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Im making a character for the first time, and with the exception of dwarves, the ancestries don't specify that you know how to read and write any of your languages. The professions state that you can trade out a profession in order to gain literacy in a language you can speak, but is the character illiterate if you don't do this?

On a related note, the academic entry on the d6 table, as well as some specific professions, state that you gain literacy in a language you can speak. Isn't taking one of these options objectively better than sacrificing a profession for literacy?

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Yes, most characters start out illiterate but as you note it is pretty easy to pick up a language with an academic profession. There isnt much of a reason to not take an academic profession if you want to learn to read.

It can be quite interesting if you have a full party that cannot read and there is important information that they have that is written down.

Dwarves are the only race in the core rulebook that start with the ability to read (in dwarvish), see pg 17. Learning a language from an academic profession can be found on pg 23.

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