Friday, July 8, 2011


It sometimes seems like an emphasis on lower-level play is prevalent in the OSR, or old-school play in general. Now, I don't recall a whole lot of extremely high level campaigns back in the 70-80's (which is not to say I don't remember any, there were certainly a couple), but I do seem to remember lots of wishes being thrown around.

Wishes popping up in generally lower level campaigns makes me think this must have been the result of one of two things: monty-haulism, or frequent random treasure generation. Their apparent absence, nowadays, from many of the contemporary campaigns I play in or read about, I'm guessing is caused by one of two things: not-so-frequent random treasure generation, or an infection of the 3x-era ethic of "balance". I could be wrong, these are just my best guesses.

Now, back in "ye awld days" of gaming, wishes served a lot of purposes. They were an excellent way to get your character some sort of "power up", for one thing. A wish could mean an ability score bump, a sweet magic item, a level for your capped-out demi-human PC, an immunity, a special ability, or any number of other "power ups" not readily available through dungeon crawling or the RAW.

Wishes could also be used as the ultimate utility spell when adventuring. Heal the entire party all at once. Teleport everyone to safety all at once. Bring back the dead/diseased/petrified/etc/etc. I mean, they're wishes, so you can do pretty much anything with one, right?

Not necessarily. Wishes came with a pretty heavy risk factor back then. You had to be extremely careful how you worded a wish. I don't remember if it was implied in the rules, or just some sort of mass-DM-consciousness thing, but it seems like DMs were actually encouraged to try and corrupt a wish into something tragic if at all possible.

I am reminded of a time, after losing all of his extremely awesome magical loot, one of our players wished for "all my shit back".

I don't recall whether we actually dug his body out of the pile for revivification or not.

No, when wishes were stumbled across, and typically, if I recall correctly, these came in the form of a ring, wish-granting monster, or a deck of many things, everything stopped. Right then and there. It was time to take a break while everyone very carefully wrote out specifically how they would word their wish! So the DM couldn't screw us. He'd still find a way to, sometimes, though.

Despite all the havoc, I kind of miss all those wishes. I think I'll be dropping a couple of them in my players' laps at next week's session. Just to see what they'll do with them. I'll let you know what happens.

Got some cool wish stories of your own to share?


  1. In the Holmes blue book a wishing ring was one of the treasures he presented us with. I was a young DM (10), the players even younger. Altogether, a bad combination! Me in my naivete as a little kid and DM bestowed upon my brother (one the first of the annoying power gamers) a ring of wishes. Needless to say that killed the game. The first thing he wished for was more wishes and then an army and it just went from there. I was so young and inexperienced (0 level DM) that I just didn't know how to deal with this situation. I just thought it was a cool treasure, I had no idea it would be a game breaker!

    I'd love to 'relive' that experience now. I don't think he'd be as happy to get that ring this time! I would love that challenge as a DM now.

  2. More years ago than I care to count, we were on and adventure that went particularly poorly. I don't remember all the details, but I think we lost or destroyed much of our possessions and when we achieved the final room of the castle, one or more of the characters perished in the challenge. But, lo and behold, there was some sort of alter/stairway. Any character ascending the stairway was asked by the god Boccob (or so it was said in a loud booming voice - who argues with loud booming voices?) if they were willing to commit themselves to him.

    The first character to ascend, heard the request and decided he did not wish to commit. Down the stairs he went. Another character goes up, offers to commit, and the booming voice offers up a wish as a reward. Without thinking over much the character wishes "we were all back before this happened". The cries of "No!" from the other party members were ineffectual and too late.

    We found ourselves outside the castle, all our gear restored, and each returned to the state we were ten years earlier. In most cases that put the characters before they became class levels; for example my human character was now 8 years old.

    As humorous as the event was, it did end that campaign. Even though the DM was ready to continue the adventure most of the party had no stomach for it.

  3. I had a DM who threw around wishes a lot. They almost always backfired on us.

    We were traipsing around the Underdark when we noticed bones littered about. The bones got more and more common until we were wading through them.

    We then came to an enormous demon chained to the wall with dozens of chains, and even more locks. He told us if we unlocked one of his chains he'd grant us a wish. We tried to leave, but all the chambers magically led back to him.

    We argued for hours on what to do. I think one of us got fed up and wished the goal to our adventure, to have a certain kind of dragon hatchling. He was instantly teleported to a dragon hatchery, where the mothers weren't pleased to see the intruder.

    Someone else stepped up and asked for the demon to teleport him back, and he was teleported inside that character, not killing them, but making them two headed and inseparable.

  4. Wow, Barad, that may be the most brutal wish result I have ever heard. Essentially making all the work in the campaign for nothing. Wishes are always more of a curse than a blessing for a party, as they never turn out quite like you'd like, of course. Myself as a DM, I do rarely use them, especially in lower level campaigns, but when I do, like most, they need to be carefully worded. For me though, it isn't a matter of trying to screw over the party. Rather I like to use the wish as a means to make the game even more intriguing or interesting for the players.

  5. It is interesting to note in a lot of early play reports it seems that wishes we kinda common - and mostly relied upon to cheat death. It was noted that Holmes D&D had a ring of wishes listed in the random treasure tables, and those tables were pretty small - so yeah, wishes showed up pretty early in my gaming experience.

  6. In my campaign, it had a LOT to do with the source of the wish, and the reason the wish was granted. NEVER deal with devils. Trust your patron deity's reward. That sort of thing.

    One of the coolest wish uses was a female PC, her husband had been turned undead, she broke into the fortress where he ruled and used her wish to free him from the God of Death so he could peacefully pass on. That one did not backfire.

  7. *sigh* Fun with wishes. A lot of the early modules had a wish or two up for grabs in them. Generally, they caused more harm than the monsters. I even had a few PC deaths before anyone actually used the wih (usually from fighting over who got to use it).
    Of course, I was eight when we first started out.
    I remember one occassion when a fellow player wished for an amazing sword that could kill with one blow. He got his sword all right. A cursed vorpal back-biter.
    Dead PC.
    Guess he should have asked for a sword that could kill an enemy with one blow.

  8. I never ran across much wishing myself, but there is an explicit chunk of DM advice on wishes in either Moldvay or Cook that does encourage unfavorable interpretations of a poorly worded wish. (Don't have the books in front of me.) There's something like if the player wishes for a +4 sword to appear, and it appears in the hand of the hobgoblin warrior he's fighting.

  9. To me, a wish should represent a binding request to some entity - djinn, deity, whatever. As a result, the outcome will depend greatly on the nature of the entity upon whom the bond is placed, what its powers and abilities are, and so forth. I don't think that wishes should exist as independent artifacts in the game world, but they might be considered to be a particular class of spirit entity (so that the MU 9th level spell is actually a summons and binding of one of these spirits). Perhaps reaction rolls are in order, or roleplaying the situation. Characters who treat the entity as a device will find their wishes perverted as much as possible, while those who are more solicitous find that the entity is more willing to adjust to whatever they perceive the intent to be.

  10. Great post. I plan to drop[ a deck of many things in my game soon, so hopefully I'll have some stories to share.

  11. WISH (Conjuration/Summoning)
    Level: 9 Components: V
    Range: Unlimited Casting Time: Special
    Duration: Special Saving Throw: Special
    Area of Effect: Special

    Explanation/Description: The Wish spell is a more potent version of a limited wish. If it is used to alter reality with respect to hit points sustained by a party, to bring a dead character back to life, or to escape from a difficult situation by lifting the caster (and his or her party) from one place to another, it will not cause the caster any disability. Other forms of wishes, however, will cause the caster to be weak and require 2 to 8 days of bed rest due to the stresses the wish places upon time, space, and his or her body. Regardless of what is wished for, the exact terminology of the wish is likely to be carried through. (This discretionary power of the referee is necessary in order to maintain game balance. As wishing another character dead would be grossly unfair, for example, your DM might well advance the caster to a future period where the object is no longer alive, i.e. putting the wishing character out of the campaign.)
    AD&D Players Handbook 1979

    Back in the day, wishes were once or twice a campaign usually granted at mid-level (7th or so) and again near the end of our campaign. Usually the whole group got together after a game and meticulously wrote out the wish, sometimes meeting at another time/location to do so (as you wouldn't want the DM to hear it and have time to pervert your wish).

    I have a game hobby shop and run several games/campaigns, I often run single session games/events/encounters (as its easier nowadays than trying to keep a core group together for a lengthy campaign)& just recently ran a 4E game day where the characters all sacrificed themselves at the end in order to "Win". I granted each player (not there characters) a wish as their compensation, to be used any time down the road by any of their characters (with all that wishes imply, mwa ha ha ha) and I cannot tell you how 'rewarded' they felt...

  12. I use wishes all the time, I am just up front about it.

    Your wish can only be 12 words long (two of which are "I wish"), I as the DM get to add half that many words onto the end to warp its meaning. It is its own mini-game.



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