Goodbye to Languages

Posted: 15 March 2012 in Settings

After some reflection, I’m dropping languages from the campaign and the character sheets.

There are several reasons for this.

  • Mechanically, they duplicate effects already covered by Investigation, Streetwise and Common Knowledge (i.e. Smarts). They’re therefore not necessary.
  • Heroes in the source literature always seem to know just the right language for the occasion, so no language skills is a better reflection of them.
  • The guidance from Clint Black at Pinnacle is that characters shouldn’t take Knowledge skills unless they are (a) a prerequisite for an Edge or (b) expected to be used in every session; languages are neither, so they’re not desirable.
  • In metagame terms, PCs are savvy enough to choose complementary languages, so that as a group they can talk to anyone they need to talk to. Languages as a restriction on communication therefore doesn’t work, and if they did, I prefer the PCs to succeed or fail based on their interpretation of clues, rather than because one blew a roll against a Language skill.

If necessary, I’ll replace language rolls with a Common Knowledge roll. This will be a straight roll against Smarts if the PC’s background suggests he should be able to figure it out, and a roll at -2 if nothing in his background argues for him knowing it.

For example, someone with Arcane Background (Magic) would roll against Smarts to decipher an ancient tome of sorcery, whereas someone without that Edge would roll at -2, and someone with the Illiterate Hindrance wouldn’t roll at all.

  1. There goes playing Tekumel! The late M.A.R. Barker was linguist and incorporated languages as a central part of the game. You do have a good point about paring down the skills required. Occam’s Razor?

    • andyslack says:

      Oh sure, and he did it very well. It works with some games and groups, but not with my group and Savage Worlds. However, I think Tekumel would still work… Spellcasters, especially priests, would have a number of languages as Common Knowledge; Bednálljan, Classical Tsolyáni, and Engsvanyáli are most likely as the well-educated would likely know all three. I associate Livyani with sorcerors as they are renowned magic-users, but their elegant literature could be a reason for any noble to learn Livyani. The Priests of Ksarul have their own secret language which a Ksarul-worshipping PC with AB (Miracles) could have as Common Knowledge. And so on.

      In game-play, I’d use it as another adventure hook… “Your temple has chosen you for this mission as a knowledge of Saa Allaqiyani will be necessary, and they have noticed your skill in that tongue…”

      Occam’s Razor, indeed. “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily…”

      • Charles F. Blakely says:

        Brett Slocum did a GURPS Tekumel, so I can see a Savage Worlds Tekumel. Well, also consider the Clan as a source of adventure. Your Clan has selected you for participation in the recovery of a Clan artifiact that was lost in the underworld….no this has nothing to do with your dalliances with the Hrihayal priestess that cost the Clan 10,000 Kaitars in shamtla…you were selected for your…appropriateness…regarding the current situation…”. I ran a group of players who were “donated” to the Omnipotent Azure Legion by their respected clans. Since the adventure took place in the southern port city of Jakalla, I called it “Jakalla Vice”. It ran the gamut from upper class noble’s parties to chasing assassins into the Tsuru’um, and ending the scenario with an assault on a Villa on the outskirts of Jakalla. Great fun! The players never knew what was coming next. That reminds me of a tale of the late Curtis Scott and his wife playing with Prof. Barker in Tekumel. They fled a city disguised as Zu’ur addicts and took lodgings in a house that turned out to be a Yan Koryani spy nest. Curtis’s wife’s character, I believe was the one, who was hit with The Excellent Ruby Eye, carried on by the party, then later used as a battering ram to get through a door…I understand she didn’t play Tekumel much after that episode…a pity.

        I really appreciate your blog. I finally bought the hard copy of Stars Without Number and am gradually using it to expand my own Traveller game. I still like using Traveller to start with, then expanding it with other resources. I find it to be a thorough starting point which can be spiced up with other tables and techniques. I am just now starting to use the Mythic system – again, thanks for that recommendation. I noticed that you periodically would list the games you were exploring at the time. It might be nice to list a group of “supplemental” products that you use when gaming, i.e. Traveller random encounter table, Stars Without Number planetary tags, Mythic Fate tables, etc. that you use during an SF game to expand it, etc. I realize that they are all there in the blog, but it might be nice to list them all out…there might even some you haven’t listed. I can see my game budget being trashed this year. Thanks for your inspiration.

        Charles F. Blakely

      • andyslack says:

        Actually, I did a very short Savage Tekumel… one of the beauties of the system is how short the conversion documents for another setting can be. I must dig it out and post it someday.

        I’ve had fun with the Excellent Ruby Eye myself, although the party has never used a frozen member as a battering ram.

        I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog, and I like your idea of the list of current stuff in play. Work is a bit of a beast at the moment, but I will definitely put it on the list of things to do.

      • To clarify, I see two options for listing games: 1. Current games I am playing/would like to play. 2. Games and game supplements that I use when I play, which enhance my enjoyment/the player’s enjoyment of the game – not always the same thing, especially if you are a fiendish Gamemaster.

        Additionally, I would like to see more Traveller/Space Opera genre entries. I know you have gamers begging for Fantasy, but how about some more SF? Just a personal favorite, but I taught myself to referee Traveller out of desperation – no one else was running SF.

        I am definitely interested in some Savage Tekumel blog postings. When you get a chance, though. I appreciate the demands of work and family. Enjoying your site!

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