The Foreign Languages Skill

Our campaign setting is multi-lingual. It’s a vast continent, with the current region being a huge Mediterranean-style sea. All the PCs are either noble knights or scholarly types, and the story revolves around the relations of noble houses and trade issues across a variety of different cultures. As such, the Foreign Languages skill is going to be important for us.

We’ve already had one Foreign Languages test, which went just fine. The problem is what to do when we encounter the same language again and again, and how to improve one’s fluency in a foreign language.

My first instinct is to use training skills, and I think this is the proper approach. A passed Foreign Language test would add the training skill to the PC’s character sheet, with the fluency level determined by the margin of success. Meeting the Ob on a Foreign Languages test would indicate only basic understanding, whereas +1 MoS would be conversational language ability, and +2 MoS would indicate complete fluency. This seems to mesh nicely with Let it Ride.

A few questions:

[li]Can a training skill be FoRKed into other skills?
[/li][li]Should I be enforcing a Foreign Languages test before using any social skills, read or write, if the character is not fluent? Or should it just be RPed out appropriately? Or should Ob penalties be used (very debilitating to social skills)?
[/li][li]What to do for scholarly types that want to study the intricacies of a language (beyond the fluent level)? I’d like to give them some kind of bonus, but am unsure what would be fair.

Questions #1 and 3 are important, as the answer will determine whether or not the PCs should have a free training skill for their native language.

For studying to increase the fluency level of a foreign language one already knows, I’m thinking of just having practice or training times for the Foreign Languages skill count double for training a single chosen language training skill towards its next level of fluency. Regular tests in play don’t count.

Can anybody help me out with this? How do you use the Foreign Languages skill?

~ Dean

What’s wrong with skill advancement? As they use the skill, the exponent gets higher, representing improvement in fluency.

What to do for scholarly types that want to study the intricacies of a language (beyond the fluent level)? I’d like to give them some kind of bonus, but am unsure what would be fair.
The important question is what do you want to give them bonuses for? Studying word derivations may provide advantage dice in a spelling bee, but it ain’t gonna help much if your haggling in the fish market.

As much as I love Gold, I actually preferred how Revised did this. I get that it was an attempt to simplying a confusing and broken system, but I think it makes much more sense as a base than the new rules do.

Here’s my take:

Foreign Language [Perception]

Your character speaks a foreign language, this skill can be taken as many times as desired, opening and advancing a new language every time. It is a special skill: you only need to test if it would be difficult or challenging. Routine tests must be acquired through practice (immersion) or instruction.

Foreign languages is tested in situations similar to those below. Failing your test incurs an Ob penalty on a test or duel of wits equal to the margin of failure. Someone may make the test on your behalf if they are translating for you.

Sample Obstacles:

Ob 1 - Asking for directions
Ob 2 - Holding a conversation
Ob 3 - Haggling for goods
Ob 4 - Defending yourself in court
Ob 5 - Discussing philosophy

FoRKS: As appropriate for the situation. Haggling, Rule of Law and skills like Philosophy or Demonology can help with the high obstacles required by this skill.

And here’s my explanation for this reworked skill: both the old and new systems had the same problem, you were rolling and rolling and there was never any sense that you were becoming fluent. You were just becoming less likely to screw up. While those two things may seem similar, I think there’s a crucial distinction. Making it prohibitively difficult to attain mastery of a foreign language: reaching the point where just having conversations with NPCs is trivial, not BW trivial, with its substantial risk of failure, isn’t much fun. At the same time, you want it to be too easy. So this skill, as written, gives you a kind of graduated mastery.

Someone with B3 in Dutch no longer has any problem just chatting with Dutch people. They may throw in a few “how you says”, but everyone understands each other (unless something is throwing up an Ob penalty!) Only the most abstract and complex parts of language require that a language skill ever advance beyond B5. And having a certain commonality of expertise can make that less of an issue: two demonologists may have different names for their demons, but they’ll recognize them by the description.

Under this system academic study can help in a couple of ways! First: you need those routines, and studying can be one way of pulling that off. Secondly, I’d return the Linguist trait to its Revised version, giving you a very low aptitude for learning new languages. One way of earning that trait in play would be a scholarly approach to language.

But, you’re only going to call for a Dutch test when there’s an interesting failure result, not every time someone speaks Dutch. What’s the intent? What’s the Ob? What’s the consequence of failure?

Remember that Foreign Languages Skill isn’t a skill on itself, but a generic name to all the languages skills.

A character will never have a Foreign Languages Skill, but the specific language that he chooses (like Appropriate Weapon), so, if a character wants to know English, Spanish and Italian, he’d have to buy (or train) every specific language separately.

Stay cool :cool:

Not according to the description of the skill. It’s for all foreign languages.
Basically I see it as talking louder and slower so they understand.

Really? Then why are the example Obs listed as “Close dialect to your native tongue”, and “Simple or related language”, rather than “Haggling at the fish market”, or “Getting directions”?

I had assumed that Foreign Languages was meant to be a single abstract skill used to see if you know any language when you encounter it. Test it once to determine your fluency level, and then Let it Ride indefinitely for that specific language, or until the situation drastically changes (ie. if you study the language itself, you can retest).

It seems to be explicitly made for multilingual regions like Europe, where knowledge of one or two languages can help you understand neighboring languages a bit, due to the connectedness of different language groups.

Which would be perfect for my campaign. We’ve already detailed a bunch of primary languages in our campaign setting, all of which are connected geographically via language groups. We’re even matching the names of people and places to the language group in the region they’re from. We’re trying hard to make it believable. However, if we were to treat each and every language as a separate skill, travel across the region would be an absurd pain in the ass – it takes a damned long time to open up those language skills.

What I was wondering is, if anybody is using Foreign Languages as an abstract catch-all skill, what are you doing for advancement of fluency levels of the specific languages?

I’m starting to come to new conclusions. Will share them when I get them written up. Does not involve training skills.

Ups, sorry, I didn’t read that this was a BWG thread, I only have Revised so it might had change, sorry for the mess up :stuck_out_tongue:

Stay cool :cool:

It’s meant to be a single skill. In play, the GM generally just stops calling for the lower Ob tests (e.g., survival language) after you’ve spent a bit of time using the language. As we spend more time using the language, he has just stopped calling for tests altogether.

If you want a more formal approach, I suggest you use an aptitude for each language in question equal to 10 - Foreign Languages. When you earn that number of tests in a particular language, you no longer have to test Foreign Languages to express yourself in that language.


Thanks Thor.

Hmm … The first option is nice and simple. Would work OK. The language aptitude option works if you are actually trying to learn the language, but lots of folks settle for survival fluency out of laziness.

Heck, I’ve been living in Korea for years, and my Korean language ability is pretty weak compared to what it should be. Purely because I hate studying vocabulary (so dull). You could say I fail my Foreign Languages test all the time, but I get by. As all the players in my group are in the same boat as me, I guess I’m looking for something they could empathize with. ^^

I was thinking of something simple like this:

[ul][li]Test Foreign Languages when you encounter a new language. The MoS determines your fluency.
[/li][li]If you have at least basic fluency in the language, you never have to test Foreign Languages again if you don’t want to. Let it Ride is in full effect. Your ability in the language is used mostly for RP purposes, but might result pin Ob penalties for social skills, read, and write if you’re weak in that language.
[/li][li]If you want to raise your fluency level, you just have to practice the Foreign Languages skill or receive instruction. Doing so allows a new test be made to determine if you advanced or not.[/ul]
Think that might work?

Seems workable. Let It Ride should be in effect regardless. If they fail that initial test, are they going to be frustrated having to wait until they increase Foreign Languages before they can test again?

Right. What I have in mind is basically Let it Ride with a few extra features.

Yeah, the way I’ve been thinking of working it would definitely give fewer tests towards advancement of the Foreign Languages skill. They’d have to actively seek out new languages (not too difficult), or spend time practicing. I could see them opening up 3 or 4 languages quickly, and then a slow crawl in actual advancement after that, unless they really dedicate themselves to it. Which is fine! As we have so many languages in the setting, I don’t want them mastering one and then suddenly knowing them all.

I was thinking that even if they fail the initial test, they still mark the language down on their sheet with “shit” fluency noted beside it. Like this: French (a few words, probably wrong). Etc. I would still let them try and communicate with social skills, only with nasty Ob penalties tagged on. Read/Write would be heavily restricted until at least basic fluency is gained.