Monday, November 12, 2018

Expanding Languages in Dungeon Fantasy

A while back, I wrote a bit about languages in DF and in Starfall, and an interesting suggestion was made in the comments. I immediately decided to explore the idea and wrote this. Of course, because I write about a month out in advance, this response is only now getting published. I hope it was worth the wait! 

On its own, speaking a language other than the locally common one lets players avoid some nuisances and give a minor situational benefit. This really sounds like a perk to me. Similarly, reading a language gives players access to information and another means of communication, but otherwise isn’t terribly useful. So why does each of these things cost so much in GURPS? Simply put, because GURPS isn’t DF.

In GURPS, it is assumed that there are as many languages as there are on Earth and that the relative likelihood of encountering a language other than the local native language is similarly as common. Thus, in a world as connected by trade, immigration, and communication networks as modern Earth, languages are worth a fair amount. They let you engage in social activity with a much larger group of people, and they let you avoid some particularly difficult situations when traveling abroad. But that’s standard GURPS.
In DF, however, there is generally an assumed common language everyone speaks, and other languages are usually obstacles, character flavor, etc., as I previously explored in some detail. That’s why languages, as written, really aren’t worth all of the points charged for them. But as Mailanka mused, languages can certainly have other benefits. This got me to thinking . . .

Alternate Benefits for Languages

What sort of benefits can a language grant, aside from the usual ones? Immediately, it makes sense to give a reaction bonus to people who are from places where that language is spoken regularly. In Alnwich, foreigners are rare enough that this reaction bonus would only count as a perk, but speaking the local language is common enough to charge a full 2 points, as if it were a limited reputation.

Literacy in another language probably conveys the same benefits, but it is somewhat harder to use. People generally don’t engage in DF activities via writing! This makes literacy in a foreign language really not worth any more than literacy in the local language.

Languages might also contain power. This is especially true of supernatural languages like Lumian or Sylvan. Such languages convey one or two perk-level benefits for spells cast using that language. This includes scrolls written in that language. For a repository of interesting effects, look at Magic Perks (GURPS Thaumatology – Magical Styles, p. 20-33). These benefits only ever apply if the spell has a verbal component, and the benefit can never circumvent that requirement. Appropriate spell perks include:

Astrological Ceremonies, Blood Magic, Frightening Side Effects, Improvised Items, Improvised Magic, Licensed Exorcist, Life-Force Burn, Mana Compensation, Psychic Guidance, Spell Duelist, Spell Enhancement, Stabilizing Skill (for a spoken skill in that language), Willful Casting, and of course, Secret Words for a group of spells no larger than a college is particularly appropriate for languages!

Each perk granted increases the language’s cost by 1 character point.

Languages can combine any of these options but generally should not cost more than 3 points for either literacy or spoken fluency. Note that fluency and literacy are binary – you are or you aren’t. DF doesn’t have room for IQ rolls to see if you kind of understand someone!

The Modified Language List for Alnwich

Abyssal The language of those fiendish divine servitors who have turned on their deific lords and banded together for protection. Spells cast in Abyssal benefit from Frightening Side Effects (Magical Styles, p. 25) and Spell Duelist (Holy Spells) (Magical Styles, p. 31). Spoken: 3 points; Written 3 points.

Aranthian The language of the nomadic horsemen far to the south. Not spoken in Alnwich. Anrathians have +1 to their reaction rolls when first addressed in their native tongue. Spoken: 2 points; Written: 1 point.

Carantanian The language of the warlike Carantanian chiefdoms. Not spoken in Alnwich. Carantanians have +1 to their reaction rolls when first addressed in their native tongue. Spoken: 2 points; Written: 1 point.

Draconic The language of the primeval dragons. Mostly studied by alchemists, scholars, and wizards. You gain the benefits of Mana Compensation (Magical Styles, p. 27) and Willful Casting (Magical Styles, p. 33) when casting spells in Draconic. Spoken: 3 points; Written 3 points.

Druidic The written language of runes used by druids. There is no spoken druidic language. A person fluent in Druidic can use it to create Improvised Items (Magical Styles, p. 24) that involve writing. Written: 2 points.

Lumian Likuma’s divine language of civilization from which all earthly languages are believed to derive. Exorcisms performed in Lumian do not require any special background and are at +1 for all rolls. Furthermore, any spell granted by Likuma – regardless of whether it is cast as a holy or wizardly spell – benefits from Secret Words (Magical Styles, p. 30) if it is cast in Lumian. Spoken: 3 points; Written 3 points.

Noctian The language of Mënes, the Three-Formed. Sometimes called the Moon-Script or Crescent-Tongue. Spoken, Noctian can slip in and through other spoken words undetected except by those fluent in it, and the written language is only visible in the light of a crescent moon or to those literate in its orthography. Furthermore, darkness spells and any verbal skills used to dissemble benefit from Secret Words (Magical Styles, p. 30) if it is cast in Noctian. Spoken: 3 points; Written 3 points.

Skidisk The language of those native to the lands about the Trollenmere. Still widely spoken by locals in Alnwich, who react at +1 to those who address them in Skidisk. Spoken: 3 points; Written: 1 point.

Sylvan The language of the fae. Not widely known outside of certain eclectic magical or spiritual circles. Druidic spells cast in Sylvan gain the benefits of Secret Words (Magical Styles, p. 30), as do illusion spells. Spoken: 3 points; Written 3 points.

Taylorian An unearthly series of glyphs that form the basis of unending dimensions in whose maddening angles and geometries stalk ideas unfathomable to those uncanny in that infinite space out of time. You gain the benefits of Astrological Casting (Magical Styles, p. 24) and Secret Words for madness- or pain-inducing effects (Magical Styles, p. 30) when casting spells in Taylorian. Spoken: 3 points; Written: 3 points.

Thanrasian The dead language of Thanras whose strange glyphs adorn the ruins of the doomed city and other ruins around the Trollenmere. Spells cast in Thanrasian – usually as scrolls, these days – enjoy the benefits of Life-Force Burn 2 (Magical Styles, p. 30). Written 3 points.

Uskan The language of Usk. Dialects are spoken all over the realm, but these mostly result in funny accents and idioms. Spoken: Free; Written: 1 point.

Tying It All Together

Languages in DF aren't worth nearly as many points as they are in standard GURPS games because of the reduced role of social interactions in Hack & Slash gaming and because of the limitations on meeting people who don't speak your free language. The latter, of course, is very GM dependent, but the former point remains valid. One way to address this issue is to reduce the cost of languages. Another is to add benefits to languages. This latter option is far more interesting, so that's what I'm doing in Alnwich. Of course, some languages just aren't meant to be interesting, so in those cases, they'll get a price reduction.

What have you done to make languages more appealing to players in your DF games? What about your normal games?

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