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So, the 5e Wish spell is effectively the "win the game" spell. I mean, one could wish that all evil in the world is gone, that the dark gods be destroyed, that reality itself unravel. Yeah, there are drawbacks, but for the potential gains, the drawbacks of wish are meaningless - heck, the players could wish that the drawbacks of wish were nonexistent, the spell is so powerful and loosely defined. However, I do want to let players cast it, if for no other reason then to see what the heck they wish for. Is there any way to balance or restrict Wish so that it doesn't automatically break the campaign, without rendering the spell pointless?

As far as I can see, there are a few main ways to "limit" the limitless spell. One way is the traditional "monkey's paw" method - give the players their wish, but in a way which renders it inneffective, useless, or even harmful to the players. For example, if a player wishes for a billion gold pieces, the gold spawns on top of them and crushes them to death. If the player wishes for their dead family to come back, they come back as zombies. This is generally the most consistent method, but my problem is that players can work around it - all they have to do is word their wish in a way where it's impossible for the genie or magic or whatever to twist their words. In other words, while more difficult, players can stil wish for pretty much anything they want even with the restriction.

Another method I myself thought of was based off a moment from the old "wishmaster" horror movies (evil genie who twists wishes, yadda yadda). Some girl wishes that the genie would be gone, but the genie can't do that, because, and I quote, "wishes can't change that which is eternal". I thought about sort of modifying this into a game thing. Like, the players COULD wish that Tiamat was obliterated, but because she's a literal god and gods are eternal, Tiamat could effectively counterspell the wish, resulting in the wish being wasted and the party having a VERY angry Tiamat on their ass.

Also, I could just ban the Wish spell altogether - but that just feels like railroading, and I mean, if a wizard gets to 9th level, you can't just tell him "you can't cast this spell" - by that logic, you may as well tell him he can't cast meteor storm or time warp or any of the other fun spells.

Finally, I could try and just give the players a list of things they couldn't wish for, a la "Aladdin" where the genie says how you can't wish for more wishes, etc etc. However, with the potential to break the campaign being so prevalent in wish, I'd have to extend the list to a ridiculous amount - "no wishing away gods", "no wishing gods couldn't affect mortals", "no wishing gods were feebleminded", etc etc. That would be boring and unfun for both me and the players, and subsequently pretty much defeat the point of Wish.

My question to fellow DM's of higher level games - what do you use to ensure that players don't totally break your campaign by just wishing the BBEG away?

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: This question can be answered by reading the text of the spell, without any real need for further clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Dec 17 '17 at 7:38
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No need to come with anything complicated here, really. Wish explicitly says (emphasis mine):

You might be able to achieve something beyond the scope of the above examples. State your wish to the DM as precisely as possible. The DM 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.

If players are going too far, you can just make the spell fail or work partially, or whatever. It's mentioned directly in the spell, which the players could (and should have) read, which means they know they can expect this to happen when they try to derail the game.

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Wish does have its limits. Like several people have said, it can simply fail. You can go monkey's paw and give them the opposite of what they mean or give them what they want by warping them into the middle of a gelatinous cube. You can be very literal with their wish wording. I feel like the rules as written is pretty balanced with the negative effects.

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...Strength drops to 3...for 2d4 days...Finally, there is a 33 percent chance that you are unable to cast wish ever again if you suffer this stress. PHB 5e

My feelings are you can balance it by getting rid of that never cast again rule.

There are a few important things to remember. D&D is not a game of winning or losing. It is co-operative storytelling. The DM's job is to paint the world and give conflict, the players give solutions and the DM turns that solution into more conflict.

What happens when the big bad suddenly goes? Is there a power vacuum? Did his followers believe in his plan? The pathos and actions that the party was following might turn sporadic.Generals might call in extended relatives and personal favors now that they have a shot at the big seat. Or maybe, that baddy was never actually the big bad and nothing has been affected.

You can also start requiring wishes of your players to go on. You can put them in an inescapable deathtrap, impossible dungeons, or enemies that need to be wished to death like the Naga.

Maybe the wish can only be conjured through a certain higher power and this could shift the favor of whatever gods have been watching the party. The players might think twice when their wish makes a literal plotting devil happy enough to reveal himself and shake their hands.

Easiest is to be honest with your players. Have them always tell you before the game if they want to try a big wish. There are very few things that you need to wish for that they couldn't just earn through play. And you should tell them this. They will understand if you are clear and honest.

Believe in your skills and your campaign, it is bigger than a compound sentence could unravel. I feel so confident in the follies of wish that I give my players access to wishes at lower levels.

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The spell description of wish already handles this. Most relevantly:

You might be able to achieve something beyond the scope of the above examples. State your wish to the DM as precisely as possible. The DM 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.

In other words, the rules explicitly state that the GM can simply say no, with or without any need for justification as to why it failed. The remainder of that portion essentially describes your "monkey's paw" response, which can be a good one.

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TL;DR: Rule 0 is always in effect.

You might be able to achieve something beyond the scope of the above examples...The DM has great latitude in ruling what occurs in such an instance, the greater the wish, the greater the likelihood that something goes wrong.

The wording of the spell actually mentions the selfsame idea you suggested first:

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.

You might also want to consider appealing to reason; if they have access to such powerful magic, and their antagonist is so credible a threat, isn't it likely that the BBEG has similarly powerful magic? And if so, there must be some reason why the BBEG hasn't already Wished them out of existence first. Most roleplayers are reasonable enough to take the hint when that line of thinking gets brought up.

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While I really think the other answers cover most of this, I just wanted to throw in, you can always play the, "from a certain point of view" card.

"I wish all the evil gods don't exist." POOF -- All gods are evil depending on who you ask so all gods are gone. There is now chaos because churches were never invented so moral anarchy rules the realms.

"I wish Tiamat is dead" CRICKETS -- Well Tiamat is now dead to you. She still exists and rules with an iron claw, but you will generally never hear about what she does.. You know, unless it directly affects you.

-alternately-

"I wish Tiamat is dead" CRICKETS -- Well, Tiamat is like a god and is not really alive, so they cannot die. However, thanks to your wish she was sent to the underworld for a microsecond (eons for her) and gained the power to harness the souls of the dead. You see an army of skeletal, zombified, and/or ghostly dragons coming to have a word with the caster.

"I wish for more wishes" POOF -- Granted, you can have unlimited wishes so long as you use them one at a time, with long rests in between, and take the time to prepare it for that day.

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"Wish" has really only ever existed in the game because of old stories in which people get wishes (and Gygax's want for D&D to include everything from every myth, tale, fantasy, book, or story ever, anywhere). It doesn't fit well with the Theory of Magic that D&D uses, and never has. I banned it (along with Limited Wish and Alter Reality) as a spell almost 40 years ago, in 1st ed., and have maintained that ban ever since. I allow room for the possibility of a legendary item having a wish in it, although I have never awarded one and probably never will. My advice is to get rid of the headaches and silliness, and just not allow the spell.

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