Read, Write and how they interact with Ancient Language / Foreign Language.

What do you do when a character wants to READ an ANCIENT LANGUAGE? A player of mine got B5 in Read and B3 in Ancient Language. What does he rolls? B5 for Reading and FoRKing 1D for Ancient Language? That’s weird because that character will have an easier time reading Ancient Stuff than the same Stuff in his mothertongue… or do we use the lowest of the 2 skills (this B3 in that case)? If that so, where does he log the Test? In Read or Ancient Language?

… Or is there 3 skills for every languages, one for speaking it, one for writing it and one for reading it…?

Thanks people!

It’s hard to do hypotheticals, but I think this is primarily an Ancient Languages test.

Hmm…there may be a purposeful intention with the way languages are set up, in the game itself. But honestly, this is something that may need your own determination for your game specifically.

For ancient language, you could determine that the language could be read only (and by extension written). Because it’s an old language, there may not be a known pronunciation. This makes Ancient Language akin to reading, but only for that old language.

To a certain extent you should also determine, in your game fiction, the validity of the read and write skills. In Medieval games (the default), speaking is standard,reading is rare, and writing even rarer. They really were three different abilities (this accounts for why even fluent and learned persons, such as Shakespeare or Chaucer, had massive grammatical and spelling errors by current standards…the language wasn’t perfectly codified until very recently in history, and medieval europe was a mess as far as literacy goes…).

But in your game, perhaps these skills are moot…if you can speak it, you can read it and write it.

Now, for foreign languages, I can attest to the way this could work based on the 3 skill requirement. I don’t have anything near to fluency, but for the language I’m closest to, I can read it better than I can speak it, which is better than I can write it. My proficiency is variable for each area, meaning I can see how this works.

What I would do, however (to save yourself book keeping headaches for languages), is roll for the language you want to read, write, or speak (besides your native tongue), and FoRK in reading or writing, depending on which action you want to do. This advances the language, reflecting your increasing proficiency with it, while keeping your reading or writing skills static. This actually makes sense, because (again, from personal experience) the proficiency in a language, when read or written, is affected by your spoken proficiency and proficiency in standard reading or writing.

A good way of understanding this is looking at Grimm’s law (they were also linguists). Being proficient in the rules of grammer in your native tongue CAN translate to insight into grammar rules for other languages, especially if you have some passing knowledge of speaking the other language. In this case, me understanding that F in father (from English, a Germanic Language) is roughly approximated into P for Padre (from Spanish, a Latin language), means that for Germanic languages I can expect an F in those cases where-as for Latin languages I can expect a P.

Give me a B5 in reading, a B1 in Spanish, and that pretty closely approximates how I am much more proficient in reading Spanish than I am at simply speaking it. I FoRK all the time. And in my reality/fiction for the real world, reading and writing are synonymous skills.

Hope that helps (in a lengthy, overly detailed way)…

A linked test is an option as well. Can you Read it? Can you understand the Language?

Finally, consider that Ancient Languages don’t necessarily let you use your Read skill in any fashion. Consider how utterly foreign some ancient systems of writing are. Knowing the language means being familiar with its system of writing as well. (This may not be true of all ancient languages in your game, and is something to decide as it comes up.)

Well, BW Wolrd-Building being mostly an “emergent property”, Ancient and Foreign Languages does not come into play unless PCs have them, right? So I suppose when a character got skills like Foreign Language and Ancient Language, it’s because the players want to weave stories in which those skills are relevant, and the failure of such skills can produces merry narratives.

So here was the situation :

A character got a belief like this : “I shall prove to the preset, feral king that this realm rightfully belongs to the Elves”. And the character discover, say, an old book written in Ancient Language. In this book, there is data regarding the legacies of ancient lords, etc… So, if he successes the Test, he will learn than indeed, there is a written proof that the elves where the rightful rulers xyz years ago. If he will fail, he will discover, I dunno, that they where never lords but just invaders and the like.

So, is it a Ancient Language Test or a Read test?

Thanks for helping out…

… the linked test is interesting, but I found it a little “heavy” for a task as simple as this one…

… thanks!

I would simply make it an Ancient language test, since it is noted as being an Ancient Language the text is written in. Again FoRK if applicable.

Funnily enough, the scenario you provided seems like it will quickly result in DoW, because if the character is the only one who can read the ancirnt script, then his “proof” is pretty much invalif, unless he can somehow assert himself irrefutably as an expert in the ancient language…

It can also turn-out to be a mold-breaker : perhaps the character genuinely thought that the elves are rightful owners… Not all players are GameOfThronish, Powermongering Realpolitikal Douchelords ;).

I do want to know what was the intent behind the game design : to make 3 skills for every languages? (or 1 ou 2 for unspoken ones?)

What about “my” house-ruling of using the lowest of the the skills when Read/Write interact with Ancient/Foreign Language? Is it too “against” the philosophy of the BW system?

It’s like being more studied in Greek and Latin than French, English or German. I believe this was rather common among educated pre-industrial Europeans.

When reading Ancient Languages, you roll AL and FoRK in Read.

When reading a modern monograph that references a lot of ancient material, you test Read and FoRK in AL.

Hope that helps!

Stormsweeper has it right: hypotheticals suck for this stuff.

Remember, in Burning Wheel, it always comes down to task/intent and what works in the fiction. Let me begin to explain by underlining a misunderstanding I noticed in your initial post:

What does he rolls? B5 for Reading and FoRKing 1D for Ancient Language? That’s weird because that character will have an easier time reading Ancient Stuff than the same Stuff in his mothertongue

What you’re missing here is that there is no way tests in the player’s native language would be nearly as hard. In fact, if they’re reading something in their native language and it’s not terribly difficult writing (or, more to the point, there’s nothing on the line), you’d be apt to Say Yes more often than not.

I don’t think a Reading -> Ancient/Foreign Languages test would be appropriate in most circumstances. Linked Test implies a string of independent intents that are not easily resolved with a single skill roll. If, say, they wander into a secret room full of random symbols everywhere and they have to identify which symbols are actually readable and which ones are just rubbish, THEN I could see a Linked Test (although, even then you could make an argument that Reading isn’t the most appropriate skill there). Or, if the player wanted to do some research first, I could see Research -> Ancient/Foreign Languages. Both of those situations allow you to set up independent failure consequences for each test.

My advice, unless you’re super keen on being really detailed about this, is take inspiration from the way Circles and Resources are handled in BW and handle Ancient/Foreign Languages in a very general way. Use the intent and what the group collectively knows about The Story So Far to determine how high the Ob would be and then just call it. If you’re concerned about being consistent, make yourself a little table to judge how to scale the Ob. (i.e. “-1 Ob if you have a dictionary with you”)

It does help!

Yet I have this issue. You said :

… so basically, a character with B6 in Ancient Language and B2 in read will have a (way more!) easier time to Read a book written in that language than reading the translation of the same book in his own language? (B6 + ForK in the first = 7D and just 2D in the second…). Seems a little weird to me…

Yes, thanks, but in the game we are currently running it might be really important… the players wanted to play a, sorry for the pun, “game of thrones” using ancient tomes and exploring old ruins of fallen kingdoms. The books they are going to read are about legacies, changing of laws and rights through the centeries, and the like. So I cannot always call “Just Say Yes” - there are some really nice plot-twisting possibilites when you attempt to find something in a forgotten tome and you discover it’s the complete opposite!

I didn’t say to always Say Yes. If there’s something on the line, of course you shouldn’t, you’d call for some dice to hit the table. But if you’re setting the Ob for those tests equal to or higher than you’d set the ob for Ancient Languages, maybe think about why you’re doing that. It might be correct, I dunno, it’s your game, but… you’re the GM. If you feel like reading an Ancient Language should be harder, there’s a simple solution: make it harder. :slight_smile:

I’d probably handle the situation by just saying yes to the reading test. (As an aside, I don’t think I’ve ever asked one of my players to actually roll Read; I’m of half a mind to just house rule it into being a training skill.)

Yes, but then he has near mastery of the ancient language and is untrained, raw, weak, or unpracticed at reading. Personally, I look at the foreign and ancient language skills as the ability to understand/comprehend them. We haven’t a comprehend skill for the primary human language as all are able to speak it, (just as Elven and Dwarven Script skills are all about reading and writing their respective languages, the speaking is assumed). Unless you feel the need to have a read and write skill for every language, I would just raise the obstacle be higher for non-native and ancient languages. (I base mine on the content of the message and the success of the writer)

Why? Are you equally literate in all languages? Your character isn’t. Your character spent more time studying ancient tongues than worrying about his grammar lessons. Honestly, sounds exactly like the kind of character we all like to play!

I would think there were many people in history who learned to read and write in Latin far better than they could in the vernacular.

The thing is, for much of the Middle Ages in Europe, to read and write meant to read and write in Latin, even if the language you actually spoke would have more properly been Old Italian or Old French. The belief was that the vernaculars were not really languages. Scholars didn’t even recognize a difference between the language of Cicero and the tongues of the street until Alcuin’s reforms during the Carolingian Renaissance. People simply hadn’t paid attention to the fact that the language had changed and texts corrupted. Even then, writing in the vernacular was frowned upon until Dante came along with his poetry and also his De Vulgari Eloquentia, which which was one of the first works to recognize that separate Romance languages existed and defended their use.

Thus, you have most people more skilled in reading “ancient languages” than “modern” ones for a very long time. However, I’d argue that in this instance, Latin shouldn’t be considered an ancient language. Latin was essentially a living language until the later Renaissance, when authors insisted on a return to “classical” forms, rather than writing in the Latin as it had evolved over the past thousand years.

Anyway, in games where language is important, I think I’d require separate Read and Write skills for each language. There is a problem with that, though: I think there’s a baseline skill aspect to reading and writing which applies to any (alphabetical) language. We all had to learn that letters represent sounds, for instance, and now that we know that we simply learn new alphabets when we learn new languages and so forth. Reading the vernacular would probably be easier for someone who understands the basic mechanics of reading, though, because you sound it out and it’s words you know. Reading and writing Latin involves knowing another language, the language of God which doesn’t change.

Technically, the barbarians in the west read and spoke Latin. Civilized folks in the east stayed with the original Greek (we’ll ignore the original, original Aramaic for now). :wink:

Well, yes, that’s true; I was thinking of ‘Europe.’ Interestingly, official Imperial pronouncements–things published on stone–were published only in Latin in the West, but they were still published in Latin in the East, with Greek translations. Latin was still the “official” language; the Theodosian code, for instance, which was written and compiled in Constantinople, was still a Latin–and only Latin–text. But you’re right, you don’t have the same extreme diglossia in the East.

My point was more that it is possible to have greater familiarity with one written language even if you use another language in every day speech. A character with a B6 Ancient Languages skill has, by default, spent years reading a lot of ancient tomes. They may not have seen many written examples of their own language.