View Full Version : Second Language Acquisition!

2006-12-05, 06:26 PM
So I'm in a Linguistics class right now, and we just got to the SLA chapter. It reminded me that I don't care very much for the over simplification of languages in D&D. I understand that knowing multiple languages is more common in this fantasy setting (it’s much more like Europe than the United States in terms of language requirements) but at the same time it’s unlikely that even incredibly intelligent people will be masters of a half dozen languages. And on the flip side even someone with a horrible intelligence can still know a bit of other languages. The Speak Language skill specifically states “You either know a language or you don’t.” If you’re in the middle of your third year studying a foreign language you’ll realize how laughable that statement really can feel like. (I can't believe I wanna go to Tokyo!)

So, anyways, let's make languages something more exciting and realistic!

Basic Starting Languages
A person starts completely proficient in their automatic languages. The exceptions to this include Humans who may choose one other language to be completely proficient, and also Half-elves and Half-Orcs who may substitute one of the languages they know for another language. The Half-Orc must substitute Common or Orc with a language choose from their Bonus Language list.

Other Starting Languages
The rest of a person’s language list (and their proficiency in those languages) is determined by using Language points. The number of Language points a player has is equal to their Intelligence modifier x 2 (minimum of 1.) Players can then choose their level of proficiency by spending Language Points.

High Proficiency
2 points
This level is the same as the automatic languages. It is a language the player has a large amount of time studying and can communicate on an even level with native speakers. (They may, however, still retain an accent and be easily identified as a non-native speaker.)

Medium Proficiency
1 point
This level represents a student of a new language that has not reach a native-like level of communication. Their grammar, accent, and fluency reflect their own native language and may at times be difficult for others to understand. At this level any skills that require communication (verbal bluff/intimidate, Diplomacy, Use Device [reading scrolls written in other language] etc.) has an increased DC of 5.

Low Proficiency
.5 point
This is a very rudimentary understanding of another language. The character perhaps knows some basic phrases, (“Hello, how are you?” “Where is the bathroom?” “Please don’t kill me with your sword.”) but has limited vocabulary and may be hard to understand. Communication checks have an increased DC of 10.

Improving Proficiency
In order to improve a Proficiency level of a language the player must spend time honing their knowledge and usage. It is important that both study and communication are used. You cannot just read about a language to improve the level, you must also use it on others with a High proficiency. After 1d12 months of actively communicating in a language, the player makes an Intelligence based check (DC 15) to see if their Proficiency improves. A failed roll requires 1d3 more months of study before the player may try again.

Sometimes a person reaches a level of ability and cannot progress any farther. This is the natural phenomena of language fossilization. Should a character with Medium proficiency fail an improvement roll by 10 or more the character’s proficiency in the language has experienced fossilization. A fossilized language cannot improve to High Proficiency.

Gaining New Languages
The Speak Language skill can be used to gain a new language. One skill point allows Low Proficiency in a language and 2 allows Medium Proficiency. A character may not buy herself High Proficiency in a language. As a cross-class skill, meaning almost everyone but a few exceptions [yay Bard!], it takes 2 skill points to reach Low and 4 points to reach Medium. After buying this proficiency level the character may improve from the way listed above. (This means you can just buy Low and work your way up to High slowly or jump right into Medium and get to High sooner but costing more skill point.)

Druidic: The Druidic language is a part of the training to become a Druid. It is automatically a High proficiency language that does not spend Language Points. The bonus languages of a Cleric or Wizard, however, follow the rules stated above.

Alphabets: High Proficiency in a language with the same alphabet as another (Speaking Draconic and attempting to read Auran) is treated as having Low Proficiency in that language. Having Medium or Low Proficiency in a language does not give the reader enough knowledge to decipher what is written. You may also decide that certain languages are similar enough to warrant this Proficiency treatment when hearing them. Halfling may be similar enough to Elven to allow your character to get the idea of what the Elves are whispering to each other. Draconic, however, might be too different from Auran to warrant this bonus. It is DM’s discretion.

Illiteracy: Barbarians and other uncivilized classes still spend 2 skill points to gain literacy in the languages they know. I honestly cannot think of a way to improve this right now that won’t make it way too tedious.

Points I’d really like in-put on:
If a character is attempting to improve their proficiency from Low to Medium and they roll a natural 20 what do you think should occur? My two options are that 1. the character automatically gets a High proficiency in that language and skips the Medium Proficiency level, or 2. The character is given the opportunity to see if their proficiency increases to High. Should they fail the roll by more than ten then they do not suffer fossilization at this point. (Danny rolls a natural 20 when attempting to improve his Dwarfish, and then rolls a 2 to see if it increases to High. Instead of fossilizing at Medium he is just at Medium proficiency and still able to improve.)

For Alphabets, should I make it so High Proficiency means Medium Proficiency in reading and starting with Medium Proficiency means Low Proficiency in reading another language’s similar alphabet? I don’t think that should be applied to hearing people speak a similar language because then it increases the number of languages you know to a very high amount.

2006-12-05, 06:27 PM

Here are some examples of my new system. In Tombi the Wyld’s example I have also introduced a role-play variant to language lists. If a character has a compelling enough reason to have a language on their list I feel they should have it.

Lucy is a Halfling Wizard with an Intelligence of 17. Her player gets 6 language Points at her creation. Lucy already knows Common and Halfling and may choose from the Halfling Bonus language list. 4 points are used to buy High proficiency in Elven and Dwarven. 1 point gets a Medium proficiency in Orc, and the other point is used to get a Low proficiency in Gnome and Goblin.

Tombi the Wyld is a Half-Orc Bard. He was abandoned at an early age by his Orc family and found by Lucy’s Halfling troupe and raised as a foundling. Tombi’s player only gets 1 Language point due to Tombi’s low intelligence, but Tombi still automatically gets Orc and Common. He chooses to get a Medium proficiency in Halfling. Even though the language is not listed on the Half-Orc’s bonus list the DM rules it is an appropriate language for Tombi the Wyld.

Lucy and Tombi begin adventuring with a group of mercenaries. Tombi continues to learn Halfling from Lucy, while Lucy attempts to improve her Orc from Tombi and Gnome from one of their fellow adventurers. After several months Tombi’s player rolls to see if he increases his proficiency and rolls an 18. Tombi now speaks Halfling at a High Proficiency level. Lucy’s player rolls for both Gnome and Orc. She gets a 17 and 15 respectively. Her Gnome is now Medium and her Orc is High. The next time Lucy’s player attempts to improve she only manages to get a 5. Lucy’s ability to speak Gnome is now stuck at Medium.

So what do you all think?

2006-12-05, 08:06 PM
I don't really like the fossilization. There's no way for you stop being able to learn any other skill, and I'm certain most players will be miffed to learn that, now and for all eternity, they can no longer improve a certain language.

Aside from that, I agree that Speak Language needs to be improved.

2006-12-05, 09:43 PM
Wow. I am very deeply impressed and gratified for what you've done. I too am a student of linguistics and agree with you that the system for aquiring laguages in D&D is unforgivably simplified. All in all your system makes sense to me, although I think ^ is right in saying that the fossilization thing is a bit harsh.
All in all though, it was very well done. Props!

2006-12-05, 10:02 PM
Wow. That's all I can say. Well done.

2006-12-05, 11:42 PM
It's extremely well done, though the fossilizing does seem somewhat off-kilter to me.

2006-12-05, 11:46 PM
Okay, I know fossilization is a bit harsh, but based on actual linguistic studies fossilization does occur. A student of the language simply picks up certain grammatical rules or pronouciations and not others and there's little to nothing that can be done to fix it. After years of being surrounded by the new language a learner may still not follow certain rules. They might understand the rules and show their comprehension in other areas of speech, but some things just don't get fixed.

I know it's harsh. So how do I fix it?

I could make it so that fossilization only occurs at Medium level and it's negative effect is to raise the DC of reaching High by.... 5? 2?