Saturday, 18 August 2012

You're really smart Jovial, you must speak a lot of languages.

I speak English only, and even that with an Australian twang.

The more I live in England, and the more Continental Europeans I meet, the more I realise that linking intelligence to number of languages known is non-sensical.

What, every child in Continental Europe has an intelligence of 13 or above because they can speak English and their native tongue?

I think this reflects the ango-centric nature of the rules. Maybe in the USA (not Canada you lucky guys and gals), the UK and Australia you have to be pretty bright to be offered the opportunity to learn another language at school. But not so for vast areas of the world, where bi, or even try-lingualism is the norm. What everyone in Switzerland has a 17 intelligence (+2 languages) in their tri-language country?

I don't think it's even historical in England - French and English being commonplace in England during the middle ages, not to mention those that also knew Latin. Every vaguely educated person = 17 intelligence, I don't think so.

I suspect, assuming a basic intelligence, that number of languages spoken is cultural rather than intellectual. Perhaps languages known should be campaign driven rather than ability score driven? Social standing is probably a better guide to number of languages known, than one's intelligence score.

Intelligence might be used to modify speed of language learning?
You travel somewhere, how quickly do you pick up the lingo? Depends on your intelligence score.

Every week roll to advance, modifying roll by intelligence score. If fail, add +1 to roll for each subsequent week, until advance to the next level.

Level 1 = Tourist (starting level) Où sont les toilettes ?
Level 2 = Rudimentary (Requires 1 on a d6 to reach)
Level 3 = Conversational (Requires 1 on a d10 to reach)
Level 4 = Fluent (Requires 1 on a d20 to reach)
Level 5 = Native (Requires 1 on a d100 to reach)

Additionally, or perhaps, it is time to abandon the link between intelligence and number of languages known, and use it for XP bonus. 

You catch on quick: Only Intelligence gives XP bonus


  1. There's a definite problem with the Int : # languages link. Not the least of which is: no one can decide what the relationship is. The version you're using seems remarkably stingy with languages, compared to some others (in OD&D, a Swiss national who spoke French, German, Romanche and English would only need Int 13 compared to the Int 17 for the version you're using.) And when you compare the number of languages spoken by polyglots to the max number of languages in any version or edition, there's a huge gulf.

    My solution is to use the # of languages Int table for *starting* languages. You can learn more, but that takes time. The language family approach I've been talking about helps, too.

  2. Your languages posts have obviously been firing my subconscious imagination Talysman. Thanks for the input!

  3. As a fellow Aussie monoglot I've often thought along these lines, about the utter ridiculousness of linking languages known to intelligence. I like the above solution but as a DM I'd be tempted to put the onus on the player to track it. If they forget to do so that just tells me the character wasn't bothering to make the effort to learn the local lingo.

    I'm also partial to the idea of Intelligence being the only ability to give an XP bonus/penalty, although I'd be tempted to say Intelligence or Wisdom, whichever is higher. However, I do think an unintelligent fighter could learn from experience through sheer cunning rather than intellectual prowess and so I have my doubts.

  4. Good thoughts David.

    I still think the cleverer fighter (higher intelligence) will learn quicker. The unintelligent fighter will still rise in levels, just not as fast as the smarter fighter, who can more rapidly assimilate teaching and experience.

  5. Perhaps a good way of looking at this, is what defines the language? After all, the book suggests characters have the common tongue(s) to begin with. For my adventures into the murky territory of science-fiction, the INT/# languages works well, as the 'languages' as presented just about always step outside of normal human 'languages' as we understand them. Sure still, vocalizations are made, but the syntax doesn't exist, the sounds are bizarre, and some languages might lean heavily on social and physical cues.

    Heck, just to comprehend (but be unable to communicate) 'language' alien to the human machine counts as two in these games. Of course, by alien language, I mean things like bio-luminescence, high/low pitch/frequency noise and other sound impossible to replicate unaided.

    How this relates to D&D's fantasy tongues is the virtue that most tongues seem relative to the race speaking it, rather than an English/Gailic/Saxon or French/Spanish/Latin way of perceiving distinct, but similar human language. Why are they racial languages, anyway?

  6. Of course, this whole point (if it was clear) completely side-steps "bridge" or trade languages.

  7. Great thoughts. A hornet's nest has been opened, or is that Pandora's box??

    1. Ha, definitely.

      I enjoy topics like this. It's fun to see peoples' thoughts on why this or that is how it is.

  8. I'm HERE, sorry I ruined your even 100 members :] Muha, ha, ha, haaa!

  9. Distributing languages amongst the PCs is a pretty important step in adding roleplaying to your delving if you go with monsters having their own languages.

    However, I always thought of languages as being an attempt to combine education with intelligence. When I played AD&D I allowed languages to be swapped out for secondary skills.

  10. 101 is a fine number Pixel, but a bad room.

    Good thoughts rainswept. I think I will stick to some mechanic for time to learn a language / skill but will require active learning, not passive absorption.

  11. My question is how do languages add fun to your game?

    With recent flailsnailing pretty much all languages have been handwaved - it makes no sense for the characters from my Carcosa variant to be able to speak with folks from Normandie or Wessex or Blight of the Khazars, but they do. And as a devotee of Vance I like it when the PCs can get into a nervous conversation with a pelgrane or an ancient dragon woken from millenia of slumber, which implies some kinda ubermagical Berlitzium thing going on, or possibly a weird linguistic stasis that threatens to bring the whole fictional universe crashing down in self-awareness. So I tend not to track languages at all and haven't bothered with the Int limits.

    OTOH it's (maybe) fun when the MU character is the only one who recognizes that the mysterious book is written in a language not from round these parts and then you have to go find a translator. On the third hand, can you find someone who can talk to the trolls and if you can, how did they learn that? Languages, like magic, can be a tool for putting barriers up in the world without having to explain exactly how they work, thereby allowing the players to invent smart-ass end-runs around them.

    My approach is, John Carter couldn't understand the green martians for exactly as long as that was amusing, and then he could. And sure, he's a superman, but in this case I think he's probably a good index for how this issue should work - do you want to limit communication? A language barrier is great for that. Now you want transparent communication? Either add a gizmo (which you can take away again! Ha!) or just rule that you guys have figured out your own argot and it works.

    And no, language learning doesn't have much to do with the kind of intelligence the game associates with Vancian spellcasting, I think. Otherwise, with my rudimentary French, Dutch and Portuguese, I should be able to memorize dozens of non-Euclidean tesseract dances with dung-flinging flourishes, when in fact I would lose my glasses if they weren't perched on the end of my nose.

    1. ...John Carter couldn't understand the green martians for exactly as long as that was amusing, and then he could.... just rule that you guys have figured out your own argot and it works.

      The Original Trilogy (& WEG Star Wars*) got this just right. If there's a protocol droid present you get a translation (there's your gizmo), otherwise at least one character seems to just get the speaker's meaning even though there's no indication that they actually speak the language.

      * The D6 language rules are on pp. 90 & 91 of D6 Space, for example. Adapting them to D&D would add a nice little subsystem.

    2. @rainswept: that IS a nice mechanic - it's based on complexity of utterance. I can imagine that working nicely for native speakers too - save v EDU.

  12. This hasn't yet brushed against demi-humans with their list of known languages at generation.

  13. Back in the day we used to use "Translator Pendants" that the characters could wear to understand other languages.

    These days in most systems (d20, most point-buy-systems) Language is a skill point away, or a feat in 4e.

    These days in older D&D I hand wave it. It is as important as it needs to be at that point in time and then no other.
    I have plenty of systems where I can get into the detail of languages and how the characters knows them; Call of Cthulhu for example. But not so much in D&D.