CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

You Roll the Rs

Languages in Your Game

For me languages are an incredibly interesting part of RPGs. I think this comes from the fact in the real world I have always been bad at learning them. Most of the characters I play excel at learning languages--my current character has almost every modern tongue on Golarion available to him at this point, both human and non-human. However, I think languages are oftentimes glossed over. Whether it’s the fact that diplomacy gets overlooked by a lot of dungeon crawls, or ignoring the fact that accents can cause linguistic faux pas, I believe languages can play a bigger role in many RPGs.

Since my system mastery is mostly in Pathfinder 3.5 and World of Darkness, I can only speak with authority on these systems. Although I enjoy both systems immensely I think there are a few failures in the linguistics portion of the rules. I understand this is mostly just to streamline the game, and I haven’t house-ruled myself to make changes, but here are some things to think about that these systems don’t touch on.

Speaking a language isn’t a binary state. In Pathfinder you put a point in linguistics you learn a language. If you raise your int score and thus its modifier you learn a language. In World of Darkness, if you put a point in linguistics you can learn a number of languages. In truth, there are levels to linguistics. Basic ability would probably allow you to find your hotel, a bathroom, order food, tell people your name, and other such things. A conversational speaker could probably communicate, although maybe not at length, with someone about a variety of topics. Fluency in a language will probably allow you to speak to almost anyone. And the last level, native speaker, means you are far more likely to understand slang, idioms, and other such things that only someone born to a language will get.

Accents are another part of language that are barely touched on. One of my players is from near Manchester and I’m from New York City, and sometimes I have no clue what he’s saying. It’s not even dialect, which is something different, it’s just his very thick (to me) accent. Even in the US, which is all the same country, accents vary—sometimes as far as region to region, state to state, city to city, or even neighborhood to neighborhood.

So let’s talk about languages in Pathfinder. The common tongue, which makes life easier for play purpose, really takes away from the difficulty of region by region communication. I’m glad they decided on more than one ‘common’ language; Taldane for Avistand and Garund, and Tien for the island nation of Tian Xia. The Tien language is an older language that still gets spoken by everyone, even though most places have their own regional tongues that may or may not have been spoken when Tien itself was the official language. Taldane is considered a trade language. Because Taldor at one point spread its influence pretty much across the face of Avistan and most of Garund it has been picked up by peoples worldwide to facilitate trade.

When speaking either of these ‘common’ languages you should look at the people who are speaking them. Does a Garundi trader use the same aspects of the language as an Ustalav noble? How have regional dialects altered the language? Have other languages native to the land influenced words in the trade tongue? Again many of these things get glossed over for ease of play, but misunderstandings in language can lead to some great roleplay moments.

Alphabets are also a part of language and shared alphabets can make it easier to understand an unknown language. In 3.5 there were very simplistic alphabets, the dwarven alphabet was used for dwarven, giant, orcish, gnomish, goblinoid, and the earth elemental language. In this respect I’m glad Pathfinder’s Golarion setting has expanded on this. Taldane uses the ancient Jistka alphabet, numerals from the Keleish, and grammar for ancient Azlanti. Some of the other languages lay out their grammatical origins but I think in this one aspect Paizo could do a better job outlining linguistic similarities in both speech and writing.

But let’s say you’ve decided to add these nuances to your game, or at least to your character. There are some fun ways to really rack up the languages. Tengu, gnomes, and aasimar all have a racial trait that allows for gaining two languages instead of one when taking a rank in linguistics. For tengu this is a core racial feature. For gnomes and aasimar it is an alt racial trait. But how do these abilities manifest. For tengu it’s easily seen as birds, particularly ravens, mimicking sounds.  With the aasimar it’s a minor version of the celestial ability of truespeech. In both of these cases I can see accents being near perfect. Gnomish ability comes across as just a focus for their inquisitive nature, and can be played as either well accented or not.

There are half a dozen or so traits that give you a bonus to linguistics, with some even giving you bonus starting language options. These traits are a great way for you to be learned in some ancient tongue or uncommon language. The cosmopolitan feat also grants additional languages as well as class skills, and illustrates how living in a larger city allows for exposure to more and varied languages and dialects.

How have you used languages in your game as a GM? Do you like playing multilingual characters as player? Do you incorporate accents and regional dialects when you play?

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