Thief 'Read Languages' and Low Int

One of my players has a Thief with Int 7, which means they can barely read or write. At 4th level they get the ‘Read Languages’ ability which functions as per the spell, only on a 5+ on d20.

This presents a minor paradox. Any thoughts?

My own thinking is that they get the ability, but the chance of success is far smaller (17+). If they spend a Language proficiency slot on being literate then the skill will function as per the usual rules.

Am I being too harsh? or is it just a cruel outcome of ending up with a low Int?

“A character with an Intelligence penalty will only know his native
language, and cannot read more than a word or two.” – ACKS pg 17

“Upon attaining 4th level, a thief gains the ability to read languages
(including ciphers, treasure maps, and dead languages, but not
magical writings) with a proficiency throw of 5+ on 1d20.” – ACKS pg 24

“Language (G): …Characters with an Intelligence of 8 or less
are generally illiterate. However, this proficiency can be taken by
a character with a low Intelligence (8 or less) in order to become
literate in a language the character already speaks.” – ACKS pg 61

I think this can go one of two ways: Either the 7-INT Thief is illiterate until he takes the Language proficiency, in which case the read language ability is useless to him. Or, the Read Languages thief ability includes enough training to make the thief no longer illiterate, so he can now always read any language he can speak, and can read any other language if he makes his 5+ throw. Personally, I’d probably make it the player’s choice: “How important is illiteracy to your character concept?”

It’s your campaign, but considering a thief of only barely average intelligence (9) can read languages on a 5+ on d20, I think 17+ is a bit harsh, yes. Are you going to disallow their reading of magical scrolls as well when he/she reaches 10th level?

I would leave it - I feel like thieves have a shaky enough road to success as it is. At most I would incorporate their ability score penalty to the roll (just as I would incorporate the bonus for high intelligence thieves), so a -1 to the roll for a 7 intelligence thief, a -2 to the roll for a 5 intelligence thief, etc.

If you really want some mechanical penalty for a low intelligence character, you could double their chance of failure at 4th level (10+) but have them improve their chances by 1 point per level so that by the time master thief is reached the chance is normal.


I would simply force them to use Read Languages even when reading their own language. In other words they've become semi-literate from years of learning on the streets and picking up bits and pieces of jargon and text here and there, but they're still semi-literate even in their own tongue.


Thank you all.

I think I’ll go with the Alex’s simplest option instead of my convoluted harsh idea.