Robijeign, Arch-Diviner of Stull, gazed at the runes. Jagged hashes, rough, and deep, the strange markings had been found carved into the underside of the banquet table: ten of them, forming a circle, with an additional marking in the center. Eleven markings, total.
Mere moments earlier, the emissaries dining at that very same table had been at each other’s throats, literally. (Well, except for one diplomat who had managed to reach the carving knife. His work had been more … thorough.) Certainly, the factions at that table didn’t like each other. But the banquet had been held as a step toward peace, so the sudden bout of violence struck Robijeign as unfortunate–and odd. Suspecting some sort of arcane sabotage, Robijeign had alarmed everyone by flipping the table over, sending dishes, food, knives, and one dead body to the floor.
The runes, freshly carved, seemed to confirm his hypothesis, but he studied them anyway, tuning out the surgeons and aides scurrying around dealing with wounds and bloodshed. Who carved these runes? What spell, specifically, was this? What culture, tradition, or school might teach such magic? With all of these questions in mind, he considered what he knew…
DM: Roll an Intelligence (Arcana) check.
PC (Robijeign, rolling d20): Um, an 8 on dice. Plus 8 is a 16.
(DM consults his notes. The DC is 18.)
DM: You don’t know anything about those runes.
The most unrealistic moment in the narrative above isn’t the table curse. We’re witnessing a fantasy game; spells go with the territory. No, the most unrealistic moment is the DM’s interpretation of the skill check. He’s misunderstanding how knowledge works.