Languages and Monster Groups

Posted: 5 January 2012 in Rules

Another reflection on rules as setting; if we assume that the Savage Worlds rules are a completely accurate reflection of the campaign setting, what can we infer about that setting?

This time, languages and monster groups. In both cases, I start from the Deluxe Edition rulebook. Setting aside creatures with animal intelligence, we have the following talkative monster types: Dragon, four flavours of elementals, ghost, goblin, lich, mech, minotaur, ogre, orc, orc chieftain, skeleton, troll, vampires young and ancient, werewolf, zombie. There are also racial templates for PCs and NPCs, which arguably could have one or more languages apiece: Androids, atlanteans, avions, dwarves, elves, half-elves, half-folk, half-orcs, humans, rakashans, and saurians.


Only two groups of monsters are identified in the rulebook; liches work with skeletons and zombies, while orcs are led by orc chieftains and often have pet ogres and dire wolves. It’s ambiguous whether goblins are part of the orc clade or not.

There’s no evidence in the rulebook that other types of monsters work together.


Ghosts, liches, mechs, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, zombies and androids were either once a member of another race or made by that race, so presumably use its language.

The language list thus has at least a dozen tongues: Atlantean, Avion, Dwarven, Elven, Human ("Common"), Rakashan, Saurian, Draconic, one or more flavours of Elemental, Minotaur, Orc ("Black Speech"), and Troll.

Half-elves and half-orcs presumably speak the languages of both parents. Orcs and ogres probably speak something similar – different dialects perhaps. Personally, I’d go with the Tolkienian view that half-folk speak human; YMMV.

  1. Jim Sales says:

    I don’t think you can assume your starting point. While it is an interesting excerxise I think you would have to do it with a setting book not the core book.

    • andyslack says:

      Thanks Jim… The relevant setting (Irongrave) was based on the assumption that the rules were a complete and accurate reflection of the setting, so for that one setting I can assume the starting point as the core rule book is also the setting book.

      I agree that once you move away from the core rules as the sole definition of the game, the setting book would need to be introduced as well.

  2. R Singers says:

    I’m going to disagree. I’d suggest that there would be numerous pidgin and creole languages spoken. Tolkien was a philologist and from what I’ve read not that interested in the mechanics of living language. He’s not really a good source for anything but a very static world.

    So taking one of your examples. You have a group of Orcs speaking a dialect of Orc. They attract “pet” Ogres who they communicate with using an Orc\Ogre pidgin, and they capture Goblins and use them as slaves communicating with them in an Orc\Goblin pidgin. As the three races have children a creole forms out of the pidgins. The language profile for your group in it’s first two generations would look like this

    Parent Orc – Orc, Pidgin A & B
    Child Orc – Orc, Creole

    Parent Ogre – Ogre, Pidgin A
    Child Ogre – Ogre, Creole (if intelligence is low maybe creole alone)

    Parent Goblin – Goblin, Pidgin B
    Child Goblin – Goblin, Creole

    The Dire Wolfs are a separate story. I’d suggest the Wolf handlers would use a special type of pidgin – now called jargon – or a secret language.

    Now Orc, Ogre, and Goblin may all be descended originally from the same root language – which is what would attract the attention of a philologist – but if you’ve every done anything like spend time with “Cantonese” speakers from around the entire Pacific rim you’ll know that this doesn’t mean the speakers necessary understand each other. It’s actually quite amusing hearing the conversation break out into English as a “common” tongue or vehicular language – “Did you mean red dog? No I meant yellow hat.”

    A simpler approach maybe to create dialect regions of Black Speech, with a formal Black Speech dialect used for ritual and written purposes for your Orc clade with a Black Speech \ Local Human language pidgin used to communicate with other local clades\groups.

    • andyslack says:

      Thanks – good ideas. I hadn’t thought of pidgin or creole as options, more of (say) orc’s Black Speech as a “language of rule” that they make everyone else in the clade learn.

      • R Singers says:

        Well potentially other races may have different language structures in their brains and the Orc clade could have one language that doesn’t get dialectised, or form creoles like human languages. The Fantasy Companion says that creatures may speak and read languages equal to half their Smarts so I think you have scope to play around more. Flipping through Bestiary an orc is going to know two languages and a Human Bandit three. This is far more than your average modern human so does seem generous unless you include dialects, creoles, and pidgins.

        The languages that I would assume to be fairly standardised would be the Avian and Aquatic ones that are potentially used by individuals across great distance, and won’t develop in “islands”.

      • andyslack says:

        Yeah, that’s a fairly common house rule too. The Deluxe Edition says native language plus half Smarts, which means the average guy speaks four languages – I could see that for wild cards as they are heroes, but my everyday experience is most people (and thus extras in the game) only speak one, with the odd person functionally fluent in one or two more. I’ve met a few people who speak four or more languages well, but they are pretty rare. Of course, I’m assuming today is representative of history.

        Unfortunately, language topics interest me much more than my players! So in reality I expect to wind up with “Wild Cards all speak Common”, or just ignore it altogether a la Star Trek. =]

      • R Singers says:

        I always like to use language as a vehicle for the story. Think Indiana Jones \ National Treasure – having to decode other languages to find clues, or the right path. I also tend to penalise characters who take the we all speak common path, but limiting what they can buy.

        But that all said, I’d probably also want to use Knowledge skills for some of stuff around using archaic languages as part of the mystery.

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