Translating unknown glyphs using magic

You're now at 6 random Ars magicka user out of 7 who replied who believe you're wrong on that, Ezzelino. At this rate, we're approaching the critical mass of 10 you seem to believe would produce a 9 out of 10 consensus, except it may not be the one you're arguing for. Please spare us the we're all biased and none of us understand the true meaning behind the words in the game system, ok?

In addition to some of the things already outlined, you could summon an Airy Spirit. They are capable of understanding all human tongues, and so could translate the glyphs.

There are a few other non-hermetic traditions that might have better luck with this, though. Learned Magicians can grant you supernatural fortune, which can aid in attempts to translate the text with less skill than you would normally need. Saxon Rune Wizards can absolutely use Calc rune to aid attempts to discern the meaning behind a glyph, though they would still require some kind of translation roll or activity (they would just be better at that, much like the Learned Magicians above). Arguably, someone initiated into both the Runes of the Saxons and those of the Vitki might be able to directly translate such a thing using something like:

I, (The Runemaster) Call the Ancient Knowledge
Othila (Calc) 20, Method II

These runes must be carved onto a substance holding another repository of knowledge in some written form. It uses the written glyph or words as an arcane connection to the knowledge they contain, in accordance with the target of the Calc rune. Knowledge of the meaning behind the writing filters into the mind of the Rune Wizard, however, they retain this knowledge only as long as the runes remain.

If the source of knowledge they tap contains some ability they could study or learn, they may do so, provided these runes last for the entire season of study. That knowledge does not fade once the runes end.

Such a character would be rare indeed, though (as the Hermetic order destroyed the Saxon Rune Wizards a long time ago).

A Gruagach could use a Give Vision spell to grant someone the Visions flaw with respect to this glyph's meaning, which could eventually provide some kind of answer. This is mostly because Visions don't follow the normal hermetic limits on divination magic.

Unfortunately, the Augustans are unable to use their powerful divination magic to directly discern things about the past, which is a major limitation. A Muspelli could use their own divination magic to get a pretty good approximation of what the gylphs mean, but not a direct translation.

This is a really hard problem for magic to directly solve without the summoning of some kind of spirit! Thanks for laying it out, I appreciated the chance to do a deep dive on magical capacities w/ this problem.

The simple fact is that the rules say you can not do this.
The same way that Sherlock Holmes uses inductive logic and describes it as deductive, the direct narrative must take precedence over the interpreted narrative.
In addition to which all of the other examples you list are still intrinsic properties of the object- alarge shirt can be inferred to be intended for a large person, but the mind of the creator is not inherently known- it could also be intended to be large on the wearer, or be intended to be brought in so it can fit anyone. Similrly marks on teh page have no intrinsic meaning, they only have meaning in the context of the author's intent or in the mind of a reader by their understanding of the language.
So on both lines of reasoning you strike out, and further insisting that you are right without further evidence is not going to suddenly make people accept your point of view. By RAW it simply does not work that way.

I am figuring that a mage cannot translate the text (word for word) without help from another entity (eg, spirit, someone knowledgeable). And maybe the mage can use magic for clues about the meaning (eg, InTe), but not a direct translation.

Thanks all.

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For InTe, wouldn't the appropriate skills be those of a geologist/stonemason / gemsmith / metallurgist. Someone with the appropriate skills in the material being visually examined.

Just like for InHe, the appropriate skills belong to herbalists and woodworkers.

For writing you would need something like Intelligo Akashic Records, a Form not known to Hermetic Magic.

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I prefer Ezzelino's interpretation, as the consequences are just ugly otherwise.

We have the Intelligo master. I can predict the weather, I can tell you the closest source of gold in the country, I can read you very thoughts, ask me anything? What's that parchment say? Ummmm, can you get a French speaker to read it and I'll read his mind?

It's just a bizarre blocker.

Ezzelino wrote this early on. The core rule book trumps any other book in my opinion, and to me the words are a visible property. Some may consider it a generous interpretation, but I haven't seen the min-max munchkins bashing the door down to make the Intelligo specialist wizards, so I'd lean towards the generous interpretation side.


The misreading of the

is about the word "appropriate". The phrase is in an InTe guideline - so the required skills are skills appropriate to Terram, as most posters here have pointed out.

If you read it instead as skills appropriate to whatever problem the InTe magus is currently pondering, he just needs to write it onto a stone, and presto, he

This is so obviously not meant, that TMK nobody ever even suggested to errata it for better readability.

I appreciate Intelligo has that story breaking aspect. If the GM is dropping bread crumbs and wants the group to work it out, then the Intelligo expert just cast a spell to solve the problem, however, this seem like an arbitrary nerf. If you give them a parchment, you clearly want them to work it out at some point. Let this technique which doesn't have a chance to shine that often, shine!

I'm hoping SGs are pre-warning anyone focusing on making an Intelligo magus that they might not be able to discover as much as they think.

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Actually, that's not true. When "appropriate" is used without further characterization, it means appropriate to the task at hand. So in this case, it means appropriate to determining a generic property of an object that can be determined just by looking.

Note that the object must be a Terram object to be a valid target of the guideline, By that token, any information about the object is "Terram information".

You do notice that this applies equally to your argument, don't you? :slight_smile:
But there's a fundamental difference. The interpretation I am bringing is the plainest, and carries no other ambiguity. In your case, on the other hand, you are implicitly claiming that there are some skills that are appropriate to Intellego Terram. They are never defined anywhere, but you are adamant that they are the only skills that count for application of the guideline. temprobe seems to believe that they are skills related to the chemistry of the material. What about you? Would you allow a magus who's never seen a fork before use InTe to realize it's a tool to handle food?


Don't forget the Hermetic Limit of Time. The past and the future are closed to Hermetic magic.

Remember, it is not so much "predicting" the weather as "extrapolating from available clues". There is explicit mention that a "prediction" can be invalidated by a supernatural event (ie weather magic) made after the prediction is made, but before the "predicted" event occurs.

Just as the InIg spell that "tells" what caused a fire works by examining the (undisturbed) ashes and extrapolating backwards.

InTe could tell by close visual examination (ala Sherlock Holmes) that the glyphs in the stone were carved with a bronze chisel by a left handed stonemason, then given a quick, uneven lime wash and painted with ochre. But the non-Terram information contained in the glyphs is in the past. For instance, was the stonemason illiterate and tracing a drawing, or did he know the glyphs?

If you showed the stone with the carved glyphs to the world's best stonemason, would he be able to read them? What more do you expect from a level 2 guideline?

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I don't accept this as a limitation vis a vis mechanical game balance. I accept it as one of the idiosyncratic limitations of Hermetic magic. Just like how you can't cast a spell at someone hiding behind a tree even if you're pretty sure they're there, or how your options for casting spells over areas that are outdoors are limited to walking in increasingly large circles.

It's a weird quirk of Hermetic Magic, since it divides things up in such a way that this requires an entire separate (Information) Form in order to work. Other systems of magic don't always do that, and so can get around such things.

I'm fine with Hermetic Magic having flaws, since that can create interesting stories for research! I also enjoy the creativity that sometimes has to be pulled out to create a solution out of both the disparate talents you possess and within the limitations of your paradigm.

YSMV, of course!


Again, this does not go against my point at all, just like the text in TME does not. Let me be clearer about what I think Intellego RAW allows you to do particularly about symbolic objects, including "written" material such as letters, stone tablets etc.

  1. Given an object, it can tell you its general apparent function, as would be done a mundane expert. If cast on a fork, it can tell you it's an eating implement.
    Note: it cannot tell you the intentions behind the making of the object, of course, or the specific circumstances. So, it cannot tell you that that particular fork was an apprentice's "graduation" piece, or a love token to some noblewoman.

  2. As a consequence, given a symbolic object, it can tell you the most obvious meaning it conveys. If cast on a crown, it can tell you it's a symbol of rulership.
    In this, there are two limiting factors when trying to get really complex stuff. First, the troupe is free to decide just how much detail a magus gets, possibly asking for extra magnitudes or Finesse rolls to intuit some really subtle things. Second, the magus' general knowledge limits how much sense he can make of the information gathered. This makes it impossible to automatically obtain an accurate translated version of a complex text with a single spell.
    Thus, InTe can tell you that a stone carved with unknown glyphs is a tombstone. It might tell you it's the tombstone apparently for some great warrior who died in battle. But even if the glyphs say that the hero died "to protect "the chosen of Zubba from the evil of Babba", the magus will not make sense of that, because he lacks the necessary context.

Thus, just using Intellego, a magus cannot instantly translate a complex text on magical theory. If he casts Intellego on the whole, there's a limit to how much his mind can grasp in one shot, and any context that the writer assumes the reader already knows is lost. If he casts it on the individual parts, he'll get more detail ... but less context, and it's not at all trivial to put the pieces together. Note that by RAW you need some basic background to even copy a text word by word.
This does not mean that Intellego would be useless. It can provide a lot of information, and it can justify learning an unknown language (up to a certain level and only from a sufficiently large corpus of text) with the usual seasonal experience rules.


Here's the rub. You are viewing the glyphs as separate entities, and you assume they contain both Terram and "non-Terram" information. For Hermetic magic, there are no glyphs. There is only a "glyphed stone". And all information "intrinsic" to that glyphed stone (not just the material, but the entire shaped, glyphed object) is Terram, because the stone is Terram.

A magus cannot tell if the stonemason was illiterate and tracing a drawing. If not, the magus can't tell whether the mason really meant what he wrote, or was just copying it; whether he was truthful or deceitful etc. But the magus can tell that the stone is a warning stone, and he can do that with InTe because the glyphed stone is a Terram object.


And here is where I think you are wrong. An InTe spell can obviously only reveal Terram-related information. (For other types of information, you'd need some other form.) The meaning of some writing is not Terram-related.
The text would have the same meaning carved into stone, cut into a piece of wood, or written on paper, but in neither case is the meaning related to the material it is written on.

An InTe(Me) could concievably return the intended meaning of the text when it was written - if it wasn't for that pesky Limit of Time.


I might agree: but it seems obvious to me all information intrinsic to a Terram object is Terram-related
(with intrinsic I mean information that would not change in a perfect copy of the object). Otherwise, you'd have to define what "Terram-related" means.

We could say that the InTe spell reveals that the stone has been deliberately carved, possibly with a message. It can approximately tell the effort involved in the carving - so a quickly scratched message "so-and-so sucks wet farts out of a dead pigeon" is significantly different than a neatly carved message:

elim 7

Though how it it supposed to tell the difference between if that stone is a milestone, or if it is a warning that up ahead "NODNOL" eliminated 7 legions, or whatever, is probably not a visual property of the stone.

Well there's a simple test. Can you define a mundane ability, or a set of mundane abilities, such that any grog with them would be able to tell? If the answer is yes, so can the magic.
With the limited context provided in the example, it's hard to decide (I'd be tempted to say no, but I know too little about milestones).

Spirit speech has nothing to do with reading text of any sort.
From RoP:M

For want of a better term, a spirit's communication with physical beings is called Silent Speech, for such impulses are usually received as audi-tory species, but it could be interpreted as smells or feelings on the skin, and still be un-derstood with no difficulty.

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You're right, I was thinking of this incredibly well put together blog post by Timothy Ferguson. I consider his blog to be a much better authority than Realms of Power: Magic, which is by far the most disaster of a book this game line has ever printed.

By the rules as you propose them, most spirits are completely illiterate. Which is hilarious, but strikes me as a garbage idea.

Like most things in Ars Magica, that kind of definitions are always somewhat vague.
Terram-related properties would be any property that is part of the stone (or other object), but not any meaning attached by humans to any of those properties.
So you could use InTe to learn when a particular carving in the stone was made; what kind of stone (granite, limestone, etc) it is; how much the stone weighs; if there are any invisible cracks or other weakness in it; and similar.

What you can not do with InTe is tell if the stone is a milestone or a gravestone or just an ornament. (Actually you might. If you use a "speak with stone" guideline then the stone might be able to tell you what it has been used for - but not what the original intended use was.)
Those are not properties inherent to a stone, since any stone could potentially be used for any of those properties - that, just like the meaning of any text carved into the stone, is a meaning attached to it by humans. The Form of Terram deals with stones and metals and such, not with meaning. Meaning would be the Form of Mentem - except Mentem deals with minds, not inanimate objects.