The Language Skill

I like the idea that characters, even ones with a limited INT score can learn additional languages and dialects as they play. Going back to the example of Conan the Barbarian, I’ve seen character sheets that have him with 12 INT, but he knows a smattering of a dozen languages or more. However, he probably didn’t know much more than the basics; what’s needed to deal with regular people, soldiers, the local guard. In many cases, people in Hyboria spoke several languages, which made translating and teaching a new one much easier.

In that same vein, I think that characters should have the opportunity to learn new tongues if there’s enough exposure to it and they make an effort to learn it, no matter what their intelligence is.

Also, as an optional rule, only a single language or dialect can be learned or improved on per half year.

Previous posts on Skills:

Speak Language Skill:

  • The native languages one starts the game with are considered to be Rank 3. Common and your own racial language are considered Native, such as an Elf knowing Elven or a Dwarf knowing Dwarven.
  • If a character starts with a local dialect of Common or of a Native tongue, it’s considered Native and at Rank 4 for the purposes of gaining a CHA bonus (explained below).
  • Bonus languages due to race, which I’ll refer to as Racial Languages, are Rank 2. An example is a Dwarf knowing how to speak Goblin.
  • Bonus languages chosen due to a high INT score, such as knowing Terran as a Magic-User or Angelic as a Cleric, are also considered Rank 2 and are called Learned Languages.

Increasing the Rank of Native languages from 3 to 4 requires the same amount of time and effort as Rank 2 to 3. Learning a new dialect of a language you already know is also treated as one step easier than normal.

For a PC to teach another character a language he knows is only possible with Native and Racial languages. Native languages can be taught up to Rank 2. Racial languages can be taught up to Rank 2 with twice as much time. Learned languages cannot to be taught to others.

An NPC tutor can teach up to his skill Rank and should refer a character to someone else once they’ve learned all he can teach. Depending on the strictness of the DM, Rank 4 might requires a character to live with that group of people for the entire period of training and only speak that language during that time.

Planar Languages:

Learning a planar language is bit tricky. These include languages like Terran, Aquan, Auran, Ignan, Angelic, Celestial, Demonic, and Infernal. One must have achieved Rank 3 before verbal or written communication with beings who speak that language natively is possible. They are likely to be insulted otherwise. This is due to the complexity and somewhat alien nature of these languages. After all, Aquan involves precise gargling, Ignan requires the imitation of a blast furnace or a crackling fireplace, and Terran the use to clacking stones.

On that note, the reading or writing of a planar language at Rank 2 is impossible. Verbal communication between non-natives at Rank 2, however, is perfectly fine.

Language Skill Ranks:

  • Major Stat: INT
  • Minor Stat: CHA
  • Sometimes force of personality and skill with speaking eloquently, if not precisely, can make up for not know the finer details.
  • If a character is using their CHA as their primary stat here, they cannot learn to read a new language until they reach Rank 3.
  • Initial Cost:  Might require a textbook, but probably not. 10gp initially in that case.
  • Rank 1: Choose a language or dialect you wish to learn
  • Basic syntax, grammar and vocabulary. Can string together basic sentences and understand the general meaning of conversation between to native speakers. Basic understanding of the written language; can glean a general meaning of a short message.
  • At the DM’s discretion, -1 to CHA checks to deal with people who might be offended by clumsy speech (a professor or a nobleman, for example).
  • Rank 2: Can converse fluently with a wider knowledge of colloquialisms, but miscommunication is still somewhat possible with a native speaker. Reading common literature is possible (such a newspaper or job posting, but not a philosophical treatise). It would be difficult to write a novel, tell a subtle joke, or blend in with high society using that language. Could clumsily speak with someone who only speaks a local dialect.
  • Again, at the DM’s discretion, -1 to CHA checks in rare circumstances.
  • Rank 3: Can speak the language as well as your own native tongue. Can read and write all types of literature easily. Can understand the general meaning of dialects (both present and ancient) based on that language and get your own meaning across. Even those of higher social standing would assume you were native just based on your voice and accent.
  • No penalty to CHA checks under any circumstance.
  • Rank 4: Can speak easily with anyone of any station with perfect fluency, from a common dockworker to the head of state. A complete mastery of the language in all its forms. +1 to CHA checks with those who speak that language.

Making Language Checks

One of my readers, Tad Davis, brought up the question of when one might make a Language Skill Check. Generally, one shouldn’t need to make one, but there could be some exceptions. These, of course, are only suggestions. It’s perfectly fine not to make use of Language Skill Checks. If you do, making several of them a week should count towards the training requires for the next Rank.

Most of these examples don’t apply to Rank 4, since it assumes a complete master of the language in all its forms, so I’ll note when it would.

Examples of Language Skill Checks:

  • While learning Rank 1, to actually get the general meaning of a complex statement or writing.
  • At lower Ranks, to remove a CHA penalty before one is made when speaking to someone important.
  • At higher Ranks, to provide a +1 bonus to a CHA check before one is made when speaking to someone important. Doesn’t stack with the bonus granted at Rank 4.
  • To read or better understand a dialect of that language.
  • To understand very complex or rapid speech or a very technical manual.
  • To use double entendres, puns, or a code to relay or decode a hidden message using that language. Applies to Rank 4 and the recipient should also be Rank 4 in the same language. (Similar to Austin Powers and his father speaking together in Goldmember, except even more incomprehensible)

If anyone can think of other examples or uses of the Language skill, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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