Common Alternatives

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In some campaigns- particularly those with a strong focus on exploration, or a particularly stringent dedication to realism, the idea of a 'common tongue' in which every race communicates is needlessly convenient.

While some settings, such as the Forgotten Realms, have attempted to address the issue with a spate of racial dialects, this runs up against the opposite problem; language issues can impede play, whatever spark of realism they may provide.

For the use of DMs, then, the following alternative to 'common'.

Koine, Patois, and Highspeech

Firstly, let us consider the most common needs of an adventurer- the transmission of tactical information, the prosecution of business and trade, and the gathering of specialized information.

Of these needs, the tactical and business aspects are common to those who are not adventurers, as well; thus, Koine.

Koine is a simple, indeed, rudimentary language composed of fragments of other languages and a distinctive set of hand and body gestures. Any creature that speaks and has an intelligence of at least eight speaks Koine. While almost universally understood, Koine is ill-equipped to transmit complex information or the subtle promises of a manipulator; charisma-based checks that involve conversation are assessed a -2 penalty if conducted in Koine. While speaking Koine, a character can freely speak (or gesture) about matters of simple finance, basic information- 'go here','duck' and the like- but would be extremely foolish to attempt to transmit the nuances of magical theory or a delicate innuendo. Should they choose to do so, there is a 20% chance the recipient of their speech misinterprets their words (DM's discretion as to how). Koine has no alphabet and is never written.

For more intelligent (or simply more communication-focused creatures) Patois provides an alternative to the frustrating limits of Koine. While Patois may vary from region to region, it generally can only be recognized as multiple languages on entirely separate continents. In addition, since it arose to facilitate the needs of traders, sailors, and scholars alike, Patois has a built-in set of simple (but consistent) rules of grammar and pronunciation, whose permutations can be extrapolated to determine how (if at all) the local dialect differs from that which the character knows. Any character with an intelligence of at least twelve speaks Patois. Patois, while not as limited as Koine in what it can convey (or how subtly) still has no written form.

Highspeech is a written, codified version of Patois, utilizing a complex and vast pictographic alphabet of some kind; since these pictograms are ideographic in nature, they can be read by anyone who speaks Highspeech, regardless of their particular dialect (whereas a syllabic language would be unreadable with just a few minor changes in pronunciation). While inferior to Draconic or other, older alphabets for transmitting arcane information, almost any concept can be conveyed in Highspeech. Characters with an intelligence of at least eighteen know Highspeech.

This variant provides DMs with a way to include 'language barriers' and a more realistic approach to language without significantly handicapping play; here, character's facility at communication is a function of their intelligence.

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