Low Speech - Disney or Hardcore?

I’m curious how people play low speech with animals. Do you take the Disney view, where rats are basically people with kingdoms, jobs, etc? Ratatooie? Or do you go hardcore, where bees only talk about flowers and honey and rats only talk about… garbage and safety, maybe? Or something in between, where the animals are like people but with a totally non-human culture?

Can you ask a rat or a bee to help you find a sword? How about the prince’s sword? How about the prince?

I realize there’s no right or wrong answer here… just curious how you do it.

I like the DnD approach. Definitely Not Disney.

Still, animals are remarkably smart, if somewhat limited in abstract capability. I like the idea of someone entering a DoW with a rat or horse to get them to cooperate with your plans… say stealing a warhorse and getting advantage dice because you convinced him it would be a good idea.

I would allow Low Speech users to talk to the remarkably intelligent animals like Narnias, or animal spirits of the right sort.

I think of the Grimm Fairytales as my reference for the human setting. In those stories animals always know something, and are always able to help; though they might lie to you / thwart you if you are evil.

So in my games animals almost always have useful knowledge or are able to perform useful tasks, though they might demand some favor in exchange. I’ve never had players who were interested in the social structure of the animal world, so I never developed it. Animals contacted via low speech exist to provide creative solutions to problems facing player characters.

I think the important thing to keep in mind when roleplaying non-anthropomorphic creatures is that they are… non-anthropomorphic. That is to say, they see and understant the world in ways are fundamentally different from how humans do. For example, I recently saw a study that found that dogs often have hard times distinguishing things based on shape. Their brains just aren’t set up to process the world in those terms.

Not having encountered this bump yet, I have to think that this would be a given question to be raised at the table? Perhaps not important enough to discuss during World Burning, but at least to warrant a discussion the first time low speech enters the game.

That being said, my personal taste would be to mix the distinctly non-human with a bit of fairy tale flavor, and also personality; a fox being sly and devious, a wolf stern and communal, a bear lumbering and so forth… there’s no real reason for it, but it just feels like it fits with the magical nature of low speech.

Do you guys do conversations like this? Or is it too tiresome?

“Dog, go in the meadhall and see if any of the warriors are carrying a sword with a pommel shaped like a lion.”
“What is a sword?”
“The shiny thing that warriors carry.”
“What is a warrior?”
“A human who hunts other humans.”
“What is a pommel?”
“It’s, uh, a part of the sword.”
“What is a lion?”
“A cat.”
“A cat? Where??”

How do you roleplay that?

A PC in my Burning Baltic game has Low Speech; he’s a Crimean Tatar with Low Speech: Horse.

This is a purely historical game. No magic. He doesn’t converse with them. He’s essentially a horse whisperer: he’s able to judge what they want, need, fear, etc. by looking at them and able to express what he wants of them. He’s simply empathic when it comes to horses.

We defined this at the beginning of the game when the player expressed interest in the trait but was uncertain it would fit in the non-magical setting we had chosen.

In a game with lots of magic, I’d want to see it work differently. I’d lean toward something like Taelor suggests. A dog, for instance, likely focuses on scent and sound as their primary sense as we focus on sight. You have to approach animals on their terms.

It would not be my preference to have a dog understand something as representational as pommel with a lion on it (as you amusingly show), but you could certainly ask them to retrieve something if you can share its scent or tangle in someone’s legs, etc.

Horse Whisperer, that’s definitely cool for a non-magic campaign.

For fantasy, I’d lean towards a mixture of what Taelor and Storapan suggested.

  1. Take the animal’s dominant senses into account by having the animal describe the world in the way that they sense it, not as a human would. A dog might talk about scents and tastes, a rabbit about strange noises, etc. Even if vision is a dominant sense, the animal might not be able to distinguish colors. Or it might have super-vision like an eagle, and would describe intricate details, going on and on, etc.

  2. Playing on the stereotypes and tropes is just fun and flavorful, as Storopan said. Lots you can do with that, playing to or against type.

Also, it’s easier to RP animals that we typically have as pets, of course, such as dogs and cats. Wild animals are harder, unless the GM knows a lot about animals. And if not, playing to those tropes will be what saves your hide.

Just a comment about dogs… they can respond to visual cues. We have some plastic water bottles. At some point, we started using a pink one for water for the dog, while I use blue ones. The dog gets upset if I use a pink one… The dog may even be distinguishing between her pink ones and the pink ones my wife uses that are a different style.

All that said, I think it’s something for negotiation depending on the campaign, anything from horse whisperer to pretty complex communication.


This is the point of the post though, surely. From your perspective the dog’s bottle looks pink. From the dog’s perspective it smells/sounds pink :slight_smile:

Dogs can understand colors and sizes and textures; it’s shapes that they have trouble with.

The dogs flunked geometry.

They’re good at trigonometry, though. That’s how they catch flying discs.

I think you need calculus to catch flying discs.

Hm, I think you’re right. Shows how much of my maths I remember.

Ask your dog for help next time.

If we are sticking to the Tolkien fiction, sure, birds and beasts have more to say to those who understand them than in our world.

Generally, in my minds eye, animals with higher language function are the spiritworld representatives of their kind.

I read this in Dug’s (from UP) voice.