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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wishes in Dungeons & Dragons

A wish is pretty much the ultimate "treasure" in D&D. It is a tricky thing for a DM to deal out, to say the least. When a player thinks of making a wish, he or she wants a great magic item, or to hit 30th level, or the power to be immortal. How does a DM handle this? Especially when the rules in some cases are so restrictive that a player is limited to gaining one-tenth of a +1 in one stat?

I'm going to take a look at wishes in various editions. But first, real quick, I want to tell you about what lead to this article.

I ran the 4e game again with the group who has a 2e deck of many things. The deck has completely altered the campaign, which is now about the ramifications of using the deck and people trying to get the deck from the heroes.

We had a new player jump in, and he was great. He had a fantastic attitude toward the game. He drew a single card from the Deck of Many Things, and actually got Moon. This meant he got one wish. We talked a bit and he asked if there was a way he could wish for the ability to grant more wishes. I thought about it. You can't just have a PC in a game give out wishes. The whole campaign will be over! The PCs will be invincible gods.

But.. I thought... "what if there was a roll attached?" Here's the deal I gave him:
1. He can grant one wish per day
2. When a wish is made, he rolls a d20. A high number means the wish is pretty much granted. A low roll means the wish is twisted in some horrible way!
3. If he hears anyone say "I wish blablhblah", it is immediately granted. I told the group that this counted in real life, too. If any player sitting at the table said "I wish..." out loud, that counted in-game! I warned them to be careful.

What resulted was more insanity. The main thing that happened was that, while discussing a town that knew the heroes had the deck and were sending thieves to snatch it, a player said out loud: "I wish everyone would forget we had the deck of many things."

Poof! The heroes and everyone in the world forgot!

The heroes obviously noticed this magic deck in their possession soon after. To their credit (supreme credit, really) they role-played it. They said, "Hey! A deck of cards! Let's play blackjack!"

And so they played blackjack with a deck of many things! A treasured NPC lost his mustache forever, and the new player's soul was sent to a dimensional prison - a cruel punishment to a player who added so much to the game.

So we talked it over, and the next session will be about the heroes going to rescue his soul. How they put the soul back in his body is a question I don't have the answer to.

The deck is completely driving the game. It has built-in hooks that are basically running the campaign for me. It is funny. These sessions feel more like "D&D" than anything I've run in a really long time.

One thing I need to do now is to read up on wishes, so that I can run them in a fair and fun way. So let's take a look, shall we?

AD&D 1st Edition

In the Player's Handbook, the wish spell can freely bring people back to life and be used to escape a difficult predicament with no penalty. But other requests will weaken the caster and force them to rest for 2 to 8 days.

It urges the DM to twist the request in the name of "game balance". I dunno, if you are that worried about it, why even put it in the game?

In the Dungeon Master's Guide, there is a note on page 11 about using wishes to raise ability scores. To curb abuse, the DMG says that a wish only increases a stat of 16 or higher by... one-tenth of a point. So it takes 10 wish spells to go from 16 to 17, etc.

A little further in, it is noted that casting limited wish ages you one year, and casting wish ages you 3 years! Couldn't you just wish to be younger, though?

In the entry on the ring of multiple wishes, it again warns the DM: "If players are greedy and grasping, be sure to "crack" them. Interpret their wording exactly, twist the wording...". It just seems like they shouldn't have called it "wish" at all. Maybe they should have just had a limited wish as a 9th level spell and left it at that.

AD&D 2nd Edition

In the Player's Handbook, the wish spell is virtually identical.

In the DMG, it again goes with the "one-tenth of a point" rule for raising stats 16 and up. The ring of multiple wishes also has the "greedy and grasping" entry. I didn't realize how much of 2e was cut and pasted.

In The Complete Wizard's Handbook there is a section discussing wishes. It gives some general guidelines:

- A wish for treasure yields 1,000 - 10,000 gp.
- It can heal 45-70 hit points
- It can destroy one creature within sight of 10 hit dice or less.

Then there is a not-so-charming list of things the DM can do in certain situations:

- Character wishes for a castle: It appears in mid-air and crashes to the ground, reduced to rubble.
- Character wishes to never suffer damage: The character turns into a stone statue.

In the Al Qadim setting, due to the prevalence of genies, there's a bit of information on wishes. In Secrets of the Lamp, there's a section on Genie Wishes. It gives some guidelines:

- Wishes can't affect the past or future.
- Wishes can't make you a prince or bestow a title on you.
- Wishes cannot alter the true feelings of a creature. Alignments can't be changed. You can befuddle someone and charm them, but you can't wish for true love (how depressing).
- Wishes can't make magic items out of thin air. They are plucked from somewhere in existence.

Fun Fact: A wish granted by a Fire Genie is reviewed by the genie's superiors in the City of Brass. The genie must prove that the wish was granted against its' will and that it proved its' innate superiority by turning the wish against the wisher.

This just in: Secrets of the Lamp is awesome.

D&D 3rd Edition

The SRD has a nice rundown of the wish spell.

The wish spell can replicate the effects of spells of level 7 or maybe 8. It can add one stat point. It can create non-magic items worth up to 25,000 gp. How much does a fortress cost?

I understand that wish is obviously  game-breaking device. It seems like they shouldn't bother with it at all if they are going to limit it so much.

There is an old article on about wishes.
I don't know where he got this from: "One obscure rule that caused lots of trouble in the 1st Edition AD&D game was that wishes were granted by the nearest divine power. That entity knew the nature of the wish and could choose to grant it, refuse it, or twist it as desired."

Is that true? That's crazy.

Basically, the jist of the article is that the DM should tell the players up front what wishes can and can't do.

Wish is the ultimate spell. The character has to be around, what, 16th level to cast it? 18th? These limitations seem pretty extreme to me! I understand that the game is easily broken by wish spells being cast left and right but come on... one stat point? Or one-tenth of a stat point? It's called WISH.

I will continue to experiment with it in my game. I've had to put the kibosh on a few things already, like wishing for more wishes (though I sort of allowed that). I would balk at the idea of them wishing themselves to be 20th level (partly because that makes no sense in the context of the game, and partly because there's nowhere to go after that).

I like the idea of running with a campaign where the PC can make wishes and then deal with the ramifications. I'll let you know how it goes.


faoladh said...

One of the things that I don't like about D&D is the way that it chose to handle Wishes. To my way of thinking, a Wish is a command to a particular entity to fulfill a request, which it must do to the best of its ability and powers. So, you wish for treasure, and the entity goes and steals it from wherever. If you wish for higher stats, it doesn't know what to do (unless it has magic that would allow it to do so), and tells you as much.

Sean said...

Faoladh: That is definitely a good way to go. Wish is so open-ended and potentially unbalancing that you definitely need to have some kind of angle or vision of how it works in your game to make it work without feeling too limiting.

Bronk said...

Cool article! It's interesting to see the wish rules for older editions... the 1/10th of a stat point rule almost made sense back then, since stats had an upper limit, but you would think a potential wisher would just find a way around it, like becoming a monster that already had the right stats.

How are wishes handled in 4th and 5th edition though?

Bronk said...

Pretty neat! In 3.5, the book Savage Species had a section on using Wish to become a new race for good, with an additional spellcraft skill check to determine if you got all the new creatures special abilities. In this case, your player could have wished to be a genie...

Sean said...

Bronk: You are completely right! I shou;d have had the PC turn into a genie... that would have been so awesome.

Wishes aren't in 4e, as far as I know. The game was very tightly codified and there wasn't room for anything game-breaking. Once the DMG comes out I will update this article to include the 5e Wish spell.

Bronk said...

5E wish seems a lot like a watered down 3.5E wish...

Terry W. Ervin II said...

I thought it was odd too, having a wish but being so limiting in it. Whenever I've run a game, wishes are very very rare, and the source of the wish did have an impact. Players would spend a lot of time thinking and researching and preparing exact wording of the wish in an attempt to avoid adverse outcomes.

Sean said...

Terry Ervin: I never liked the whole "DM screwing the players over on a wish" thing. It just felt kind of like a cop out. I guess it's one thing if the players are getting a wish from an evil efreet, but if the wish is the result of a major quest or an end-of campaign reward, I think the wish should just be granted as long as it doesn't ruin your setting.

Themanattheback said...

There is no reason not to turn a wish on it's ear, but I've never told anybody that they cannot wish for anything in particular.

First of all, wishes should not be meta, but you absolutely should allow a player to wish for whatever they want; including meta things. If a player wishes to to be "very strong" for instance, there is no reason not to turn them into a material that is very strong. Something like this has to be the result, because the world does not know what your metadata is, but your character obviously just said it. The words mean something, just not the same thing that you, as "the player" think they mean.

You can get very creative with this.

Also, a player wishing to be healed should get just that. Full restoration. Anything short of the power of another spell is boring and stupid. You want or need to turn it on it's ear for some reason? Great. Their injuries are transfered to the people around them, they suck the life out of the land and animals, or their being is tanted even though they seem to be restored.

Your campaign isn't ruined just because it's side tracked. That's just when it's getting fun. Your PCs make a wish that puts them into some crazy adventure for a while? Cool. Your badguy has a field day while he's unopposed and they come back to some consequences and maybe a more severe, or maybe even more interesting and fun challenge to face than what you originally anticipated.

You want to wish for a castle? Cool, I have castles. They're named Ravenloft, Never, and Tyr- Tyr comes with a whole city around it, and a whole lot of very evil people.

You want a sword that can kill a demon prince? I hear Solars are technically capable of it. Maybe this Dijinn knows how to spirit one away from a Solar champion?
MAYBE that Solar isn't gonna be too happy about losing his sword, or maybe, you get said Solar killed while he is disarmed. Maybe you make a power vaccum in the planes and maybe now, you have some really big shoes to fill?

Maybe, this is your game, and MAYBE, you can do whatever you want with it, whenever you want?

One half-cocked wish can give you fifty hours or more of play material. And when the power levels have gotten so goofy that they can't be contained? Nuke the entire galaxy and when your players come to in a small farming hamlet on a stream, when suddenly, they hear a scream from just over the hill...

Cheers. =)