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[SK] How to handle languages

 
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Malcolm Wolter
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2009 6:42 pm    Post subject: [SK] How to handle languages Reply with quote

I was prepping to run The Path of Kane Plot Point campaign and I suddenly hit a very hard wall. How in the world (no pun intended) do you manage languages when your PCs can come from many nations and are traveling to strange and exotic lands the world over to boot? I understand that the Knowledge skill is the mechanic to be used, but outfitting your characters with their native tongue plus English would be expensive during character creation. In my case, my two main PCs are Hungarian. So traveling through Germany and France to even get to England is going to be a big problem from the jump — never mind what happens when they get to Devon. Too, there's no provision for Kane himself in his profile and we know he spoke a number of languages. Likewise, none of the sample PCs in the Traveler's Tales module are bilingual.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, I don't think English was the common language of commerce as it's come to be in the last couple of centuries. Only learned people and courtiers would know more than their native tongue. If you're a Hungarian and you encounter some unspeakable evil while riding through the Black Forest, you'd better know how to speak German if you want to interact with the natives. The problem is exacerbated when you're encountering Mayans and Chinese people. I wish there was a sidebar in the book to address this.

I know the game tries to focus on basic skills, wanting to avoid getting mired down in fluffery, but in a polyglot world there needs to be a solution that's elegant as the rest of the ruleset. Or are we to play fast and lose with languages like so many space operas do and just assume that everyone can make themselves understood?

Anyone else consider this? Ideas?

Thanks,

M.


Last edited by Malcolm Wolter on Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:36 am; edited 1 time in total
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DanF
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2009 8:13 pm    Post subject: Languages Reply with quote

I will admit I am not an expert on the languages of the time period, but I am decently knowledgeable of History. If your PCs are Nobility or University educated they would know Latin in addition to their native tongue. Latin and many times Greek was the language of the elites and learned even in protestant areas.

Also, you mentioned your PCs are from Hungary, which at this time I believe was part of the Habsburg lands (unless they are from Ottoman Occupied Hungary). As such, if they are pro-Habsburg they would know German (You can hand wave the fact German and most other languages were not really unified languages at the time). If they are not then they would only know Magyar and most likely Latin (Official Language of Hungary until 1844-1849 & again in 1867 onward). In the Holy Roman Empire, German is the most common language used in the towns, this was true even in largely non-German areas like Bohemia (Enlarged Czech Republic).

If they are Jewish then Yiddish would work, and that was spoken all over Europe by other Jews. The downside they would have religious issues with everyone else.

Overseas: Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish are your best friends. The French and English had minor colonies (during this time frame) in North America. Spain had Central and South America. The Dutch and Portuguese were in Guiana and Brazil. In the Orient Dutch and possibly Portuguese would be the most common European languages known by merchants or translators you may hire.

The United Provinces (Dutch) were very cosmopolitan, so a Character or NPC from their would probably know many languages, and they dominated world trade during most of the 17th century (1600s). The Dutch hated the Spanish and fought multiple wars with the English throughout this time period.

I hope this helps,

Dan
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NOESKANE
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 3:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello!

My 2 pence:

You could opt to do as Howard (& olde Star Trek - Kirk style), did in the Kane stories... They just know them, period... onto adventure (after all aren't they "wanderers"? They musta picked a few languages here & there)!

If Howard blatantly broke most rules (language-wise) in his Kane yarns, why can't you?

Also, maybe they encounter NPCs who can understand them!

NEK
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DaRealJudas
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 4:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is an optional rule (from PotSM and Rippers) that I use since the beginning… because I like it. Wink
Every character knows a number of languages equal to half his Smarts. Including his or her native tongue.
So with Smarts d4 you get 2 languages, at d6 it’s 3 and so on up to 6 at d12.
And than there is the Linguist Edge from Rippers with gives you 2 extra languages and maybe even a Smarts roll at -2 to “get” basic conversations in any language the character hears for at least 1 hour.

Hope that helps.
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Lord Lance
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 6:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maybe i read the rule badly, anyway in my Fantasy campaign i use the rule: d4 Smarts = 1 language, d6 = 2 languages, d8 = 3 languages, d10 = 4 languages and so on... +1 language every +1 step.

Naturally you can use the rule you like more, I think you should keep an eye to the max number of the languages in your setting: if you have 6 - 10 languages, then my rule is ok; if you have 15 - 20 languages (dialects?) you can use the DaRealJudas' one.

Of course, a character that take another level of Smarts, don't get the language immediatly, but he need to spend time with the right people, or on the books, or with a teacher, for some months.
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Malcolm Wolter
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 7:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks to all for the speedy and very helpful replies!

@ DanF: That's an awesome overview that I will snip and save for future reference. Thank you so much! That shoulda been in the rulebook, lol.


@ NOESKANE: I don't know that Howard broke the language rules. I was skimming through my Kane book last night and it seemed like he spoke French (he served in the French army at one point), German, and a dialect of the river people in Afrika. During his adventures on the Dark Continent, he seemed to run into NPCs who can either speak "pidgin English" or the river dialect he knew, or something close to it. The problem is more with the omissio in the game design that with Howard.

@ DaRealJudas and Lord Lance: Thanks, those rules fit my needs perfectly. Too bad they didn't make it into the SK rulebook. Are these other systems worth getting for similar expansions and crossover rules?

Thanks,

M.
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Clint
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:36 am    Post subject: Re: [SK] How to handle languages Reply with quote

Malcolm Wolter wrote:
Too, there's no provision for Kane himself in his profile and we know he spoke a number of languages.


Hmm, I don't recall Kane speaking a number of languages (he was certainly no Conan), but perhaps I missed it.

Keep in mind that the GM could always allow him an Unskilled roll for langauges as long as he had the background to allow it, so that could cover his "pidgin" river tongue ability.

Malcolm Wolter wrote:
I wish there was a sidebar in the book to address this.


Actually, there is, on page 191. In essence, the Knowledge Skills are broken down by continent into one or two choices. So Arabic and River Tongue handle all of Africa. For Europe, it could be Romance and Germanic (or simply European since cross-cultural interaction was so high).

Anyway, that's how the book handles it, but there are other options (some mentioned here) if that doesn't fit a group's particular style or focus for the game.
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DanF
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:44 am    Post subject: Africa Follow up Reply with quote

Sorry,

I did not add this above, as I forgot about Africa until Malcolm mentioned it. In the case of Africa most Europeans were terrified to go into the interior, which is why Africa was not carved up by the Europeans until the 1800s. This also means knowledge of the nations of Africa during this time period is questionable. The Dutch would found the Cape Colony in South Africa during this time, and the Portugese already had coastal cities along the coasts of Africa. In one case in Mutapa (Successor to Great Zimbabwe, East Africa) the Portugese started a minor religious war (between Muslims and everyone else) by converting the King to Christianity. Though, Mutapa is on the decline and would actually become a Portugese vassal right at the start of Soloman Kane. They would be also be extremely pressured by Butwa (Uganda I think) during the Soloman Kanes time. Butwa could care less about the Europeans, and effectively became the regional power of Southern East Africa during this time.

In Sahara and northern Sub-Saharan Africa, Arabic would be known by merchants, and the Muslim population (a small majority during this time period). The Ottoman Empire was at it height during this time period so almost the whole of the Red Sea would be under thier control either in name or in fact. Ethopia is an Empire also, but I do not know anything about it other then the Turks could only take the coastal cities from it.

In Western Africa the Songhai Empire just lost to Morocco in a major war, so right at the start of Soloman Kane a major power in Sub-Sahara Africa is in the middle of choas following the sack of the major cities of the Songhai Empire. Mali tried to take advantage of this and expand, but it would suffer a civil war in 1610. The Songhai Empire would reestablish it self further inland north of the powerful Benin Empire (Modern day Nigeria), but it would not be the same great Empire. Next to the Benin Empire was Kingdom of Dahomey (Modern day Benin). Both the Portugese and Dutch tradeed with Dahomey and Benin, though the Portugese were dominate.

In Central Africa I know there was a Kongo Empire (Northern Angola and coastal part of Zaire) that held off the Portugese, and in the interior (Modern day Zaire) thier was a Lunda Empire. I do not know any more about either nation. All other nations in Central Africa, South Africa and East Africa (other then Mutapa & Butwa above) I have no idea. As I said above Europeans held Africa in terror (mostly fear of unknown and local diseases), so our records of Africa are lacking.

Dan
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BluSponge
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 10:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lord Lance wrote:
Maybe i read the rule badly, anyway in my Fantasy campaign i use the rule: d4 Smarts = 1 language, d6 = 2 languages, d8 = 3 languages, d10 = 4 languages and so on... +1 language every +1 step.


I'd go with something like this.

It's not important that all the characters speak English. In fact, when I built my Kane Pre-Gens (you can find them up at the Explorer's Society), my goal was to make sure one character had a language advantage in each scenario (ie. one character could speak tribal indian dialects for the adventure in the Americas, and one character could speak Egyptian for the Egyptian adventure) and that there were common language tracks, so while a character might not speak the common language of the group, there was always someone who could translate for that character. (I should also added that I cheated and just gave them languages I felt were appropriate, I didn't spend points on them.)

Played right, this provides a great opportunity for group inter-dependency. It also allows players to be sneaky and deceptive to the rest of the group on occasion, which may or may not add to the fun at the table.

That said, language is never an issue in any of the Kane adventures, so I don't see a reason to make it a big issue in the game. If you make language an obstacle for the players, they will spend their level ups on languages. So don't sweat it. Let the players deal with it or not as your style of play dictates.

Tom
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Malcolm Wolter
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 12:59 pm    Post subject: Re: [SK] How to handle languages Reply with quote

Clint wrote:

Hmm, I don't recall Kane speaking a number of languages (he was certainly no Conan), but perhaps I missed it.


I was skimming my "Savage Tales" volume last night and I know he spoke the aforementioned "river tongue". Also, he served in the French army, so I inferred that he spoke French as well. In one of the tales, I think he was in the Black Forest and told a guy he met that "I haven't heard English in many months" (paraphrasing). So I inferred he spoke German as well.

Quote:
Keep in mind that the GM could always allow him an Unskilled roll for langauges as long as he had the background to allow it, so that could cover his "pidgin" river tongue ability.


Kane didn't have the pidgin river tongue — N'Longa knew pidgin English. When he dropped out of it into his native tongue he was much more eloquent — and SK understood him.

Quote:
Actually, there is, on page 191. In essence, the Knowledge Skills are broken down by continent into one or two choices. So Arabic and River Tongue handle all of Africa. For Europe, it could be Romance and Germanic (or simply European since cross-cultural interaction was so high).


Awesome, I must've missed it. My apologies.


Thanks!

M.


Last edited by Malcolm Wolter on Tue Jan 13, 2009 7:51 am; edited 1 time in total
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Malcolm Wolter
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2009 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah, I see now that sidebar on languages is deep into the campaign part of the book. I had only skimmed that part, so far.

I finished my audit of my "Savage Tales..." book. Looks like Kane spoke:

    • French (this is inferred; I found a reference to him serving as a captain in the French army — so surely...)

    • In The Castle of the Devil, Kane tells John Silent that "it's been many months since I heard good English speech," as they're traveling through the Black Forest. So it's not a stretch to imagine he spoke German as well.

    • The "river-tongue" of river-dwelling Africans (several dialects, lots of stories)

    • The "dialect of the bush-tribes" (which seems to draw a distinction from the "river-tongue")

    • Arabic (The Footfalls Within)

Given his travels and illustrious career, I think it's likely he spoke Italian and Spanish as well, but I could find no examples of him using those tongues.

If there's ever a 2nd edition of the game, it'd be nice to see Kane's write-up updated to reflect this.
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NOESKANE
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 10:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Malcolm Wolter wrote:

@ NOESKANE: I don't know that Howard broke the language rules. .


Hullo


What I was referring to is that Howard lumped most african languages, dialects, etc., in one convenient "river tongue/bush tongue" (that I doubt even exists), which, in my view is totally ludicrous. Akin to say that Apache, Inuit & Inca could understand each other just because they are from the same continent & Indian. He dispensed with reality & dove in the story he had to tell!

You can't be bothered with details like this unless they inconvenience your PCs in interesting ways - ie. get 'em in terrible danger (a pulp rule). If the PCs want a blanket & they don't speak the language, let them have it (maybe an NPC does). If the PCs want to translate the mysterious inscription from the ancient map, & they don't know the language, then... you have an adventure.


Now tis 4 pence
NEK Mr. Green
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Malcolm Wolter
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NOESKANE wrote:

What I was referring to is that Howard lumped most african languages, dialects, etc., in one convenient "river tongue/bush tongue" (that I doubt even exists), which, in my view is totally ludicrous.


Not so fast...a quick look at Wikipedia reveals their are six African language families:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:African_language_families_en.svg

"Niger-Congo B" (Bantu) fits very well with the description of Howard's "river-tongue". And there are, in fact lots of rivers running through this part of Africa. In fact, in one of Kane's later adventures, Howard actually names "Bantu" as a tongue. It's entirely plausible that he was finally putting a name on his "river-tongue". Anyway, Bantu encompasses about seven different languages, but, like the romance languages, there'd be some commonality to them so that very basic concepts could be communicated between them.

Quote:
Akin to say that Apache, Inuit & Inca could understand each other just because they are from the same continent & Indian. He dispensed with reality & dove in the story he had to tell!


That's true, but he tried very hard for verisimilitude He also didn't have the burden of having his storytelling be a real-time, interactive exercise. It's funny, though I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept sorcery and monstrous creatures, it's somehow shatters "reality" when I can roam the world and speak any language I want, at need.

Quote:
You can't be bothered with details like this unless they inconvenience your PCs in interesting ways - ie. get 'em in terrible danger (a pulp rule).


Absolutely. But in a dark medieval land that's populated by all kinds of dangers at night, even asking for directions can be such an occasion.

I'm working on some rules — trying to keep them fast, fun, and furious — that will address these kinds of issues.

Thanks,

M.
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Malcolm Wolter
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 10:49 pm    Post subject: Proposed Language rules Reply with quote

Characters start play with one free language, their native tongue, which they speak at a level equal to their Smarts. They can furthermore choose one additional language for each die type of Smarts they possess. So, one at d4, 1 at d6, 1 at d8, etc.

Additionally, they automatically get the ability to speak related languages as well, but a negative modifier is applied to the roll. The penalty gets increasingly stiff as the related tongue drifts farther from the primary language.

Example: Magdalena Vicárius has d8 Smarts. She chooses Magyar (Hungarian) as her native tongue. She also chooses to speak German at d6 and Polish at d4.

Maggie can also understand a little of a number of other, related tongues. She can understand a little Finnish(!) at d8 -7.
Because of her skill in German, she can understand a little English (d6-7), Swedish (d6-7) and Latin (d6-4). Her skill in Poland gives a slim chance of understanding Slovac (d4-6) and Czech (d4-6).

Roll once per sentence or discreet "thought". Yes, she'll need to rely on Aces at first, sometimes multiples, but it's better than nothing. Alternately, you can simply rule that an Unskilled Attempt is required to understand or speak the related tongues.

Language skills are recorded as Knowledge skill on the character sheet and can be improved like any other skill after character creation. You can raise the primary tongue ability and enjoy an increase in the related languages as well.

Unfamiliar dialects of any tongue the character knows impose a -2 penalty.


Accents

Any foreign language known at d4 is spoken with an outrageous accent.
Any foreign language known at d6 is spoken with an obvious accent.
Any foreign language known at d8 is spoken with a slight accent.
Any foreign language known at d10 or higher is spoken with no accent

If attempting to disguise an accent, a Raise reduces the accent severity by one level (cumulative, of course).


The Savage Tongues of the Savage World of Solomon Kane!

Here's a list of language families that was created by Bill Seurer for GURPS. I've modified it a little to accommodate the African families, with a little tip of the hat to REH. Some of the languages are unique and don't have any related tongues. Although I considered reducing the penalties by 1 in all cases, I decided to leave them. I can be persuaded otherwise, if they seem too stiff (I'm very new to SK — haven't played the system yet, in fact). Although I'm confident the relationships and suggested penalties are accurate enough for a game simulation, the list is obviously not scientific or exhaustive. For those who want even more detail, see this Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_family


Language Chart with Related Tongues

    African "bush-tribes tongue"; several dialects-2
    Albanian
    Arabic
    Bengali; Sanskrit-4, Punjabi-6, Hindi-6, Urdu-6, Romany-6, Singhalese-6
    Black Foot
    Chinese
    Croatian; Slovene-4, Serbian-2, Macedonian-6
    Czech; Slovac-6, Polish-6
    English; German-7, Swedish-7, Latin-5
    Finnish; Hungarian-7
    French; Latin-3, Spanish-6, Italian-6, Portuguese-6
    German; English-7, Swedish-7, Latin-5
    Greek
    Hindi; Sanskrit-4, Punjabi-6, Bengali-6, Urdu-6, Romany-6, Singhalese-6
    Hungarian; Finnish-7
    Irish Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic-6
    Italian; Latin-3, French-6, Spanish-6, Portuguese-6
    Japanese
    Latin
    Manx; Scottish Gaelic-6
    Persian
    Polish; Slovac-6, Czech-6
    Portuguese; Latin-4, French-7, Spanish-7, Italian-7
    Punjabi; Sanskrit-4, Hindi-6, Bengali-6, Urdu-6, Romany-6, Singhalese-6
    Romany; Sanskrit-4, Punjabi-6, Bengali-6, Urdu-6, Hindi-6, Singhalese-6
    Russian
    Sanskrit
    Scottish Gaelic; Irish Gaelic-6
    Singhalese; Sanskrit-4, Punjabi-6, Bengali-6, Urdu-6, Romany-6, Hindi-6
    Slovac; Polish-6, Czech-6
    Slovene; Croatian-4, Serbian-6, Macedonian-6
    Spanish; Latin-3, French-6, Italian-6, Portuguese-6
    Swahili
    Swedish; English-7, German-7
    Urdu; Sanskrit-4, Punjabi-6, Bengali-6, Hindi-6, Romany-6, Singhalese-6
    Welsh
    West African "river-tongue"; several dialects-2
    Yiddish; German-6


All comments are welcome, but take it easy — I'm no linguist and I'm not trying for a full-on realistic simulation. Just going for a little verisimilitude and a way to pose different types of challenges and new springboards for adventure. Hoping for an elegant rule that accomplishes those goals.

Thanks,

M.
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