I’ve wondered about this also. As it is, any mage without Read Magic is working at an extreme disadvantage. Still, removing Read Magic as a spell isn’t necessary even if there are other ways of accomplishing the same thing, and it might be more trouble to take it out than leave it there being somewhat redundant.
(Of course, I said that thinking the spell was there, but it’s not. It doesn’t appear in the spell index or on any of the spell lists. Awkward.)
A character can use a magic scroll if (a) he can read the language the scroll is written in, and (b) the spell is on his class’s spell list.
I like this for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that it gives languages more importance and encourages spellcasters to favor ancient civilized languages like Zaharan over, say, Goblin (which probably doesn’t lay claim to many scrolls). One thing I don’t like about it is that it de-emphasizes the mystical nature of magical writings.
In the history of magical grimoires, two recurring themes are (a) magical symbols in and of themselves contain power, and (b) there are procedures to follow for properly and safely unlocking that power. Engrave the sigil on a sword, say these words, and you’ve got a banishing tool. Draw this figure on the ground, chant this invocation, and you’ve summoned a demon. If you look at nearly any classical grimoire, like the Lesser Key of Solomon or the Arbatel, you’ll see a bunch of largely incomprehensible symbols surrounded by the explanation of how to use them.
If you applied that to an ACKS scroll or grimoire, it would be very similar to what you described. It would have some arcane markings (the part with the power you’d normally need Read Magic to activate) along with helpful descriptive text in some mundane language. If you know the language but can’t Read Magic, you’d know what it does but not be able to activate it. Having Read Magic without the language, you could activate it with an idea of what would happen but might be missing important information (the texts are full of helpful hints like “this demon will appear fearsome until commanded to take a pleasant shape” or “this only works at dusk”), so there’s a strong incentive to get the language figured out. In game play, Read Magic tells you that it’s some kind of fire spell and you can activate it, being able to read the language lets you know if it shoots a fireball or summons a fire elemental.
This amuses me, but it seems like too much accounting for every single scroll that comes up in a pile of treasure.
Some other alternatives might be:
One campaign I played declared “Magic” as a separate, learnable language - more or less the equivalent of memorizing all of the alchemical symbols, astrological signs, demonic sigils, etc. of the world. This made Read Magic a free spell if you were willing to give up a language slot and could find someone to teach it to you. Hey, it made sense when Thieves’ Cant and Druidic were languages.
The Collegiate Wizardry proficiency seems designed to cover exactly this ground, though. Expand identifying “grimoires of his own order” to the standard arcane spell list and you’ve got a mage who can work comfortably with the usual spells, has an improvable proficiency throw to deal with unique (lost, ancient, original) spells, and can fall back on the Read Magic spell if all else fails. Ill-educated hedge wizards without the proficiency struggle to understand the magic of other mages, as is proper. Arcane spells in this case are less like languages and more like math.
Since divine scrolls can be read without special deciphering (as described in Scrolls), they don’t have that problem and Theology doesn’t fill the same role. It would make sense, though, for clerics to typically write scrolls in their own common language. That Ancient Zaharan Cure Light Wounds scroll was just a typical scroll in old Zahar.
Put those last two together, and you’ve got arcane scrolls that require the ability to read magic (through familiarity, collegiate training, or the Read Magic spell) and divine scrolls that require the ability to read the language (through familiarity or the Read Languages spell). Nice and neat.
There’d be an argument there for putting Read Languages on the divine spell list, but given the way clerical spells work, that would make nearly every cleric the perfect linguist and language skills would be worth a lot less.
Speaking of perfect linguists, I’m with Sean - I don’t see how every Burglar has an 80% chance of reading anything in any language ever. Ciphers and maps, absolutely. Ancient Zaharan, not so much. Surely with that kind of talent they could be earning more money as sages. Three 4th level thieves together have a greater than 99% chance to read any text - there are no secrets in this world.