My interpretation of whatever monster I feel like talking about, primarily from the 1st ed AD&D Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, but not limited to them, treated in a way that deals with the stuff I find interesting. That is: ecology and culture, if applicable. Stats can go hang.
Like an awful lot of people of my age and culture, I grew up being in love with Barbara Eden in I Dream of Genie. It was atrocious sexist bullshit, of course, that created and perpetuated a completely misleading representation of a domestic situation. That I somehow managed to overcome this norm and function in the real world is amazing. I’m sure many men did not manage to cope, and have lived miserable lives – and inflicted this on their spouses – by expecting that level of subservience coupled with near-supernatural wisdom, not to mention actual powers.
Another amazing thing is the number of people I have met who claim that they have no idea what an Arabian fantasy might be like. They have never apparently heard of Sinbad, or the Arabian Nights, or the 40 Thieves, or any of that. I was read them as a baby; was thrilled by Ray Harryhausen; winced at Disney. How could they have missed this?
Dealing with spelling first, the word Genie comes from Genius, and over time the first word has been overlaid with Jinn. The Latin Genius was a guardian spirit that could be associated with places, the Genius Loci, or could attach themselves to people. Originally the saying was, “You have a genius,” not ‘You are a genius.’ And it meant that you have a guardian spirit looking out for you – essentially making you supernaturally lucky. Now days we don’t have much truck with such spirits unless they are called Angels, and so we have perverted the word to mean ‘someone really clever.’ This is true – look it up.
The Arabian Jinn were members of a supernaturally powerful other race of beings that appeared to live in some kind of parallel universe. Without going into too much theological detail (because I really don’t want to offend anyone who has real world beliefs here) the Jinn were one of God’s creations, just like men and Angels, and performed various tasks. Apparently Solomon, one of the very early and powerful prophets, had the power to control these creatures because he knew the many magical words (mostly variations on the names of God) that bound them to service. Solomon sinned once too often, we are told, and he was struck down.
Surviving him are the results of his magical experimentations, including spells, enchanted artefacts and, most importantly for us, various vessels in which he imprisoned djinni.
These creatures are released from their prison by breaking the lead seal that holds the lid on. This seal is marked with various signs attributed either directly to Solomon or discovered by him and used by someone else. In any case, when the seal is broken so is the spell, and the djinni is released. And as you can imagine, after so many years, decades or centuries of imprisonment, they are usually pretty pissed off.
Unlike Barbara Eden, djinni/jinn/genies are not eternally grateful to be released and willing to immediately pledge themselves to further domestic servitude. They are, for the most part, enraged and looking to take it out on the first poor bastard they meet – and that is of course the person that unwittingly released them.
They are immensely powerful, defying all normal laws of physics as they are not really from this universe. They can move at the speed of thought, carry loads of any weight or configuration, transform themselves or any person or even the entire landscape to another form. They can transport and entire country to another part of the world, distort distances so that a walk of an afternoon leads the traveller to another continent. But strangely, they have no power over time, except in as much as inflicting perfect suspended animation states.
And as we should all know they are bound, generally, by Solomon’s last command, that they must grant the person that frees them somewhere between one and three wishes.
From the preceding it should be pretty obvious that they have the power to literally grant almost anything (except going back in time). It should also be obvious that they will do everything in their power to pervert those wishes to punish the impertinent prick that happens to be in front of them. Ever seen Bedazzled? I like the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore version better than the Brendon Frazer and Elizabeth Hurley version. But anyway, a really nice genie might just be like that: a gentle kind of ruining your life. A more vicious genie might go for the linguistic jugular and really make things suddenly awful.
In either case, this is the opportunity for the GM to really get out the pencil pushing, bean counting, evil hat and dissect every word the character says, looking for a loophole to exploit. This is not a scene to be taken lightly, and a player who finds himself looking at a plume of smoke billowing out of a bottle he’s just pulled the cork out of really ought to be feeling fear. Every wish the character makes should be interpreted literally and if at all possible, negatively. (Like the old joke – the man wished for a cock that touched the floor, so the genie removed his legs.)
This is a roleplaying opportunity. Quite possibly the last one that character will ever have, and you need to savour it. The wishes should be considered carefully by the player before he blurts them out. And the punishment – I mean reward – should be equally considered. The jinn and character could talk for a long time before the final magic happens.
And afterwards… well, that is how great cautionary tales are made.