#RPGaDay2021 Day 18 - "Write"

 

Volk the Scribe, by Steve Stark


Mages write spellbooks. Storekeepers maintain records of their purchases and sales. Spies send secret correspondence between themselves and other people. Lovers send letters to each other. Travelers maintain a log of where they've been, and what and who they've seen. In a fantasy RPG setting, virtually everybody that players come across is writing.

As my Trinity co-creator and I were discussing dwarves a few months ago we realized that there was an inherent problem and an opportunity.

Dwarves are a very lawful and organized people with a strong sense of the community, and we realized that any old dwarven merchants probably have an obscene amount of writing that they've maintained over their career. Assuming they track every purchase, sale, inventory change, piece of correspondence and so on associated with the business, at the end of their 200+ year lives they must have chests full of dusty books, old scrolls and maybe even randomly scribbled notes that were of value, once. Some of that likely has ongoing value to the family and even the dwarven people as a whole.

The Dwarven Archivist

In thinking through this, we realized that there must be an entire career of people who specialize in organizing and refining someone else's records. Someone who is trained in understanding what documents are important to the business, to the family or to dwarvish society--and what is junk. And in that moment, we created a new profession: The Dwarvish Archivist.

As we thought through it, we actually realized that there are levels of this role: Some people specialize in maintaining the day-to-day cleanup of records while a dwarf is alive. Some specialize in post-mortem inventory and management of documents to "close out" a given dwarves life, and ensure that his paperwork is handled properly. And this trend of refinement extends outward with the years and scope of the archive.

A junior or apprentice would likely assist or lead the management of a given dwarven household or place of business. On a periodic basis, depending on the size and affluence of the dwarf in question, an archivist would show up at location of the records. They would go through all the receipts, notes, ledgers, correspondence and legal documents. They would be in charge of identifying which documents were needed for the future or as an archive of the past, and which could safely be thrown into the fire.

There are actually two jobs that this junior archivist is performing, and they are both critical. The first is to ensure that there is sufficient record of previous and current dealings to maintain the business, prove the ownership of all goods, be able to identify where changes occurred that are important, and provide context for all the documentation. This job entails making sense of the papers.

They are also responsible for making recommendations as to which documents should be destroyed. This is an equally important, and potentially disastrous responsibility, because once destroyed, a document is no long available as part of the archive. This could affect the business or the dwarves livelihood, but it might also destroy something of historic value to the dwarven people. Because that connection may not be obvious, archivists who show a knack for understanding the inherent value of what they're reading are prized, and often promoted.

The Estate Archivist

Estate archivists are a more senior role, and are responsible for going through an important dwarf's lifetime records, and discerning what has value to the dwarvish people, the dwarf's family, the maintenance of a business or role, and then disposing of any documents that no longer have value.

All the same requirements and responsibilities are maintained from the junior position, but the output is far more critical. When dwarves recite their family, such as "Doranus, daughter of Ratrulsia, daughter of Golgus son of Varun" there is an expectation that there is material on each dwarf in that lineage. Some documents may be centrally held in the Steading, or may be in a private residence. The most important records may even be stored in the Great Vaults. Regardless, the Estate Archivist is responsible for ensuring that only as many documents exist as are needed to support that dwarf's identify, and ensuring that what remains allows others to understand the information when needed.

Senior Archivists

The refinement of this library of documentation over time is equally essential. Just as a given dwarf's life must be preserved, so must the records of a family, a steading and lineages. Each larger grouping of records implies additional importance and additional risk of losing information--and a good archivist must understand the value of federating some documents, centralizing others, and even discarding historic records which no longer have value.

The most senior archivists maintain a record of the dwarvish people as a whole, which is frankly a job of unimaginable scope. In fact, no dwarf is good enough to truly understand the full context of any given record as it relates to the whole of the dwarvish people. Instead, at this level, they must only understand that there is (or isn't) value and try to maintain how that context ties together--so that someone who needs information may be able to go looking.

Secrecy

It probably goes without saying that since archivists see virtually or literally every document of a given dwarf's life, it's essential that they be exceptionally discrete about their work. This becomes problematic when something in a dwarf's record is important to the dwarven people, but will also cause harm or loss of face to the dwarf in question. An example would be realizing that the end of a caravan trip did not correspond correctly to the date of birth of the dwarf's heir. There are many ways that archivists handle situations like this, but extensive training in the subject is essential before they can move to the more senior positions.

Special Documents

There are some documents which are always maintained permanently as soon as they are created. The most obvious example is that any work of Dwarven Masterwork quality or better is registered. Uncommon, Dwarven Masterworks are entered into a ledger listing their creator, date, and who it ultimately went to. Legendary Dwarvish works are treated even more specially. Each is certified on its own paper, by a team of master creators. Such artifacts almost never leave the hands of dwarves, and their story and lineage is tracked as diligently as that of the most revered dwarf. No special archivist is actually required for this--these documents are maintained in perpetuity. An archivist of this material is responsible for knowing when works change hands, are destroyed, or are a key component in a story that brings honor to the creator and the craft.

Conclusion

Writing in a fantasy role playing world is ubiquitous. Many people have to write down messages, records, letters and so on. The role of a scribe exists explicitly to do more writing than the person hiring them has the time or skill to do. And libraries and archivists exist everywhere to store the most important writings. But in the context of the dwarves, who are both meticulous and productive, the amount of writing can get out of hand, and a special role must exists, at least in Trinity, to ensure that the most innocent scrap of paper is not forgotten when it ties to an event that is important to the great Dwarven People.

About the Art

Today's art is Volk the Scribe, by US Artist Steve Stark who goes by sstarkm on his Deviant Art site.

As I looked for art tied to writing, archives or libraries, I tended to find two themes: A neatly ordered collection of books with a librarian guarding over it, or someone in a flying chaos of paper.

Volk the Scribe caught exactly what I was after. While the main figure is not a dwarf, the work depicts an intent reader surrounded by the chaos of his work, within a library that is well-ordered. That's exactly how I see the Archivist, trying to read everything and understand its context. The work gets bonus points for a well-used sword lying on the ground in front of him, and near at hand. It implies that either getting here, staying here or reading what's around him requires some martial support.

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