Deep Dive - The Wish Spell

Deep Dive - The Wish Spell

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“I wish for a pony, a crown, and a Staff of the Magi.”

The Wish spell is one of the original spells in D&D. Some people love the spell, some people hate the spell, and most of us spend our time figuring out how to get wording of our wish exactly right so the DM doesn’t screw us over. Wish is probably the most discussed and argued over spell in D&D, since what you can and cannot do is the subject of endless debate. No two DM’s we have played with have allowed the wish spell to do the same thing. While the spell description gives some guidelines as to the specific things that can happen, the DM has probably more latitude with this spell than any other.

Stephen would like everyone to know he has 3 rules for Wish:
One sentence, must start with the words “I Wish for…”, and be said in 6 seconds.
In return, he promises to his players to not be an asshole and only manipulate their wish for the sake of the game and story.

Chris thinks this is all bullshit.

How did wish get this way? Let’s take a look at the Wish spell throughout the history of D&D


There was no wish spell in the original D&D (and many people probably would have preferred it stayed that way). The first mention of the wish spell was presented in the Greyhawk supplement 1, released in 1976. The wish was basically split into two parts - limited wish and wish.

Limited Wish
7th Level Magic User
A spell which alters reality past, present, or future, but only within limited bounds. It cannot create or bring any form of treasure, for example, and only a portion of a wish might actually occur. (See DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, MONSTERS & TREASURE, page 33, Three Wishes.)

9th Level Magic User
The same spell as found in a Ring of Wishes (DUNGEONS AND 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 2-8 days.

The referenced wish information above is from the Ring of Three Wishes, which states the following:

Ring of Three Wishes (DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, MONSTERS & TREASURE)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 wish 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 great treasure are made.

Lots of information here, but at the same time, so much more is left unsaid. Limited wish is more of an alter time spell. Based on the description, you cannot expect to receive much of anything physical, such as magic items or gold. But by being able to change the timeline, here’s a few examples that we can think of that limited wish could be used for

Past - Change the outcome of a fight. Change what a NPC said to you. Go back to a time before a player died

Present - Change your location to a different town, continent or even possibly plane. Change the outcome of a saving throw, ability check or attack roll.

Future - Change the probable outcome of fight that is going poorly. Your status within society, such as making yourself a knight or noble.

The ability to change future is probably the most interesting, and most complicated. Changing the future has the most potential for being a workaround to get something resembling wealth. By changing the future you might decide to make yourself king of the land. By doing so, one might assume that you could have all the riches you could ever want, not to mention a castle, armed guards at your disposal, and a beautiful queen at your side.

This is where Gary G. has decided to add his usual “fuck you” to OD&D rules. He spends more time giving the DM suggestions on how to screw over the character’s wish than he does describing the actual spell. Sure, the basic concept of what a wish is seems pretty straight forward, but in reality it’s not. Why just give examples on how to mess with people? It’s one thing to maintain balance, it’s another to actively they to screw the player over.

So, using the example above of changing the future, the DM may say “sure, you can be a king” but based on how Gary describes the spell, the DM may decide to have you constantly under siege from neighboring kingdoms so you are spending all your money on paying your troops, weapons and castle fortifications. Oh, and your wife was from an arranged marriage and she is more of a troll than a blushing bride.

The Wish spell also relies on the rules set in the Ring of Three Wishes, but has no limitations except for spell exhaustion. Based on the information given (or lack thereof), the player can now ask for pretty much anything. But once again, the focus seems to be on screwing the player over, regardless of what they wish for.


In 2e, the spells mostly stay the same but without the helpful tips on how to screw over your players. For the sake of time we will be skipping out on the Limited Wish spell from here on out.

Wish (Conjuration/Summoning)
Range: Unlimited
Components: V
Duration: Special
Casting Time: Special
Area of Effect: Special
Saving Throw: Special
The Wish spell is a more potent version of a limited wish. If it is used to alter reality with respect to damage sustained by a party, to bring a dead creature to life, or to escape from a difficult situation by lifting the spellcaster (and his party) from one place to another, it will not cause the wizard any disability. Other forms of wishes, however, cause the spellcaster to weaken (-3 on Strength) and require 2d4 days of bed rest due to the stresses the wish places upon time, space. and his body. Regardless of what is wished for, the exact tenninology of the wish spell is likely to be carried out. Casting a wish spell ages the caster five years.
This discretionary power of the DM is necessary in order to maintain game balance. As wishing another creature dead would be grossly unfair, for example, your DM might well advance the spellcaster to a future period in which the creature is no longer alive, effectively putting the wishing character out of the campaign.

As far as spell descriptions go, this is pretty quick and to the point. It is interesting that it makes no mention of copying the effects of other spells without sadness visited upon the body of the spellcaster as later editions make a note of, but it does give several things a Wizard could wish for without disabilities like: healing, resurrection and teleportation (or if you are a real hardass and going by the specific wording of the spell: Levitate).

We do appreciate the last paragraph letting the DM(and players) know that this spell is complete bonkers and asking for anything that might affect the story or be a huge McGuffin for the party may be adjusted to fit your Wish casting, even if it isn’t what you may specifically want. This latitude give the DM a power over the spell that, quite frankly, is needed. Wish is a game breaker spell, and if the player chooses to fall back on RAW, this simple paragraph lets the DM rein in a player’s crazier desires. This caveat is included, in some fashion, for all future editions.


As with all things 3.5, things get a lot more complex, and it may not always be for the better. Hold on tight, this is a lot of information.

Level: Sor/Wiz 9
Components: V, XP
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: See text
Target, Effect, or Area:See text
Duration:See text
Saving Throw:See text
Spell Resistance:Yes
Wish is the mightiest spell a wizard or sorcerer can cast. By simply speaking aloud, you can alter reality to better suit you.
Even wish, however, has its limits.

A wish can produce any one of the following effects.
• Duplicate any wizard or sorcerer spell of 8th level or lower, provided the spell is not of a school prohibited to you.
• Duplicate any other spell of 6th level or lower, provided the spell is not of a school prohibited to you.
• Duplicate any wizard or sorcerer spell of 7th level or lower even if it’s of a prohibited school.
• Duplicate any other spell of 5th level or lower even if it’s of a prohibited school.
• Undo the harmful effects of many other spells, such as geas/quest or insanity.
• Create a nonmagical item of up to 25,000 gp in value.
• Create a magic item, or add to the powers of an existing magic item.
• Grant a creature a +1 inherent bonus to an ability score. Two to five wish spells cast in immediate succession can grant a creature a +2 to +5 inherent bonus to an ability score (two wishes for a +2 inherent bonus, three for a +3 inherent bonus, and so on). Inherent bonuses are instantaneous, so they cannot be dispelled. Note: An inherent bonus may not exceed +5 for a single ability score, and inherent bonuses to a particular ability score do not stack, so only the best one applies.
• Remove injuries and afflictions. A single wish can aid one creature per caster level, and all subjects are cured of the same kind of affliction. For example, you could heal all the damage you and your companions have taken, or remove all poison effects from everyone in the party, but not do both with the same wish. A wish can never restore the experience point loss from casting a spell or the level or Constitution loss from being raised from the dead.
• Revive the dead. A wish can bring a dead creature back to life by duplicating a resurrection spell. A wish can revive a dead creature whose body has been destroyed, but the task takes two wishes, one to recreate the body and another to infuse the body with life again. A wish cannot prevent a character who was brought back to life from losing an experience level.
• Transport travelers. A wish can lift one creature per caster level from anywhere on any plane and place those creatures anywhere else on any plane regardless of local conditions. An unwilling target gets a Will save to negate the effect, and spell resistance (if any) applies.
• Undo misfortune. A wish can undo a single recent event. The wish forces a reroll of any roll made within the last round (including your last turn). Reality reshapes itself to accommodate the new result. For example, a wish could undo an opponent’s successful save, a foe’s successful critical hit (either the attack roll or the critical roll), a friend’s failed save, and so on. The reroll, however, may be as bad as or worse than the original roll. An unwilling target gets a Will save to negate the effect, and spell resistance (if any) applies.

You may try to use a wish to produce greater effects than these, but doing so is dangerous. (The wish may pervert your intent into a literal but undesirable fulfillment or only a partial fulfillment.)
Duplicated spells allow saves and spell resistance as normal (but save DCs are for 9th-level spells).
Material Component: When a wish duplicates a spell with a material component that costs more than 10,000 gp, you must provide that component.
XP Cost: The minimum XP cost for casting wish is 5,000 XP. When a wish duplicates a spell that has an XP cost, you must pay 5,000 XP or that cost, whichever is more. When a wish creates or improves a magic item, you must pay twice the normal XP cost for crafting or improving the item, plus an additional 5,000 XP.

Whew. That’s a whole lot of rules and stipulations, and my least favorite part about it… It costs XP to cast! We suppose that is one way to keep your players in check, but still, that’s a hefty price to pay for something that the DM is going to corrupt and twist your words on.

But… its probably for the best that we add a few rules to the Wish spell and limit its power. You aren’t a god after all, just a mortal with a nasty spell that can change the shape of the world and time itself. You know, a normal tuesday for an adventurer.

We really like that we add some limitations to the Wish spell after years and editions of unlimited power that the DM is instructed to mess with. The players now have a clear set of things suggested that can can/should do. And while they do have the opportunity to try and use the spell for something greater and more powerful than actions listed, the DM is again given some latitude to make sure the players don’t do something completely outlandish.


Once again, 4e follows none of the rules as the previous editions. The Wish spells has been removed from list of spells available to players, and has become more of a plot device for the DM to use during the campaign.

And that is fucking awesome.

For all the bashing that 4e has taken, this is arguably the best thing I have seen in 4e (ok, there are a bunch of really good things in 4e, but this easily my favorite). Taking the ability to cast Wish out of hands of players alleviates so many issues and give the DM the latitude to make a wish something really important. And isn’t that the whole point of a wish?


9 conjuration 
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard

Wish is the mightiest spell a mortal creature can cast. By simply speaking aloud, you can alter the very foundations of reality in accord with your desires.

The basic use of this spell is to duplicate any other spell of 8th level or lower. You don’t need to meet any requirements in that spell, including costly components. The spell simply takes effect.

Alternatively, you can create one of the following effects of your choice:
You create one object of up to 25,000 gp in value that isn’t a magic item. The object can be no more than 300 feet in any dimension, and it appears in an unoccupied space you can see on the ground.
You allow up to twenty creatures that you can see to regain all hit points, and you end all effects on them described in the greater restoration spell.
You grant up to ten creatures that you can see resistance to a damage type you choose.
You grant up to ten creatures you can see immunity to a single spell or other magical effect for 8 hours. For instance, you could make yourself and all your companions immune to a lich’s life drain attack.
You undo a single recent event by forcing a reroll of any roll made within the last round (including your last turn). Reality reshapes itself to accommodate the new result. For example, a wish spell could undo an opponent’s successful save, a foe’s critical hit, or a friend’s failed save. You can force the reroll to be made with advantage or disadvantage, and you can choose whether to use the reroll or the original roll.

You might be able to achieve something beyond the scope of the above examples. State your wish to the GM as precisely as possible. The GM has great latitude in ruling what occurs in such an instance; the greater the wish, the greater the likelihood that something goes wrong. This spell might simply fail, the effect you desire might only be partly achieved, or you might suffer some unforeseen consequence as a result of how you worded the wish. For example, wishing that a villain were dead might propel you forward in time to a period when that villain is no longer alive, effectively removing you from the game. Similarly, wishing for a legendary magic item or artifact might instantly transport you to the presence of the item’s current owner.

The stress of casting this spell to produce any effect other than duplicating another spell weakens you. After enduring that stress, each time you cast a spell until you finish a long rest, you take 1d10 necrotic damage per level of that spell. This damage can’t be reduced or prevented in any way. In addition, your Strength drops to 3, if it isn’t 3 or lower already, for 2d4 days. For each of those days that you spend resting and doing nothing more than light activity, your remaining recovery time decreases by 2 days. Finally, there is a 33 percent chance that you are unable to cast wish ever again if you suffer this stress.

At last we reach 5e which does a good job of taking what 3e has to offer and putting a spin on it. We have limits on the Wish spell (good) and a pretty big con, a 33% chance of never casting Wish again. Whew, that’ll put your wish for a pony on hold when you may never be able to cast your Hail Mary spell again.

Once again, more detail on what a character can and cannot do is specified in the description of the spell. Also, the penalties now aren’t quite as harsh as the previous versions. The wording allows the DM to be creative is how he/she can handle some of the more absurd requests. This makes it interesting and challenging for both the player and the DM.

In conclusion, the Wish spell can be a complete game breaker, but only if the players try to pull some stupid shit and the DM allows it. Wish can be a great spell, as it gives the spell caster the ability to create their own fun and/or get the party of some deep shit. Our final thoughts on the spell are below.

Stephen - I like, as in older editions, the limitless potential a Wish spell can create, but sometimes a player is willing to ruin their fun by wishing for something ridiculous, like being a god or that the BBEG dies. GMs need to be on their toes when their players get access to Wish.

Chris - As far as I am concerned, Stephen should be worried if I ever get a chance to cast Wish, cause I’m finally getting my War Elephant mount, and there is nothing he can do about it.

Art Credit: Lisa Hunt

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