Book quality, level and topic

What information can a character get from a book with a quick casual inspection? Specifically:

  1. Can a character discern the topic for which a book gives xp, without spending a season reading it?
    For example, a Corpus summa might have a lot of terminology in common with a Medicine or Chirurgy summa. The reader could probably narrow the field down to one of those three, but could (s)he tell which one?

  2. Can a character gauge the quality of a book without spending a season reading it?
    Briefly skimming a book should probably give you an inkling. For example, a Com -3, Incomprehensible author would be a lot harder to follow than a Com +3, Good Teacher.

  3. Can a character get an idea on the level of a summa without spending multiple seasons exhausting all the xp it can give him/her?

How is this handled in your saga?

I don't believe there are rules for any of that. IMO,

Yes. The amount of time required may vary, but I think in many cases a casual overview of the book would suffice. More lengthy reading might be required to realize "secondary" books within the main work, such as a Tractatus on The Chirurgeon's Healing Touch hiding within that Corpus summa; but even then, a day's reading at most would suffice.

Yes. Within a few hours of reading.

Yes, within less of an hour.

I agree. A few days reading at most ought to reveal most if not all of the pertinent details of a text.

Remember, after all, a season is 3 months long. Spending a season in studying a book is the equivelent of spending an entire college semester studying one textbook. It doesn't take you a full 3 months to read the book. Rather, you are reading, re-reading, pondering, puzzleing and trying to understand everything the book says. So it would probably take you only a few days, perhaps a week, to read through the book once and gain a general understanding of what it's about, how advanced it is and how well it is written.

Methinks the character would only know if it is good or okay or lousy. When I read books, I never think "Oh, the Mao Biography is worth seven xp in Chinese History". What I think is: Interesting, but poorly written.

Sure, but the player should probably be allowed to know what the subject, the quality, and level is after his character has read the book for a few hours/days.

Unless, of course there is something odd about the book: it is written in code or a language the character cannot read, or it has "hidden" sections, etc.

Obviously the /characters/ don't know much of anything about the game mechanics specifics. I doubt the magus is saying "hmm, I have +43 to cast this lvl 50 spell, so I've got 68% chance of casting it without getting a Fatigue level" either...

Anyway, books can be read pretty quickly in their entirety if you just want an idea of their content and/or are doing some sort of "lore" research. The studying is way more involved. Remember, everything about magic is personalized. Even when you learn a spell from a text, its clearly stated that the magus is reinventing the spell for himself using the text as a guideline.

So even though you can read "Inner Secrets of the Oceans" quickly, adapting the information on Aquam to your personal magical approach takes considerable time.

  1. Yes. Very quickly, a few minutes of looking it over should be enough unless its a very confused(or confusing) book.

  2. Roughly yes. After a short skimming through, maybe find out quality +-35% or something like that.

  3. Yes. Rough estimate fairly quickly, certainly no more than a few hours, maybe in just a few minutes. Exactly, that should probably take at least a few hours, maybe a day or even a week.

Hmm, so no-one ever knowns the book is about Enigmatic Wisdom..........Probably the reason only Criamon read it :wink:

In my saga I keep the Qualities and levels of books secret! When a character reads a book, I discreetly inform the player of how many XP are gained. If a summa, I tell them approximately how much more they could learn from it. The player then usually writes an in-character comment on the library sheet, e.g. "this insightful summa was a joy to read but sadly far too short" = high Quality, low level. I find that this adds a little spice to the subject of books. For instance, if the covenant gains a new book, it remains an unknown quantity until someone has read it...

However I don't let characters waste seasons - the relevant Abilities which can be studied and whether or not a character could learn anything from a book can be gleaned within a matter of hours.

A very nice approach, if your players cooperate.
My group plays with multiple SG's, which makes this approach a bit more difficult. We have a very fanatic Bonisagus (especially on education matters), who makes notes on every book and is seen as our librarian. Because he keeps track of every new book and catalogues everything, we just note the level and quality. Sometimes however, I only note an approximation of the quality (and level).... that is just more fun.

How about throwing 1D6 with each book?
result is bonus xp
1 -3xp
2 -2xp
3 -1xp
4 +1xp
5 +2xp
6 +3xp

This would reflect that same book can mean different things to different people (who have a different background), and also simulate test situations like: I need a Creo score of 10 in 3 seasons - I wonder if I will be ready for the exam by then...

I would only recommend using this for books read in a player round, not for artificially aging characters.

As noted above, there aren't any official rules on the matter. My house rules:

I'd say that a character can determine the topic of a number of summae or tractati, (and if you're using the extended rules from Covenants, they can also determine the secondary function and opus type) per week equal to their score in the pertinent language. For lab texts, a week would let you know the Form and Technique of a number of lab texts (generalized or not) equal to your Latin or MT, whichever is higher.
I don't think it's fair to make it instant ("oh, look, it's Durenmar; I'd like the printout of all the books there, please"), but I think it's reasonable that they could go through several on top of normal seasonal work.

Hm. I'd give a character an Int + Order of Hermes roll for Hermetic books, and Int + Artes Liberales for non-Hermetic, to recognize old books/authors, and get a notion of their quality and level from that. I haven't implemented the "you don't know how good this book is" philosophy in my saga yet, but the characters haven't been exposed to many new books yet... they traded for a set of the Roots of the Arts, so it seemed safe to assume everyone knew how they looked. But, when it comes down to it, having characters know how good a book is without taking time to do more than a quick skim-through seems wrong. (And, when we're talking about medieval books, it's hard to "just skim" in the first place.)

If I wanted to be really hardcore, I'd say that a character could study a number of books equal to their Int + Latin in a season to determine the quality and levels for each.

For lab texts, in a season, Int + MT could be studied to fully understand the Form, Technique, Requisites, Magnitude, and effect they involve. Int + MT to recognize an implementation of a standard effect (i.e. from the core book) without any time.

In our troupe its quite simple: when we found a book, we have 3 data:

  • level
  • subject

that's data for the players, and our magi use to understand what they have to. We dont bother with :slight_smile:

I think perhaps that this is one of those skills that characters have that players do not have. I can flip though a book and in a few seconds can tell the reading level that its intended for. Now, that's because I'm a reference librarian and I do this sort of thing for a living: other people don't do this because they have more important things to learn how to do. I think perhaps that our magi might have a similar sort of skill, in some cases, because it matters to them in a way it doesn't to the player.

Really good point TF - people tend to be good at a quick analysis of things they are familiar with. You look for certain details, certain clues and signs one way or another.

Not all magi would be all that "familiar" with texts, so perhaps a reading roll, based on Artes Liberales?

Even then, it could give a false reading. Lavish detail does not guarantee complete (or accurate) information, and strong writing does not always precede good communication of the topic.

And vice versa.

I am sure you are an able judge of books, Timothy (you certainly are a capable writer), but even you won't tell the people in your library how many points a book is worth.
Even learning for my MAs, I could never be sure if the books I wanted to read were good enough to teach me what I needed to know beforehand. Of course it's not hard to do some skimming, read chapter headings etc, but if you read a book about father-son relations in chapter 9 of Joyce's Ulysses, even you would be hard pressed to say if it contains all you want to know before digesting it paragraph by paragraph.
The aspect of understanding the book, which mostly depends on exactly what knowledge you had before reading it, but also on your mental fitness on the day you are reading, the place where you are reading, and God knows what... - all this is lost when we assign a fixed number to a book before reading it. So I don't think there is some skill only librarians have that allows people to judge books accurately enough to allow perfect predictions on the effect that every book will have on every reader.
Having said that, the rules for learning from books work fine. Not too simple, but simple enough to be useful.

Respectfully, I can certainly tell the level of a book before I read it paragraph by paragraph. That's a basic element of my job, required of any librarian who does collection development work.

"All" is a tricky thing because its so absolute. I know the strong likelyhood of the contents of most books after brief perusal. Any experienced research librarian does. It's one of the intermediate skills of our profession. "All I want to know" no, "Likely to contain all I want to know." certainly, yes.

For example, when working on the last Ars book I drafted, I recieved five books by ILL, and could tell within five minutes which were useful enough to read, and that two of the books were closely related (one was a revision of the other, under new title) and how great the difference between editions was. In the same way that some mathematicians can see patterns in sets of numbers, so librarians with sufficent training can tell the level of a book in moments. That's just how it is, I'm far from the fastest person in my library at this, by the way. Our guru on it is a lot faster than I am (although I'm off to study with her for three months next year, to improve my library-fu).

Respectfully again, that's just wrong. The second and third laws of Ranganathanian librarianship are "For every book a reader / For every reader a book". I know, perfectly well, what the level of real world books is (Did you know they had levels? They do. We use it for conspectus.) I'm also highly trained in assessing exactly what you want, what your state of mind is, and how you and any of my many available sources of information click together. This process is called a "reference interview" and I'm designing the training on reference interviews of the the second largest library system in the Southern Hemispehere right now. I really can, with sufficent interview time, reach right inside the head of most willing people and find the right book for them. Their distractedness prolongs the interview process because it makes them inarticulate, and the finickiness of their question slows the delivery of their information down because it means fewer and fewer sources fit them perfectly, but I can tailor a book to some of my clients in the same way that a tailor can make you a perfectly fitting suit, and that's not actually anything special in my profession.

I'm not particularly skilled here: most experienced librarians can do this at least some of the time. You see it more in small libraries than large ones, because they have more time to do the interview. There is a small country town in Central Queensland that I can walk one block of the main street of and for every single business, I can remember an owner or employee that I have given perfectly tailored answers to. This is just what we do.

I didn't say "only librarians". I know a few academics with the same skill at sifting collections.

By putting in "every" into the sentence twice, you make the standard of evidence far too high: sure, I can't do this ever time. The initial question though was basically "Can a magus quickly tell how good a book is? How quickly?" My answer stands: I personally can tell the real life level of a book (its conspectus level) after less than a minute.

The question was basically "Can magi tell what the subject of a book is without reading it fully? Can they tell its level? without studying it for a season?" I think they can, because I can.

Can I tell if it will contain a single piece of data? No, but I can tell after a brief look if it seems likely it will, particularly compared ot other books, and I'm generally right, because non-fiction books have strucutres in them, like the plots of novels, and you can pick how they will twist once you have some experience. Can I tell which book will suit a particular person? Well the original question didn't ask that, but yes, actually, I can. The constraint here is time and the willingness of the person to answer questions. When I'm the one doing the reading, when the book is for -me-, its even easier because I don't require an articulartion of need and an interview.

I suggest magi rapidly develop the skill to determine the level of books because their culture is so bibliocentric. As to if they can answer reference questions by others, that's a diffrerent set of skills.

Conspectus - I've just googled up some information - fascinating - Timothy you are right:
A system like that does indeed permit sorting. And if we consider the fact that medieval libraries tended to be under 100 books - well - yes I am convinced now that medieval books have a quality that can be expressed by a number, and that a qualified monk or magus knows these numbers.

I still doubt that people with the same approximate level of learning gain the same amount of knowledge from the same book though and I think "intelligence" and "what x knew before he/she read the book" are not sufficient criteria to explain this.
At university, all of the course I was in, a rather homogenous group of Heidelberg students, read the same introduction to Old English and the same edition of Sweet's Anglo-Saxon reader, but the results and the xp gained from the experience were far from identical. Some of this could of course be explained by distractions or virtues. But everything?

I thought that was a function of the current public education system. 8)