In the mornings, Lashiec would milk his goats, check his duck traps, and then eat breakfast with his mother. If there was any food left over, he would bring it to the stylite, who lived on top of a column.
In exchange for onions and sour cheeses, the wise man taught Lashiec everything he knew.
In the beginning, these were mundane things: the organization of the spheres, the seven souls of man, the color of Zulin's teapot. It took a great deal of time for the wise man to tell Lashiec everything he knew, for he had learned a lot by communing with the upper air, but it eventually came to pass.
In the end, the elder even told the boy the secrets of heaven. On the seventh day, the stylite told his last secret. Lashiec was astounded, and stared at the horizon. "I understand my place in the world," he said.
But the old man was looking around in confusion and horror. At his hands, at the ground below, at nothing. "What is this horrible place?" the old man asked. There was nothing left of him, for his spirit had departed.
-From the Seventh Sermon of Lashiec, Son of Heaven
In Lashiec's seventh sermon, he is explaining the nature of non-commutative knowledge, which is knowledge that cannot be shared.
We could say that the act of telling causes forgetting, but this is an oversimplification.
Non-commutative knowledge breaks from regular semiotics, because the signifier is the same thing as the signified, and yet neither has any meaning in the regular sense of the word.
In Centerra, these are called the Secret Names of God.
The Secret Names of God
They are believed to be the true names of the Authority, or perhaps just fragments of it. Each is too powerful to be splintered among many minds. They are described as an iron orb, sinking through the oily sea that is the world.
If I tell you one of the Secret Names, it will leave my mind.
If I write down one of the Secret Names, it will leave my mind.
If I read one of the Secret Names, I will gain it, and the ink on the paper will become meaningless. (There are scholars who study these empty cocoons. Each one is different, and bears little resemblance to each other, or any known language.)
If I die while I hold one of the Secret Names, it will remain in my brain, and later, my skull. Different methods are required to retrieve the Name from these locations. (Grand hookah, skull player.)
I've printed six of the Secret Names below. They belong in your dungeon, like any treasure. A character who holds a Secret Name gains the listed power for as long as they hold it.
A secret name can also be used to create a golem.
Secret Name: Shaimok
When you fire a bow, range penalties are turned into bonuses. This doesn't affect your maximum range.
Secret Name: Phacops
At any moment, you can choose to die. Your body rots into dust immediately. The next morning, you will be reborn from the dirt beneath the location where you last awakened from sleep. The word remains in your old skull, and must be retrieved.
Secret Name: Deiphon
You can walk on water. The bottoms of your feet still get wet.
Secret Name: Destra
You can learn what spells someone has prepared by looking in their eye.
Secret Name: Zhuul
A character who holds this secret name can turn invisible whenever they close their eyes and hold their breath.
Secret Name: Amkala
If you sit in someone's warm spot, people will believe you to be that person. Lasts until you stand up.
The Wizard Trap
So here's the problem:
We look at our fantasy world and classify the contents into the non-magical and the fantastic. Fine.
The problem is that we use the real world as a the yardstick for measuring what is magical, and what is not. This limits our creativity, and it limits how our players interact with the world.
Wolves exist in the real world. Therefore they are not magical, right?
Gelatinous Cubes do not exist in the real world. Therefore, they must be magic. (Or at least, be capable of things that real world monsters are not, such as super-acid.)
If you pick away at this dichotomy a little bit, the flaw becomes apparent.
Why shouldn't there be something fantastic about the common wolf?
Why shouldn't our imaginary monsters be more mundane? (e.g. The psuedodragon would be a stronger concept without the tail sting.)
When the line between magical and non-magical creatures is blurred, it strengthens the setting, and by extension, the game. (Scrap learned this long ago.)
This same flaw extends to how we see wizards. It's a mistake I've made in the past: allowing only wizards to identify scrolls. It extends far beyond that, though.
Many people will look at a force field and say, "this doesn't exist in the real world, therefore it must be magic, therefore it must be something that only the wizard can interact with."
And this is a shame, not only because it shuts fighters off from a huge portion of the game, but also because it limits us in how we interact with magic.
The Secret Names of God escape the wizard trap because they can be used by anyone.
- Only the wizard can get us past this force field.
- Only a wizard can read this scroll.
- Only a cleric can raise the dead.
- We can break the force field if we hit it really, really hard.
- We can shatter the force field if we play a really high music note.
- We can set the force field on fire.
- Anyone can read a scroll as long as they're really drunk.
- Anyone can read a scroll with the right training.
- If the scroll is inside your body, you can cast the spell.
- Anyone can raise the dead by sacrificing 77 people to the 7th Satan (provided that they aren't in Heaven).
- Anyone who is level 10 can become a lich as long as they are willing to sacrifice everything they love. There are fighter-liches and thief-liches.
Challenge your goddamn assumptions.
You may rightly note that some of these things require the players to know stuff. Many people will assume that a magic scroll needs to be deciphered by a mage, but the flammability of a force field is more ambiguous--which just means that you'll have to work harder convey it.
Maybe the force field has a bit of squish when you touch it. Maybe it has a crack in it already. Maybe the force field vibrates and makes a single note. Maybe it is common knowledge in your setting that force fields are flammable (based on a popular myth). All of these ideas work.
And let me state, for the record, that these are not chores that my players perform in order to get back to the game. These sorts of things are the game. Figuring out how to set a force field on fire is rad. Having the wizard make an Arcana check to identify (or paying a sage to cast identify) a scroll is lame. If identifying a scroll isn't fun, why even have it in your game? If a forcefield isn't interesting, why is it blocking the hallway?