D&D 3.5 takes some serious (and boring) shortcuts when dealing with languages. While that’s fine for some campaigns and players, your friendly GM has other ideas.
- In this campaign, there is no “Common” tongue. Several languages are widely spoken, but none is standard across the Wilderlands. The languages of humans, in particular, are wonderfully diverse.
- Languages are purchased with skill ranks, so knowing a language isn’t an all-or-nothing affair.
- To compensate for this, characters receive an extra skill point per level (three extra skill points at character creation).
- Characters also receive four ranks to spend in their native language(s) for free.
- Buying ranks in one language yields bonuses for related languages; see the GM for more details.
- Ranks in Knowledge (linguistics) give characters a handy bonus to all languages they know. If your character is likely to attempt fluency at more than three languages, invest in linguistics!
- Literacy isn’t assumed. If your character doesn’t have the right feats (see Educated and Literate in the Wilderlands feats), you’ll have to spend skill points to learn to write. Characters whose first level is cleric get the Educated feat as a bonus feat, and newborn wizards can select either Educated or Literate as a bonus feat.
- Take the Educated feat to get free ranks in Literacy in one language you know, at the rank you purchased in that language.
- Take the Literate feat to get free ranks in Literacy for all languages you know.
- Some languages have distinct dialects. These impose a penalty on skill checks to understand or communicate with users of different dialects (typically -2 to -5).
In this campaign, locally important languages include: Durju, Tarshakan, Avalonian, Skandik, Gishmesh, Caveman [Valley], Goblinic [Valley], Koboldic [Valley], Nekhmarti (or Common Orichalan), and Classic Orichalan. Other useful languages include: Draconic, Dwarven, Elven, Hobbit, and any of the elemental languages (particularly Sylvan). Some of these languages may have prerequisites.
Your ever-helpful GM has a spreadsheet to turn your language-based skill point expenditures into effective ranks.
Languages vs. Other Skills and Magic
- Comprehend Languages: This spell allows the caster to understand written or spoken language, but the effect is conducted through touch, which can be awkward or dangerous. This grants a +20 enhancement bonus to checks to understand touched texts or speakers, but offers no ability to respond in kind. The very literal understanding imparted by this spell is not in itself enough to reveal codes, wordplay, or secret meanings, but it may grant a bonus to Decipher Script checks to detect such subtexts.
- Tongues: This spell allows the subject to understand all spoken languages within earshot, including unfamiliar registers of elemental languages. The subject may also speak any languages it hears or has heard before. All checks to comprehend or speak a language receive a +20 enhancement bonus. This spell may produce odd results when faced with highly technical or deliberately obscure language, and it rarely translates humor or poetry well enough to capture the original feel, producing too literal or long-winded a result.
- Decipher Script: If you are literate in at least one language, you may be able to use Decipher Script to decode an unknown writing system, if you know the language it contains. Some scripts are commonly used by scholars to write names and phrases in unfamiliar languages, so the likelihood of finding text written in the “wrong” script is not as small as you might at first think. Especially obscure language/ script pairings can work as a sort of code. Decipher Script is also useful when text has been defaced or damaged.
- Sense Motive: If you do not speak a language, Sense Motive can give you a general impression of what the speaker is trying to convey (DC 15, limited to information like “He’s asking you a question about something on your person, and he looks serious.”). A Sense Motive check is also useful when your understanding of a language is minimal; the same DC 15 check yielding the same vague results, is suddenly much more useful with a few key words included.
Language and Literacy Skills
The ability to speak or read a language are represented with Language and Literacy skills, respectively. Characters are not automatically literate at character creation, though certain classes provide literacy if taken at 1st level, and linguistic feats are available.
Each skill rank spent to read or speak a language produces a scalar bonus, allowing most characters to reach a net 15-20 rank with 3 or 4 skill points. If the character knows several related languages, then they produce synergy bonuses as understanding one language grants a finer grasp of its relatives.
Check: Skill checks for a language are generally automatic if the DC of the check is below the total ranks for that language, though checks might be required to notice nuances and subtext.
The following table applies to checks for reading or speaking a language.
|5||Understand simple phrases and common words.|
|10||Conversational fluency: understanding ordinary topics.|
|15||Broad understanding: slang and dialects (typical for a native speaker).|
|20||Nuanced understanding: shades of meaning, wordplay.|
|25||Technical understanding: professional jargon, obscure or extinct dialects.|