If You Wish Upon a Star...



or

Ultimate Power Means Ultimate Trouble





Illustration Copyright Dan Frolich -- Djinn 1 Efreeti: Now did you just say you wanted me to raze all your ability scores?
Naive Adventurer: Well, yes . . .





A woefully underplayed facet of adventure gaming is the wish. Most game masters excuse themselves from use of them with phrases like "But wishes are too powerful--They unbalance the game!" or "But wishes are supposed to be rare and precious!" Well, pardon my saying so, but so are fabulous beasts, of which there is an unsightly profusion in most campaigns.


Given that instance as a starting point, let me add to the case: In classical folklore, wishes are exactly as common as dragons, and it would be a hard contest to decide which of the two is more perilous to would-be heroes since few wishes if any have ever had completely happy results.


Still, many game masters will shake their heads, thinking, But the people in those stories were careless and stupid. You don't know my gamers--They're clever and greedy. Clever and greedy? All the better! For you see, wishes may differ in power and effect, and with a little creativity, not only can the nasty practice of denying an overly clever wish be done away with, but an old dimension of magic and danger may be added to a new campaign.


Before further discussion of the wish, it would be advisable to look at the existing rules for wishes in fantasy role-playing games. Very few games on the market have any provisions for wishes at all, though among them are Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS Fantasy, Rolemaster, Stormbringer, and a possible interpretation within Fantasy Hero.


AD&D, the granddaddy of role-playing games, has some of the most elaborate wish rules, including the spells Limited Wish and the more powerful Wish. Both are subject to interpretation, and the main difference is that limited wishes cannot do as much as normal wishes, only fulfilling the wish partially or for a limited duration unless it is a very minor wish. Roughly anything may be wished for, though unreasonable (such as becoming a god) or unfair (wishing an enemy dead) wishes are not allowed. Additionally, to provide game balance, wishes may not be used to raise ability scores above sixteen, ten wishes being needed for each point thereafter. A similar spell, Alter Reality, may produce the same effects as a wish, though as the desired result is exactly expressed in an illusion, it is not subject to interpretation as is a wish. As a penalty for the rampant casting of wishes, each wish (and alter reality) ages the caster three years, and a limited wish will add one year of age. Additionally, AD&D provides for magic rings, swords, and talismans which grant wishes, as well as the djinn and efreet of Arabian mythology who may also bestow wishes, commonly being tied to rings and iron bottles respectively. Gods, demons, and devils also grant or otherwise fulfill wishes.


GURPS Fantasy has a similar system, with level 1, 2, and 3 wish spells. Level 1 and 2 wishes are simply less powerful than a level 3 wish, which is of a power comparable to the AD&D wish. GURPS fantasy is more specific in ruling what may be wished for. The possibilities include: 1). Any spell of its level or less; 2). A point of ability skill; 3). An advantage; and 4). Anything the GM so pleases. The last is of course the most important.


Rolemaster does not have any wish spells, though has the possibility of wishes being granted by genii. Of these there are several types, some of whom grant wishes, and all of which are well researched in Arab mythology.


Jann are the simplest of these creatures, and grant the simplest wishes, though only one before they are freed from their earthly bonds, usually some large domestic feature like a closet or feed bin. These wishes are able to transfer items up to ten miles per level of the jann, though are unable to create, transform, heal, mend, or otherwise produce change. Jann wishes may also be used to have the jann analyze an item with no chance of failure.


Jinn are tied to smaller items than jann, generally jars or bottles or other portable foci. Jinn are sneaky and untrustworthy and will attempt to pervert or twist the intent of any wish, usually following a request exactly by its letter (simlilar to the AD&D efreet). They must grant three wishes before they are freed, though as an additional complication, if their container changes hands, all of the effects of the previous wishes disappear when a new wish is made and the jinn must start over again with its new master. Their wishes are otherwise identical to those of jann. If the master desires, he may have one of his or her wishes be an item analysis or a truthfully answered question.


Shaitan, who are tied to trees and other natural features, may grant a greater wish, which may involve either transference or transformation, though not creation or lifegiving. They may also have the one wish they grant be used for item analysis, a truthful question, or a magical search.


Marid are the most dangerous of Rolemaster's wish-granting genii. These creatures have the ability to grant "false wishes," which seem identical to those of shaitan, though may be revoked at any time the marid pleases, usually at the time most harmful to the wisher.


Stormbringer, with its demon magic system, has possibilities for wishes with what are called Demons of Desire. At the cost of a virgin sacrafice, a Demon of Desire may be summoned to grant wishes. Demons of Desire appear in the form of an attractive member of the opposite sex (much like the classical succubi and incubi), and can be commanded to fetch any desired object from anywhere in the world (with limitations on size, of course) or transform a human. The number of wishes granted by a Demon of Desire is limited by its constitution. However, as with the AD&D efreet and the Rolemaster jann, demons of desire will attempt to pervert any request into its most horrible literal possibility. Demons may also be bound to different objects, such as rings or swords, and will follow the owner three paces behind, unless ordered to wait elsewhere. However, summoning the Demon of Desire bound to a ring will also use one of its wishes.


Fantasy Hero, though having no specific wish spell (or any other specific spells for that matter), does have lists and lists of spell effects, and it would be relatively simple to define a wish in terms of what its results would be if they were a spell. A wish granting creature or item, then, could be defined in terms of a Champions character (from Hero Games compatible super-hero role-playing game) with a "cosmic power pool" with limitations on it such that all spells cast would have to be done by magic, spoken aloud, prefixed by "I wish," and so forth, and given a sufficient amount of dice to overcome resistance, "wishes" could then be granted. Or, of course, a game master could just ignore the system and grant wishes regardless, which is always an option in any game system.


These games show some of the possibilities for wish arbitration, and a few of the classical and literary sources of the fantasy wish. The closest thing to a wish in most other fantasy role-playing games is "divine intervention," the rule of which, in it's basic form, states "An omnipotent being can do whatever it wants," including, of course, granting "wishes" to player characters, though such things are only at the gods' and the game masters' whim.

Frolich Djinn 2
However, to understand the wish more thoroughly, one must know its source, and there are more creatures who pass out wishes than djinn, demons, and gods. The list of wish-granters from classical folklore includes such djinn and efreet, wood nymphs, ghosts, disembodied heads, demons and devils, good fairies, leprechauns, strange dwarves, senile witches, saints and gods, and talking animals (particularly fish).
Some of these beings, such as half-baked witches and dwarves, dispense wishes for no particular reason, or else in exchange for a favor later on, usually a first-born child. Demons and devils will also grant wishes in exchange for children, though they are equally fond of souls (Nothing is more fun to a demon or devil than damning a good soul to hell. It should also be noted that the wording of such bargains is oftentimes misleading, containing trick phrases like ". . . in exchange for a small consideration to be named at a later date.") Good fairies, saints and gods, along with the rarer witches and magic dwarves, may grant wishes as a reward for particularly kind deeds and/or polite behavior (Such beings hold proper etiquette in the highest esteem.) Ghosts too have been known to grant wishes, but only in rare circumstances, traditionally a wish as thank-you gift for being laid peacefully to rest (Please note that an exorcism is not peaceful), while disembodied heads usually grant wishes to ingratiate themselves with those that find them. Leprechauns, wood nymphs, and talking fish, however, are usually blackmailed out of their wishes, i.e. "Please Mr. Woodcutter, if you spare my tree I'll give you three wishes!" while other beings (djinn, efreet, talking dogs with huge eyes) are the slaves of various magic items (rings, urns, tinder boxes). These items are the other classical source of wishes, and are referred to as wishbringers.


Wishbringers fall into two categories: occupied and unoccupied. Occupied items have a resident wish-granter, such as the djinn of Aladdin's Lamp, while unoccupied items, such as the Fortunatus Cap, grant wishes by use of their own power. The number of these wishes may be either unlimited, or else limited to a specific number, traditionally three. However, items with unlimited usage are extremely rare, the only well known examples in classical folklore being Aladdin's Lamp, The Tinder Box, and the Fortunatus Cap.


Aladdin's Lamp and The Tinder Box are both occupied items, the lamp by a djinn and the box by three big dogs. (These dogs had eyes respectively the size of teacups, millwheels, and the round tower at Copenhagen. Hence big dogs.) Being such, their power is limited to the power of the occupants--awesome, especially in the case of the lamp, but by no means limitless. The Fortunatus Cap, in the Italian fairy tale of the same name (also known as "Fortunatus and His Purse"), however, bestowed nearly godlike power on Fortunatus, yet due to a curse of ill luck brought ruin on his entire family (in the less sweet versions of the tale, at least).


Possession of any of these artifacts is also not without other problems for their loyalty is only to the bearer, and when palaces appear out of thin air, it is hard to keep the neighbors from noticing--especially wizards who have been attempting to locate the item for the past fifty years. Which bring up the question of what is to keep another person possessed of a wish from wishing for a powerful item such as the Fortunatus Cap, or simply more wishes.


Can one wish for more wishes? has been a classic problem to both logic and game mastering for longer than one likes to contemplate. I will try to present my solution as concisely as possible. Yes, one can wish for more wishes--but only if one has the right sort of wish, for while all wishes are limited in their power, some are more limited than others. Below is a listing of the main varieties of wishes garnered from folklore and fiction:

Wish of Omnipotence:


Omnipotence is actually a misnomer, as one cannot do the impossible. A better though less catchy title is Wish of Ultra-Potence. This is the type of wish that can create solid-gold castles out of thin air, transplant entire kingdoms or rearrange continents, and change large armies into hamsters--preferably not all at the same time. Omnipotent wishes are either very rare, or else are squandered on more reasonable magics. Or more likely both. These wishes are not available from any of the usual distributors--not even the gods--except for the possible exception of the Fates or Lady Luck (aka Dame Fortune, creator of the Fortunatus Cap). However, there should be a few--a very few--lost treasures capable of working these magics. This type of wish is one where it should also be possible to wish for more wishes, albeit wishes of lesser power. The power of these wishes would be that of the average wish--just sufficient to create a modest tower, rearrange a sub-division, or turn a squadron of the city watch into small rodents.

Wish of Contrivance


A wish of contrivance works like a badly plotted novel: Whereas with a normal wish the magic takes effect immediately, a wish of contrivance will make it just so happen that whatever is wished for will come to pass as soon as possible. For example, say a party, starving in the middle of a labyrinth, makes a wish for food. While a normal wish would plant a buffet table right in front of them, a wish of contrivance would make it just so happen that around the next bend they would meet a priestess of Our Lady of the Free Lunch who miraculously happens to have brought along her portable banquet hall and basket of endless goodies. Depending on the power of the contrivance, adventurers might be able to obtain more wishes by use of one of these; for example, the wish might make them stumble upon or into a wishing well.

Wish of Expiration


Most wishes are permanent unless wished to be otherwise. A wish of expiration, however, will only last for a certain period or until a certain set time, or if granted by a sentient creature, may last only so long as the caster desires. Classic expiration points are sunset, the stroke of midnight, cockcrow, and mid-day. When this time comes, all primary effects vanish, though the secondary and tertiary results will remain. For example, a boy wishes himself to be a dragon and then proceeds to sit on a village and eat the inhabitants. At moonrise, he regains human form, though the village is still destroyed and the villagers eaten. (This brings up the problem of what happens to food eaten before one changes form. In stories, the standard assumption is that the food also changes--making it so that the boy in the example would just feel very full--though different interpretations might make him explode or else be suddenly facing a crowd of very alive and angry villagers.)

Wish of Limitations


A wish of limitations is similar to a wish of expiration, usually having spacial instead of temporal boundaries. Such a wish is only true when in the bounds of a certain city or the vicinity of a particular shrine, and if these bounds are breached, the wish is cancelled. A wish of limitations, however, may be of the inclination to reinstate itself if the subject is brought back within its boundaries, though it could just as well be of a once-broken, forever-broken nature. Other variants include wishes only true while under certain conditions (sunlight, moonlight, snowstorms, etc.) and wishes that can only be made after certain requirements have been met (that it be a particular day, that the wish be told to no one, that thrice the brinded cat mewed, etc.)

Wish of Malevolence


These wishes are nasty. They are so thoroughly vile that one would wish that he had never gotten one if that didn't entail using it. They are also the wish of choice for demons and devils and so are not uncommon. What a wish of malevolence does is this: Everything the wisher asked for in the worst possible way. For example, a person with one of these diabolic magics wishes for a luxurious mansion and receives one--located in beautiful downtown Perdition, the low-rent district of Hell. Attempted resurrections will make vampires and zombies and so forth. The only good thing (if it can be called good) about a wish of malevolence is that if a person wishes for evil, the evil will be more elaborate and grandiose than any non-diabolic being could ever have planned. These wishes are sometimes known as Monkey's Paw wishes, after the story of the same name.

Wish of Benevolence


This is simply the opposite of a wish of malevolence. No harm can ever come to a person using a wish of benevolence--though considerable annoyance is possible. The "problem" with these wishes is that they cannot be used in the slightest part for evil or selfish ends, and since many wishes are motivated by greed, this causes complications. Not to say that wishes of evil intent or motivation won't work--on the contrary, they will--but all the evil aspects will be changed or deleted. A wish for a night of sumptuous enjoyment and debauchery, for example, might teleport the wishers to a charity ball hosted by some benevolent religious organization. For granting wishes of healing and kindness, however, a wish of benevolence is unsurpassed.

Wish of Contrariness


A wish of contrariness will do the exact opposite of whatever is stated. Once this is discovered, however, successive wishes (assuming the wish is one of a set) may be worded to be the exact opposite of the actual desires. No examples should be needed.

Half-Wish


Half-wishes can be both amusing and annoying. A half-wish will do exactly half of what is stated. For instance, a man might say, "I wish for a pair of boots of jogging and slogging!" If the wish were a half-wish, he might find himself with only one magic boot, two normal boots, a "pear," or he might suddenly find himself jogging and slogging. As one can see from the possible interpretations, simply doubling the quantity desired may not always work.

Wish of Overkill


A wish of overkill is similar to a half-wish. Overkill wishes will grant everything desired and more. Depending on the exact wish, this may be either be wonderful or horrible.

Wish of Vagueness


A wish of vagueness will always work--sort of. The problem with these magics is that they never seem to get the request quite right: a wish for a magic sword conjures an axe, magically created clothing is the wrong size, people are reincarnated instead of resurrected--the like. The degree of vagueness may of course vary from wish to wish.

Wish of Misinterpretation


Wishes of misinterpretation never grant anything close to what was actually wished for. A wish "to be very strong," for example, might confer tremendous body odor to the wisher by simply misinterpreting the sense of a word. Homonyms will also be shifted (as the raise/raze dilemma at the beginning of the article), and if neither of these is possible, words may be misheard. Hence, a wish for "great riches" might yield "great roaches." When in doubt on how to misinterpret a wish, game masters should always opt for the most amusing version.

Wish of Unspoken Desire


A wish of unspoken desire will grant whatever a character wants most in his or her heart of hearts, usually at the time the wish is invoked. Such effects will normally have strong emotional ties and will seldom, if ever, be sensible practical wishes. However, a dying adventurer could be healed by a wish of unspoken desire (unless he or she had a subconscious death-wish, in which case that's what the wish would be instead), a hopelessly love-struck character might suddenly have the object of his or her affections return them, or a money- or power-hungry character might suddenly find himself or herself possessed of a measure of these things. It is necessary when deciding such a wish for the game master to fully know the desires the character who is subject, though circumstances will usually dictate what the unspoken wish will be.

Wish of Least Resistance


These wishes will always alter reality as little as possible. While most wishes will create whatever objects or results desired, a wish of least resistance will borrow these from the nearest possible source. Thus the wish "I wish for a sword of hacking and slashing!" will immediately grant such an object--even though the real owner may be in the next town and may come looking for it. Palace-napping is often accidentally accomplished by means of these wishes and figures prominently in many wish stories. (Also, wishes of least resistance that would result in changing one's person commonly result in body switching.)

Wish of Credit


A wish of credit is the most common sort of wish. It is stamped with an invisible mark which says, in effect, "This wish is good for any single purchase not exceeding a total value of X number of gold pieces." A standard wish, of the sort obtainable from the average witch or djinn, should be worth roughly 5000 gold pieces. Certain wishes will of course have higher or lower limits as dictated by their suppliers. A dryad or leprechaun's wish would be likely to be slightly lower in power, while a god would be more likely to have a high credit limit. The value of any particular wish should be calculated as being whatever the goods and service value of the wish is, plus about five to ten percent for shipping and handling. Any sort of wish may be a wish of credit, with the exceptions of wishes of omnipotence and wishes of least resistance, the first being priceless and the second being not concerned with money. To explain, a wish for all the lost treasures in the Ruins of Reckkk to be neatly packaged, labelled, and delivered to the doorstep of Caer Ostentatious would be overwhelmingly costly for a wish of credit, the gold-piece value of such a spell being tremendous. Yet as the actual alteration of reality is relatively slight (slighter than changing a man into a pig, that is), such a wish might be feasible with a wish of least resistance.


As one can see from the list, wishes are no simple matter--and those are only the main varieties. However, there is still the question of where do all the granters of wishes get them. I will try to answer this systematically:


Witches and Wizards: These people get their wishes from the power of their spells. Where do they get their spells? Don't ask here--this is an article about wishes.


Demons and Devils: So long as they continue to damn more good souls, the Lords of the Lower Planes will pay all their sales rep's expenses. Two excellent examples of a wish-granting demons and devils are Samael, the demon tied to King Soloman's ring (who promised everlasting youth and beauty--for a price), and Mephistopheles, who promised the old scholar Faust youth, love, and everything else in return for his soul.


Good Fairies and Saints: Opposite sources and opposite reasons to demons and devils.


Gods: Gods normally have good credit. A good example of a god granting wishes is the Italian tale, "The Three Foolish Wishes," wherein an old Catholic priest is granted three wishes by Jesus and the twelve apostles as a reward for hospitality.


Djinn and Efreet: These beings have charge accounts on their home planes. To avoid servitude, they will often grant wishes in exchange for freedom. One wish is roughly a full year's earnings. Djinn and efreet who are rich enough to grant the wishes immediately, of course, will. Two good examples of djinn and efreet granting wishes are "Aladin and the Wonderful Lamp" and "The Fisherman and the Genii," in the first tale there being not only the djinn of the lamp, but the lesser djinn of the magician's ring.


Magic Dwarves: Who knows where they get the power to grant wishes. However, an example is found in "The Blue Light," a tale collected by the Brothers Grimm which Hans Christian Andersen's "The Tinder Box" is very similar to.


Ghosts: Through the very magic of the will force which keeps a spirit bound to the earth after death, when its onus is lifted a ghost may use the last of its power to grant a wish to whoever released it from its earthly bonds. Another of the Tales of the Brothers Grimm, "The Silver Axe," demonstrates this device.


Disembodied Heads: These creatures are usually princes cursed at birth by particularly malevolent fairies, supernatural old women of the same mind-set as the one in "Sleeping Beauty." The curse dooms the unfortunate individual to live their life with only a head and no body until an MOS is found who will fall in love with and marry them, at which point they will get their body back, though only when alone with their loved one. However, as getting to this "happy" state is a problem, the unfortunate individual's parents, or good fairies who happen to have been present at the christening, will either bind a djinn to the head to serve it, or else teach it magic, or both. This sort of curse and wish-granting may be seen in any of the versions of "The Enchanted Head."


Leprechauns, Dryads, and Talking Animals: These creatures, though relatively weak, have been known to grant the fabulously valuable wishes. A reasonable explanation for this is that some of the lesser magical inhabitants of sylvan woodlands have grouped together, forming a protection league of sorts. Started by the leprechauns and dryads, the two groups most adept at spells and spell-like powers, the membership has grown to include talking animals and any of hundreds of weak magical creatures. Members tithe a portion of their inherent magic into a communal pool, from which wishes can be granted in emergencies. Roughly 45% of all leprechauns and 25% of all dryads, along with a sizable number of talking animals, are members of what might be called the Sylvan Creature's Protection Plan, and when in a life threatening situation are empowered to grant three wishes of roughly 2500 gp. value. Note also that while mugging dryads and leprechauns may thus be profitable, the communication network between the sylvan creatures is strong enough that if this becomes a habit there is a good chance of the perpetrators being lynched by a large band of pixies, elves, or even a suitably bribed dragon. Examples of dryads and wishes may be found in any of the many versions of "The Three Wishes," leprechauns in "The Field of Ragwort" (or even the old Disney classic, "Darby O'Gill and the Little People"), and of course there is also the magic fish in the Brothers Grimms' "The Fisherman and His Wife," and the three dogs in Andersen's "The Tinder Box." Other magic animals may be people under enchantments, similar to those on the disembodied heads, and may be able to cast spells due to their knowledge of the magic arts and the desire to break their own curses. "The White Cat" and "The Golden Crab" are two tales of this type.


Wishbringers, occupied and unoccupied, are only created by gods and very high-level wizards. If an unoccupied wishbringer (ring, amulet, etc.) is indicated on a normal treasure roll, use the following tables to determine the type of wishes contained.

Roll Gold-Piece Value of Wish
--------------------------------------
01 Wish of Credit, 500 gp. limit
02-15 Wish of Credit, 2500 gp. limit
16-75 Wish of Credit, 5000 gp. limit
76-85 Wish of Credit, 10,000 gp limit
86-98 Wish of Least Resistance
99 Wish of Omnipotent Least Resistance
00 Wish of Omnipotence

Roll Type of Wish
----------------------------------
01-05 Wish of Contrivance
06-10 Wish of Malevolence
11-15 Wish of Benevolence
16-20 Wish of Limitations *
20-25 Wish of Expiration /
25-30 Wish of Contrariness
30-35 Wish of Vagueness
36-40 Wish of Misinterpretation
41-45 Wish of Unspoken Desire
46-50 Wish of Overkill
51-55 Half Wish
56-75 Otherwise normal wish
76-00 Roll twice, ignoring this
or contradictory features



* Wish of Limitations Subtable



(50/50 chance once-broken, forever-broken or reinstating)



Roll Limitation on Wish
---------------------------------------------
1 Only good at night
2 Only good in day
3 Only in the presence of the moon
4 Only in the presence of fire
5 Only in the presence of water
6 Only in the presence of air
7 Only in the presence of earth
8 Only within 5 mile radius of site
9 Only so long as wishbringer possessed
10 Must always be kept a secret
! Wish of Expiration Subtable



Roll Expiration Time
---------------------------
1 Dusk
2 Sunset
3 Midnight
4 Moonrise
5 Cockcrow
6 Dawn
7 Mid-day
8 Certain day of the week
9 Particular lunar phase
10 Solstice or Equinox


(If a roll indicates that a wish of expiration is granted by a sentient being, there is a 75% chance that the wish will instead be permanent, though only so long as the wish-granter wills it.)




If a variant wishbringer is desired, as opposed to the more mundane rings, use the following table:



Roll Wishbringer
--------------------------------
1 A golden snuff box *
2 A small charm or amulet
3 A child's wooden doll !
4 A bottle or urn *
5 A necklace
6 A rainbow-colored plume
7 A teapot *
8 A wooden chest *
9 A small flute *
10 A tinder box *
11 A book of matches *
12 A cap
13 A dagger !
14 A locket *
15 A bone !
16 A small statuette !


* There is a 75% chance that these items are occupied, and the inhabitant will appear when opened or otherwise used.



! These items (50% chance) may be sentient in and of themselves, and are able to speak and grant wishes.




If an item is occupied, use this table to determine the inhabitant:



Roll Resident Wishgranter
---------------------------------------
1 A singing, dancing tree frog
2 A ghost
3 A demon or devil
4 A talking cat
5 An operatic chicken
6 A goblin
7 A fairy or house gnome
8 A will-o'-the-wisp (telepathic)
9 An ogre
10 Three pigs who constantly argue
11 An imp
12 A miniature dragon



Game masters are encouraged to make up their own combinations. Most wishbringers may grant 2-7 wishes, all of the same type, before losing their power. Occupied items, however, will also give the owner the services of the resident creature, which may last indefinitely, though such servitude is most often broken after the servant grants a prescribed number of wishes, usually three. Certain resident creatures will not grant certain types of wishes (i.e. devils won't grant wishes of benevolence, though wishes of malevolence are very appropriate). A wish granter will take great affront and absolutely refuse to tell if asked to reveal what type of wish it grants, though number is usually revealed. And if a wish granter is killed, of course it loses its ability to grant wishes.


In wish stories, the many types of wishes and wishbringers overlap and form different situations. In "The Bronze Ring," the ring summoned up twelve youths to serve the wearer. Though it never happened in the story, it is quite conceivable that if one of the servants was killed, the others would retain their power (and likewise with the dogs of "The Tinder Box"), though their magic might also possibly be diminished by the loss of a member. The snuff box, in "The Golden Snuff Box," was able to ask and grant wishes, though it only spoke Spanish (which would make its use a bit difficult for an English-speaking character). And the magic matches in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" were Limited Wishes of Unspoken Desire, with the limitation being that the wish would remain true only so long as the match burned (solved by lighting the entire basket of matches at once with the flame of the last one).


On the subject of types of wishes it should be stressed that no magic short of a wish itself will reveal what sort of wish a wish is--and with certain types of wishes, such as half-wishes and wishes of vagueness or contrariness, even this may not be possible. Trial and error is the best method and is why the traditional three are best--one to make a mistake, one to undo it, and one to get something actually desired.


As for wish arbitration, the stance taken by all the games on the market is that, in the end, all wishes are subject to the game master's decision as to what is and what is not possible. Players may certainly be "wish lawyers" and write out the text of wishes with exacting precision ("Being that the party of the first part, the wishee, wishes that . . ."), though with all of the possible types of wishes, such contracts become meaningless in most situations. Though as a final rule, it should be stressed that one cannot wish for more than one thing unless it is a part of a complete conceptual package, i.e. "I wish I had a magic sword and a magic ring and a magic cape and a . . ." is not possible, though "I wish I had a complete alchemist's lab!" would be, even though an alchemist's lab contains many, many things. And instead of ruling out extremely clever and/or grandiose wishes which players are lucky enough to have possible with the particular type of wish they find, game masters should remember that there is absolutely nothing to keep the wizard next door from noticing, and knowing that wishes come in sets, any sensible amoral magician will try to steal a wish-bringer ("New lamps for old! New lamps for old!).


After all this, it should be clear that wishes are not a bed of roses, and it is quite possible that--after a few experiences with the different sorts of wishes--many parties might instead opt for the assault on the dragon's lair as holding a better chance of profit, or at least a better survivability rate.


As an end note, I'd like to add a few more suggestions for the running of wishes. Leprechauns' wishes traditionally have a unique limitation so that if a fourth wish is made, all of the wishes are revoked and the leprechaun can teleport away. The little men will usually announce that their captors that they will grant four wishes, so as to make sure that the fourth is made. Certain magic items, instead of being limited to a prearranged number of wishes, might be limited to granting only one wish per person, or only one per year, though be otherwise be unlimited. Or, as in the case of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Bottle Imp, be unlimited, though under a horrible curse (if a person died while owning the imp's bottle his or her soul would go to hell, and the only way to be rid of the bottle was to sell it to another with full knowledge of its curse for less than the seller bought it). Any combination is possible (including the "make a wish and you become the genii of the lamp" trick). Wishes are fun and confusion and an adventure in and of themselves. What more could any game master wish for?




Suggested readings:


Hans Christian Andersen, Andersen's Fairy Tales


Edward Eager, Half Magic


Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm's Fairy Tales


William W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw"


Andrew Lang, The Blue Fairy Book


Andrew Lang, The Rose Fairy Book


Edith Nesbit, Five Children And It


Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Bottle Imp"