Wednesday, November 19, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 9

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

"Languages: The “common tongue” spoken throughout the “continent” is known by most humans."
The fact that the term humans was used rather than men here throws me off a bit. The distinct and sudden shift from the term ‘men’ leads one to believe that there is a reason for such a change. Perhaps humans in this context refers to all player character races. Perhaps the authors are suddenly more specific so as not to confuse readers who might assume that ‘men’ refers to all player character races. Perhaps there is nothing more to read into this than the face value, simply that most humans speak common.

"All other creatures and monsters which can speak have their own tongues, although some (20%) also know the common one."
I would assume that this 20% chance is to help the referee determine whether or not a non-player character type of dwarf, elf or hobbit knows the common tongue. There is a guide for player characters, so there is no mystery or random chance in regard to what languages they speak. It is not stated that any character type other than “humans” know the common tongue, other than through the 20% chance, so it is ultimately the decision of the referee. I would assume that unless the player character is from some unknown foreign land, he or she knows the common tongue.

"Law, Chaos and Neutrality also have common tongues spoken by each respectively."
Clearly, this structure of spoken languages does not follow any historical example of our world. Firstly, there is a common tongue which presumably is the language of commerce and trade. Then there are the three divisional languages, which are the most difficult to relate to, and do not seem to be connected in anyway to region. Lastly, there are creature languages, which could be considered ancestral languages from a creature’s culture which is either an ancient, seldom used, lost tongue, or the language of a secluded enclave of the creature type; an enclave which is somewhat removed from the pervasiveness of mankind. For ease of game play, the common tongue is simply the language of all men. Those humans which do not speak it are either uncivilized or entirely foreign to the known lands described herein. One could perhaps make an effort to reason that the divisional languages are regional ones; those of cultures or societies of man (and even dwarves, elves and hobbits) that are at odds with one another. Or, one could explain these divisional languages as age old religious versions of spoken word, learned and handed down through the writings, scriptures and scrolls of the faithful leaders of the three major sects or divisions of some as yet undetermined persuasion. What happens when a character makes an alignment change, though? Surely he does not simply forget his divisional tongue? Ultimately I would simply leave divisional languages as a simple but never foolproof way of ascertaining whether a stranger is part of your normal circle of friends or not. Not at all a language in this context, but perhaps best described as an extremely limited slang form of the common tongue, with slang terms unrecognizable, for the most part, by those not of the same alignment. There are of course members of the three alignments who are intelligent enough to learn how to adequately mimic or fool casual observers, and even the rare individuals who can live amongst their foes through expert masquerading. To summarize:

Common Tongue: The Language of man, of the Land, of Commerce and Trade.
Creature Tongues: Ancient, Ancestral, Lost or Secluded forms of language associated with specific races or creatures.
Divisional Tongues: Regional, Cultural and Societal Slang forms of limited communication associated with Law, Neutrality or Chaos.

Based upon the passages in the CHARACTERS and LANGUAGES sections, each player character race begins with the following languages, and may add one additional creature tongue for every intelligence point over 10.

Dwarf: Common, Divisional, Dwarf, Gnome, Kobold and Goblin.
Elf: Common, Divisional, Elf, Orc, Hobgoblin, Gnoll.
Hobbit or Man: Common, Divisional.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


David Larkins said...

I guess one possible interpretation of alignment tongues is that they're the languages of Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic nations; Common remains as either a pidgin or a lingua franca like Latin. Thus, taking the world of Conan as our example, if you grew up in, say, Cimmeria, you speak Chaotic. If you're from Aquilonia, you speak Lawful. Shem? You speak Neutral. Doesn't matter what your actual alignment is, that way, and nicely avoids the alignment shift conundrum.

Sham aka Dave said...

That was one method I posed, but I hadn't considered making it unrelated to one's own alignment. That's actually a perfectly viable solution, and might explain how a chaotic man could be found coexisting with lawful neighbors. The divisional tongue, it is assumed, might still be useful in the wilderness or underworld...for various reasons. Thanks David.

Jack Badelaire said...

Did you catch the language post over on Jeff's game blog last week? Some good comments on languages there that might be relevant, especially the discussion of alignment languages.

David said...

Language has always fascinated me, but I find that D&D mildly annoys me with its "Common" tongue.

Now it makes sense for gameplay of course, but I feel like it takes some of the foreignness out of traveling. If your guys go to a far-off land, the people there shouldn't all speak the same language as your hometown.

As for the lawful/chaotic languages, I've never found a way to make that make sense. I suppose the "Language from a like-aligned nation" idea works fairly well. The problem with alignment languages is that there doesn't seem to be any reason that, for instance, a chaotic follower of Gruumsh couldn't learn "Lawful".

Well anyway, I'm enjoying your series of posts here on OD&D. I have a hard time reading the LBBs in order like that, and it's cool to see someone else's take on it.

Sham aka Dave said...

Badelaire: I did read it, it was funny seeing a few posts around town on languages when I knew this post would be popping up in a week or so. James M and Jeff also did posts on Weapons vs AC, which again will be visited here in a pre-scheduled post to this series.

David: I agree that "common tongue" is a game mechanic, as are the divisional tongues. The game mechanics we encounter in OD&D eventually gave way to more realistic that comes to mind (and will surely see a post in a month or so lol) is that in OD&D, ALL dungeon doors are stuck...but ONLY for PC's, Monsters pass through them unhindered. Cool rule, but not realistic.

Anonymous said...

When I recently ran Labyrinth Lord, I explained alignment languages as being a part of the Dungeon-as-Mythic-Underworld concept. I explained to the players that in addition to reality and reason having less hold Below, magic was more powerful, and alignment languages came into existence. I told them that aboveground, in civilization, they did not. That characters could have a conversation about ethics and morality in other languages, sufficient to identify alignment, but it is not a language of its own. But that somehow, for some reason, things are different Below. When you go into the underworld, you actually become able to converse in your alignment language. Behind the scenes I’ve just begun to have ideas percolate about what greater meaning this has in the game’s cosmology. My first thought is that it might be reflective of the greater cosmic conflicts (like the Norse gods vs. Cthulu choose your side concept), and that the Gods and Powers confer this ability as an extension of the eternal war. Or as a tool portending the eventual Ragnarok.

Sham aka Dave said...

Interesting angle, Shimrod. You know, things are just different down there. For example (and I'll have to check the exact passage that states this) ALL Monsters down there have Infravision. If ANY of those same Monsters become part of a PC group (via Charm or whatever) this ability is lost.

It's a gameism that is akin to the Stuck Doors rule I mentioned in an earlier comment. It doesn't make sense. It makes for a certain deliberate game imbalance where the world down there is slanted towards the chaotic denizens therein.

Also, I like the phrase "Down There". I'll have to incorporate that in the future. :-)

Anonymous said...

Down There. Deep Down. Below. I enjoy those Significant Capitals. :)

Sham aka Dave said...

Ya, Below Is Good Too. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Once I started thinking about what Alignment languages could actually mean, I started trying to match it up with real world slang situations.So people who speak conservative will say things like "Real Americans" and "The body has ways of shutting that down" where as people who speak liberal will say things like "check your privilege" and "die cis scum". While they're technically both the same language you have to be down with your group to understand the context.