Artes Liberales and written languages

The rules for written languages say that one needs a level of Artes Liberales for each writing system (defined by example as an alphabet), plus knowledge of a language normally written in that writing system.

That doesn't coincide very well with the way one learns writing. The initial idea of writing -- that written symbols can correspond with spoken language -- is a big leap of learning. But once one gets past that hurdle, a new alphabet is trivial.* The exception would be really complicated written languages -- ideographic writing systems such as Chinese and Egyptian hieroglyphic.

The requirement of the Educated virtue -- and perhaps a single level of Artes Liberales for the grammar -- seems sufficient to comprehend the basic idea "written symbols represent spoken language" well enough to read or write in a single written language. To learn an additional written language is fairly easy -- subject to the requirement that the learner must find a teacher who knows the new writing system. Learning from exposure doesn't do the job, because the average rabble can't read or write. Finding a literate language teacher is challenge enough.

Alternatively, one might learn a written language system from a written source meant for that purpose. For example, a magus is fluent in written and spoken Latin, and competent in spoken Arabic, but wants to learn written Arabic. To do so would require finding a tractatus on written Arabic, with explanatory text in Latin and a bunch of examples of written Arabic.

Very complicated written language systems, such as Chinese, are special cases. (Chinese isn't a great example because it's well beyond the bounds of Mythic Europe, but it's the most familiar in the modern world.) Alphabetic systems are -- at least to some degree -- approximate representation of the sounds of the spoken language. Written Chinese doesn't work that way -- it's a symbolic representation of the meaning of the words, with a great deal of idiom. To approximate it in game terms, I'd say it requires Educated (for the idea of writing), a single level of Artes Liberales (for the theoretical side of grammar), and then it works like an additional language, separate from spoke Chinese. Such a rule is probably moot unless a party travels far beyond the usual limits of Mythic Europe, however, unless such a language exists there that I don't know about.

Finally, I don't mean to take anything away from Artes Liberales. It's a useful skill even without its link to written languages. I just don't think that the game mechanic of one alphabet per level of Artes Liberales makes much sense.

  • In the usual sense, not in the sense of the Artes Liberales trivium. :wink:

We have worked out the following for alphabet sets.

Set A: All of Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Poland
(Also Latin)
Set B: Greek
Set C: Romania, Bulgaria, Czech, Russia, Hungary, Austria, etc.
Set D: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland
Set E: Arabic
Set F: Persian

It's clear that certain abilities dont require extra effort to improve, eg: going from 3-4 in arts liberales shouldn't take nearly as much effort as going from 3-4 in weapon skill, but besides making a separate list of abilities that advance at a constant rate their is little you can do.

add G: Hebrew

Well in game terms improving in Artes liberales is much mure easier as there are many Tractatus considering Artes liberales in a mundane library near by (usually of the church or even an university). Some of them should have pretty high source qualities as most ancient writers were considered to be expert teachers. (Good teacher virtue)
While training your weapon skills you need someone better willing to train you.

But, yes: Overall, there are some abilities which sould be easier to learn than others. Using crossbows for example is said to be learnt easier than learning how to use bows. (I do not know as I have never practices either.) But this can be simulated by changing the target number of the die roll.

I don't see it that way. The difficulty to go from 3 to 4 in any skill is 20 experience points, by definition. The way I see it, that 20 points of difference represents a body of learning, and what one gets out of that body of learning depends on the skill.

In the case of Artes Liberales, it's a broad range of academic skills and a range of related academic knowledge. The skills improve progressively -- one improves one's ability to do arithmetic calculations rapidly at first, but more slowly as it becomes more a matter of practice. The related knowledge improves more proportional to effort -- each point of experience might represent the same number of rhetorical tricks, for example -- but the usefulness of the body of knowledge for a given task advances more like the skill does.

In the case of a weapon skill, the learning is very narrow -- just improved skill at the same type of task, with a small expansion of knowledge related to the task.

As applied to written language, I don't think Artes Liberales is the right measure. My point is that written language (alphabetic at least) is very simple, once you get past the leap of reasoning that written symbols represent spoken language. And unlike learning an additional level of a pyramid-point skill, it's something that gets easier with each additional alphabet.

My point is that finding a teacher literate in a new alphabet (or a comparably educational written source) is challenge enough to learning a new language, once one gets past the basic idea of written language (the Education virtue).

That short list of writing systems is a bit too much simplified. lists a great many writing systems -- far more than one would want in a game. Trimming that list down to things one could encounter in or near Europe in the 13th century, I got this list (in approximate order of game usefulness):

Latin alphabet: Most languages in Western Europe
Arabic abjad: Arabic and numerous other languages, mainly in the Muslim world
Greek alphabet: Greek, Coptic (modified)
Cyrillic alphabet: Many languages in Eastern Europe
Hebrew abjad: Hebrew
Runic alphabets: Germanic languages in Scandinavia (thus not Finnish)
Ogham alphabet: Old Irish
Tifinagh abjad: Berber (north Africa)
Aramaic abjad: Aramaic, some forms of Persian
Ge'ez Ethiopic alphasyllabary: numerous languages spoken mainly in Ethiopia
Old Hungarian alphabet: Hungarian (also written in Latin alphabet)
Armenian alphabet: Armenian
Georgian alphabet: Georgian and some other languages
Samaritan alphabet: Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew
Syriac abjad: several Syriac languages
Glagolitic alphabet: Several languages (most are also written in Cyrillic)
Mandaic alphabet: Mandaic and Aramaic
Egyptian hieroglyphic logograph: Ancient Egyptian (obsolete by the 4th century, but still present in inscriptions)
Hieratic logograph: Ancient Egyptian (obsolete by the 7th century, but still present in inscriptions)
Demotic logograph: Ancient Egyptian, Coptic (obsolete by the 5th century, but still present in inscriptions)
South Arabian abjad: numerous languages (obsolete by the 7th century, but still present in inscriptions)
Cuneiform logograph: many ancient Mesopotamian languages (obsolete by the 1st century, but still present in inscriptions)

Obviously that's overkill; only the first six or so are likely to turn up often enough to make them worth learning, unless a magus decides to try to integrate non-Hermetic magic that's not described in the canon books.