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View Full Version : [3.x] "I'm sorry, could you repeat that a little more slowly?"



Duke of URL
2010-09-08, 06:54 AM
Okay... let's take at look at Speak Language, which is incorrectly listed as a skill in the 3.x system, as while it uses skill points to "purchase", it otherwise does not behave like a skill at all.

Seriously, what the hell? One (or two, for most classes, honestly) skill point and you go from knowing nothing to being completely fluent? Patently ridiculous, and that's even accounting for the amount of suspension of disbelief the 3.x system normally entails.

If we're going to call Speak Language a skill, why not actually make it a skill?


SPEAK LANGUAGE (INT; TRAINED ONLY [see text])

Like Craft, Knowledge, Perform, and Profession, Speak Language is actually a number of separate skills. You could have several Speak Language skills, each with its own ranks, each purchased as a separate skill.

Common Languages
{table]Language | Typical Speakers | Alphabet | Family
Abyssal | Demons, chaotic evil outsiders | Infernal | Infernal
Aquan | Water-based creatures | Elven | Natural
Auran | Air-based creatures | Draconic | Natural
Celestial | Good outsiders | Celestial | Celestial
Common | Humans, halflings, half-elves, half-orcs | Common | Human
Draconic | Kobolds, troglodytes, lizardfolk, dragons | Draconic | Draconic
Druidic | Druids (only) | Druidic | Druidic
Dwarven | Dwarves | Dwarven | Dwarven
Elven | Elves | Elven | Elven
Giant | Ogres, giants | Dwarven | Goblnioid
Gnome | Gnomes | Dwarven | Dwarven
Goblin | Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears | Dwarven | Goblinoid
Gnoll | Gnolls | Common | Goblinoid
Halfling | Halflings | Common | Human
Ignan | Fire-based creatures | Draconic | Natural
Infernal | Devils, lawful evil outsiders | Infernal | Infernal
Orc | Orcs | Dwarven | Goblinoid
Sylvan | Dryads, brownies, leprechauns | Elven | Natural
Terran | Xorns and other earth-based creatures | Dwarven | Natural
Undercommon | Drow | Elven | Elven[/table]

Check: You can speak, understand, read, and/or write in the given language. If the check fails, make a DC 5 Wisdom check to see if you avoid miscommunication. (Success means that you do not suffer miscommunication, but rather know that the communication simply failed; failure means that the communication yields the wrong, or a garbled, message being understood.)

Both the Speak Language check and (if necessary) the Wisdom check are made secretly, so that you canít tell if miscommunication occurred from the result of the check.

{table]Task | Speak Language DC
Basic language (most common words/phrases) | 15
General fluency | 20
Specific or technical terminology | 25
Archaic or disused words and phrases | 30[/table]

{table]Condition | Speak Language DC modifier
Unfamiliar dialect | +1 to +5
Unfamiliar slang | +1 to +5*
Additional cues (pictures, gestures, etc.) | -1 to -5[/table]

*To understand the slang's meaning; passing the unmodified DC would still allow a literal translation. E.g., the Cockney "apples and pears" would be understood at the original DC, but the meaning of "stairs" for that phrase would only be understood with the higher check result.

Languages: You start at 1st level knowing one or two languages based on your race. For these languages, you gain a +2 bonus to Speak Language checks. You never have to roll a Speak Language check for your native language(s); instead you are always treated as if you had rolled a 20 on the check.

Additionally, for a number of languages up to your starting Intelligence bonus drawn from your racial and/or class bonus languages list (if either or both are applicable), you gain a +2 to Speak Language checks and you may always take 10 on such checks, even under stress or distraction.

You are considered trained for any of your starting languages, even if you have no skill ranks. Speak Language is always considered a class skill for any of your starting languages.

A literate character can read and write any language she speaks. Each language has an alphabet, though sometimes several spoken languages share a single alphabet.

Action: Speaking or understanding speech is part of the normal action of speaking or hearing. Reading or writing takes 1 minute per full page.

Try Again: Yes, although each attempt requires performing the action (speak, listen, read, or write) again. Note that you may not always know if an attempt was unsuccessful.

Synergy: For every 5 ranks you have in a Speak Language skill, you gain a +1 bonus to speak or listen to other languages from the same language family. For every 5 ranks you have in a Speak Language skill, you gain a +1 bonus to speak or read or write other languages that use the same alphabet. If you have 5 ranks in a Speak Language skill, you gain a +2 bonus to Decipher Script checks made to read scripts using the same alphabet.


Similarly, modify Decipher Script so that 5 ranks provides a +2 synergy bonus to Speak Language attempts to read or write.

Naturally, the list of languages along with the associated alphabet and family for each language, is specific to a particular setting, so the table above should be altered as necessary to match the setting.

Schylerwalker
2010-09-08, 07:06 AM
If you make it Trained Only, every single commoner will have to waste two of their precious skill points on this skill. Otherwise, I like it though. Makes sense.

Morph Bark
2010-09-08, 07:15 AM
So every dirt farmer knows some Abyssal and Undercommon, even if they have never seen or heard of demons or the Underdark?

Duke of URL
2010-09-08, 07:18 AM
Quick Metagame Analysis

As with many skills, how useful Speak Language actually is in a particular game is pretty much up to the referee's use of it. If understanding languages will provide some benefit to the players (or detriment to them, if the enemies can understand them), then it matters far more than if languages as a whole is disregarded.

A simple commoner with average intelligence can take 20 to be fluent in his or her own language(s), which is reasonable. One with sub-par intelligence may only understand more common words and phrases, and one with superior intelligence who puts in some study (i.e., trains the skill) might understand complex and technical terms, but still not be capable of understanding archaic forms. That works nicely.

A 1st-level bard with a +2 Intelligence modifier could put 4 ranks into, say, Draconic. With a +6 to her check, she will at least gain a glimmer of understanding 85% of the time. 60% of the time, she can understand basic words and phrases. 35% of the time she can understand the entire message, unless it uses complex concepts (10% chance) or archaic terminology, which is beyond her ability (for the time being, at least).

If the same bard continues putting in ranks, by level 6 her Speak Language check is now at +11. She'll never fail to at least get some idea of the message, she'll understand the basic words and phrases 85% of the time, gain full understanding of common language 60% of the time, and even understand specialized language 35% of the time. She even has a 10% chance of being able to understand archaic language.

Schylerwalker
2010-09-08, 07:21 AM
Sure. Why not? It's the same as any shmuck off the street knowing a handful of words in Latin. Very general, broad words they picked up in High School.

For example; balor, Baator, baatezu, ta'nari. Enough to get a sort of point across.

Or another way you could do it is, you can make your native language untrained. Elves don't have to have ranks in Elven (Though if they did, they could make subtle, intricate nuances), to speak Elven.

EDIT: Or, actually, a more elegant way to put it would be; "A character begins play being treated as if having one skill rank in each of their race's automatic languages."

Duke of URL
2010-09-08, 07:22 AM
If you make it Trained Only, every single commoner will have to waste two of their precious skill points on this skill. Otherwise, I like it though. Makes sense.


So every dirt farmer knows some Abyssal and Undercommon, even if they have never seen or heard of demons or the Underdark?

You guys caught me mid-edits. As of the most recent edits, it is a trained-only skill, but you are not required to train your starting language(s) in order to use it/them with Speak Language.

137ben
2010-09-08, 07:37 AM
If you make it Trained Only, every single commoner will have to waste two of their precious skill points on this skill. Otherwise, I like it though. Makes sense.

No, every single commoner does not need to learn additional languages.

DracoDei
2010-09-08, 08:38 AM
Languages are easily learned during early childhood. Thus giving a largish bonus for the same number of languages as the character would know without spending skill-points under the previous system might make sense, although perhaps those lists should then become more restricted.

To use a modern example, a child of Mexican immigrants to America would quite plausibly speak two languages with great fluidity as the learn them both while growing up. This works for the Common/Whatever pairs in D&D, and maybe a bit more... I dunno...

Duke of URL
2010-09-08, 09:15 AM
Example Usage

The players come to the edge of a forest. Written in large, fine dawrven letters is a message:


Ioaeuallalj!

Aelili'ly si'glk oaeuayilalj ae fuayy lal folaw si'uaywf iolairir py wgyiyiaeualairil yde'yagfyk!


For those with any smattering of training, they realize the language is Sylvan, and attempt a translation.

Result < 10 and Wisdom check fails

"Welcome!

... trees... forester..."

Result 10-14

"Warning!

...harm... tree... forest..."

Result 15-19

"Warning!

Anyone... harming... tree in this forest will..."

Result 20-24

"Warning!

Anyone found harming a tree in this forest will be... executed!"

Result 25+

"Warning!

Anyone found harming a tree in this forest will be summarily executed!"

Milskidasith
2010-09-08, 03:01 PM
The problem with this is that it is a check requiring a lifetime of devotion and taking 20 in order to be totally fluent with specific words, and you need to take 20 just to form a complete sentence without points in it. On the opposite end, everybody can understand the basic intent of every language with no training.

This does not seem like a better system than just getting fluency. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense, but skills are very rare, a few skill points makes you superhuman, and you shouldn't *need* to burn an entire half-twelth of your skill points just to be decently fluent in your own natural tongue, and it really shouldn't take that much more in order to learn other languages.

Here's how I would do it:

All languages cost two points to be fully fluent in. It costs one point in order to understand the general meaning of something ("I'll pay you 500 gold to kill that kobold with this spear" becomes, roughly, "I'll pay you to hurt *points towards the kobold").

Anybody with speak language as a class skill instead automatically gets one point in all language (Bards and factotums, IIRC).

Easy, and manages to add a bit more granularity.

imp_fireball
2010-09-08, 04:35 PM
plus an additional number of languages up to your starting Intelligence bonus drawn from your racial and/or class bonus languages list (if either or both are applicable). You do not need to train your starting languages in order to use Speak Language with them.

Yah... I never liked the idea that the intelligent character had to be the translator every time.

Maybe the intelligent character has, say 4 free ranks in each additional language they learn in accordance to their intelligence modifier? Automatic racial languages are ones they are automatically fluent in and need not make any checks whatsoever.

Only at starting ECL (first level, and no other), maybe they can choose to be fully fluent in a bonus language (like a racial automatic language) by investing another 4 skill points for that specific language (2 for either perfect literacy, writing or speech which includes inclusion of proper accent at character's choosing and 2 more for all of them). So an Int 18 wizard/translator has to burn 16 skill points to know all five-six of his languages perfectly. That way, he has to think more carefully about his other 'necessary' skills like spell craft.

DaTedinator
2010-09-08, 04:49 PM
The problem with this is that it is a check requiring a lifetime of devotion and taking 20 in order to be totally fluent with specific words, and you need to take 20 just to form a complete sentence without points in it. On the opposite end, everybody can understand the basic intent of every language with no training.

This does not seem like a better system than just getting fluency. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense, but skills are very rare, a few skill points makes you superhuman, and you shouldn't *need* to burn an entire half-twelth of your skill points just to be decently fluent in your own natural tongue, and it really shouldn't take that much more in order to learn other languages.

Here's how I would do it:

All languages cost two points to be fully fluent in. It costs one point in order to understand the general meaning of something ("I'll pay you 500 gold to kill that kobold with this spear" becomes, roughly, "I'll pay you to hurt *points towards the kobold").

Anybody with speak language as a class skill instead automatically gets one point in all language (Bards and factotums, IIRC).

Easy, and manages to add a bit more granularity.

This.

Duke of URL, while I could see your system being okay for play-by-post or other really slow games, I really, really wouldn't want to make the players roll dice to speak. I mean, in addition to it being a huge pain to have a chance to fail an otherwise basic, unimportant discussion, making the players roll that much more dice just gets silly.

And then the time to make the check is... weird. How do you define a single check? Is it a single sentence? Do the speaker and the listener have to roll for every single sentence? Miscommunication is gonna happen just as a matter of course, even for those completely fluent! Or is one roll a single encounter? So even if I have high ranks, and have been training in a language for years, a single botched roll could completely exclude me from an entire conversation?

Like, on the one hand, these things can be fixed - a little - by allowing people to take 10. But there are still worlds of other problems.

I don't like dismissing entire ideas out of hand, but making Speak Language require checks just seems like a really bad idea to me.

Duke of URL
2010-09-09, 07:14 AM
I know this rule won't work for everyone; personally, I dislike the binary "I don't know a language / I'm fully fluent!", and adding a simple gradient of "I'm kind of fluent" in the middle doesn't help.

As to specific concerns/issues with this rule, after thinking about it, I agree with the general consensus that taking 10 is reasonable.


The problem with this is that it is a check requiring a lifetime of devotion and taking 20 in order to be totally fluent with specific words, and you need to take 20 just to form a complete sentence without points in it. On the opposite end, everybody can understand the basic intent of every language with no training.

I think the suggestion of allowing "take 10" gets rid of a lot of problems with the former. With that, someone with a decent INT and a smattering of training can always glean general intent (unless distracted). With a bit more training, they can be fluent. With a lifetime of training, they can decipher ancient, archaic texts found deep in vaults. This seems to make sense.

On the latter, I don't see how you get that, unless you're letting people make untrained checks on a trained-only skill.


Maybe the intelligent character has, say 4 free ranks in each additional language they learn in accordance to their intelligence modifier? Automatic racial languages are ones they are automatically fluent in and need not make any checks whatsoever.

I like the way you're thinking... but how about something more like:


Languages: You start at 1st level knowing one or two languages based on your race. For these languages, you gain a +2 bonus to Speak Language checks and you may always take 20 on such checks, even under stress or distraction.

Additionally, for a number of languages up to your starting Intelligence bonus drawn from your racial and/or class bonus languages list (if either or both are applicable), you gain a +2 to Speak Language checks and you may always take 10 on such checks, even under stress or distraction.

You are considered trained for any of your starting languages, even if you have no skill ranks. Speak Language is always considered a class skill for any of your starting languages.


And then the time to make the check is... weird. How do you define a single check? Is it a single sentence? Do the speaker and the listener have to roll for every single sentence? Miscommunication is gonna happen just as a matter of course, even for those completely fluent! Or is one roll a single encounter? So even if I have high ranks, and have been training in a language for years, a single botched roll could completely exclude me from an entire conversation?

It's OK leaving some things to the referee's discretion. The model for the action is Decipher Script, which does not specify how long of a text is read with a single check, only the time to do so is noted. That is, it doesn't specify if the check is per page, or whether a single check would be used for an entire book, but only that it takes a minute for a full page.

The general intent of the rule is that it is to be used for short messages or communications. I'd think that trying to apply it to a longer conversation could still be simulated with a single check, interpreting it more as an overall degree of understanding. So, maybe you're pretty darn fluent, but the speaker was mumbling or was thickly accented, so instead of fully understanding him, you only got the general gist.

And, of course, if the situation allows you to take 10, then your basically as fluent as your training (and intelligence) would suggest.

--------------------------------------------

Some other things to consider/add:

Trained vs. Untrained

I'm actually contemplating removing the trained-only restriction. If I do so, there will be three changes that go along with that:


The lowest DC for any kind of understanding will be increased to 15, i.e.. 15 for basic comprehension, 20 for fluency, etc. (This is also to partly offset allowing taking 10 as well.)
A untrained check increases the DC by 5.
A untrained check cannot take 10.


Situational Modifiers

The amount of each of these modifiers is based on the referee's discretion and the specific situation.

{table]Condition | Speak Language DC modifier
Unfamiliar dialect | +1 to +5
Unfamiliar slang | +1 to +5*
Additional cues (pictures, gestures, etc.) | -1 to -5[/table]

*To understand the slang's meaning; passing the unmodified DC would still allow a literal translation. E.g., the Cockney "apples and pears" would be understood at the original DC, but the meaning of "stairs" for that phrase would only be understood with the higher check result.

Milskidasith
2010-09-09, 08:25 AM
I think the suggestion of allowing "take 10" gets rid of a lot of problems with the former. With that, someone with a decent INT and a smattering of training can always glean general intent (unless distracted). With a bit more training, they can be fluent. With a lifetime of training, they can decipher ancient, archaic texts found deep in vaults. This seems to make sense.

Uh... no, it doesn't. Taking 10 doesn't change the fact that people can barely get the intent of their own language. That's the problem. You shouldn't need a +4 int and level three in order to, without careful repetition of the phrase (taking 20), understand your own language fully.


On the latter, I don't see how you get that, unless you're letting people make untrained checks on a trained-only skill.

I can't recall, but I think in trained only skills, you can make checks of 10 or less without points. That may have only been knowledge skills, however, in which case this makes... slightly more sense.

I still see little purpose of this variant, besides making all commoners idiots who can neither communicate with each other nor understand their garbled communication. It's like if the entire world was forced to play "Telephone" while incredibly drunk.

Duke of URL
2010-09-09, 08:49 AM
Uh... no, it doesn't. Taking 10 doesn't change the fact that people can barely get the intent of their own language. That's the problem. You shouldn't need a +4 int and level three in order to, without careful repetition of the phrase (taking 20), understand your own language fully.

The rule as presented in #1 allows you to take 20, even under stress. for your native language(s). Unless you have an INT penalty, that means you can always read, write, and converse your own native language with at least basic fluency.

With the the +2 bonus suggested in my previous, even someone with very low intelligence (6) would be fluent in their own language(s); those with exceptionally low intelligence (5 or less) would still be able to converse in pidgin. [Essentially, the check is 22 + INT modifier.]

That puts D&D commoners ahead of the Facebook and text-messaging generation, frankly.


I can't recall, but I think in trained only skills, you can make checks of 10 or less without points. That may have only been knowledge skills, however, in which case this makes... slightly more sense.

I believe that's a special rule for Knowledge, yes.

kamikasei
2010-09-09, 08:54 AM
The rule as presented in #1 allows you to take 20, even under stress. for your native language(s). Unless you have an INT penalty, that means you can always read, write, and converse your own native language with at least basic fluency.
You've neglected to note any exception to the normal time required here. Taking twenty, by default, takes twenty times as long as a normal check and counts as rolling each result in turn. I think that's what Milskidasith means by "careful repetition of the phrase".

Duke of URL
2010-09-09, 08:59 AM
You've neglected to note any exception to the normal time required here. Taking twenty, by default, takes twenty times as long as a normal check and counts as rolling each result in turn. I think that's what Milskidasith means by "careful repetition of the phrase".

Ah, that makes more sense. (Ironically, a miscommunication :smalltongue:!)

I'll change the wording instead to the effect that for your native language, you do not need to make the check, but instead are always treated as if you rolled a 20.

Mulletmanalive
2010-09-09, 09:00 AM
Perhaps if detail is needed a 4-5 point language system might be in order?

Languages have 5 ranks:

{table]Ranks|Level|Examples|GM Says:
1 rank|Bare comprehension|Order a beer|You..Beer...fifteen? Yes?
2 ranks|Basic conversaion|Pay prices, enquire, get insulted|I give you good price, yes, you trust me
3 ranks|Full conversation|Chat, discuss basic topics|To get to Maryville, you need to follow this road and...
4 ranks|Fluency|Full conversation, full grasp of tenses, excellent vocabulary|Good afternoon, Sir, it is most excellent to make your acquaintence
5 ranks|Advanced Fluency|Technical language, advanced tenses, dialectics|[Launches into a complex discussion of magical principals[/table]

This is basically how it works in at least one game i've seen. You get 5+twice your Int at creation to spend on languages and you can spend additional skill points on it if you wish.

Most traders will have a grasp of common in the 2-3 range, 2 if we're talking Arabic regions where they need those points for other languages. Pigins can be made from 2-4 languages at rank 1 and common can count as 3 ranks fewer in other languages.