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A friend of mine was wondering about the history of the wish spell in Dungeons and Dragons. It is his suspicion that the spell “only” exists because they needed something for genies to cast to work in the famous Arabian folklore. Obviously, wishes are a large part of the folklore of many cultures, but his understanding is that genies are the only (famous) case of getting a “free” wish for anything you like (as opposed to specific deals with devils or bargains with fey).

Therefore, I am interested in answers to the following questions:

  • When was wish, or the ability to make wishes and have them magically fulfilled, added to Dungeons & Dragons?
  • Was wish originally a spell, or did it ever exist in non-spell form (a particular ability of genies, perhaps?)
  • Does anyone know of any information on why wish was added to Dungeons and Dragons? Did any of the authors ever comment on the decision to write and include the spell?

Anyone who can provide answers to any or all of these would help.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 17 down vote accepted

According to my Greyhawk book (published in 1976)

On page 20 is the extended wizard spell list, on the lower right corner"

  • "9th Level (all new)" - so the 9th level wizard spells were first introduced in this book

  • spell #6 in the 9th level list is "Wish"

On page 28, about 1/2 way down the page

  • "Wish: The same spell as found in a Ring of Wishes (DUNGEON AND DRAGONS, MONSTERS & TREASURES, 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."

My thought on the reasoning was to give an explanation on how high level wizards were able to create the rings, since a player character could purchase one in the first OD&D books. And to give the wizard players something to look forward too at high level. I don't have documentation on this conjecture.

In OD&D Monsters and Treasures (1974) on Page 33

  • "Three Wishes: 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."

Several items have Wish enchantment

  • On page 23 - "Sword +1 , Wishes Included (2-8 Wishes)"

  • On page 25 - rings of "Three Wishes" and "Many Wishes (4-24)"

In OD&D Monsters and Treasures, the reference for Djinn and Efreet on page 19

  • DJINN: All Djinn are aerial creatures and have not the powers typically credited to them in fairy tales. They fight as Giants with a -1 as far as damage is concerned, thus doing from 1-11 points of damage when hitting. They can carry up to 6,000 Gold Pieces in weight, walking or flying (the latter for short periods only). They can create food which is nutritionally sound. They can create drinkable beverages. They can create soft goods and wooden objects of permanence, but metallic items last but a short time when created by them (the harder the metal the shorter its life), so that Djinn-Gold lasts but one day. They can create illusions which will remain until dispelled by touch or magic, and they need not concentrate upon the illusions to maintain them. They can form a whirlwind 1" base diameter, 2" top diameter, and 3" in height which otherwise is like that of an Air Elemental. Djinn are also able to become invisible or assume gaseous form.

  • EFREET: These creatures are similar to the Djinn, but their basis is in fire and they tend to be Chaotic. Their fabled home is the City of Brass. They are enemies of the Djinn. The Efreet are otherwise like Djinn, with damage scored equal to that done by a Giant (two dice, 2-12 points), and they can carry up to 10,000 Gold Pieces weight. In addition they can create a Wall of Fire and they can become incendiaries. They will serve for 1001 days.

If there is an earlier reference, I haven't seen it. Neither seems to have direct references to wishes

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Very nice; I’d be interested if you could expand this to also cover the ring of wishes if that is, in fact, the first instance of the wish effect. Still, the fact that the effect originated with the ring, rather than genies, does seem to kibosh my friend’s conjecture. –  KRyan Feb 6 at 2:02
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there are no obvious references, back then we had to take a lot on faith and handwaving. The usual interpretation is that the original Wish spell was a true WISH in the fairytale sense of the word, with all the power that implied –  SteveED Feb 6 at 2:24
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the interesting text is "...and have not the powers typically credited to them" –  SteveED Feb 6 at 3:41
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@tpg2114 D&Ds prior to 3e used table inches for all measurements, a holdover from when combat used the Chainmail wargaming rules. Since the rules used different scales inside and outside, table inches were retained as the base unit of reference long after miniatures were no longer used for combat. Inside a table inch is 10 feet, outside it's 10 yards. So they could create a 30-foot-tall whirlwind in the dungeon, and a 30-yard-tall one in the wilderness. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 6 at 5:01
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@SteveED I'm not sure that "since a player character could purchase one in the first OD&D books" is accurate. As far as I'm aware, the default before 3e (barring the DM introducing a house rule) was that magic items could not be bought. Otherwise, great research! –  SevenSidedDie Feb 6 at 5:03

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