Linguistics, what's the point of specific languages?

In the core rulebook pg. 69 it says the following for the Linguistics talent:
Anyone with one or more ranks of training in Linguistics is assumed to have a basic working knowledge of all common languages spoken across the known world, as well as a passing familiarity with dead or lost languages like Atlantean or Ancient Stygian.

One or more ranks and you suddenly have a basic working knowledge of all common languages in the known world?? Seems very generous and makes the rest of the talents in the tree almost unnecessary. What’s the point of getting more languages when one rank gets the character so much in the first place? I’m thinking of disregarding that and ruling that if a character hasn’t bought a specific language he simply cannot speak it, period. What are others thoughts on this?

I think this just means that characters can make Linguistics tests to communicate with other characters that speak another language, or to read/write other languages. The quality will obviously garbage most of the time, but should be enough to get important points across. Also it might take some time.

Having learned a language means that you don’t have to make any Linguistics tests (except maybe for very complex tasks). Also, you can speak, read and write fluently without any overhead time. This is useful in stressful situations where time is of the essence.

I don’t think the talents are useless. The tree is certainly niche, but I always like talents that let you substitute skills for other skills.

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Okay so ‘basic working knowledge’ equates to: you know basics of this language but at least 1 Difficulty check will be involved to understand what is being communicated. Thanks, it makes more sense but still I prefer to rule yes/no as to whether it is understood, based on a yes/no as to whether the character has bought that language. Where they refer to ‘language fluency’, I assume that’s any explicitly bought language?

Also I see under Difficulty it says for fluent speakers the Difficulty is D0. Actually, who is going to make D0 checks every time they communicate an idea in a given language?? Sigh.

Remember that a D0 test is automatically successful, and thus shouldn’t be rolled for most of the time. You basically only need to roll for a D0 test when it matters how well you succeed.

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I would say, It might be used as (As house rule):

D0 for the main/official dialect of the country
D1 for countryside dialects
D1-2 for fine literature
D3-4 for archaic dialects, which are not used anymore, but still present in written form
D5 for archaic dialects, which are not preserved in any form anymore/lost to history

In the capital, most of the people speak the main dialect.
In a remote village people might have a local dialect with some unknown/local words.
A sermon/ritual chanted by priests/cultists in a temple might use really difficult, rare words, some of them from archaic dialects, in the sermon was originally written hundreds/thousands of years ago.
You might decipher really old/archaic written text in the given language.
A resurrected wizard from thousands of years ago speaks only a forgotten archaic dialect, he/she won’t be able to communicate in the current dialects that easily.

As extra role play possibilities, in the Conan universe different countries and its people do not trust/hate the people of other countries. NPCs in a country might be friendlier with a Player Character, if he can speak their native language, and detest Player Character, if he can speak the language of their enemies only (The character can speak Aquilonian, as a common language, but the city/country of the module hate aquilonians. So they would trust only someone who speaks their language).

Also note that in the original stories, much is made of accents and other markers of “foreignness.” Certainly you could make social and other tests more difficult for obvious non-native speakers even if they had some knowledge of the language.


Thanks for the ideas, although I’m going to be making it much more specific as to whether someone knows a language or not. Certainly not going to make a simple one rank in Linguistics enable basic understanding of all worldly languages. That simply doesn’t make sense in a world where you can’t just get on a bus to Hyrkania or Stygia or Khitai.

EDIT: I’m more of the view that even if a character knows Stygian, he may have to make a difficulty check to for example read ancient or ceremonial Stygian.

I just had one more idea.
What if the talent would allow, to be able to understand a spoken language to the point, that you have to throw-1D for language tests. But you have to know that language first.

My thing is I want to make as few difficulty checks as possible when dialogue is taking place. I’d rather have a definite yes/no when it comes to understanding languages, except in cases when the speaker or text is very archaic or otherwise difficult to understand.

Using various languages can add intrigue and allow the players to communicate with each other or with npcs without everyone around them knowing. It also adds some fun tension to an encounter. The linguistics talent tree is a great one for rp purposes. I’ve had several players use it and none have ever regretted it.


Agreed. Linguistics and languages is a great storytelling tool in your GMs toolbox. Having them encounter NPCs that speak a different language than them, but have key information for them, is a great way to build memorable interactions.

Also good for letting your players get immersed in the world. Shows how the world doesn’t revolved around them.

I make a lot of use with different Hyborian languages and linguistics in my table.


Oh I use plenty of language in play, I kick players out when they don’t know what’s being said and now some are paying more attention to Linguistics. I just want it to be a yes or no or it doesn’t work as well.

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I can understand where you are coming from but what about building interesting interactions through conversation? It can be a lot of fun and lead to some interesting and memorable events when language gets in the way. For instance they might misunderstand something that is said and it might lead them down a path they wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

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I’m more for party members missing out on information due to not having a particular language. Other players with the language get the information. This leads to intrigues and secrets within the party. Often the players are pursuing their own agendas in addition to the story goal so this works well. Misinterpretation of something said is only likely if its an obscure or ancient language, and in this system players are usually aware of having failed a roll.

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“Basic working knowledge of” to me means “you know what languages exist, roughly where they are spoken, and can tell what language someone is speaking if it is the main branch of that language. Identifying dialects might require a check.”

Not “you can understand those languages”. After all, you gain extra languages by upgrading Linguistics already.

That is how we play it, and it makes the most sense to me and my players.


If it helps, I play it that this gives you a basic understanding of the language that is being spoken but not necessarily any knowledge of what is being said. For example, if you are well traveled, you probably can tell when someone is speaking French, German, Spanish and even perhaps Russian or Ukrainian but that does not mean you can pick up more than a few casual words. This is where the linguistics tests come into play. If the conversation is basic casual talk? Then I might give that PC a D1 linguistics test to pick up a basic understanding of the conversation. If they are discussing more in depth subjects such as the details of a plot etc then the test is going to grow as your vocabulary in that language will not be sufficient to gather those details. In my games having a dialog with a local requires your knowledge of the specific language or you had better have the appropriate Talent. I hope this helps.


Thanks you both make good points. One of my players also suggested that knowing a language may give you the (difficulty) chance to say something very basic in any language group of which that language is a part.


That’s a really interesting idea. You’d just have to collect all the languages and decide which ones are based on which based on culture I guess.

Not necessary. They are already grouped under the Linguistics talent.

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Ah, I’m not sure how I missed that. Awesome.