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Could you have an ironclad wish that makes you young with no unsavory consequences? My attempt was:

"I wish for just my body to be young again but to keep all of my physical and magical prowess"

The "I wish for just my body to be young again" part of the wish would stop the entire world from going back in time, and stop the DM from making everything around the character very old, so that in comparison, their body is young. And since the PC keeps all of their the mental, physical, and magic prowess, the DM cannot reverse time so that the PC is back at lvl 1.

I know that if the DM really wanted to, he could make an unforeseen consequence that would be unrelated to going back in time, and just punish the character, but I would like for some other minds to ponder this with me.

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The spell description gives the DM liberty to rule however they want, even up to ruling that the spell simply fails.

When making a wish for something outside the scope of the given examples, the spell description (PHB, pg. 288) gives the DM total freedom to rule however they like:

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.

So even if you studied contract law and worded your wish in such a way to be technically free from any linguistic loop holes, the spell description gives the DM explicit liberty to simply say: "Your wish fails."

Access to wish should trigger a series of conversations between the players and the DM.

D&D 5e is decisively not a "players vs. DM" game.1 Working together to create a fun and enjoyable social space is the player-DM relationship described in the game rules, as presented in the introduction to the Dungeon Master's Guide (pg. 4-5):

The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren’t in charge. You’re the DM, and you are in charge of the game. That said, your goal isn’t to slaughter the adventurers but to create a campaign world that revolves around their actions and decisions, and to keep your players coming back for more! If you’re lucky, the events of your campaign will echo in the memories of your players long after the final game session is concluded.

[...]

The success of a D&D game hinges on your ability to entertain the other players at the game table. Whereas their role is to create characters (the protagonists of the campaign), breathe life into them, and help steer the campaign through their characters’ actions, your role is to keep the players (and yourself) interested and immersed in the world you’ve created, and to let their characters do awesome things.

Knowing what your players enjoy most about the D&D game helps you create and run adventures that they will enjoy and remember. Once you know which of the following activities each player in your group enjoys the most, you can tailor adventures that satisfy your players’ preferences as much as possible, thus keeping them engaged.

What we often see with wish is DMs twisting the wording of the wish into undesirable outcomes, and being aware of this possibility, we see this endless cycle of linguistic one-upmanship where players try to word their wishes as precisely as possible, and DMs try to find the loophole.

Let's break the cycle.

I have had great success with wish, both as a player and a DM, and this success depends on one thing: communication out of game between the player and the DM. As a player, when you get access to the wish spell, it is time to have a conversation about how the table wants to handle the spell. As a DM, this is the first of many conversations I will have about the spell. When a player gets access to a wish, I like to talk about what my personal limitations are as a DM and my philosophy for its use. Much like Genie from Aladdin, I like to establish three things:

  • Wishes should be worded as non-meta as possible, though I will be flexible about this, so let's talk about it.
  • Wishes that make changes to the game rules are probably just not going to happen, but let's talk about it.
  • If you are cool with me twisting wishes, I'll twist them while trying to keep things fun, if you aren't cool with twisting wishes, I'll tell you beforehand if it will work as intended.

We're going to talk a lot about wish once it is available, and if you aren't into wishes being twisted, we're going to talk about it some more every time you cast it. At my tables, I have had great success with telling my players what the outcome of the wish will be before we set it in stone. Let's be real, everyone wants to use wish to make something cool happen. And as a DM, I am 100% on board with making this happen. So when a player wants to cast wish, we workshop together what it's going to look like.

I use wish as an opportunity to let my players participate in world building.

After all, this is the entire premise of the spell:

you can alter the very foundations of reality in accord with your desires.

Rather than viewing wish as a player vs. DM pedantry contest, view wish as a tool for letting your players shape the world with the power of their voices. And as always, communication is key. Talk about these things, workshop these ideas together.


1 It should be mentioned that a "players vs DM" style of play is not "bad wrong fun", rather it is a style of play that should be agreed upon prior to starting play. The cooperative style of play is the default style for Dungeons & Dragons, as outlined in the DMG quotes, but when everyone agrees upon a "players vs DM" style of play, it can work just fine. It is when the players expect a cooperative style and the DM is competing against them that we run into conflict.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Worse yet, DM may decide that the effect you desire might only be partly achieved, ignore part of the wish and go creative with what's left. And it'll still be within the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot May 17 at 22:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot "Your wish has been partially granted, you will keep all your physical and magical prowess. That's it. Enjoy!" \$\endgroup\$ – David Mulder May 18 at 12:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Wish granted! Your body is once again a fetus 3 months after conception. Enjoy!" Alternatively, "Well, human, 100 years is pretty young by Elf standards, so wish granted!" \$\endgroup\$ – Seth R May 18 at 13:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I happen to be lawyer who practices in contact law in Nevada. My undergraduate degree was in mathematics with a minor in philosophy which focused on logic. I can say with great certainty that making a meaningful statement using standard English that is free from linguistic loopholes is very, very hard. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman May 18 at 16:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I'd like to have an argument please." \$\endgroup\$ – JVC May 19 at 1:09
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A list of loopholes I thought up in less than 5 minutes that don't require your DM to ignore chunks of what you wished for:

  • Your body is now too young to sustain life outside the womb (note: "Prowess" is skill, not physical attributes. You could maintain your 'level' and your 'skills' but get a body that doesn't match the skills you have)
  • Your body is very young, but not your brain because that had to stay mature to keep your prowess. Your skull is now too small for your brain and you die.
  • Your body is young, but still old enough to contain your brain...however your old brain is still degrading and you end up with dementia in your 20s.
  • Your body is made young, but you don't go with it--becoming a discorporated spirit. After all, you never specified that you should continue to be in your body.
  • Your body is young, you keep your skills and abilities, but you lose your memory. After all, memories are stored in the brain and you didn't specify you get to keep those. So young brain = cleared of your old memories

So no, this is not an ironclad wish. It took me less than 5 seconds to think up the first loophole.

However, I can present you with an ironclad wish that will achieve precisely what you're going for.

  1. Activate Wish to Replicate a spell: Clone.
  2. Wait for the Clone to become mature
  3. Self-terminate and 'respawn' in the clone

Per the description of the Clone spell...

you can also choose to have the clone be a younger version of the same creature

And, per Wish...

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.

This is the safe "nothing goes wrong" usage of Wish. So you Wish for the Clone spell to be cast on you, produce a younger version of yourself, then 'die' and come back in a younger body.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Seriously...Wizards who become liches as a means to immortality are horribly lacking in creativity. Once you hit 17th level, Immortality isn't really that hard to achieve. And as long as you use multiple Clones--you actually have better backups than a Lich does. They have a single point of failure...you have however many you want. Leave a copy of your spellbook with each of your Clone tanks, and hide them however you'd like. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty May 17 at 23:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Lichdom isn't just for achieving immortality, it's also for getting rid of all those pesky biological needs that keep interrupting your epic arcana study sessions. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 17 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ "After all, you never specified that you should continue to be in your body." – That doesn't really seem like a loophole to me. You may as well say, "Your wish takes effect as desired, but then a B-29 flies over and drops an atomic bomb on you and you die. After all, you never specified that you wouldn't have an atomic bomb dropped on you." \$\endgroup\$ – Tanner Swett May 18 at 16:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TannerSwett I can see that argument, I was running with that one based on the "Just my body" clause. By making your body young, but not you young. Not the best of loopholes, I'll admit, but feasible enough a DM could rule it that way. Aaaaaand then you're into arguing semantics with your DM on how they ruled the Wish. And that's no fun for anybody. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty May 18 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I absolutely love the "you lose your memories" loophole and almost certainly would use that. "You're now a super powerful wizard who doesn't know that he is one" is an absolutely a wonderful character. \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Phillips May 21 at 2:45
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There are no ironclad wishes

the effect you desire might only be partly achieved,

So the DM would be in his right to just ignore some of your safeguards.

This one should go as planned anyway

This is equivalent of 5th level Reincarnate spell. Wish can replicate any spell of level 8 or lower with no risk. Then it says

You might be able to achieve something beyond the scope of the above examples.

And follows on how the greater thing you want the higher risk. But you don't want anything greater. You want an effect of 5th level spell, minus the race change.

No DM I know would twist that wish meaningfully, and while what you want isn't technically on the list of surely safe things, it is certainly really close and within the power scope.

Or just use wish to cast Reincarnate.

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    \$\begingroup\$ all GMs I know will pervert that wish as told. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish May 18 at 0:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I was the GM in this situation I would be okay with dropping the random race change part of the reincarnation... oh by the way your reincarnated body is the other gender. \$\endgroup\$ – Anketam May 18 at 11:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Anketam Yea... But I'd make my player to roll for gender, height, skin and hair colour etc. It is their wish so they ought to have most of the fun and some of the blame ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot May 18 at 11:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Everybody Gangsta until the DM asks them to roll for genitals \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar May 18 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ It depends on the source of the wish. I haven't studied 5E but looking at 3E--if the wish is unwilling (say, a trapped genie) or from an evil source (say, something from the lower planes) expect twisting if at all possible. From a good or unaligned source, you're right, it should be fully granted. 3 spell levels is plenty of power to retain your current form rather than the randomness of reincarnate. \$\endgroup\$ – Loren Pechtel May 20 at 4:31
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Even setting aside the frame challenge from Thomas Markov, this is not ironclad, because you haven't defined what "young" means, or for how long you will be young, or how quickly you will age, or any other number of stipulations.

If you truly want to create an ironclad Wish, I would recommend consulting someone who specializes in contract law. There are so many terms that must be defined for the Wish to make sense, and it's unlikely to be something that rolls easily off the tongue.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very good point. The caster would need to treat this spellcasting in the same way a lawyer might treat a contract. Terms need to be defined with as much specificity as is possible and additional wording would need to be adopted to act as guidance for exceptions that might arise which are not able to be handled within the discrete purview of each definition. In this way, a creative semantic interpretation by the DM which is intended to honor the letter of the wish but not the spirit of the wish (ie a "gotcha" like those in guildsbounty's answer) would still run afoul of the intent clauses. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara May 17 at 23:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lol it’s not a frame challenge it’s just the spell description. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov May 17 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Real-life contract law doesn't work at all the same way that a "literal genie" works. If you ask a "literal genie" to give you a 10 kilogram gold bar, there's nothing stopping them from giving you a bar of some other material which is gold-colored and pointing out that that could technically be considered a "gold bar." If a real-life contract says I need to give you a 10 kilogram gold bar, then the courts will almost certainly interpret this as meaning a bar that is made of 10 kilograms of actual gold. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanner Swett May 18 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TannerSwett You are absolutely correct, but even with Courts trying to do actual justice rather than allow someone to be overly literal, genuine disputes over meaning come up a lot. With the gold bar example, how pure does it have to be? The value could vary significantly. (There is actually an industry standard for bullion, 99.5%, but does it apply in this case? Higher and lower are used). And there is a very famous case trying to answer the question "What is chicken?" \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman May 18 at 17:44
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Your wish is far from ironclad.

Actually, the rules imply the more you try to make your wish ironclad, the GM is encouraged to seek paths to pervert your wish. Let me pull an example told to me by a GM: he had a player that once made a wish spell that took about half an hour to read out. It was really really perfect... but for the last moment addition he had made: "and if possible I'd like to keep my body". Of course, he could not keep his body.

What could possibly go wrong?

I wish for just my body to be young again but to keep all of my physical and magical prowess

You wish for your body to be young again but you don't specify any other thing that could lead to your demise or things you could lose:

  • How long do you want to stay young? Here, have this second of prime 20-year-old body... and back to your old self!
  • How old do you want to be? 1 day after conception is your body. But that body is not able to sustain life outside of a womb even in the slightest. A children's body can't effectvely use your skill and ability. You're dead or a burden to the party as you are a child.
  • You clearly don't want to be free of illness. Sure you can be young again, and you get the free bonus of plague. You'll be dead soon.
  • And you don't wish to be uninjured. Of course, you'll be young, but you're also suffering from a stake through the heart. You're dead.
  • You forget to mention any memories you want to retain but your ability to fight, do magic and move as before. Here, have a new body but you can't have any of your memories, so you're amnesiac.
  • There's also nothing about wanting to keep your personality and alignment intact! Enjoy being the mirror-universe double that murders his teammates at the earliest moment he's able to!
  • And you don't want to be sane either? So you'll be a psychopath from now on.
  • You don't mention where you want to be. So your wish also brings you to a place far away. Like Hell or underwater. You'll be dead.
  • You don't wish to keep any of your equipment or possessions. You're naked and poor.
  • You don't mention that you want to be remembered, so nobody knows who you are, not even your party members.
  • You also forget to wish to not anger any deity or such. You're alive and well, but Death, Fate or some vengeful deity hates you now (made your demise their hobby?) and comes over to claim your family, friends, your dog, and your neighbors in the most gruesome way, letting you watch and then smashing your hourglass in such a way that you just stop to exist.

tl;dr:

Writing a perfect wish takes a lawyer several weeks to curb out every possibility the GM could pervert and use to destroy you. And those perfect wishes? Just don't work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It does very much depend on the DM. I for one would go, "Sure, boom! You're a baby!" Now your party has a fun side quest to work out how to make you a suitable age for adventuring. \$\endgroup\$ – user57505 May 18 at 11:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GeoffAtkins true, but even that is perverting the wish. The more ironlad you try to go, the more violating the DM should become to it \$\endgroup\$ – Trish May 18 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GeoffAtkins: First, go and find a ghost. Second, expose baby to ghost. Third, ???? Fourth, profit!! \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 18 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Death can't hate hate anyone... He has to follow the Rules. But that doesn't mean someone else can't hate you. So you become young and beautiful again, but it raises ire from all your former friends who now want to harm you out of jealous malice. Or, you get your youth by finding a secret magic fountain, and by drinking from it, you anger a clandestine but influential order of semi-immortal knights who have taken as their eternal duty to guard the fountain from being found or used by common peoples, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – ilkkachu May 19 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ilkkachu any other vengeful deity works. Or Fate. Fate can be cruel. REALLY cruel. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish May 19 at 17:29
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An ironclad wish? Oh my, no, it's not. Doesn't matter what the wording is, even up to an including professionally drawn contracts phrased as wishes, no wish is or can be ironclad... for all the reasons presented in the other answers.

Will it work though? Will you get to be young again without losing any of your abilities and so forth? That's an entirely different question, and the answer to it isn't simple.

Whenever a character uses Wish to do something the outcome rests more with the GM's desires than with how you word your wish. If the GM is looking to pervert your wish for their own reasons - whether it's malicious glee or a desire to preserve the integrity of their world - then no amount of lawyering will get you out of it. On the other hand if the GM wants you to have the outcome you desire, then that's what you'll get regardless of how you word your wish.

The fact that you're asking implies that you at least think that your GM is going to try to mess with the outcome. Maybe it's malicious, maybe just some perceived duty to the long and storied history of wishes gone wrong. We can't measure the tone from here, so take this with a grain of salt.

The Backfiring Wish trope has a lot of variation to it. Yes there are stories of unhappy genies doing their best to get some sort of revenge on their slavemasters, mischievous spirits who delight in tormenting the silly mortals and all that sort of thing, but with wish magic I would argue that when a wish goes wrong it's because the caster messed up in some way. Maybe they got the words wrong. Perhaps their visualisation of the outcome was flawed, or their concentration was a little off. Or it could be that channeling the sort of power required by the wish was just too much for them.

Which in gaming terms makes it an ideal opportunity to get a little roleplaying in. Work with your GM to make a real performance out of it. Describe the visualisation in detail, have your character take steps to ensure they won't be distracted, etc. Then cast your Wish, speak the words... and hope you've done enough to appease the deities.

I find this sort of thing much more fun than agonizing over specific wording. Sure, we don't go through this sort of thing every time we want to lob a fireball at some annoying goblins or something, but clearly a wish is something a bit more special than that. Something everyone should be having a little fun with, no?

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