Alternatives to High Intelligence Bonus Languages


I'm designing a campaign where language barrier problems are supposed to crop up more often than in vanilla, especially early-game. To that end, characters don't get extra languages from high intelligence or ranks in linguistics, and Common/Undercommon doesn't exist (races that begin play only speaking Common or Undercommon get Anthro or Morte instead, respectfully; Morte takes priority over Anthro; otherwise, Elves only speak Elven, Gnomes only speak Sylvan, etc.). I still want some kind of social bonus for high intelligence, preferably a choice that is set at character creation, so I came up with two:

•Mime (penalty reduction for communicating without a shared language)

•Haughty (bonus to DC against Intimidation attempts)

Any ideas how big the bonuses should be or what more options could be?

If you want language barriers to be a thing, eliminate the 'commons' as languages altogether and allow multiple languages for each race. There could be dozens of 'human' languages and the same for elves, dwarves, etc.

Ranks from the linguistics skill (and intelligence) can be used to learn additional languages as normal but these are in language families. For a human to learn another human language of a nearby society would be one rank, but an elven language would be 2 and an elemental language would be 3.

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Maybe let characters gain 1 extra class skill per +1 int mod.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I'm all for playing up linguistics and varied languages in RPGs. But at the end of the day you have to ask yourself, does this really enhance or detract from game play?

If some of the PCs can't even communicate with each other, that's going to be a huge problem, and you'll need a really special group to get into that vibe.

Or course, it will put a major premium on spells that facilitate communication. If that's your goal, more power to you.

I fear that, in the face of the inability to communicate, many players will simply resort to violence to solve their problems. I mean, even more than is typically the case.

I'm anticipating extra xenophobia as a consequence, but a mixed race group of PCs IS a problem... I'll just have them share a pseudo-language that only they know, but that doesn't allow proper nouns.

I was also going to add translation books, each set for two languages, that would only be found from looting (or, if you're lucky and somebody was being an idiot, in a library), that you could memorise after a week of studying it and passing a DC 30-40 Linguistics check.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I'm still not seeing the upside to this proposition.

Are you positing that amll these different linguistic groups are isolated from one another, and that trade or contact is nonexistent, for whatever reason?

I ask because if there is any trade between the different communities, there is going to be communication, whether it is individuals learning another language or the rise of a pidgin or trade language distinct from the languages in contact. Even in a context of warfare, individuals on both sides will pick up bits of each others' languages and attempt to use them.

Backstory of the World:
A thousand years ago, a very powerful wizard decided he wanted to stir up some crap and conscripted a legion of demons to lay a curse over the entire world, crippling communication amongst the peoples. The heroes of that time set out to put a stop to him, but the curse was cast before they could kill him.

Over the years following, some people managed to break free of the curse, setting upon making the translation books, only to be ostracized. The campaign starts on the very day that the curse runs out of power.

So...even if someone recognized that a different race had a complex language, the curse would make it impossible to learn.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

OK, so no intercommunication. That would mean no trade. And probably frequent hostilities between different races who have no objective reason to hate each other.

I'm not saying this is a bad idea, but I don't see it making for viable game play unless all the PCs are from a single race or linguistic group.

As long as the PCs can communicate with each other, it's easy to imagine various peace-making adventures, with the PCs struggling to communicate with disparate groups and establish communications where none existed before. Good luck with roleplaying mime attempts.

I agree with marcryser about best way to create barriers is to expand the number of languages. I would not bother with the language families. Unless you goal is to prevent communication completely instead of creating barriers. Your Anthro and Morte languages are simply common split into two and should be eliminated. Give races that are listed as only speaking common their own separate language.

Using Golarion as an example there are over 20 “Human” languages. Other racial languages will probably not have nearly as many varieties but will still add more to the number of languages. For example elves from Kyonin would have a different language from those from the Mwangi Expanse.

In my games not everyone knows common. Adventures and those that are either educated, or engaged in trade know common. The players can usually communicate with most merchants and nobles, but if they want to talk to the people they better know the local language.

When this situation cropped up in real life, people developed a lingua franca. In Europe this was frequently French. In China this was Mandarin (there were many mutually unintelligble languages in China, although they were generally written the same way). In India this was Hindi.

Any adventuring party would need someone who spoke the lingua franca. Or just use magic, which bypasses this.

This is an interesting idea for an exploration campaign, if you're doing something like traveling from fantasy Rome to fantasy China. Unfortunately you would need very long chains of translators for this to really work out, so the PCs would just turn to magic.

Taldane, also known as Common, is the native tongue of Taldan humans, and (nearly) all human ethnicities speak it. There are also regional languages like Varisian or Polyglot.

Pathinder already has a lingua franca. Taldane.

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