dungeons & dragons fiction

Explaining the Karmic Balance of the Wish Spell

This is (hopefully) an ongoing series of posts within the world of my D&D campaign setting, Avo. Peruse the wiki.

From a lecture by Professor Cerapham di Lien at the Conjuric Academy in Valwyria, 13 Midspring 3308. Transcribed by Lenna Whirk, St.B.Est.

We’ve all heard it before: word your wishes carefully. We know that the more powerful the thing wished, the worse it will backfire. There are many, many stories out there of your local country bumpkin discovering a monkey’s paw in the fields, making a wish to become rich, only to discover that the treasury in Neven has been completely emptied of its gold. Or the chance meeting between a prince and a dao, or a djinni, and making a wish to marry the most beautiful princess in the world, only to find out that the princess’s father is a tyrant warlord, and the marriage has incited his anger, leading to a decades long war that ends up getting both the prince and princess killed.

If the latter example sounds like a joke to you, you need to revisit your Letoran history books.

So, why does wish come with some sort of cost? It is the only spell in our canon that does so, and the cost is exponential; the larger the wish, the more the cost. In addition, there’s a roughly one-third chance that if you cast wish, you may never be able to cast it again! Why is that? You’d think that after thousands of years, we would have been able to come up with some way of circumventing such an issue, yes?

Well, the answer to this is somewhat fascinating because, in essence, wish is the only arcane spell bound to divine reaction. Note that I did not say it is a divine spell. This is surprisingly rare; most spells of a divine nature do not cross into arcane territory unless the caster has specialized in such weaving; spells of healing, for example, are simply untouchable by plain wizards, no matter their skill with magic. And while wish, intrinsically, is strictly arcane in nature (and, in truth, is unknowable by divine spellcasters unless they specialize in arcana), extrinsically, wish, and spellcasting in general Post-Catastrophe, is bound by the divine law. To cast it is to dip into the divine karmic balance which was codified during the Catastrophe. It is, in essence, a request to the divine will.

Before the Catastrophe, spellcasting was at its height of power, and many of those spells beyond our ken today, of the renowned tenth through thirteenth grade, were sufficiently powerful that the only way they could be cast successfully was if sacrifice was woven into the spell itself, whether intended or not. One such spell, reality warp, was a twelfth grade spell which, when cast, fundamentally changed the nature of reality within a certain range. One could, for instance, exchange up for down, left for right. One could make rocks edible, or make a tree turn a body into thin strands the closer one approached it. And these are the things we are able to comprehend! In truth, reality warp was capable of changing reality into something so fundamentally and completely foreign to our minds that it could make the viewer–or taster, or smeller, et cetera–go mad, instantly, with no recourse. One story goes that a wizard who cast this spell went so mad that her brain literally melted and seeped out of her own nostrils. In short, the sacrifice was one’s own mind, and the chance of this happening was roughly equal to 25%! Imagine, casting the fireball spell and having a one in four chance of it exploding in your face instead. The Age of Magic was extraordinary.

Obviously, since it was the gods who hold dominion over reality, a spell capable of fundamentally changing it was not ideal, in their eyes. So it was that during the Catastrophe the gods suddenly and irrevocably revoked our jurisdiction over these grades of spells. Gone were the days of wizards holding the ultimate power over the worlds in which they lived. Spells were since curated, so to speak, by the gods, to ensure that mortal beings could not devastate the world on their own.

However, within the upper echelon of spell grades lies the only outlier to potential world devastation: wish, and with it, the potential for danger. Why the gods left this spell within our grasp is unknown. Based on my own research, there are two rising and competing theories: one is that wish was granted to mortals by the trickster gods, such as Asmodeus, Cyric, or Tymora, but in doing so, they warped the spell into its current incarnation for the express purpose of their own pleasure; that they, in short, enjoy seeing mortals bite off more than they can chew. The other theory is that the truth may lie within the primordials, whose kin, the genie, are sometimes capable of granting wishes outside of the purview of the gods, which may mean that the wish spell itself is beyond the purview of the gods, and instead is something that they are beholden to as much as you or I. This is a dangerous thread of thought to tread, however, for if the gods hold no dominion over wishes … who does? Surely not the forever-chained primordials!

I trust the answer will never be laid cleanly before us by the gods, as distant and unseemly as they are. All we know about wishes is that the larger the scope, the worse off it will be for you in the long run. So please, students, should you ever be able to grasp the upper echelon of spell grades, remember the words, tried and true: word your wishes carefully.