My players came upon a book, and, after a year of play, for the first time I had to know if any these motley louts could read. True to their sword and sorcery roots these adventuring heroes have yet to approach any task without crushing blows, and flashing blades. Illiteracy among them all was a real possibility, so I ruled that none of them could read. But that didn't feel complete. I mean, what is the chance that they are all illiterate?
I needed a mechanism to decide an unknown question such as this and James Raggi's LotFP rules for language is the only one which ever struck me as a functional, in-game method for literacy and language questions. So the following is how I've hacked them to suit my USR Sword & Sorcery game.
Language Rules for USR Sword & Sorcery
Most PCs are assumed to begin play being fully fluent in their native tongue.
They are literate as well if they can pass a 6+ difficulty roll against their Wits.
Any specialism which can modify the results, good or bad, should be applied. Any specialism which implies literacy (scribe for example) would confer automatic literacy in the PC's native language. Any other modifier the CK wishes to impose can be added to this initial literacy roll.
When a PC comes into contact with another language their chance of speaking the language is determined by passing a 6+ difficulty roll against their Wits. Did they make it? If they did then you need to determine if they are literate too. Make another Wits roll against a 7+ difficulty.
To learn an unknown language takes six months of full immersion, fluent in two years. A language can be taught by a tutor, but that takes two years of at least five lessons a week (at 3sp a lesson) to become comfortably conversant, and fluency does not come until being immersed in the language.