell, however, requires so great a conjuration that the user will be unable to do anything further magically for from 2-8 days.
Thus spake OD&D Supplement I, Greyhawk, introducing one of the most powerful and flexible spells in the canon of Dungeons & Dragons. In case you don't have Monsters & Treasures handy, this is what it says about the Ring of Wishes:
As with any wishes, the wishes granted by the ring must be of limited power in order to maintain balance in the game. This requires the utmost discretion on the part of the referee. Typically, greedy characters will request more wishes, for example, as one of their wishes. The referee should then put that character into an endless closed time loop, moving him back to the time he first obtained the ring. Again, a wish for some powerful item could be fulfilled without benefit to the one wishing ("I wish for a Mirror of Life Trapping!", and the referee then places the character inside one which is all his own!). Wishes that unfortunate adventures had never happened should be granted. Clues can be given when wishes for powerful items or treasures are made.
Each version of wish published in subsequent editions of D&D tended to emphasize the first part of the above description (i.e. game balance) and gave short shrift to the later part (i.e. referee discretion). By the time of Third Edition, there are in fact specific parameters on just how much benefit the spell can bring to a character rather than the looser guidelines of previous editions. Fourth Edition, if I recall, has eliminated the spell entirely, which is no surprise.

I mention all this because I recently had a conversation with two friends of mine, recalling how much I loved wishes in my D&D campaigns of old. Their use was generally through magic items, since I never had a magic-user character in my game who reached high enough level to wield such a spell. I threw out wishes quite often in those days, because I considered them to be great fun -- a temptation that few of my players could resist. The reason was simple: everyone knew that it was my job, as referee, to screw them out of their wishes to the utmost of my ability and I was exceedingly good at doing so. You must remember that I was trained by Jesuits, so casuistry comes easily to me and I took ever so much pleasure in twisting the word of PC wishes against them.

And yet almost all of them succumbed eventually. Shawn, the player of Morgan Just, was one of the few who knew better and avoided wishes like the plague they were. You see, the problem was that I didn't always screw my players over. If their wishes were reasonable or served a good purpose, I usually granted them, perhaps with a small catch, but not enough to make them regret having wished. Enough examples of such "successful" wishes and my players would get bolder and greedier and then they'd be where I wanted them. This was a game-within-a-game for us. We enjoyed trying to get the better of one another and my players, bless them, usually appreciated the warped logic by which I would hoist them by their own petard. There were occasionally hard feelings, but not often. Cruel though I could be, I was also a believer in rewarding perseverance. Players who accepted their fates would almost always be given means to escape them, if they should tenacity. As I've said before, that's part of what D&D was all about for us: a series of unfortunate events visited upon your character by referee whim, cruel fate, or your own stupidity -- the stuff from which great adventures are made!

(As an aside, I'll note that I never looked on my twisting of wishes as "wrong" or inappropriate. From my perspective, magic -- even reality-bending magic -- has rules. One of those rules was not to endanger the multiverse by stretching it too far. Consequently, anyone foolish enough to try and do so was a threat to the multiverse and should be eliminated by the most direct means possible. Thus, the twisting of a wish was magic's way of taking cosmic troublemakers out of commission permanently before they did harm to the fabric of reality)


  1. Reposting my wish comment from the shapechange illustration thread :D

    Yeah, but Gary was always extremely stingy about ability score increases. I always read that as him saying that this was a specific area where he felt wishes could be abused rather than a guideline that should be generalized to wishes applied to other areas.

    While Gary outlines 10 wishes to raise ability scores from 16 and on-higher in the DMG, there were plenty of other ways to raise them in the Lake Geneva campaigns, including magic pools, forbidden fruit, moving levers, and other various random-ish effects of the dungeon environs, divine intervention, DM whimsy, etc. So, I think that the DMG text was written to discourage people from "wasting" wishing on simple ability score additions vs. on much more important things like escaping encounters, raising PCs, etc., etc. Wishes were also much more common in OD&D than in AD&D, so acquiring 10 wishes is by no means impossible. Perhaps Trent Foster will chime in here, since he's written some good stuff about wishes several times :D


  2. I've never been a fan of twisty Wishes, from either side of the screen. It just strikes me as the sort of Gygaxian reactionary tactic that spawned Ear Seekers, Rot Grubs, Cloaks of Poisonousness, and so on. Fine if you're into it, but I'm not ... it seems like a metagame "keep the players from getting uppity" rule.

    My rule of thumb is that the Wish will "try" to carry out the Wisher's intent, but is limited in its efficacy -- it's just mortal magic, after all. I don't have a specific calculus, a la D&D 3.x, for the Wish's power. I just eyeball it, and if the effect Wished for is too powerful for the spell, it'll either fulfill it "to the best of its ability" or fail entirely, based solely on my discretion.

    I don't see ability score raising as being a true issue in any D&D game I'll ever run, as PC Magic-Users aren't likely to be in play through the 18th level. Their access to Wishes is thus solely through the few Wish items placed in the setting.

    It's not exactly imbalancing to raise a score by 1 point in OD&D, especially since one is thereby squandering a future "Get Out of TPK Free" card, or the chance to extend a demi-human level cap by 1 level, or some other more important benefit. Prudent players who find a Wish item will hoard it as a reboot button for the next time something horrible happens.

    I almost always place some Wish items in my settings, but they're in obscure locales (or else they'd have been snapped up) and no one ever seems to find them. :(

  3. The fun of wishes and the more loosey goosey days of old are definitely something I miss.

    I've always been sort of middle of the road on wishes. If the wish is for something pretty reasonable, I'm pretty lenient. But if you're not careful, I may take the opportunity to remind you that wishes ARE supposed to be somewhat tricky.

    A couple good examples from my past gaming:

    1st, the first time I ran a game outside my circle of close friends. James had convinced me to go to the game convention the MIT games club put on and run a game. By the time I got settled in, he had recruited 16 players for me. We quickly got into a big battle, for which some of the MIT folks provided miniatures and dominoes to mark out walls. James, wanting to get behind the enemies said "I wish I was here." emphatically pointing to a location on the table. I looked at my map, and here was solid rock. Sorry James...

    Another time, much later, after I had been gaming with the MIT folks for some time and had a solid campaign going that had reached high level, they were fighting a nasty statue I had come up with (coincidentally, in the same dungeon, though this statue had not featured in the dungeon the first time). The statue was AC -10, 1000 hit points, reflected and twisted most magic used against it, and got a number of attacks proportional to how quick it was being killed (one time they managed to kill in in a few rounds, using haste, super heroism, and a few other tricks - it got 48 attacks the last round and left only one or two PCs standing). So here they are fighting it another time. They've done about 500 points of damage, but the party is not doing well. One player says "I wish everyone was healed" A couple other players gasped and said "are you crazy" I said "are you sure that's your wish?" Of course the player said yes. And the rest of the players groaned and told him thanks for resetting the statue back to 1000 hit points.

    So very twisted yes, but in both situations (I think in the first I said are you sure also), the player could easily have corrected his wish. The first player only needed to revise his wish to be less emphatic about location, and perhaps just to be sure, made it clear his intent was to get behind the enemies. The second player only needed to revise his wish to only include the PCs (healing and buffing the PCs are some of the few magics the statue won't corrupt).

    I am so looking forward to old school wishing in my upcoming mega-dungeon campaign.


  4. I've always thought it was terribly malicious and unfair to corrupt a wish as long as the wish is something within reason. like the poster before me, rather than have the wish be twisted, I just make its power somewhat limited in scope, going for the next best thing if the terms of the wish are impossible otherwise.

  5. It just strikes me as the sort of Gygaxian reactionary tactic that spawned Ear Seekers, Rot Grubs, Cloaks of Poisonousness, and so on.

    Indeed it is. But I don't see that as a "reactionary" tactic so much as part and parcel with a style of refereeing -- and playing, generally -- that's fallen out of favor: trying to "beat" the person(s) on the other side of the screen.

  6. I've always thought it was terribly malicious and unfair to corrupt a wish as long as the wish is something within reason.

    I feel the same way, honestly. Reasonable wishes, particularly ones used for altruistic purposes, I rarely twisted, unless I could generate some good fun out of doing so. But I never hesitated to give greedy players exactly what they deserved, when they tried to abuse wishes.

  7. I don't have a problem with PCs making Wishes for treasure, even a significant amount; there's ample precedent in the source literature. I simply think, and I hope most players of adventure games would agree, that there are better things to do with the most powerful mortal magic in the game world than to fatten one's pockets. Realistically, if all he was interested in was money, any adventurer would have retired to a life of shameful leisure by mid-level. :)