Longterm readers of my blog will know I’m a fan of sane levels of realism in my games (as opposed to insane levels of realism). While D&D, Pathfinder and the like contain orcs, dragons and demons that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace a level of realism that makes the game better for the participants. (And by “better” I mean more enjoyable).
With that in mind, I’ve never been completely happy with the way 3.0 and its descendants handle speaking, reading and writing.
My game of choice is currently Pathfinder, and so my house rule deals with the mechanics of that system. If you want to take and modify my rule to work with your game of choice, fill your boots (English for, “Go for it”!)
If you think about it, Linguistics is the only skill in Pathfinder that has—in some instances—a 100% success rate without any dice rolling. Spend one rank on Linguistics to learn Draconic—for example—and you can now speak, read and write Draconic with no chance of failure.
Think about your command of the English language for a moment: do you speak, read and write English perfectly? Do you know the meaning of every word? What does “gallimaufry” mean? (Gallimaufry is clearly one of the greatest words of all time!)Still, no matter, your average fighter with an Intelligence of 9 can read the most sagacious and erudite words of a long-dead sage with no chance of error or misinterpretation even if the sage had atrocious handwriting or the manuscript uses archaic vocabulary.
And more than that, in the default game world—a fantasy version of medieval Europe—everyone is literate from the lowest peasant to the mightiest lord. How? Where are all these schools and teachers? How many village, town and city books have schools and universities? Who pays for the peasants’ education? Why?
Now you might not care about this, and that’s cool, but as a world builder this kind of detail really bugs me.
That’s why in my Adventures in Shadow campaign, I have the following house rule:
(Important Note: I use the Background Skills rule from Pathfinder Unchained which—essentially—gives every PC two extra skill ranks every time they level).
The folk of Ashlar are not generally literate. Literacy is the preserve of the upper classes—rich merchants, the nobility, the clergy and learned wizards and sages—who engage tutors or send their children to the Dreaming Spires for their education.
Characters learn to speak languages in the normal way, but to become literate in a language, a character spends an additional skill rank. This skill rank can be a background skill rank or a normal skill rank. Thus, for example, to speak Draconic and to also be able to read and write the language costs two skill points.
This achieves several things:
- It makes people who can read and write special.
- Adds depths and verisimilitude to the world (which makes me happy).
I’m also thinking of adding this amendment to the rule:
When characters are reading, they are generally assumed to be taking 10. Thus most texts are easy to read. However, understanding some texts can be difficult because of their age, condition, handwriting or vocabulary. To read such documents, the character must make a special Linguistics check with a modifier equal 1 + the character’s Intelligence modifier. The DCs are as follows:
- Easy Text: DC 5
- Normal text: DC 10
- Hard text: DC 15
- Very Hard Text: DC 20
- Virtually Impossible: DC 25
This means only wise sages, skilled scribes and most erudite of wizards can read the hardest to understand texts. I think that’s a cool addition to the game as it makes such characters—both NPCs and PCs—important. While it might not be fair to Joe the fighter it adds an extra layer of verisimilitude to the game world, and that’s something I like!
What Do You Think?
Is this stupid? Am I evil for adding extra realism into my game? Let me know, in the comments below.