On a Sunday evening, at exactly 7:40PM, Ella finished setting up her solo game of Mage Knight. As per her calculations, this left three more hours before she had to go to bed, which would be enough time for the scenario sprawled across the oak table. Unaccounted for was the bare lightbulb socket, which had flickered to black as she finished the expansion rules in the waning daylight. With pursed lips and a short sigh, Ella pulled the rope up to the old attic. Dusty, unlabelled boxes dotted the room. Ella rolled up her sleeves.
10 precious minutes later, hands covered in dirt older than her, Ella’s sneaker crunched through an aging box of lightbulbs. “Damnit,” she whispered. Crouching down, Ella glanced around the mangled box in search of another—but instead, sitting in the corner beside a yellowed bottle of kerosene, lay an old oil lamp. She cracked a smile. A little thematic for her tastes, but it would do. As she climbed back down the steep stairs, Ella gave the lamp a quick rub with her already dusty hands.
A glowing blue smoke drifted out of the filthy lamp.
From the smoke emerged an unfamiliar woman, dressed in thin silk robes and shimmering with a faint phosphoresce.
“Greetings. Thank you for freeing me from my imprisonment. I am the genie of the lamp, and I can grant you three wishes.”
Ella blinked, pausing to think. “…Don’t you mean djinn?”
“I- huh?” The old spirit scratched her head. “I mean, the language is localized for you. I take the form of your culture’s representation.”
“Can you put on something more sensible then?” Ella gestured at the spirit’s outfit. “It’s cold here, and you’re giving me Five Tribes 1st Edition vibes.” She held up a finger: “That’s not a wish, by the way.”
“Whatever works for you.” The spirit snapped her fingers, now dressed in jeans and a loose cardigan. “Better?”
“Yeah, it’ll work.” Ella sat down beside her forgotten game, motioning for the spirit to take a seat beside her. “So I get what. Three wishes, you said?”
“Three wishes, that is correct.”
“Alright.” Ella’s brow furrowed. “So three wishes. Are there any rules? I want to know what I’m dealing with.”
“You can’t wish for more wishes.”
“Darn. Oh-” Ella’s eyes squinted with suspicion. “Are you going to screw me over with this? Like, if I wished to win every board game I play, would you make it so that I just never play any board games again?”
A hint of a smile crossed the spirit’s lips. “I shall grant you exactly what you ask.”
“So yes,” Ella replied, altogether a little too sassy for talking to an ancient power. She grabbed her laptop, still warm from reading the Mage Knight FAQ. “Give me a minute.” After a few Google searches (and even some Bing), Ella raised her eyes to meet the woman across the table.
“Okay, I’ve decided on wish one. I want to wish for unlimited access to wish-granting genies who will dutifully grant my wishes, at my discretion, indefinitely.”
The spirit shook her head. “That’s basically just wishing for more wishes.”
Ella’s fist pounded the table. “Well dammit! I planned my whole strategy around that! You should have been more clear when you explained the rules. I’m guessing that means you can’t give me the power to grant my own wishes either, then?”
“That is correct.”
“Ugh, fine. Do you mind if I think out loud here?” Again, the spirit shook her head. “Okay great. So if I wish for a million dollars…” The spirit flexed her fingers, ready to grant the wish. “No, wait! I have to min/max this.”
“I’ll wait,” said the spirit, her face a mix of amusement and impatience.
“So if I wish for a million dollars, I’m going to have a million dollars. Which is pretty nice. But if I wish for a billion dollars, that’s way more.” Ella tented her dirty fingers. “The problem is that a billion dollars is so much money—and like, where does it come from, you know? I’m not really trying to maximize my money here. I’m trying to maximize my happiness stat. I’ll call that my H-stat.”
“Sure, your H-stat,” the spirit echoed absentmindedly, waving her to get on with it.
“So I want to maximize my H-stat, but how much money is actually needed to do that? I read something that said lottery winners are actually less happy, because they spend it all and end up more destitute than they were before. So that would just damage my H-stat and use up all my resources. Maybe I should wish I was rich all along!”
The spirit readied her powers, a glow coming from her index finger.
“Stop!” Ella pointed at the spirit, who lowered her hands with an eye roll. “I’m just having some analysis paralysis, jeez. So like, the problem is, if I was rich all along, I won’t even notice a change in my H-stat. Because it won’t have changed anything from my perspective! How would that help me? Blarghhh. Let’s start again.”
The spirit put her head in her hands. “Okay.”
“So I have three wishes. You know, this is kind of about your power to make my wishes true. It’s just one poof and it’s done, right?”
“That’s right,” the spirit nodded, picking a piece of lint off her new cardigan.
“So since this is a discrete wish-granting opportunity, it’s really more of a one-time use than an ongoing effect. Because you’re granting the wishes, these are kind of like you have actions. Wish actions. I guess that means I have three action points. I could just ask you to maximize my H-stat. Could you just do that? Would that work? Not a wish yet.”
The spirit blinked. “H-stat?”
“Yes, my H-stat. But if you maximize that I guess you could just bliss me out on some happy drug and I would either die of overdose or go through my life totally oblivious to everything around me. I don’t want that!” Ella tapped her foot as she thought. “So my H-stat might not even be my objective here. If I’m looking for fulfillment, what’s actually going to maximize my situation is a whole bunch of different point metrics—accomplishments, interpersonal relationships, comfort—but does it really count if I just get you to give me those things? Is that like playing with a handicap?”
If it was possible, the old spirit looked tired.
“And on top of that, what’s my most efficient use of the three action points to maximize my different scores?” Ella’s eyes widened, suddenly getting an idea. She pulled out her phone. “I know exactly what I have to do.”
The spirit leaned in, eager to be done. “What is it that you wish?”
“No, no.” Ella smiled as the spirit slumped into the chair. “I’m texting some friends that they should come over. We have a few scenarios to playtest, and it’s only one hour and thirty-five minutes until I have to go to bed.”