Even before the playtest, even before P2E was announced, I already had in mind a few character concepts capable of understanding sign language either to make up for hearing loss, communicate with others with hearing loss, or to "talk" underwater or without sound (say, in a dark cave).
But it usually used the only sign language in the entire game setting (usually Drow Sign Language). And knowledge of this language usually only cost the same as any other language. In P2E, however, you either know your languages and don't know any sign language, you're deaf but you know every sign language of every language you know, or you spend a feat (that you can't even take until 2nd level) to gain knowledge of the regular and signed versions of every language you know.
Is there no room for a spectrum here? To know some spoken languages but not necessarily their signed versions or vice versa? Like the thread title says, this seems rather binary and extreme.
I have same issue basically... Like you say, it should be normalized around Language "slot" mechanic, even if some Feat could grant "Sign version of every regular Language you know", plenty of characters would not have that to save a Feat. Rather than characters who aren't even Deaf get Free Feats just for "having Deaf family member", maybe make it a Background Feat that grants Sign Language along with appropriate skills/stats (CHA or WIS + Free?).
I was actually surprised with how they did sign language, given that using a language to pick up lip reading was a canon option for deaf oracles and the like. It's probably even more "realistic" to how sign languages develop for them to be their own language rather than just getting a feat to learn signs for all languages. Iirc, not all languages even have a fully developed sign language.
Personally, I wish characters got more langauges (maybe half int mod?), and that your ancestry choice didnt restrict your initial available options. At the moment, I have a goblin alchemist who's tribe was fairly close to a major city, and even had a trade partership with them. He's dealt with plenty of elves and dwarves, but cant know their language until level 2, but has never met a gnoll, but has the choice to speak it level 1. While multilingual is an option, it's kinda lame that I couldn't just one as a bonus language.
From the Sign Language rules on page 40, it sounds like the sign language versions of all languages are proper languages in their own right. When you are picking languages at first level, you can choose the sign language version of any language you have available.
I imagine you can also choose a sign language as the choices in the Multilingual feat.
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I wish characters got more langauges (maybe half int mod?), and that your ancestry choice didnt restrict your initial available options. At the moment, I have a goblin alchemist who's tribe was fairly close to a major city, and even had a trade partership with them. He's dealt with plenty of elves and dwarves, but cant know their language until level 2, but has never met a gnoll, but has the choice to speak it level 1.This has nothing to do with Sign Language, but you misunderstand how language works here, it doesn't depend solely on your ancestry:
Having an Intelligence score of 14 or higher also grants one additional language, which you can choose from the list presented in your character’s ancestry entry and from those available from your region or ethnicity. The languages presented in this section are grouped according to how commonly they are found throughout the Inner Sea region. Languages that are common are regularly found in most places, even among those who aren’t native speakers.
Elven and Dwarven are on the Common list, so anybody in Inner Sea can choose them as bonus language (although given how rare Elves actually are in setting outside specific regions, that seems dubious, but that is RAW). Specific nations also make their regional Ethnic language available (Osirioni, Hallit, etc). The layout is unfortunately confusing on this because it doesn't place the Regional(National) language table next to (or even on same page as) the Common(Inner Sea) table even though you are meant to draw from both to determine "Common" access.
Personally, I think the Common list should be toned down or simply gotten rid of, and regional/national entries should expand to cover MULTIPLE languages prevalent there (to include stuff like Elven or non-native Ethnic languages as appropriate). It's sort of ridiculous that Dwarven, Elven, and Orcish are Common access all over the Inner Sea, but Osirioni and Kelesh are not despite being equally or more common occurence in terms of travelling merchant identities and local minority population and so on. If you are from Taldor and are not ethnic Kelish, you cannot know Kelish with your bonus language, but can know Orc/Elvish/Draconic. I'd rather see Draconic granted as Common by specific Classes like Wizard and Sorc (or Clerics worshipping Dragon god) rather than have more Common access than mass language like Kelish.
Shadowtongue/Nidalese is also broken in that it is ONLY presented as Ethnic/Racial language meaning you CAN'T gain Common access to it by simply living in Nidal (while not being ethnic Nidalese Human).
It also isn't quite clear how "your region" is handled when gaining bonus language from raising INT to 14 at later levels, if you are outside of your 'home' region would you use the current region, your home region, or both?
From the Sign Language rules on page 40, it sounds like the sign language versions of all languages are proper languages in their own right. When you are picking languages at first level, you can choose the sign language version of any language you have available. I imagine you can also choose a sign language as the choices in the Multilingual feat.
That interpretation isn't unreasonable, but honestly the rules seem to be pointing players away from considering that approach, and there's no clear indication of the Commonality status of Sign Languages. If just using single language "slot" for Sign is normal, why does rules for both Deaf/Mute AND people who grew up around Sign "speakers" not even acknowledge that, only suggesting free Feats that give much more than required to fulfill the flavor?
The Read Lips approach makes sense for actually deaf/mute characters, but IMHO more characters concepts involve "speaking" Sign Language but not being Deaf/Mute themself, and this is context where rules seem dubious.
The one to one, one sign language for one spoken language, keeps things simple, but it would be more interesting to mix it up a bit.
While sign language has signs for alphabetic characters, much of sign language uses individual signs for words and even larger concepts. Placement of signs at different places in front of the body can signify grammar. That makes sign language significantly different from written and spoken language in a lot of aspects.
In the real modern world deaf people from one nation to another, have sign languages different enough that it's difficult to communicate. Sign language in the US and Britain are different enough that learning sign language in the US doesn't make it easy to understand sign language in Britain, so having a common spoken language doesn't mean that there is as overlapping a common sign language.
Native Americans, on the other hand, created a sign language to let them communicate between tribes as a common language. In that case, people with vastly different spoken languages shared one sign language.
American Sign Language didn't develop as a single structured language until 1817. Before then, there were multiple sign languages in different regions. A significant portion of American Sign Language came from French Sign Language.
One to one is simple and doesn't take much space in the rulebook, but having sign languages that don't overlap so much could tie into history and culture in the campaign world in more meaningful ways.
Having a battle sign language might allow mercenaries from different nations to communicate stealthily on the battlefield without having to learn the complex spoken and written languages to work together.
Rangers or rogues might create sign languages to operate silently.
The sign language for a region might come from a nation or city dedicated to accommodating people with disabilities.
People who are deaf in one ethnicity may be an outcast class with no interaction with non-deaf people.
Sign language in one region may evolve as a way to communicate to crowds of mixed ethnic people.
Creating sign languages for a campaign world could create extra complexity and flavor to make the campaign world more interesting. It also might create practical tools.