Thursday, June 4, 2009


Language is difficult to learn. Not just those weird, foreign languages, but even our native language. Hell, I've been speaking, writing, and reading the English language for near 28 years now, and I still haven't got it down 100%. None of us has. That's why it bothers me that adventurers in many FRPG's seem to be flawless polyglots, able to speak a number of languages without difficulty that would give even the most skilled linguists today pause. Worse yet, literacy seems to be nigh universal in those intelligent enough to learn it in the first place (or, for that matter, in games who even make a distinction between them).

That's yet another reason that I like 2nd edition non-weapon proficiencies. They offer me, as the DM, to limit the polyglot issue. Learning to speak a language takes up a full slot. Learning to read/write said language take an additional slot. That's a slot taken away from other things, like fire starting, mountaineering, riding, etc. So, yes, you can create a character who knows twelve dialects of elfese, but you're going to have to devote a great deal of study to it.

Of course, that doesn't even approach my general dissatisfaction with the whole "common" language idea, or alignment tongues, but that's another issue.


  1. I too am a firm believer in languages being something that should be a serious effort to learn (as well as literacy), I made a concious effort to make language and communication a valid character option in the design of "Piecemeal the RPG". That being said there needs to be a balance with the fantastic. As sure as a PC can take down a 20 tonne flying T-Rex that breathes fire, casts magic and is super intelligent with a pointy stick, I make sure players could be the "Dr. Daniel Jackson" or the "C3P0" who can translate and learn languages (at least on a basic level) quickly in a similar feat of superheroism.

  2. People exposed to multiple languages as a child (multi-lingual households, Europeans) seem to handle several languages easily.

    A universal "common" tongue bothers me more.

  3. I have dispensed with the common tongue in my games. Most countries have their own languages. Some countries that share a common ancestry might have some mutual intelligibility, probably resolved with some kind of roll based on intelligence to see how much of the message was correctly understood.

    I have also decided that the different types of elves and dwarves speak different dialects of their language that might not be 100% compatible... the high elves can barely understand what the valley elves are saying, but the gray elves and high elves speak mostly the same dialect.

    (Yeah, I started reading a book on linguistics for the summer and now it's bled into my game world)