Languages in Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Ok Dear Readers! Today I decided to blog a bit about languages in Lamentations of the Flame Princess versus how languages are done in other game systems. I’m also going to share the language chart I developed from my homebrew campaign that I will be using in my Lamentations of Elemental Evil Campaign—Episode 3 which was just recorded. Finally, I am going to be using the language chart as a means to develop something a bit more complex for social interactions and the reaction chart. Let’s get started!

So, languages. Aside from calculating encumbrance in BECMI, this is my least favorite part of character creation for most RPGs. Basically, when you make a Dungeons & Dragons character, you have a number of languages equal to an intelligence bonus; or, in the OSR traditions, a player has to reference the intelligence chart after rolling attributes. Once the number of languages is determined, the player then selects from a list.

Certainly, this has some advantages for your high-intelligence wizard can pick up esoteric or monster languages to be useful at lower levels when the unfriendly orcs need to be negotiated with in order to avoid a fight. However, for me, when selecting languages, I never knew what I should select. Ultimately, you can end up picking a language that may not be used at all in the game.

Totally sucks.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess solves that problem. Language is now a skill. Every player has a 1 in 6 chance (the specialist has the option to increase his skill) of knowing a language. The chance for success is increased by one step per point of intelligence the character has. If a language is too foreign or strange, or maybe ancient, there are penalties to the roll.

The takeaway is that languages aren’t determined at the start of play. Rather, a player gets to discover whether their character knows a language through play. It solves the problem of making a poor choice during character creation and it makes for some neat emergent story opportunities.

In my homebrew dark fantasy setting, I made the following chart.

ArnDwarfElfGoblinHalflingsHobgoblinKwon PrincipalityNarne-burOld TongueVerbyrn
Kwon Principality-1-2-2-1-0-1-1-1-1
Old Tongue-0-2-0-0-0-2-1-1-0

Without diving into the details of each culture, let me just say that I had to make some basic decisions regarding what the standard is for determining how foreign a language is going to be. I decided that the basic human languages (Arn, and Verbyrn) are similar enough to not incur a penalty. I made that decision to make it easier for my players in the Lamentations of Elemental Evil campaign to chat up their fellow humans. The three human languages that are a bit more challenging are the people of Narne-Bur because their language is heavily influenced by Dwarven, and the people of the Kwon Principality because their language is influenced by hobgoblin. Furthermore, the elves have highly influenced the old tongue, which incurs a -1 from the human perspective. I made the dwarven/elven/goblin/hobgoblin languages a bit more exotic with a -2, from a human perspective.

Where things get tricky, I had to make some decisions from the demi-human perspective. I originally made hobgoblin at a -3 (as their culture is based on medieval China and feudal Japan), but -3 should really be reserved for ancient languages. Thus, I decided that hobgoblins have the hardest time in comparison to other languages. Therefore, you see a lot of -2 modifiers.

Elf and dwarf simply do not like each other and their languages are very different; thus the -2 between the two. However, where the hobgoblin, dwarf, and elf have influenced languages there is a -0 penalty with the humans. Further, where the demi-human meets with a human language influenced by one of the other demi-human languages, they are dealing with a -2 penalty as well.

I decided that, becomes my mischievous goblin character class is the most likely to leave the Seelie Courts to cause trouble, they are a bit more worldly. Thus, they have an easier time with other languages.

I decided to make halflings more magical in the sense that halflings are just affable and get along with everyone. Thus, it’s really easy, regardless of your heritage, to learn their language and they to learn yours.

Now, to be honest, implementing this is a lot harder than I realized. If you’ve watched episode 3 of my Lamentations of Elemental Evil campaign, on two occasions I forgot to check for languages.

The takeaway is that maybe we should handwave languages because they get to be cumbersome. You can certainly do that. I opted to allow for a “common tongue” which is more of a trade language, but it cannot be used for information gathering as it is a very limited language: it is composed of gestures and simple words and numbers in order to conduct trade.

I am trying to stay faithful to the rules because one of the themes I am playing with in this campaign is the conflict of culture and how language barriers can exacerbate it. I also want players to think about how they interact with NPCs. I’m going to try to be a bit more mindful the next time the players start cavorting around in Hommlet.

Anyway, this leads me to my Reaction Table modifications. I’ve decided that I will impose a -2 on the reaction roll if there is cultural animosity between the two people. Thus, the following:

Arn Kingdom vs. The Kingdom Verbryn: The two nations are in a cold war posture.

Arn Religion vs. Old ways: The Arns are religious missionaries. The old religions are incompatible.

Elves v. Dwarves: The dwarves view elves as haughty layabouts. Elves just think they are better than dwarves.

The hobgoblins vs. Everyone: If you do not view their God Emperor Teng Fe as a god, well…you are about to get a katana to the face!

Arn Religion v. Magic-using types (elves/goblins): The Arn religion views magic as demonic. Witches are burned at the stake quite frequently. They two are not compatible.

The following pairings are where I am going to impose a +2 bonus to the reaction roll. The bonus represents similar cultural practices and/or good will toward the cultural group.

Narne-bur & Dwarves: The people of Narne-Bur worship the dwarves as the Great Builders. The dwarves appreciate the help the people of Narne-bur provide against orc invaders.

Hobgoblins & Kwon Principality: While the humans subjugated by the hobgoblin empire are second-class citizens, many have achieved great deeds, which do not go unrecognized by the Emperor. The two cultures are very similar.

Elves and the followers of the Old-Ways: The humans of the Borderlands are very superstitious and make routine offerings to the Seelie court to appease the mercurial powers residing in the wild.

Arn & Arn Dwarves: Those few dwarves that have converted to the Arn faith are treated with warmth and hospitality as they would treat any Arn. However, for the Arns, a dwarf’s conversion is proof of the objective truth of their faith.

Well, that’s it on my current rumination on languages and how I am using language and culture to shape social encounters. On paper, it looks easy…in practice, it takes a bit of discipline to consistently implement. I do think it can work tho!

Until next time, Dear Readers!

3 thoughts on “Languages in Lamentations of the Flame Princess

  1. I’ve never really used it before this campaign I’m running. So, implementing it has been a bit of a challenge–a challenge I wholeheartedly embrace–because it has so much potential for world-building and ease of play once you get it down as part of your social encounter procedure.

  2. That is definitely an interesting take. But, I can see players eyes glazing over on the chart. My opinion over the years is that the larger general problem in d20-derivative games, is simply how infrequently the little talents (or proficiencies, or feats, whatever the system calls them) come along. In many games, it’s reasonable to expect only 4 or fewer new proficiencies over the course of your entire campaign. At the same time, you’ll get +billions to attacks, spells, whatever. I love the OSR, but sometimes I feel they shoot the tire instead of the driver, when troubleshooting.

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