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Thread: Skills Q: Read and Scribe

  1. #1
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    Default Skills Q: Read and Scribe

    May I ask the reason for making the ability to read and write into two skills? It seems natural to combine them into one skill as virtually all other games do. Especially when considering the advice Luke gives in the Monster Burner (great book btw) for creating skills (not to general, not to specific). My girlfriend (who is a preschool teacher) informed me that the ability to write often precedes the ability to read (but not by much). Despite this it seems strange that someone could be a good writer without the ability to read what he's written. As a GM I wouldn't allow someone to buy just the one skill past root level without also buying the other, but shouldn't the mechanics be able to handle this without player/GM intervention (by using one skill for both reading and writing for example)?

    I just realised there are no skills for other languages than the native tongue either. Why is this?
    Jocke Andersson
    BWC.357 -- BWR.056

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    Oh god. If only you knew the can of worms you were stumbling into!

    This comes up pretty frequently. Luke, bless his anger-filled little heart, is trying to reflect medieval reality here. Most people did not learn to read and write the same way we do these days. In fact, it was pretty much only clerks (studying to become priests) that learned to read (and not all of them). They did not receive a piece of paper and a pen and learn how to make the letters to piece together into words.

    Instead, they looked at a Bible with an instructor and learned painfully and laboriously what particular words looked like. They simply did not learn how to write as they learned how to read. In fact, it is only after the Enlightenment that people started learning how to read silently! Before that, because of the way they learned, they were incapable of not mouthing the words as they read.

    Writing was an altogether different kettle of fish, and only for the truly educated. You would not be able to write a letter without knowing how to read.

    HOWEVER. It is possible to write words without understanding what is being written. In fact, it was fairly common (at least among monks) because, except in rare cases, the only thing that was being 'written' was the Bible. They simply sat down with a Bible and copied the symbols they saw without understanding them.

    If a player takes Writing and does not take Reading, the skill should rightly be Copying.

    I corner him and stab him in the face!

  3. #3
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    Yes, a whole new can of worms...

    Hi Jocke,
    This was recently a hot topic here at BWHQ. In addition to the cultural/historical reasons list above, there is a game mechanical one.

    To reflect how rare Read and Write were, I wanted to impose a skill point penalty. I made them two separate skills -- doubled the cost of the skill for a character who wants to become a scholar -- to show try to reflect this rarity.

    You'll notice that the Elves and Dwarves actually have standard Literacy skills -- their Script skills -- to reflect the higher order of their cultural evolution.

    It's not a perfect solution, I know.

    What would you have done?
    -L
    "Athos—Porthos, farewell till we meet again! Aramis, adieu forever!"
    --D'Artagnan

    Check out my latest project:

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    That depends on what stage of the middle ages you are talking about. It might be accurate for the early 11th century, but in the later middle ages, literacy was a bit more widespread than that (still not common though). The use of written deeds and contracts, the existence of universities etc. indicate that more people than the clergy used the written word. As for how they learned how to read and write I don't know and it might come down to how we define the terms used. For me, copying symbols isn't the same as writing. I can copy kanji symbols, but I surely cannot write japanese. I would say that if you're unable to reproduce in written form words that you've formed yourself, then you cannot write. But in order to do that you would at least have to have some basic reading ability right? I just don't see how you can separate the two without stripping away the ability to communicate (which it's all about) from one of the skills.

    Luke, I understand the mechanical reasons; making people pay extra for a skill hard to come by, but is this really a good way? I always liked GURPS's optional (dis)advantage Literacy. In settings where literacy was uncommon, you had to pay for it, in settings where it was common, you got extra points by choosing to be illiterate. How about using a trait for this? Like GURPS Literacy or Ars Magica's Educated advantages. Or use special skill rules for language skills only. But with special rules it easily gets very complicated (language groups, different scripts, dialects etc.).

    What would I have done? I would have used one skill for both reading and writing a language. One speak and one scribe skill per language.
    Jocke Andersson
    BWC.357 -- BWR.056

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    I would say that if you're unable to reproduce in written form words that you've formed yourself, then you cannot write. But in order to do that you would at least have to have some basic reading ability right? I just don't see how you can separate the two without stripping away the ability to communicate (which it's all about) from one of the skills.
    it's a very difficult concept for the modern mind to grasp, therefore its become a rather controversial topic for the game. I completely understand your reservations, but the advantage/disadvantage thing isn't to my taste. Even today, world wide, literacy is a commodity.

    -L
    "Athos—Porthos, farewell till we meet again! Aramis, adieu forever!"
    --D'Artagnan

    Check out my latest project:

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    I'm working on a job and just came across an 1880 census sheet. Two of the categories are "Cannot Read" and "Cannot Write". Just goes to show that there was a practical separation that recently.

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