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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Halfling in the Playground
     
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    Default Alternative language systems?

    I'm a bit of language nerd, and the way languages work in D&D has always irked me. The usage of Common is something that I never really liked, for instance, and it seems that all languages, regardless of relation, are equally easy to learn.

    Something that would be interesting to work with would be language skills and language families. Heck, even a separate skill for reading a logographic writing system and speaking it (I sure as heck can speak much better Japanese than I can read it).

    For example, languages would have the following ranks:

    Z: No knowledge whatsoever
    F: A few context-less phrases through cultural osmosis
    D: Starting to learn a language actively, but only basic grammar and phrases, telling time, directions, etc
    C: Able to have simple small talk, but needs work on more complex grammar and vocabulary
    B: Able to converse fluidly with few mistakes. Complimented by native speakers frequently.
    A: Non-native fluency. Pronunciation may have a slight accent, but is frequently mistaken for native speaker.
    S1: Native under-educated. Speaks fluently, but has a limited vocabulary
    S2: Native commoner. The average speaker.
    S3: Scholar. Has wealth of vocabulary and understands the mechanics of the grammar.

    As for the language family system, having ranks in one branch or tree could make it easier to gain ranks in the other languages in that branch.

    Are there any homebrew language systems that could satisfy my language nerdery? That said, something that complex would only be fun for people like me.

    What would be a good balance between realism and user-friendliness?
    Character Name: Natheus
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    AC: 13
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    Proficiency Bonus: 4

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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    As far as gameplay is concerned, it seems to me you really only need 3 levels of familiarity/knowledge for a non-native speaker.

    - Broad strokes in combination with gestures. Can order food and drink, buy goods, get directions, partially understand the gist of more complex communication.

    - Functional but limited. Can discuss the menu, ask questions, negotiate price, specify a preferred route, flirt, etc. +CHA bonus available on persuasion & intimidation checks, etc.

    - Fluent. May lack cultural nuance and lack familiarity with various dialects but can discuss many subjects at great length with only occasional need for correction on grammar or vocabulary.

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    In theory, I would love a system like that. I'd even want to extend it with dialects and sign languages and coded languages... but in a game of D&D, it just doesn't work. Common is a gross break from verisimilitude, but it's a necessary one. I'm currently running a campaign where half the party doesn't speak Common* and frankly, it's not worked at all. It got even worse when they decided to try negotiating with some gnolls despite the fact that none of them speak Gnoll and the only one with Comprehend Languages doesn't know Common...

    *They're all fey creatures, the lack of Common was supposed to reinforce the feeling of discomfort they should get in humanoid settlements.
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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ninja_Prawn View Post
    In theory, I would love a system like that. I'd even want to extend it with dialects and sign languages and coded languages... but in a game of D&D, it just doesn't work. Common is a gross break from verisimilitude, but it's a necessary one. I'm currently running a campaign where half the party doesn't speak Common* and frankly, it's not worked at all. It got even worse when they decided to try negotiating with some gnolls despite the fact that none of them speak Gnoll and the only one with Comprehend Languages doesn't know Common...

    *They're all fey creatures, the lack of Common was supposed to reinforce the feeling of discomfort they should get in humanoid settlements.
    Yeah, the lack of Common would be a major hurdle. A Trade Common (structured like Esperanto) could alleviate some of the issues, but not all of them.

    I guess the idea of "Common" is really the "human" language, since humans are everywhere and are usually in charge in their kingdoms. Though, thinking like that, you could still have a Common, but call it something else. Have it be the language of the most economically powerful nation, meaning that anyone who travels frequently would learn it to get around easily. Kind of like English and Spanish, I suppose.
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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    I think of "common" as the language of commerce in my games. Any given farmer's daughter or regimental soldier may not know it, but the innkeep and the blacksmith sure do.

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    I've always based "common" on the Koine, which I think works rather well, at least in general idea.
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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    In theory, making languages more complex has a certain sense of verisimilitude. Unfortunately, it makes for a seriously frustrating and unfun gaming experience in practice when players can't understand one another. Do you have the players act out in mime? Or just rely on translators and the like. It bogs down a lot if they keep failing checks to figure out what is being said.

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    Colossus in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    I guess this would be one of the cases where a DM would say "You all have to start speaking a common language". Which is far less intrusive than "don't play a paladin of the sun and a necromancer".
    I solemnly swear,
    To devote my life and abilities,
    In defence of the United Nations of Earth,
    To defend the Constitution of Man,
    And to further the universal rights of all sentient life.
    From the depths of the pacific, to the edge of the galaxy.
    For as long as I shall live.

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    If we wanted to do a serious overhaul of D&D languages (using 3.5) then I suppose we'd be looking at something like this:

    1. You start with a Feat that opens up a language family. We may even grant up to two such Feats if we're feeling generous and want to give a proper nod to how likely everyone is to speak at least two languages in the linguistically D&D worlds. Naturally you'd be able to spend Feats you earn on additional language families.

    2. Now we get into a two part issue: the fact that the initial DC for any given skill check for "Normal" difficulty is a mere 10, and that changing that means implementing a sizable overhaul to the underlying mechanics of the base system. However, this also affords us certain opportunities.

    3. To make the best use of our available resources and restraints, what we'd really want is something like the following: The Feat unlocks the language tree, but also grants X number of Skill Points that must specifically be used on a language (or languages) within the Linguistic Family Tree that the Feat unlocked. Assuming a Roll of '10' + X is equal to a native speaker, we can do something like the following:

    a. Feat unlocks a Linguistic Family Tree.
    b. Feat also provides 2 Linguistic specific Skill Points that can't be spent anywhere else.
    c. Player may assign those two points to any language they can access through the Family tree.
    d. Language difficulty is determined: Base DC 15 for an easy language spoken proficiently, increasing Base DC by +5 or more per relative level of difficulty in the language. For example, 'Common', would likely be that Base DC 15, as would the core racial languages. Something like Fay or Draconic, on the other hand, could be more in the 20's range, whereas something as alien as "Elder Thing" could be in the 30's or higher.
    e. Languages are assigned a governing attribute: Intelligence. By extension, players no longer receive 'Free' languages for having a high Intelligence. However, they're better at speaking the ones they have and have spare Skill points to spend on gaining more on their unlocked family trees.
    f. Languages remain Trained Skills, so you suffer a sizable penalty for not having invested points in any particular language. However, if you roll well you might still have a couple vocabulary words or even a short phrase or two.
    g. Assign appropriate bonuses and penalties to social skill checks based on the character's languages and skill thereof. If they cannot regularly meet the base skill DC for the language, then they're likely going to suffer a -1 or -2 regularly. However, if they can passively beat the DC by a notable margin (or if we simply use the standard synergy rule) then they can get a small bonus as well.
    h. Allow characters to regularly 'Take 10' on their language roll instead of rolling for it every time they speak. If they're under duress, have them roll, but in most instances they should be able to speak at their normal proficiency.

    It's not perfect, and I haven't used it myself (having come up with it mostly as I typed it) but perhaps it might fit the bill for you as a quick and dirty fix?

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    I'm a big language fan too and I'd like to recommend something from real life to you: The Common European Language Framework. I think it's an excellent system. Look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common...ference_levels

    The thing is that CEFR doesn't take accent into account, but personally I've grown to love it. Many people think that someone with a thick Spanish accent is a less of an English speaker than a guy from London, but that's just how our minds work, which is a pity. I'd like to suggest that no one actually owns a language, therefore everyone speaks with an accent. It is, however, possible to speak "accentless" neutral English, meaning that everyone can hear that you're a native speaker, but no one can figure where you're from.

    For roleplaying purposes, I'd like add one more level to CEFR: C3. At this level, you can fluently imitate several accents and you can use the language innovatively or artistically, even by breaking its rules (e.g. e e cummings).

    I am a bit biased though, because I've always scored well when CEFR has been used
    Last edited by Jon_Dahl; 2016-01-06 at 01:20 PM.

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    Common basically takes the place of English. Sure you can speak French or Spanish or German, etc. but in a quasi-medieval fantasy game Common is going to be spoken by Humans who are usually the predominant race. Elves and Dwarves are usually less common than than Humans and have their own racial languages. That doesn't mean you can't break the Human languages further down from Common, but the more languages you add, the harder it is to communicate. This isn't just about the PCs but also for the Player's who have to work this out. Racial languages in D&D and Pathfinder take the place of cultural languages. You can add cultural languages but often they are far more limited in scope. It also means none of the monsters will have those cultural languages unless you add them to every monster. That's a lot of work.

    Sometimes the ecology will state that a certain monster only speaks a limited amount of a language and then the DM can just roleplay that using simple words. For example: "You go. No fire" pretty much tells you the fey creature in the forest objects to your campfire. In this case, a communication is aided by context. You can fall back on "Me Tarzan, You Jane" speech patterns to represent that.

    Also, there is non-verbal communication: sigh, grunt, whine, gasp, laugh, and raspberry all convey information. Characters can pantomime their actions. These are less effective forms of communication and are a lot easier to misunderstand. The dabus from Planescape spoke in Rebuses. Again, setting that up takes time.

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    Last edited by Debihuman; 2016-01-06 at 01:05 PM.
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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    While realistic, the only way I'd advocate a language system that involves tiers or skill levels would be to completely disentangle them from the leveling system.

    If I am sacrificing skill proficiencies (or even worse, Ability Scores or Feats) just to speak Elvish more fluently, then it better be more important for me to do so than to stay alive in battle. Is making the act of renting a room at an inn more Byzantine because of language rules more exciting than taking a feat like Sentinel or Lucky?

    Instead, if you had a situation where characters could learn new languages or fluencies as part of the adventure but not tying it to sacrifices in how the character itself is built, this could be interesting. However, as a DM you'd need to MAKE it interesting.

    Making it so players can't buy a potion of healing without it being an interaction that takes ten minutes of the game? Not fun. Allowing someone with an S3 fluency to pick up on cultural or dialect inflections to pick up on a BBEG's secret plan? Kind of cool. But you need to way outbalance the tedium with the cool.

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    I do this on the fly.

    Mainly players know a first language and up to +1 per intelligence modifier at the beginning of the game. Plus if their backstory justifies it, any additional languages.

    Languages are categorized as Native Fluent, Fluent, Broken, Basic, None. Likewise I also have a Literate/Illiterate aspect as well. Some players can SPEAK a language but might no be able to read or write it.

    Your first language is automatically Native Fluent and your fluent in all following languages assuming you have an int. high enough. So if your Int. Modifier is +2 your fluent in two languages. After that you have to actually invest time as a character to learn languages, or you have a "Basic," grasp of other picked languages within reason.

    At the beginning of gameplay though I do state that they are going into an area with X as the predominate language. So players can be sure their character is fluent in that language.

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    Reading your replies, I think I might have something of a simple system running in my head.

    All characters start with one-to-three languages:

    1. Native language. More about place than race, if an Elf is raised by Elvish parents in a human realm, they'll learn that human language.
    2. Race language. The elf would also learn Elvish from their parents and fellow Elf peers. Doesn't apply if native and race language match, or the individual wasn't raised by their race. That's right, human-raised Half-Elves won't necessarily know Elvish.
    3. The dominant language. Unless either native or race language are the dominant language, they would learn this language from general schooling. This would be Common, but wouldn't be called such. All traders, innkeepers, diplomats, scholars, etc., know this language.

    Any character with more than 0 INT modifier can learn more languages, using the INT mod as currency for ranks.

    Rank 1: Costs 1 INT. Basic knowledge. Will have to roll an INT check sometimes to speak that language if the topic is complex. For things like directions, favors, etc., no check is needed.
    Rank 2: Costs 2 INT. Proficient knowledge. The player adds their proficiency bonus to any language INT check, and can try to interpret (but not speak) a related language with an INT check without the bonus and at disadvantage.
    Rank 3: Costs 3 INT. Non-native fluency. No INT check needed, but can, like native speakers, interpret related languages with an INT check with no advantage or disadvantage.

    If you give a good reason in your backstory, there can be exceptions to these rules.

    Every two levels, the player can again use their INT mod as currency to learn another language or increase the rank of one of their known ones.

    The Linguist feat, instead of learning new languages automatically, decreases the cost of the Ranks to 0, 1, and 2, but you can still only learn your INT mod's amount of Rank 1 languages, so you can't learn all languages at Rank 1 automatically.
    Last edited by Natheus; 2016-01-07 at 06:15 AM.
    Character Name: Natheus
    Race: Half-Elf
    Class: Wizard 10th Level
    Alignment: Neutral Good
    Spoiler: Abilities
    Show

    STR: 12
    DEX: 17
    CON: 16
    INT: 20
    WIS: 12
    CHA: 13

    AC: 13
    Initiative Bonus: 3
    Proficiency Bonus: 4

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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    Quote Originally Posted by Natheus View Post
    Are there any homebrew language systems that could satisfy my language nerdery? That said, something that complex would only be fun for people like me.

    What would be a good balance between realism and user-friendliness?
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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Alternative language systems?

    I've been thinking about this and I have the following suggestion:
    rank in speak language = Roll d6. 1 = F, 2 = D, 3 = C, 4 = B, 5 = A, 6 = S1 (please refer to OP regarding the letters etc.).
    1 rank in speak language = S2
    2 ranks in speak language and Int 13 or more = S3
    Last edited by Jon_Dahl; 2016-01-08 at 12:27 PM.

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