Boundary Between Calligraphy and Write

The Calligraphy skill is defined as “a formal stylized handwriting” (BWG, p. 263), so on the face of it seems like an ability to physically write (rather than compose) a letter. And the root of the skill is averaged with Agility, which suggests “doing” rather than just “thinking”.

However, the tool requirement for Calligraphy is not Expendable, which strongly implies it doesn’t require ink, quills, sopping sand, or other things that are subject to exhaustion or wear; i.e. that the tool kit is reference materials of which version of an illuminated X is best for this situation, special rulers, proforma documents, &c.

This contrasts with the Write skill which is stated to have an Expendable tool kit, so requires ink or their ingredients (and is defined as “a copyist’s skill” (p. 309) so is explicitly the ability to physically write).

Obviously, they can FoRK into each other when creating a formal letter, and a character who has Write but not Calligraphy can’t create a new letter in formal handwriting (without using Beginner’s Luck) and—almost certainly—faces higher Obstacles if trying to copy an existing letter in formal handwriting if they are allowed to try at all.

But, what can a character with only Calligraphy do?

Are they limited (as is suggested by the tools not including expendable items) recognizing messages in the choice of illumination, assessing whether the letter was altered or faked, and other “knowledge” of the formal writing style—and thus the root including Agility is an oddity.

Or are they able to physically write (as is suggested by the Agility half of the root) as well—and the enduring nature of the tools is an oddity.

While it seemed merely an interesting niggle when I first noticed it, if Calligraphy does include the ability to write but does not expend tools to do so, it would allow characters to make a fortune by spending their free time creating copies of books (which seems somewhat contrary to the BW ethos of everything of value costs the character something meaningful).


I have thought about this and while I am new to Burning Wheel have an interpretation that I used with a player who had a similar question.

Calligraphy is art of producing " decorative writing or lettering " what it does not specify is the medium. So i would suggest if you wanted to carve a message in the stone work of a church that would be Calligraphy fork Masonry, or in a stain glass window would be Calligraphy fork Glass-working. If the character wanted to write the message and understand it themselves then possibly they would then need read/write and if they wanted to hide meanings in it symbology and or inconspicuous?

Anyway thats my thought, hope you find it helpful

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Interesting and not illogical analysis, @thecodex101; cheers!

The rules are clear someone without Read couldn’t use Calligraphy to understand text—although they ironically might be able to use it to understand any meta-information the writer had put into the style of writing, &c.

Doesn’t “explain” the Agility root perfectly, but one could gloss it as the skill drawing strongly upon an understanding of what it is possible for craftspeople to physically achieve rather than being solely abstract visualization.

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It does make obvious sense for production. For analysing calligraphy though:

There’s evidence from cognitive science that how we process symbolic meaning will harness brain pathways that are normally used for physically producing symbols. For example, when hearing and watching someone speak a language we know, our understanding comes partly from “feeling” those mouth and lung motions and knowing what messages would motivate us to make them.

So though I doubt BWHQ was thinking of neuroscience when assigning Calligraphy a partial Agility root, it means it does makes sense that viscerally recognising the motions it would take for oneself to produce a text would help when using it to analyse calligraphy. :slight_smile:

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If we are delving into the neuroscience of replication, then we open ourselves to the issue of whether someone who has learnt the style and symbolism of Calligraphy from books but never written a letter would take a die penalty or not.

Potentially, there isn’t a single answer and characters with Calligraphy and not Write will have (almost necessarily) the correct answer for them in the implications of their LP route.

Calligraphy allows “writing”, and therefore physical practice. It’s just pretty nonsense without Write. :slight_smile:

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I’d make calligraphy some sort of writing etiquette. Write allows you to write a crude letter, but calligraphy allows you to write such a stylish letter, that it must be answered or considered.
Calligraphy without writing? You might be a fancy copyist employed by the nobility or high clergy, but useless to copy a text “fast”, and unable to put your thoughts into a written form.

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I read the rules the opposite way: if created without Calligraphy a letter to the Church/certain mucketymucks is unlikely to be considered.

Excellent thought: there are plenty of situations where a character would want to write a quick note, and thus where a character would suffer dice penalties (or not be able to test at all) if it was their only writing skill.

The imp in me now wants to burn a character who has Calligraphy and Compose but not Write. So I can spend my time writing quick notes to vacuum up all those sweet sweet Difficult tests from the penalties. :crazy_face:

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