Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Megadungeons and Language

Before I begin today, I am going to shill. We launched our 6th (5 under the current account) Kickstarter this morning. It is all about language in RPGs. Take a look. $7 gets a PDF, and $21 gets a PDF + Print copy delivered in the US.[end shill]

Languages in megadungeons is a tricky thing. It must be accessible to the players, but immersive enough not to break suspension of disbelief. Should the paladin who was suspended in time 500 years ago be understandable? The short answer is yes. The long answer is . . . more complicated. 

The game itself gives us tools to deal with language barriers:
Characters with a high intelligence gain bonus languages, and non-humans often have multiple languages known to them, even without high intelligence. 
Thieves' cant was designed to allow thieves the ability to communicate over language barriers (often through the use of universal symbols).
Wizards, scholars, and long-lived races populate the game worlds we explore. Any of these may be able to interpret the conversation (for a price of course).

The following spells (and others I am forgetting) appear in various OSR books: 
Comprehend Languages allows the caster to understand auditory language around herself (and some versions allow writing as well).
Read Languages is designed to understand written language they read. It does not decode cyphers or the like.
Tongues allows the caster to both speak and understand languages in their presence for the duration of the spell.

If the adventurers have access to the magics (or a long lived language, like Elven), there is near immediate understanding between the time displaced paladin and the party. But, what if they don't have access to these knowledges? The adventure becomes a bit different.

Do your players like puzzling out solutions to problems? If so, then I would leave the paladin unable to communicate effectively. However, many groups get frustrated at multi-step problems like this, in which case, the DM should just hand wave it so the paladin is understandable.

A different problem is the communication between orcs, goblins, the characters and other denizens of the dungeon. Do different neighboring factions communicate? Often in my games, the answer is yes. I use an interpreter in each of the groups who communicate in several languages. They are nearly always found with the leader of the group.

The position is an esteemed one, and often comes with perks for the NPC. They are likely spell-casters and avoid physical combat whenever possible. The king protects the interpreter, even though they may be weaker than the other orcs (goblins, whatever). Does every fiefdom have an interpreter for all languages nearby? No. Which allows the PCs to be hooked into the politics. 

Here is an example of an adventure scenario in Mord Mar:
Talen Taak, the troll queen, requires an interpreter for a diplomatic mission to the Apes of the Citadel. A war has raged between the groups for long enough, and a cease fire needs to be reached. Both sides want peace, but the trolls cannot understand the sign language of the Apes. Anyone who accomplishes this without giving up resources gains a permanent private quarters within the troll's domicile. (The Apes may also give a separate reward). Language can facilitate adventure, when used as a motivator.

Language within megadungeons is a massive topic. It affects information given to the party, where they can explore, whom they fight and nearly every other detail when dealing with the denizens. It is easy to gloss over, but occasionally accenting language can lead to exciting results.

1 comment:

  1. Sword Language dialect [theives cant] sece (6) guards the right handed sword arm . Parry into cart (5 position ) back to right back handed is tirce (a brife back at you statement ) . Languadge what does it meab to be short with someone .