Minor Point: Are People Literate?


General Discussion


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Characters live in a pseudo-medieval world, are they assumed to be literate?

As far as I can tell there is no reference to literacy in the rule book. Seems worth a one liner somewhere.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Ring_of_Gyges wrote:
Characters live in a pseudo-medieval world

The level of technological and societal development we see in Pathfinder and Golarion puts it somewhere in the late-medieval or post-medieval periods. Literacy rates were well on the rise by this point in time.

Also, Golarion never really had the kind of political and economic collapse that western Europe saw with the fall of the Roman empire. Given that its societies have been much more stable for much longer than in the real world, I would expect higher rates of literacy.


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Ring_of_Gyges wrote:
As far as I can tell there is no reference to literacy in the rule book. Seems worth a one liner somewhere.

I just reread the Language section (pg 40). You're correct. The first sentence is "your character’s ancestry section states which languages she speaks at 1st level." It repeats the "speaks" point again and again - except for a subsection on sign language - but I didn't see anything about reading. So... RAW - we're all illiterate?

The only reference to literacy that I could find in the rulebook was in the What others probably assume about Barbarians section (pg 52), "Believe you have bizarre superstitions and poor education and might be illiterate."

I think the RAI assumption is that the PCs are literate but there's nothing spelling that out. Considering that Goblins are PCs now it probably should be spelled out given their cultural views on reading.


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I honestly thought this would be a thread ripping a new one on people that come here to nag and complain without actually giving a proper read on the rules.


In 3.0, Barbarians actually were illiterate by default, they had to spend 2 skill points to gain literacy in all the languages they spoke.


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Lightning Raven wrote:
I honestly thought this would be a thread ripping a new one on people that come here to nag and complain without actually giving a proper read on the rules.

Same, and I was loving it.

Too bad it was an actual question... That said, I usually consider most people in Golarion literate, with perhaps farmers and lower workers struggling with writings.


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In general I find the answer to questions like this is:

"In general 'yes' because it makes things easier, in particular cases 'no' when it makes things more interesting."


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Ring_of_Gyges wrote:
In 3.0, Barbarians actually were illiterate by default, they had to spend 2 skill points to gain literacy in all the languages they spoke.

That or multiclass, which all barbarians did anyways.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It is odd not to mention it as I would assume the answer is yes. Its not like Golarion is anywhere near a medieval tech level, its far beyond that. Or it was, maybe with all the magic nerfs it'll revert some.


It might be assumed that "Common" is a very simple language to learn, since so many nations and peoples use it. The kind of language an otherwise illiterate person could learn, or a traveller to a foreign land could quickly learn.


EberronHoward wrote:
It might be assumed that "Common" is a very simple language to learn, since so many nations and peoples use it. The kind of language an otherwise illiterate person could learn, or a traveller to a foreign land could quickly learn.

Though generally learning reading at all is the hard part. Once you've got that, it's no harder to learn to read and speak a second language than just to speak one.

Possibly easier, since you can write stuff down.

(Assuming here that the written languages use similar alphabets, rather than something like Chinese.)


While it's not exactly a rule to that effect, the Barbarian text

page 53 wrote:
[Others Probably...] Believe you have bizarre superstitions and poor education and might be illiterate.

very, very strongly implies that literacy is the norm.


Countries like Galt have broadsheets that are regularly produced, giving me the impression of widespread literacy.


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Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?


Dasrak wrote:
Ring_of_Gyges wrote:
In 3.0, Barbarians actually were illiterate by default, they had to spend 2 skill points to gain literacy in all the languages they spoke.
That or multiclass, which all barbarians did anyways.

And all bards. Because of how bardic performances worked in 3.0 (as opposed to 3.5, which is what everyone thinks of for 3e), the best bard was actually a Bard 1 / Rogue 19.

Shadow Lodge

Are goblin PCs like "most goblins"? Also, what's globalization doing to goblin culture?

More seriously, I've always expected the Pathfinder society sending low-level initiates to free community literacy programs, mainly so people will be able to read all the books they're publishing.


The Once and Future Kai wrote:
Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?

If they are, how can they read "Thar's Manual of Good Conduct"?


The Once and Future Kai wrote:
Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?

PC goblins are as illiterate as their player wants them to be. NPC goblins are like every other NPC- it's the GM's call.

Like if you want your 18 Cha, 16 Int goblin bard among the best read people in the country, go for it.


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PossibleCabbage wrote:
The Once and Future Kai wrote:
Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?

PC goblins are as illiterate as their player wants them to be. NPC goblins are like every other NPC- it's the GM's call.

Like if you want your 18 Cha, 16 Int goblin bard among the best read people in the country, go for it.

GMs should do whatever makes sense for their setting. Absolutely. I've played a goblin news reporter before. Players should have fun too.

But... If we're talking about Golarion - which the playtest is heavily influenced by - literate goblins seem like a pretty big departure from We be Goblins!

Personally, I think the inclusion of Goblin PCs into Golarion would be less jarring if there were a few negative traits like distrusted or illiterate attached to them mechanically. It would give PC something interesting to work around. Basically, I think it would be thematic if literate goblins were the exception rather than the rule.

But that's just me. When I homebrew ancestries I usually give all of them some sort of negative trait.


Ediwir wrote:
Lightning Raven wrote:
I honestly thought this would be a thread ripping a new one on people that come here to nag and complain without actually giving a proper read on the rules.

Same, and I was loving it.

Same here. Shame that it is about the game.

As far as the game goes if the player isn't literate, their character should not be.

The claim that most people in Glorion were literate does not track with world history. Estimates of the percentage of people involved in subsistence farming (i.e. peasants) during this period are 85-95%. Most of them were not literate.

In game play, certain classes have to be literate - spell casters - and other classes such as fighters might be able read the tavern menu.

Golarion and reality are two words that don't mix very well so the DM should just makeup whatever literacy rules they want.


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Pathfinder Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Dasrak wrote:
Ring_of_Gyges wrote:
Characters live in a pseudo-medieval world

The level of technological and societal development we see in Pathfinder and Golarion puts it somewhere in the late-medieval or post-medieval periods. Literacy rates were well on the rise by this point in time.

Also, Golarion never really had the kind of political and economic collapse that western Europe saw with the fall of the Roman empire. Given that its societies have been much more stable for much longer than in the real world, I would expect higher rates of literacy.

Golarion has actually had far worse disasters than the fall of the Roman Empire, but those disasters (such as Starfall) are much further in the past. The calamities associated with the relatively recent death of Aroden were mostly local matters.


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Pathfinder Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
The Once and Future Kai wrote:
Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?

If they are, how can they read "Thar's Manual of Good Conduct"?

Just because Mystaran goblins can read doesn't mean that Golarion goblins can. ;)

Liberty's Edge

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This is actually a really good point, can we please get something in the Language section detailing the ability to Read and Write the Languages we know?

I'm sure this wasn't intentional...


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The Once and Future Kai wrote:
Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?

They could still light the text on fire and read the flames no?


David knott 242 wrote:
Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
The Once and Future Kai wrote:
Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?

If they are, how can they read "Thar's Manual of Good Conduct"?

Just because Mystaran goblins can read doesn't mean that Golarion goblins can. ;)

Is Pathfinder intended for only a single setting now?

Either way, literacy on a racial basis is not only, well, racist, but going about a generic rulebook the wrong way. Culture and possibly character class should be the determining factors, not race. If most/all Golarion goblins are illiterate than this is something that should be noted in a setting guide, not the race entry.


Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
David knott 242 wrote:
Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
The Once and Future Kai wrote:
Can we agree that most Goblins are illerate?

If they are, how can they read "Thar's Manual of Good Conduct"?

Just because Mystaran goblins can read doesn't mean that Golarion goblins can. ;)

Is Pathfinder intended for only a single setting now?

Either way, literacy on a racial basis is not only, well, racist, but going about a generic rulebook the wrong way. Culture and possibly character class should be the determining factors, not race. If most/all Golarion goblins are illiterate than this is something that should be noted in a setting guide, not the race entry.

Paizo certainly isn't designing their game around an IP they don't own. While, yes, it can be used for settings outside Golarion, I see no reason the relatively minor question of "Are most Goblins literate" can't be something you decide to change if you want to play in a different setting.


Tholomyes wrote:


Paizo certainly isn't designing their game around an IP they don't own.

I never suggested this.

Tholomyes wrote:


While, yes, it can be used for settings outside Golarion, I see no reason the relatively minor question of "Are most Goblins literate" can't be something you decide to change if you want to play in a different setting.

You...didn't actually read my post, did you?

Of course people can change rules, and I do it all the time, but the goblin literacy issue up a more fundamental issue: is Paizo trying to make P2 a single setting system, like L5R's R&K or Ars Magica's system, or are they trying to continue with the general D&D idea of being a toolbox to run a wide variety of settings and games?
The former is a good way to reduce their pool of potential and actual customers - those who have no real interest in running Golarion are less likely to put in the effort to hack the system to run other things.
If they intend to make P2 generic - as it seems they intend - they should avoid certain things like putting setting-specific information in general information.


Even in Golarion, the whole deal with Goblins now is that after the Goblinblood wars, goblin culture is in shambles and a lot of goblins have decided out of necessity to reject or question cultural institutions which got them to that point to begin with.

And "reading is bad" seems like a pretty easy one to get over.


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Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Tholomyes wrote:


Paizo certainly isn't designing their game around an IP they don't own.
I never suggested this.

Mhm... Now why would anyone get the silly idea that you did?

Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
If they are, how can they read "Thar's Manual of Good Conduct"?

Truly it's a mystery for the ages.

Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Tholomyes wrote:


While, yes, it can be used for settings outside Golarion, I see no reason the relatively minor question of "Are most Goblins literate" can't be something you decide to change if you want to play in a different setting.

You...didn't actually read my post, did you?

Of course people can change rules, and I do it all the time, but the goblin literacy issue up a more fundamental issue: is Paizo trying to make P2 a single setting system, like L5R's R&K or Ars Magica's system, or are they trying to continue with the general D&D idea of being a toolbox to run a wide variety of settings and games?
The former is a good way to reduce their pool of potential and actual customers - those who have no real interest in running Golarion are less likely to put in the effort to hack the system to run other things.
If they intend to make P2 generic - as it seems they intend - they should avoid certain things like putting setting-specific information in general information.

I disagree. Both that it reduces the pool of customers, and that those are the only two options. Firstly, Paizo's majority of products are tied to Golarion, either in their campaign setting line, many of their player companions which assume the setting of Golarion, and, of course, their Adventure Paths. By watering down PF2e to uninspired generic fantasy, a la D&D's setting agnostic products (and even a number of their actual settings), any players they pick up based on that aren't going to be players who purchase content much past the CRB.

And secondly, PF2e already assumes Golarion. It's not generic. PF2e's Gnomes are Golarion's Gnomes, it's Goblins, Golarion's goblins, ect. That doesn't mean that it's a single setting game, it just means it is based around the assumption that you are playing in Golarion, and as such, yes, it's setting details will be in there.


I mean, if you're committing to homebrewing your own setting you have already decided that the various peoples and nations are different. So you're already considering things like "do I want elves to be space aliens" or "do I want gnomes to be fey" or "do I want one of the major nations to be a fascist diabolist state".

I figure if you are already doing that, figuring out what your goblins are like isn't very hard. I mean in my setting the Orcs are some of the most literate and erudite people on the planet, having some of the greatest universities anywhere and a strong community emphasis on the value of education above and beyond practical matters. I just changed Paizo's orcs so they were like what I wanted them to be.


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Tholomyes wrote:
Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Tholomyes wrote:


Paizo certainly isn't designing their game around an IP they don't own.
I never suggested this.

Mhm... Now why would anyone get the silly idea that you did?

Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
If they are, how can they read "Thar's Manual of Good Conduct"?

Truly it's a mystery for the ages.

Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Tholomyes wrote:


While, yes, it can be used for settings outside Golarion, I see no reason the relatively minor question of "Are most Goblins literate" can't be something you decide to change if you want to play in a different setting.

You...didn't actually read my post, did you?

Of course people can change rules, and I do it all the time, but the goblin literacy issue up a more fundamental issue: is Paizo trying to make P2 a single setting system, like L5R's R&K or Ars Magica's system, or are they trying to continue with the general D&D idea of being a toolbox to run a wide variety of settings and games?
The former is a good way to reduce their pool of potential and actual customers - those who have no real interest in running Golarion are less likely to put in the effort to hack the system to run other things.
If they intend to make P2 generic - as it seems they intend - they should avoid certain things like putting setting-specific information in general information.

I disagree. Both that it reduces the pool of customers, and that those are the only two options. Firstly, Paizo's majority of products are tied to Golarion, either in their campaign setting line, many of their player companions which assume the setting of Golarion, and, of course, their Adventure Paths. By watering down PF2e to uninspired generic fantasy, a la D&D's setting agnostic products (and even a number of their actual settings), any players they pick up based on that aren't going to be players who purchase content much past the CRB.

And secondly, PF2e already assumes Golarion. It's not generic. PF2e's Gnomes are Golarion's...

Not true. I've never used Golarion while DMing, and I own most of their products. APs are easy enough to repurpose, and the other stuff can be stripped of the setting specific fluff. I'd like to see the Golarion specific stuff mostly removed from the CRB so that it's easier to repurpose things.

Liberty's Edge

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In-universe for Golarion most people are clearly literate in most more civilized countries. Several relatively small towns in places like Varisia and Taldor have a listed local school which it is clearly assumed most children attend. Heck, I believe there's even evidence that tribes in the Lands of the Mammoth Lords teach at least some of their kids to read in the Novels.

Honestly, for literacy levels, assume more like Wild West levels of literacy than those of medieval Europe, the evidence is much more consistent with that. Literacy isn't universal, but it's clearly quite common among even lower class people in most places.

Several other basic societal assumptions are also very different indeed from 'pseudo-medieval' just starting with feudalism being super rare, serfdom almost unknown, and even hereditary monarchy being not all that common compared to other forms of governance. And then there's the polytheism and the relative lack of common prejudices against women and many minority groups. Taken as a whole, it's really just a very divergent cultural milieu from any in real world history. Which is actually understandable given the very different history and pressures facing the cultures of Golarion, but it makes people who assume 'pseudo medieval' or even 'pseudo renaissance' technological levels equal a specific culture pretty clearly wrong on many levels.


Since literacy is depending on setting and flavour, it makes sense that the rulebook doesn't actually say anything about it. Unless your class mechanic requires reading a spellbook or scroll, it doesn't matter to the rules.


thejeff wrote:
EberronHoward wrote:
It might be assumed that "Common" is a very simple language to learn, since so many nations and peoples use it. The kind of language an otherwise illiterate person could learn, or a traveller to a foreign land could quickly learn.

Though generally learning reading at all is the hard part. Once you've got that, it's no harder to learn to read and speak a second language than just to speak one.

Possibly easier, since you can write stuff down.

(Assuming here that the written languages use similar alphabets, rather than something like Chinese.)

Not as much as you'd think. Logographic languages take a while, and figuring out the countless spelling rules for the latin alphabet is impossible even for a native, but a syllabary (Kana, Hangul, more or less Cyrillic) takes at most a few weeks of casual study for the relatively young. A drop in the ocean considering how long it takes to learn a language.

As for Common being a simple language, most modules (at least ones not written for DSA) assume it shares double meanings and other quirks with English. That's absolutely not a simple language.


deuxhero wrote:
thejeff wrote:
EberronHoward wrote:
It might be assumed that "Common" is a very simple language to learn, since so many nations and peoples use it. The kind of language an otherwise illiterate person could learn, or a traveller to a foreign land could quickly learn.

Though generally learning reading at all is the hard part. Once you've got that, it's no harder to learn to read and speak a second language than just to speak one.

Possibly easier, since you can write stuff down.

(Assuming here that the written languages use similar alphabets, rather than something like Chinese.)

Not as much as you'd think. Logographic languages take a while, and figuring out the countless spelling rules for the latin alphabet is impossible even for a native, but a syllabary (Kana, Hangul, more or less Cyrillic) takes at most a few weeks of casual study for the relatively young. A drop in the ocean considering how long it takes to learn a language.

As for Common being a simple language, most modules (at least ones not written for DSA) assume it shares double meanings and other quirks with English. That's absolutely not a simple language.

"A few weeks of casual study for the relatively young"? No idea where you get that from or what level of reading ability you're expecting to get to in those weeks.

My understanding is that it takes years, as the child develops, most of it disguised as things other than formal study. Doing it as an adult, if you miss the critical period of brain development is much harder. I don't think latin languages are significantly harder than others, though there's some increase in complexity since some letters or combinations of letters represent more than one sound.

On that last part, I don't think there actually are any simple languages, not with more than one generation of native speakers anyway. Even an artificially simple language quickly develops complexity - look at the evolution of pidgins into creoles as a generation of kids grows up speaking them natively.


I was speaking about the script alone. Learning a (non-Logographic) script is a relatively trivial part of learning a language.


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Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Either way, literacy on a racial basis is not only, well, racist, but going about a generic rulebook the wrong way.

The concept of race is inherently racist. So...yeah. Not really sure how to separate that from the fantasy genre.

Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Culture and possibly character class should be the determining factors, not race. If most/all Golarion goblins are illiterate than this is something that should be noted in a setting guide, not the race entry.

I agree that this is how it should be organized. I'd like to see all cultural traits - like Dwarf's Ancestral Hatred - separated out into a culture/ethnicity section (apparently only humans have ethnicities?).

I've seen Paizo staff state a few times (here is one example) that the Playtest is more linked to Golarion mechanically than First Edition ("Golarion-infused" seems to be the preferred term). In that context, Goblins going from burning books to reading by default is jarring. In another setting it would be different - but in another setting Goblins may also not be obsessed with setting things on fire.


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Well, "Race" is no longer a concept with mechanical weight in Pathfinder anymore. People with the diagesis may have varying theories about "how to categorize various types of people" but those same folks might have wildly wrong theories about many things (it'd be weird if people within the setting were right about everything as concerns their world.) I mean, there are folks out there on Golarion who think Asmodeus is a LN goddess, which he decidedly is not.

But PC goblins, like all player characters, are inherently iconoclasts- something about them makes them go out in and hang out with non-goblins and have adventures, as opposed to staying home and doing goblin stuff. So "literate PC goblins" aren't really weirder than "Chaotic PC Dwarves".

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