I Wish for a Wish Spell in 4e D&D

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 25, 2009

In previous editions of D&D you knew that your PC reached the pinnacle of power when he could cast the wish spell. Wish always represented the most powerful and complicated spell in the PHB no matter which version of D&D you were playing. As if to make wish even more desirable, there existed limited wish – a spell that’s only purpose was to give you a diluted taste of the real thing. Now we have 4e D&D and I can’t find wish anywhere. What happened to the wish spell?

As a player I always wanted the wish spell. It was so powerful that it’s only real limit was your imagination. It was a way to use magic to accomplish whatever it was you needed to do when none of the other spell in the game could do it. I remember playing an entire campaign just to help the Wizard get his hands on a wish spell. A Wizard with wish eclipsed all other PCs, even a Paladin with a holy avenger.

As a DM wish was both a bane and a boon. As soon as a PC got his hands on the wish spell you had to be ready for anything. And I mean anything. Players can be unpredictable at the best of time, but when they’ve got the ability to cast wish their actions are no longer limited in any way. The saving grace for DMs was that a wish could be manipulated and twisted in order to subvert the PC’s intended outcome. It’s a mean and underhanded thing to do if you’re a DM, but the PCs have to realize that when they’ve got that kind of power at their fingertips the DM is going to try and balance the scales.

Now we have 4e D&D and wish has disappeared. I suppose it’s not really fair to give Wizards something as limitless as wish and deny the other classes something equally powerful. One of the significant changes between 3e and 4e was the attempt to level the playing filed among the classes. What could you possible give a Fighter that is on par with a wish spell? Anything you think of will only be silly, overwhelming and still not nearly as versatile as wish.

When we had wish in D&D it existed in other places than a Wizard’s spell book. There were items that could grant wishes. A ring of wishes, a luck blade, and the moon card from the deck of many things are just a few examples that come immediately to mind. None of these items exist with their wish granting capabilities in 4e D&D.

Even monsters like the djinns, inspired by myth and legend, and known for having the ability to grant wishes no longer have that power in 4e. They’re still powerful and dangerous opponents, but they won’t be granting PCs wishes any more.

Wish is gone. Is this a good thing? Was it too powerful for PCs in the first place? With every new edition of D&D we got more and more guidelines in the PHB about what a wish could do. In essence the game’s creators tried to define the boundaries of its power. But the very nature of a wish carries with it an unlimited potential, regardless of “suggested uses” listed in the rule book. I think wish needed to be removed to keep the playing field (somewhat) level, but the image of the Wizard as the most powerful character has definitely taken a serious hit because of it.

What do you think? Did you even notice that wish was gone? Should wish be introduced to 4e D&D? How would you keep things balanced with this kind of power available to only one class?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Swordgleam September 25, 2009 at 9:48 am

People in your groups actually made wishes? On purpose?

Our group was terrified of anything that granted us wishes. No matter how carefully they were worded, they always came back to hurt us. We’d usually try to wish for something incredibly simple, just to avoid catastrophe.

If they did put Wish in 4e, I’m 100% certain it would be a level 30 Ritual. So any class could have it.

2 Phaezen September 25, 2009 at 9:58 am

If I were to put wish back into my 4e campaign, I would do it either as a plot device, or as a Divine Boon, as per DMG2.

As Swordgleam noted, wishes should almost always be a double edged sword with plot implications later in the game.
.-= Phaezen´s last blog ..World Wide D&D Game Day: Dungeon Masters Guide 2 =-.

3 Wyatt September 25, 2009 at 10:15 am

Wish should be something, in my opinion, that players cannot get to use consistently. It should not be a spell or a ritual. Like Phaezen said, a plot device or Divine Boon would work. As for wishes in previous editions, I agree with Swordgleam and take it one step further – whenever I found an artifact, I tossed it in a river. Deck of Many Things? Threw it into a well. Back in older editions, it was not worth it being screwed over by that crap.

In my Spirits of Eden campaign setting, there is a Spirit called a Hoitoki. In its monster block, it has the ability to grant a single wish once per day. But it must grant it voluntarily. It’s a very rare monster and it is much sought after, and it makes for a cool plot, especially if someone is competing with the PCs to get that creature and wish for something terrible (Hoitoki wishes don’t have very many limits.)
.-= Wyatt´s last blog ..10 Things You Must Know About The Spirits of Eden =-.

4 Saragon September 25, 2009 at 10:37 am

I’m in agreement with Wyatt and Phaezen — a Wish effect ought not to be at a player’s beck and call, but rather a unique opportunity granted by something uniquely powerful.

I personally think that wishes ought to have a certain karmic consideration attached to them. A selfish wish acquired from an unsavory creature or ritual, or a magic item that makes wishes just too easy (e.g. the classic Monkey’s Paw) will certainly have negative consequences the players couldn’t have foreseen (very much in line with early D&D wish effects.) However, a wish earned from some good-aligned power or item, and used for something other than personal gain — to protect a city, help defeat a demon, whatever — ought to not only have the wished-for effect, but good side effects.

5 Swordgleam September 25, 2009 at 10:38 am

I like your strategy, Wyatt. Our half-orc fighter stumbled across the Deck once… that ended very poorly. I think that’s where our terror of wishes originated.

6 DeadGod September 25, 2009 at 11:04 am

I agree with everyone above: wishing should be something rare and special. It seems a wish is a prime candidate to embed in an artifact.

Another way to limit the power of wishing is to limit its scope. Maybe the Abyssal Tooth Dagger artifact only grants wishes to harm people. Gorbert’s Cooking Spoon only grants wishes to make food better. The Djinn of Commerce can only grant wishes that give you money.
.-= DeadGod´s last blog ..Zombie Metrics =-.

7 justaguy September 25, 2009 at 11:27 am

I’ll agree with wishes being rare… but I HATE (yes, in all caps) the whole BS about screwing people over who are making wishes. I just hate people being pedantic, and using the wordings of wishes to screw people over is pedantry in the highest form, IMO. I pretty much always go for what I view as the spirit of a wish, as opposed to the letter.

If you want to have limitations on the wish, sure. The effect has to be one time, or permanent, or can only effect you, or whatever seems appropriate for the circumstances… but if you are handing out wishes to the players, they should probably not be a means for you to bitch slap them for being a little sloppy on their wording. Unless that’s the whole point of handing it out…

8 cynicaloptimist September 25, 2009 at 12:00 pm

From a mechanical standpoint, it seems like functionality similar to the classic ‘Wish/Miracle’ spell would be better suited to an epic destiny. Build an entire epic destiny (which would, I suppose, have any divine or arcane class as a prerequisite) around the concept of open-ended power, with similar limitations to its 3.5 incarnations. That way, a character can get their wish, and it will replace the other OMGHAX powers they get at high levels.

9 Hungry September 25, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Like you, I miss the wish spell. Now, I’m mainly a GM, not a player, and I’ve never had a character come close to attaining the wish spell through any means. However, as a GM, I’ve had a handful of characters reach this pinnacle of power. It was quite a bit of fun watching the players twitch and writhe as they pulled out their “lawyer hats” to come up with a wish that couldn’t be warped and twisted. In the end, I usually gave the player what they wished for without much recrimination or ill-effect… unless they just went way overboard with their wish.
.-= Hungry´s last blog ..Adventure Hook: Internet Missing =-.

10 xerosided September 25, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I’ll see your epic destiny, cynicaloptimist, and raise you one too. I think Wish would be a great epic destiny in and of itself; Let that be the ultimate goal your PC strives for, the acquisition of a single, unrestricted wish spell. Essentially you’re working toward the chance to permanently change the entire world (or even the entire cosmos) for better or for worse. This way it doesn’t affect the game in any way, because it only comes into play at the game’s end.

11 Ameron September 25, 2009 at 1:27 pm

I agree that if PCs are to get access to wish in 4e, a level 30 ritual seems like the right way to do it.

Divine Boon is an excellent idea. This might be better than a ritual as it would have tighter control. Good call.

As a DM who ran high-level games where PCs had wish, I absolutely agree that it’s not something that should be treated like and at-will power. My favourite way to keep things balanced was to charge the PCs some material component that was so rare they could only use the spell once in a blue moon.

I like your suggestion that if the motive is pure the intent of the wish supersedes the words of the spell. If the PC wanted to use wish to free the imprisoned king or save a dying world, I’m not going to be petty enough to manipulate the wording and screw them over. Now if they’re greedy, as you noted, then I’m going to pull all the stops and make things a lot more difficult for them.

I’ve lost more PCs to the Deck of Many Things than all other items, weapons and monsters combined. It’s fun to play with but one bad pull and you’re totally screwed. Perhaps I should resist the temptation to draw a card if any of my current PCs find a deck. The only way that would happen is if I throw the deck away as you suggest.

Limiting the wish to the parameters of the item or being granting the wish is a great idea. I’d have never thought of it, but it makes a lot of sense.

As discussed, if the intent of the wish is pure I don’t usually mess with the PCs. But if they start abusing wishes or try to use them inappropriately then I’m going to play with the words to mess with them. Of course if I’m going to take this route, I do inform the PCs before they actually cast the spell and speak the words. That way if they still opt to proceed they’ve been forewarned.

When I was looking through the books while writing this article that’s exactly where I expected to find wish in 4e. If you choose an epic destiny where it makes sense to have a wish granting power then I have no objections to it. Perhaps we’ll see something along these lines in Arcane Power 2, Divine Power 2 or the PHB3.

You and I seem to be graduates of the same school of DMing. I find I have more fun making the PCs squirm while they try to come up with the precise working then I do in actually granting the wish. And like you I usually just grant the wish unless they’ve been particularly greedy or selfish.

I like this concept a lot. It’s the kind of epic destiny I’d strive for if I was an arcane caster or a powerful divine PC. Let’s see if Wizards agrees and put something out in a future release.

12 Saragon September 25, 2009 at 2:36 pm

I like your suggestion that if the motive is pure the intent of the wish supersedes the words of the spell. If the PC wanted to use wish to free the imprisoned king or save a dying world, I’m not going to be petty enough to manipulate the wording and screw them over. Now if they’re greedy, as you noted, then I’m going to pull all the stops and make things a lot more difficult for them.

It’s not so much a question of “purity” of motive so much as a general idea that “what goes around comes around”. Of course, it’s also a balancing mechanic — the reason for the “screw you” tradition that’s built up around wish/miracle is that they can dramatically unbalance the game by granting power without the expenditure of any resources. The unforeseen consequences of a wish bring back some of that balance by making the characters react to something they didn’t expect. However, a wish expended on something other than the player characters (“I wish for the town’s curse to be lifted”, that sort of thing) or obtained at great expense of resources (“survive the harrowing climb to the top of Mount Yougetonewish and you’ll get a one-time wish spell”), ought to be likewise balanced out, especially in the former case. After all, the wish likely completed some sort of quest — why turn it against them?

13 Zzarchov September 25, 2009 at 6:15 pm

I always used wish, However the limit I always placed on it was the number of words that counted.

No powerpoint slides or essays with difficult if/then structures of wishes.

Add in a dozen or less words with “I wish” taking up two. The need to corrupt and manipulate is much, much less and the fun far higher (IMO)
.-= Zzarchov´s last blog ..You should fear the night =-.

14 Zzarchov September 25, 2009 at 7:31 pm

This actually inspired me to write more on the subject, Thanks Ameron..its hard to find good inspiration and you stir up all kinds of lively thoughts and debate!
.-= Zzarchov´s last blog ..Balancing the Wish Spell =-.

15 Anders Hällzon September 26, 2009 at 9:11 am

Blog pimping time! I wrote about wishing here.
Taking wish out of the hands of high level wizards and relegating it to “plot device” status lets it be both more powerful (since it’s limited) and leaves you more free to screw over the character according to the granter’s wishes (since the PC hasn’t spent a load of XP on casting it, as per 3.x Wish).
.-= Anders Hällzon´s last blog ..Converting White Plume Mountain, Part 2: Examining The Branches =-.

16 Gerg September 26, 2009 at 9:45 am

I’ll go you one better: illusions are gone. in 1 and 2 e, a wizards could create anything with an illusion, and the DM had to account for why the orcs charged a wolverine the cleric summoned but didn’t flee from a dragon the wizard ‘summoned.’ 3e tried to manage wide range of what was possible but in 4e illusions are just like any other attack.

17 Ameron September 29, 2009 at 3:05 pm

It sounds like you’re talking about karma. Since wish has the potential to shape worlds the PCs need to be careful with how they use it. Subverting the intent of the spell just to pull one over on the PCs seems petty. I would only take the “screw you” mentality if they act without any thought of the consequences.

Limit the number of words… awesome idea.

Great follow-up article. I’m glad we could serve as your muse.

@Anders Hällzon
It seems that the creators of 4e D&D felt much the same way you do about wish. The DM is still free to use it as a story device, but it’s no long in the hands of PCs.

Illusions have always been more of a role-playing device in my games. A Wizard who has to rely on trickery never seems to do well in the combat-heavy situations D&D so often drops them into.

18 ThunderHog January 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Alright, so I’m currently DMing a 4E game of my own – it’s my first time DMing ever! Before doing so, I was a player of 3.5 – not much, but I did some pretty sweet things (AKA, taking over and ruling an entire continent – we had a really cool DM, which that DM is currently in my game). Anyway, I’m currently planning on giving my characters a Wish Scroll. However, only one of my PCs has the ability to use rituals (ironically, it’s the fighter as well as the 3.5 DM).

Granted, they’re going to have to earn it, but still – ya know what I mean. I didn’t plan on making any restrictions to the wish, but after reading through this topic I might decide to make it a ‘limited wish’ – I’m not sure if I’m gonna put it in an item or not, probably just make it a basic scroll. The best part is is that they may skip it altogether – the area in which this item is located is by no means a place that the PCs MUST go to. It is literally a side-quest that they currently know about and have already scouted out the area.

The level of the PCs is relatively low (11 is the highest – I’d say that there average level is 9). Basically, what I’m doing here is asking for advice. What do you guys think I should do and/or how I should go about doing it?

19 Ameron January 28, 2010 at 12:18 pm

If you feel comfortable introducing a Wish into your game then be prepared. A wish is one of the most powerful forces of chaos out there. Your PCs will expect to get whatever they wish for, so be ready.

The only advice I’d give is to try and introduce guidelines around what the wish is capable of doing. Maybe they need the wish to accomplish a goal that is otherwise impossible. If this is the case then you have a pretty good idea of how they’ll use the wish if they get it. But just introducing it as random treasure can lead to disaster (for you as the DM). Nothing angers PCs more than having the DM give them something cool and then not letting them use it.

20 ThunderHog January 30, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Well, the “leader” of the party is a very responsible and a goody two-shoes kinda person. He’d probably use it to wish for the good-will of others. It’s kind of sickening if you think about it. XD

Also, that person is rather knowledgeable when it comes to D&D rules and stuff. He knows the rules / regulations / repercussions that could and/or would come along with such a spell. He would probably be the kind of person that would rather destroy an item such as that than use it – but either way, yes I do feel rather comfortable giving it to them. Mainly because I wanna watch the party fight over it since they all have rather conflicting views of how things should be. Even their alignments are conflicting. The three main members of the party are Lawful Good (his most recent actions are pushing the ‘Lawful’ part away a little bit), Chaotic Good, and Evil. It’s rather humorous.

I love it when they start in-fighting. It’s great! XD

21 Ameron February 2, 2010 at 11:32 am

Sounds like you’re ready to introduce “Wish” to your campaign. Good luck and have fun.

22 Evalis March 8, 2011 at 2:21 am

I’m highly against wish in any of it’s forms making it’s way back into 4e. Even wishing for something that is altruistic can have the reprecussion of completely destroying a story arc you had prepared. The idea of adding it to an epic class seems silly since you are essentially ‘wishing’ for the game to end.

The best mechanic provided by wish was the inherent stat bonuses, which have been adequately covered already by 4e.

23 MatthewW June 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I find it a huge plot point of mine that Wish is absolutely require (btw wish was added in 4e as a Scoll of Wish good for a one time only use and could only be used by epic tier player) Anyway I let the demons have powerful substance that basically let them topple all realms of D&D, quite by accident i assure you. In the following war the only way to right the wrong was with Wish, it couldn’t destroy the substance entirely but it could erase the layer of the abyss it originated from. My players had to defeat the 6 aspects of a god to acquire the scroll, and when they obtained it they were asked to perform another task after they made their wish in recompence and that was to find 4 missing ancient artifacts.

24 Grymm February 22, 2013 at 3:08 pm

“A Wizard with wish eclipsed all other PCs, even a Paladin with a holy avenger.”

And yet you still somehow wonder why Wish was removed?

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