Linguistics

Int ACP: No Untrained: No

You are skilled at working with language, in both its spoken and written forms. You can communicate, learn new languages, and can decipher nearly any unfamiliar tongue given enough time.

Check

You can decipher the written and spoken forms of an unfamiliar language, communicate with creatures with whom you don’t fully share a language, learn new languages, and hide secret messages in ordinary speech or writing.

Communicating

Make a Linguistics check whenever you’re attempting to communicate with someone with whom communication is difficult, and misunderstandings and miscommunication are possible (or likely), due to a language difference. This includes oral and written communication.

When you first encounter a creature or character with whom you don’t fully share any language, and attempt to communicate with them, determine what language you’ll be using. Unless your interlocutor is a better linguist than you are, this will generally be a language in which they are conversant (but you are not). Compare this language to the most similar language you know; this sets the DC for the Linguistics checks you’ll have to make (see Table: Linguistics Check DCs For Communication, above). Likewise, when someone speaks to you in a language you don’t know, and you attempt to decipher it, determine the DC for your Linguistics checks based on the language your interlocutor is using, and the “closest” (linguistically) language in which you’re conversant.

Success on the Linguistics check means that you understand the meaning of your interlocutor’s speech (if you’re trying to decipher what’s being said to you), or that you successfully convey your meaning to them. Nuances of wording, connotation, and verbal style can’t be conveyed, only meaning. Make a new check once every 5 minutes (or, as will often be more convenient, the DM may determine that a new check should be made once per conversational topic instead).

Failing the check means that you’ve failed to understand what’s being said to you, or failed to convey your intended meaning to your listener. If you fail by 5 or more, you simply can’t understand what’s being said to you (if the check was made to comprehend foreign speech), or can’t find the words to express what you want to get across (if the check was made to speak in a foreign language). If you fail by 4 or less, then you get a partial idea of what’s being said, or partially convey your meaning. Additionally, if you fail by 4 or less, there’s a chance (10% for each point by which you failed your check) that a misunderstanding has occurred: the partial information you received or conveyed is wrong. This may mean (50% chance, or at the DM’s discretion) that you hear (or speak) something that sounds like nonsense, or strange and bizarre comments; or, it may mean that some coherent, but false, meaning has been perceived (or conveyed), unbeknownst to you, which may result in a misunderstanding that makes itself known only later. The DM makes the Linguistics check, and the % roll for a misunderstanding, in secret. (See Sidebar: Misunderstandings for more information and examples.)

After three successful Linguistics checks made to communicate, you have established a linguistic rapport with your interlocutor, and need to make further checks only once per hour. You also gain a +2 circumstance bonus on further checks. Likewise, after three successful Linguistics checks made to understand foreign speech, you have caught on to the speaker’s style, accent, etc., need to make further checks only hourly, and gain a +2 circumstance bonus to these checks. (In either case, the circumstance bonus applies only to interaction with that interlocutor—or to that group of individuals, if you have been speaking with a group).

If two parties of a conversation are both actively attempting to use Linguistics—i.e., the speaker is making a special effort to be understood, while the listener is paying close attention, in an attempt to comprehend unfamiliar speech—they both make Linguistics checks. Treat this as an aid another attempt; the conversation party who is fluent in the language being used makes a DC 10 Linguistics check (modified by topic of conversation, as listed on Table: Linguistics Check Modifiers, above); if successful, the other character gets a +2 bonus on their Linguistics check.

Exposure

You cannot spontaneously attempt to communicate in a language you have never encountered before. Some exposure to a language is required before you can try to use it to communicate. Usually, this comes from hearing the language spoken by someone who is proficient in it. If you’ve just met a person who speaks an unfamiliar language, and they are attempting to speak to you in that language, you need to hear the language spoken for a few minutes to a few hours (depending on the language’s difficulty), before you can begin attempting Linguistics checks to communicate in that language.

It’s possible to attempt oral communication based only on having encountered the written form of a language, but this is difficult; you take a −8 penalty on your Linguistics checks to communicate, until you have heard the language spoken for a while. The converse—attempting written communication, having encountered only the oral form of a language—is impossible; you must have some exposure to a language’s written form before you can try to use it yourself.

Using an intermediary language

Though you would normally select a language for communication in which your interlocutor is fluent, sometimes this is not an option—the linguistic gap may be too great for your to bridge, given your skill modifier in Linguistics. In this case it may be useful to use an intermediary language, one in which your interlocutor has only basic or intermediate proficiency, but which is easier for you to use. Both conversation partners make Linguistics checks against a DC set by comparing the language being used to the more similar language their know, respectively (applying the appropriate modifiers for proficiency level, as listed on Table: Linguistics Check Modifiers (above) to both checks). Both characters must succeed on their checks in order for successful communication to take place.

Written communication

The rules for using Linguistics to communicate also apply to written communication. Make a Linguistics check once per page of material. If you’re attempting to write some text in a foreign language, the success or failure of your attempt is not checked until someone tries to read it. If you’re attempting to read something in a foreign language, success is checked for immediately; after three successful checks (i.e. three pages), you’ve adapted to the style and pace of the writing, and need to make subsequent checks only once per volume, document, broad topic, etc., in a group of texts by the same author and in the same style.

Passing for a local

Even if you communicate successfully, people to whom you speak can easily note that you are not a native speaker of the language. Attempting to pass for a local, native speaker of the language is difficult, and adds 10 to the DC of your Linguistics check.

Using Linguistics with other skills

Certain other skills, such as Gather Information, call for Linguistics checks for communication, to be made as part of the process of using those other skills. In such a case, determine the DC in the same way described above, and make a Linguistics check whenever the other skill description calls for one. If the skill use in question requires that you interact with various, unspecified individuals in a community (as is the case with Gather Information), assume the languages known by the particular (unspecified) people you interact with match whatever linguistic knowledge is common in the community. (Separate interactions with specific NPCs use those NPCs’ particular languages known, of course.)

Linguistic analysis

If your Linguistics check made to understand speech or written text in a foreign language (see Communicating, above) beats the check DC by 10 or more, you are able to understand the speech or text well enough to garner nuances of phrasing, word choice, sentence construction, and other such details. (The DC to achieve this result for normal conversation, on everyday topics, in a language in which you’re a native speaker or have no accent or dialect differences with the speaker or writer, is 18.) This may allow you to get additional information, such as subtext, unconscious meanings, the speaker or writer’s attitude toward the topic of conversation, etc. Such extraordinary success on your Linguistics check also reveals information about the speaker or writer’s background—common, noble, academic, foreign, etc. (This information may well already be evident—it doesn’t take advanced linguistic analysis to realize that the shabbily dressed person you’re speaking to, who smells vaguely like dirt and farm animals, is a farmer—but such analysis may allow you to realize that the apparent farmer is actually a nobleman in disguise, whose linguistic mannerisms give him away.)

If your interlocutor is attempting to confound linguistic analysis, to make such information difficult to discover—being careful not to let their attitudes and views show through their wording, taking care to use only words and phrases that match their disguise, etc.—then they must make a Linguistics check to do so, which is opposed by your check. If the person attempting to confound linguistic analysis is speaking a language you don’t know, then to determine the DC you need to match or beat, simply add your interlocutor’s Linguistics check result to your Linguistics check DC for communication.

Note: The same sort of information may be gained via an Insight? skill check, albeit through observation of body language, tone, etc., rather than through analyzing phrasing and word choice. Linguistics, however, may be used to perform linguistic analysis on written text, while Insight? cannot.

Evaluating another character’s proficiency in a language

You can evaluate another character’s level of language proficiency by making a Linguistics check, opposed by the other character’s Linguistics check result. If you match or beat their check result, you can determine whether they have basic, intermediate, or advanced proficiency in the language, or whether they’re attempting to use the language without being proficient in it, as well as whether they’re trying to pass for a local.

Learning a language

Learning a new language is a lengthy, and often difficult, process. Knowledge of languages does not require investing skill points, but learning a language requires formal training from someone who is fluent in the language, good instructional materials, or immersion in a social environment where the language is spoken (that is, spending your days in a community where the language you wish to learn is used as the language of day-to-day interactions, and interacting with the members of the community on a daily basis).

When trying to learn a language, determine the Linguistics DC based on the “closest” language you know, as if attempting to communicate in the language you’re trying to learn (see Communicating, above). With any learning method, it takes one week and one successful Linguistics check to gain basic proficiency in the language (see Levels of language proficiency, below); failure means that you have to spend another week trying to learn the language, with a cumulative +1 bonus to your check for every week spent struggling to learn. Gaining intermediate proficiency in a language takes another month, and requires one successful Linguistics check per week; failure sets you back a week, with a cumulative +1 bonus for every week spent struggling to learn. Gaining advanced proficiency in a language takes another year, and requires one successful Linguistics check every three months; failure sets you back a month, with a cumulative +1 bonus for every month spent struggling to learn. (The bonus for having basic proficiency in a language does not apply to the check made to gain intermediate proficiency; likewise, the bonus for having intermediate proficiency in a language does not apply to the check made to attain fluency.)

Once you have attained advanced proficiency in a language, you are considered to be fluent; you are still not a native speaker, and native speakers of the language can quickly notice your accent and other markers of foreignness. Learning to speak a language as well as a native speaker does takes many years, and a character will generally not have the opportunity to do this in the course of their adventuring career. Passing for a native speaker for the duration of an interaction is possible with a high degree of skill in Linguistics; see Passing for a local, above.

If you have a very high skill in Linguistics, you can learn a language more quickly. Gaining basic proficiency in a language in a single day instead of a week, intermediate proficiency in a week instead of a month, or advanced proficiency (i.e. fluency) in a month instead of a year, increases the DC of the check by 10. Gaining basic proficiency in a language in an hour instead of a week, intermediate proficiency in a day instead of a month, or advanced proficiency in a week instead of a year, increases the DC of the check by 20.

Levels of language proficiency

There are five levels of proficiency in a language:

Teaching and assisted learning

While any fluent speaker of a language can teach that language to another character, high skill in Linguistics allows a fluent speaker to assist another character in the learning process, making it easier for them to learn. (This rule also applies if a character attempting to learn a language through immersion has a guide or interpreter, who is assisting the character in their learning efforts.) The teacher makes a Linguistics check against the same DC as the learner. If the teacher’s check is successful, the learner gains a +2 bonus on their Linguistics check to learn the language. For every 10 points by which the teacher’s check beats the DC, the bonus on the learner’s check increases by 2. (Failure on the teacher’s Linguistics check carries no special penalties.)

A teacher who knows both the language that the learner is attempting to learn, and any language in which the learner is fluent, gets a +4 bonus on their Linguistics check to assist the learner.

Learning oral and written forms of a language

By default, it’s assumed that when you learn a new language, you are learning both the oral and written forms of it (either because your instructor is teaching you to write as well as speak, or because you are encountering written uses of the language, as well as oral ones, in everyday life). In some cases, however, you may learn only the oral form (if you’re learning a language while living with a savage tribe of barbarians, who do not use the language’s written form) or only the written form (if you’re learning the language from a book, and have no fluent speakers with whom to converse). In this case, you have to learn the other form of the language separately; if you learn only the oral form, you’re considered to not know the written form, and vice versa. You do, however, get a +4 bonus on your Linguistics check to learn one form of a language of which you already know the other form.

Innuendo

This use of the Linguistics skill lets you hide secret messages in ordinary speech or written text. Two rogues, for example, might seem to be talking about bakery goods when they’re really planning how to break into the evil wizard’s laboratory.

You make a Linguistics check to hide a secret message in speech or text that seems to be about something else. The DC for a basic message is 15. For more complex messages, especially ones that involve getting across new information, the DC might be 20 or higher. Success means that you’ve successfully phrased what you said or wrote so as to encode your secret message. Failure means that you’ve not managed to come up with a suitable wording. You get a +10 bonus on your check if you have set up a code in advance (“the oven” really means “the wizard’s house”, “the cake” is his valuable magic items, etc.). (Note that codes have to be set up for specific situations; you can’t set up a secret code that covers everything you might ever talk about with your friends.)

The intended recipient of the message—or anyone else who hears or reads the “encoded” speech or text—must then make a Linguistics check against the same DC, in order to “decode” your secret message. The following modifiers apply to the recipient’s check.

Success on this check means that the recipient understands your secret message. Failure by 5 or more means that they have no idea what message you’re trying to send. Failure by 4 or less means that (10% chance per point by which they failed) the recipient gets only partial, or mistaken, information. (See Communicating, above, and also Sidebar: Misunderstandings, for more information about communication mishaps.)

In order to attempt a Linguistics check to understand a secret message, the recipient must be aware that the sender is trying to send it. Two adventurers, co-conspirators, etc., are usually aware that they’re supposed to expect secret messages from each other, but most third parties or potential eavesdroppers generally don’t expect to find secret messages in other people’s mundane communications (unless they’re especially paranoid). If you’re hiding a secret message in your communication, and you want to conceal this from any third parties that might be eavesdropping, make a Bluff? check, opposed by the Insight? check of the third parties; if they fail their Insight? check, they don’t even realize that there’s a secret message. (Third parties reading a written communication with a secret message take a −4 penalty on their Insight? checks to realize the secret message is there, because it’s not possible to read body language and tone of voice through text.)

If you want, you can try to make it harder for third parties to “decode” your secret message, but at the expense of making it more obscure for your intended recipients as well. You can voluntarily increase the DC for your Linguistics check to hide the secret message in your communications, by 5 (or 10, or any multiple of 5). Any recipients attempting to “decode” the message must make their Linguistics checks against this higher DC.

You can try to hide, or decipher, a secret message in speech or text in a language you don’t know, but this is very difficult. Make your Linguistics check for communicating as normal (see Communicating), above. If you’re successful, you then make your Linguistics check to hide or decipher the secret message; the DC is equal to the DC for the secret message + the DC for communicating in the foreign language −8.

Action

Making a Linguistics check to communicate is not an action; it is done as part of the process of communication. A Linguistics check is required once per five minutes of oral communication, or once per hour after a rapport has been established (see Communicating, above).

For written communication, deciphering a text in a foreign language may take anywhere from a minute per page (for writing in a relatively familiar language) to days or even weeks of research (for very exotic languages; this may involve consulting with reference works, etc.). In general, for every 10 points by which your Linguistics check result beats the DC for deciphering the text, the time it takes you is reduced by one time unit (weeks to days, days to hours, etc.). Writing a text in a foreign language usually takes no longer than five minutes per page.

Learning a new language takes a long time (a week of constant study or social immersion to gain basic proficiency, a month to gain intermediate proficiency, and a year to gain advanced proficiency, i.e. fluency), although exceptional skill at Linguistics may allow you to learn a language much more quickly.

Hiding or decoding a secret message in ordinary communication takes no action, and is done in the course of normal speech or writing.

Taking 10 & 20

You can take 10 on a Linguistics check to communicate whenever you are not rushed or threatened. This includes most non-combat situations (although tense negotiations, being accosted by the city guard of a foreign city, or other such scenarios are exceptions). Very often, your choice of language will ensure automatic success at communication when taking 10 on your Linguistics check (and it’s generally assumed that you’re taking 10 whenever success is assured); thus, choice of language is usually the critical decision in a situation (making your repertoire of languages the key tool for communication).

If you knowingly fail a Linguistics check, you can usually retry it. Repeated failures at communication tax most people’s patience; after three failed attempts, the DM may impose a −2 penalty on further Linguistics checks with the same interlocutor, and eventually the person with whom you’re speaking may give up altogether. (An NPC’s attitude toward you—both Fear and Love reactions—affects how willing they are to be patient with you.) You can’t take 20 on a Linguistics check to communicate, however, due to the possibility of misunderstandings (see Communicating, above, and Sidebar: Misunderstandings).

You cannot take 20 on a Linguistics check made to write a text in a foreign language, as the success of your attempt is not checked until someone tries to read your writing.

You cannot take 10 to learn a new language, but you can take 20.

You can take 10 on a check to hide a secret message in normal speech or text, if you’re not rushed or threatened. You can’t take 10 on a check to decode a secret message. You can take 20 on a check to hide or to decode a secret message if you have the time to think about the message carefully (i.e. you can’t do it if the results of the check—whether you successfully hide, or understand, the message—are relevant in the immediate moment, such as in a combat situation).

Special

Aiding another character on a Linguistics check made to communicate requires that the aiding character make a successful Linguistics check against a DC that is 10 lower than the DC for communicating (or DC 10, whichever is higher). Success adds +2 to the primary communicator’s check, but failure carries the same potential for misunderstanding as if the primary communicator failed the check. Only one person may aid a character in this way.

A character can aid another character’s attempt to learn a new language (see Teaching and assisted learning, above). If the aid attempt is successful, learner gets a bonus on his check to learn the language—+2 or higher, depending on the results of the teacher’s Linguistics check.

A character can aid another character’s attempt to hide a secret message in ordinary speech or text, or to understand a hidden message, if the characters are able to openly discuss the message with each other (which is impossible if, say, the characters are discussing a message their received from their boss about the plan for an upcoming robbery, while in earshot of the town constable).

The comprehend languages and tongues spells temporarily bestow skill in Linguistics upon the user. A helm of comprehending languages and reading magic grants the wearer skill in Linguistics for as long as it’s worn.

Category: Skills
Main/

Linguistics