Since the US government and most history ground to a halt over the weekend, I’m going to take a moment to address one of the comments on Friday’s links. I’ve gone back to reading the comments, because Aksimet cannot be trusted to distinguish rap videos from Cialis advertisements on its own. Anyway, Matt offered the following question about the Dungeons & Dragons spell Wish:
Isn’t wish open to the DM’s interpretation? Like if you wish for a meteor to crush your enemy, the DM can also have the meteor crush you? Or were my friends just major douches?
“Or,” huh? The theme of today’s post is don’t make me choose.
Let’s lay some premises first: obviously this topic is very important; when I say “Dungeons & Dragons” I mean “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” and I stopped playing between the 2nd and 3rd editions. I still refer to wizards as “magic-users,” a term Gary Gygax adopted to stop people from thinking his game would be fun. My anachronism is going to be important to anyone looking to catch me in technical misstatements about the rules, as well as to those who mistakenly believe that this theoretical discussion of a 20 year-old version of a role-playing game is not important. You guys fail your saving throws and are asleep now, so be quiet.
For the rest of us, who are normal: yes, Wish is open to dungeon master interpretation. If you are a dungeon master and have somehow allowed your players to reach level 20—possibly by starting them all at level 18—Wish is going to cause a lot of problems with your game. Casting it will age their characters three years, but that is not likely to deter players from using Wish to remake your fantasy world as they see fit, because the first time they cast it is the first time they heard anything about having an age.
So you will need to restrain your players’ wishing. One way is to limit the scope of Wish, as subsequent editions of the game did. As Matt reminds us, another and more popular approach is to grant the literal text of wishes in figuratively diabolical ways. For example, if a character wishes for a +5 sword with vorpal blade, that sword may come to him in the belly of the Tarrasque. Then he will wish he kept his Wish to make the Tarrrasque stop regenerating. In this way, player wishing can be corrected.
I daresay that there are two kinds of Dungeons and Dragons games, and by far the more numerous is the kind where any Wish is an occasion for disaster. My childhood game was of that sort, and it affected my worldview. Imagine a realm of fantasy, where anything is possible. Imagine within that fantasy a mechanism for making even more things possible. Now imagine that your logical interpretation of increased possibility is to multiply the trouble in the world.
I mention this because I recently read the New York Times obituary of one Barnaby Conrad, bullfighter and author. Surely, the Times’ are the only obituaries that consistently provoke envy. Also, Conrad got into bullfighting at age 19 after attending an event in Mexico City where, on a whim, he “leapt into the ring and challenged a bull himself, using his Brooks Brothers raincoat as a cape.”
Now there is a man who had not seen past wishes granted in diabolically ironic ways. He was at a bullfight and figured he would try fighting a bull himself—because what’s the worst that could happen? In this case, he became a pupil of Felix Guzman the matador and went on to fight more than 40 bulls in Spain. He also wrote 30 books.
The almost comically life-determining consequences of Conrad’s impulse to jump into a ring and taunt a bull with his raincoat remind us that the present moment is a wish that must be made and will be granted. One might argue that it is the constrained Wish of later editions, but I submit that the constraint lies not so much in possibility as in the specificity required to make the wish come out right. If your wish is to become a bullfighting author, you have to put a lot of scrying into determining which action in the present moment will accomplish that, but it’s still a reasonable investment compared to becoming a level 20 wizard.
Or you can wish wildly and see what happens. I personally was inoculated against this method from an early age, but history shows us that it often works. Or it rarely works, but when it does we hear about it. In any case, a thrilling world where anything can happen is exactly the game we have been given. Whether the DM is particularly stern or not is anyone’s opinion, but you cannot deny that options are available.