A very powerful corporation is interested in building a device that works similar to a magic lamp.

You bring the lamp to a certain location, at a specific time of the year, chant specific mantras, then make a wish. Your wish will be fulfilled in 2-3 days. Basically, the device will transmit the wish to a small team in the company, and if all conditions are met, the company will start working on making your wish come true.

The corporation is very powerful: it is above the law and is willing to do anything no matter how unethical or illegal to fulfill the holder's wish (as long as it doesn't interfere with the interests of the corporation).

There are certain wishes that the company, and therefore the lamp, cannot fulfill:

  • Standard loopholes (e.g infinite wishes)

  • Limitations due to natural laws (e.g cannot change gravity)

  • Limitations due to financial laws (e.g inflation)

  • Limitations due to technological advancement (we can assume the corporation exists in the current/ near future time).

  • ....

There are also other limitations that are imposed by the company itself to protect its interest. For example, you can wish to destroy a certain small village but you can't wish to destroy the whole earth (or a large part of it) as it will be against the company interests.

The company is interested in making the lamp work as similar to a magic lamp as possible. For that, all wishes that can be interpreted into something the company can do, will be fulfilled. If someone wishes to be beautiful (no matter how subjective this is), they will make some arrangements to send him to a cosmetic surgeon to make him look as good as possible.

The main problem comes when the lamp is released into the public: how to provide a good enough set of rules that determines the limitations of the lamp (what you can wish for) without revealing that the corporation itself is behind this device?

The corporation would like the public to think that this is a magic lamp but has limited magical properties.

My first thought was to create a rulebook that comes with the lamp and gives detailed explanation of what the holder is allowed to wish for. But I think this is very impractical; the book is going to be really large and you cannot rely on people to read it fully.

If possible, I would like to explain these limitations in a small set of rules that can be inscribed on the lamp.

The rules do not have to be extremely specific. It is ok if, after simplifying the rules, there are still some grey areas where the limitations are not really known (e.g how much max money can you wish for), for this I am relying on the fact that lamp will work only once per year and so the holder of the lamp will be very careful with his wish.

To be clear, I'm looking for a way to summarize the limitations of the lamp in a way that is simple and accessible to the general public, while also maintaining that it is in fact a magic lamp (and not one created by the corporation).

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    $\begingroup$ “Rub it, but don’t play with it.” $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2021 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Also make the genie a lawyer. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 30, 2021 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ "To be clear, I'm looking for a way to summarize the limitations of the lamp in a way that is simple and accessible to the general public" So you want a form of words in (lets say 20 words or less?) that you can inscribe on the lamp that encapsulates the limitations of the wishes it grants without giving away that it's just a mobile phone connected to an answering phone in the companies offices? that's your question? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 30, 2021 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ So how about this? > "Request only the possible if you want good success, However unlikely you might like what you get, But unwise is surrendering to silly excess, So don't stretch my abilities it's a really bad bet" // yes, I know, it's awful :) just trying to poke people in the right direction, that is the right direction right? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 30, 2021 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ Hi, Mohammad. For future reference, please remember that the help center says "When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story." Asking us for a bullet list of rules is on-topic worldbuilding (how to apply a technology given a specified set of limitations and conditions). Asking us to write the corporation's marketing collateral is off-topic storybuilding (that's your job as the author...). Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 1, 2021 at 4:55

7 Answers 7


you can't. Not if you want it to feel more like a dangerous magic object than like a very fancy way to win a prize.

You said to willk that while you want it to be accessible, you also want it to have a mystery to it, something that makes people be careful about what they wish for. If that is the case, the only true way I see your company achieving that is by making their wishing manual a nearly identical description to the following part of the wish spell description from dungeons and dragons 5th edition:

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. Similarly, wishing for a legendary magic item or artifact might instantly transport you to the presence of the item's current owner.

Yes, the last part of this description is still very focused on magic itself, but that's the main gist of how your lamp needs to work to be simple, yet mysterious and even dangerous.

Basically the rules are:

1- you think about what wish you want granted.

2- you perform the ritual.

3- you speak your wish as clearly and as carefully as humanly possible to the "keeper of the magic" (whether it's a "genie", a normal looking lawyer, a 12 feet tall gargoyle disguised as an accountant, an accountant disguised as a 12 feet gargoyle, the guy listening through a secret microphone inside a prop lamp you need to use for the ritual, it doesn't matter, but the lamp, much like the spell in the game, needs someone to hear you out).

4- you wait and pray you worded your wish properly.

Those are the 4 rules you need. If you "wish" (I'm so sorry) that your lamp feels magic and mysterious, you need everyone to know the "lamp" isn't some office job worker paid to read your mind and know what you want. It's a powerful, potentially mischievous force that might give you what it thinks you want, potentially in the most twisted way possible.

(The biggest problem with this is that if the lamp won't always try to grant your wish in the exact way you wanted it and in the best way it can, there can be no set of clear regulations on how to wish for something other that "be careful what you wish for and how you wish it", lest you decide to go back to the dnd spell description reference and add a list of instantly pre-determined wishes that will always be granted in the exact same way they state every single time).

You want to be able to swim in gold? You can be granted enough money to fill a swimming pool...or you might be forcefully dropped inside a pool of molten gold with weights tied to your body to make sure you can sink a bit. You want the world to end? The "keeper of magic" can outright say "no, screw you, that ain't happening"...or it can make the world end for you by forcing you to believe through various methods the world has ended and you're dead (or going the old way and killing you. Not like you'd be able to tell if the world's still there if a nuke eradicates your house with you inside shortly after your tv said nuclear war had started. It might even go cliche and track that one person you called your world one time and kill them in front of you).

Essentially, if you want it to feel mysterious and magic you need to let them know:

  • they can wish for anything they want.
  • if they're not careful about what they wish for and how they wish it, they'll not have their wish granted at best or have the last thing they'd ever wish for happening to them (or the ones they love, or both) as a consequence at worst.
  • at best, they could play it safe by choosing a wish from a pre-determined "menu" that would naturally already be in line with the company's best interests and capabilities.

Because at the end of the day, a magical wish is, in many cases (and sources of media), like a lottery, except sometimes the guy who runs the lottery seems to hate your guts for whatever reason.

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    $\begingroup$ "Literal genie" is a (trope) thing $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2021 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ As well as Jackass genie LOL $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2021 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ "You want the world to end" - perhaps it would drop you off at the furthest point of land on Alaska / Kamchatka / Cape Horn. With no way back. $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2021 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ "You want to be able to swim in gold? You can be granted enough money to fill a swimming pool...or you might be forcefully dropped inside a pool of molten gold with weights tied to your body to make sure you can sink a bit." or the genie might go: "You already can. You just need to find a pool of gold." $\endgroup$
    – Nolonar
    Oct 2, 2021 at 19:51

A genie.

The genie he had seen in the cave appeared, and asked his will. "Save my life, genie," said Aladdin, "and bring my palace back." "That is not in my power," said the genie; "I am only the Slave of the Ring; you must ask him of the lamp."

Aladdin and the Magic Lamp https://www.gutenberg.org/files/57/57-h/57-h.htm

Make your wish. The genie will tell you if it will work.

  • $\begingroup$ This idea is good in general but creates the problem of people testing different wishes until one works and pushing the lamp to its limits. I would like to keep an area of mystery around the lamp so that people are very careful in what they wish for. $\endgroup$
    – Mohammad
    Sep 30, 2021 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ The genie is mysterious. The genie might fly into a rage if you wish for a roc egg. Or might leave with the lamp. You can ask the genie questions and it will answer truthfully. Q:"Genie, can I wish for a roc egg?" A:"You may." The truth might not help. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Sep 30, 2021 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Mohammad You mentioned that the lamp only works once per year, and an unfulfillable wish might still count as a wish - the genie just pops out and says "no can do, see you next year." Attempting to push the lamp to its limits will just waste years' worth of wishes. I'd be even more careful with my wishes if I knew they could be wasted. $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2021 at 14:31

Why name any limitations at all? It's supposed to be magic, anything is possible, some wishes just take a little longer to fulfill. You only need to make people aware that keeping it simple will provide faster results, they'll automatically limit themselves to things most likely possible for your corporation.

The simpler that you wish me do,
the faster I will make it true.

Somebody actually wished for something out of scope for your corporation? Not going to happen, just keep them waiting, maybe they'll realize after a few years that infinite wishes take an infinite time to deliver. Possibly add some sparkles, colored smoke and mysterious sounds effects to your lamp to show that a wish is still being worked on, rub again to cancel and switch to something more reasonable.


(EDIT: see comment below, I revised this answer and removed most of it, because there is only one lamp.. and it seems to be the purpose of the cooperation, to show that this lamp has imperfect magic. Frankly, that goal will be reached soon enough, as soon as people start wishing trivial things like below examples)

Opening: "how to provide a good enough set of rules that determines the limitations of the lamp (what you can wish for) without revealing that the corporation itself is behind this device?"

It better be good, the customer expecting magic

First.. people won't read books with rules or documentation. They just use the lamp for whatever they like and suppose it is "magic". When I wish a flying bicycle, or happy dreams for my spouse, or 3 weeks of perfect weather during my holiday in Sweden, what happens ? I envision your lamp won't work, people yelling: "The lamp's magic is broken by these limitations ! It doesn't work !"

Avoid backfire

In 2-3 days the company will fulfill your wish, not magic. Among the limitations, there should be a provision excluding wishes that would harm the company.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess there was a bit of misunderstanding. The company is not interested in making money or selling the lamp. They do not want anyone to associate them with the lamp in anyway. They would like to make the people think that the lamp is magical (just like the genie's lamp). $\endgroup$
    – Mohammad
    Sep 30, 2021 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ Ok +1, removed legality and harming people (I assumed this thing needed a user manual) but what's in it for them.. You're talking "corporation". Are these presents, to corrupt friends ? Why all the trouble ? $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Sep 30, 2021 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ it would be just one lamp created by the corporation as a test for humanity. If you would like you can think of it as an alien corporation testing the limits of what people would do to get the lamp and what they would wish for. $\endgroup$
    – Mohammad
    Sep 30, 2021 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ Aha well.. then my answer should really be revised.. I assumed it was a (fake) magic product made by some corporation, for the general public. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Sep 30, 2021 at 22:07

Some other answers have implied this, but:

Make it cryptic and up to interpretation

If it's hard/nearly impossible to understand, the company can ignore wishes and the wisher will just assume they misinterpreted the "riddle" inscribed on it.

He that wishes with care will be he that is cared for

What does this mean? Heck if I know, but it leaves the interpretations widespread. Maybe you'll start a cult (more power for the company).


To describe the main limitation, inscribe "Allow a few days for your wish to come true."

Clearly, the lamp is powerful. So to make people think a bit first, inscribe "Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it."

And to discourage people from testing the limits: "The wishes of the unreasonable, will be interpreted in unreasonable ways." Or some variation thereof. There are many good adjectives like stupid, obnoxious, ...

The ritual for making a wish need not be inscribed on the lamp. It could be in a book or leaflet. The warnings on the lamp should be short, simple, and easy to get. But also hint at the dangers that goes with the power.

If the lamp exists for long, then surely there will be enough scary stories about people making fatal or scary mistakes. Unreasonable wishes that backfires when granted in a dangerous manner. Wish for weightlessness, and you might wake up in a space suit in low earth orbit. Wish someone dead, and you get their head on a platter. With all the unwanted attention that tends to bring nowadays.


Somehow the first thing, which came to mind was a Death Note[1]. It comes with a very limited set of rough intructions and also a genie (the Shinigami owning it in that case).

What essentially has to be done in order to fulfill everything you outlined: you must keep it vague and dangerous, otherewise it would feel like a kind of lottery from an unknown benefactor.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Note


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