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Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture
Handling Languages in 2e
house rules, languages

For those unfamiliar with 1e 7th Sea, a character only started out with their native tongue, and even that was simply speaking it.  If you wanted your Hero to speak extra languages, or be able to read and write in any of those languages, you had to pay extra build points.

While I get that 2e introduced Old Thean as a "trade language" that everyone knows so groups don't run into the "can't speak to one another" issue, something that D&D has done for as long as there's been languages.  But something about 7th Sea now using this short cut just kind of bothers me, since if a Hero wants to speak more than their native tongue and trade language, they either need to increase their Wits (which may not jive for certain character concepts) or become an omniglot by taking the Langauges Advantage for 1 point.  And far as I can tell, a Hero is presumed to be literate unless the player decides otherwise, with Castille seeming to be called out as the only exception due to the Vaticine Church's influence.

Personally, I'd like a tad more granularity in terms of what languages a Hero knows, but not quite the 1e method.  So, a few thoughts on how to handle matters.  These are all off-the-cuff ideas.

1) Dispense with Old Thean as an automatic language, so at the start, Heroes can speak/read/write their native language.  For each point of Wits above 1, the Hero can speak/read/write an additional language.  If they have at least one rank in Scholarship, then they are automatically considered to be fluent and literate in Old Thean.  Example: Gerard the Montaigne Army Officer has a Wits of 3.  He automatically starts with the ability to speak, read, and write Montaigne.  His player also decides to grab Castillian (due to the recent war) and Eisen (having studied various military texts) as his extra two languages.  Since he doesn't have any ranks in Scholarship, Gerard is unable to speak, read, or write in Old Thean.

2) Start with native language (again, no Old Thean), plus extra languages for every point in Wits above 2, however the Hero is only considered to be literate in their native language, unless they have a rank in Scholarship, at which point they are literate in every language they can speak, and are also fluent in Old Thean (which seems more comparable to Latin and that it'd be used more as a "scholarly language" rather than a trade tongue).  Also, for every rank in Scholarship past the first, the Hero can speak (and is literate in) one additional language.  Example: Estevan the Castillian Duelist also has a Wits of 3 and a Scholarship of 2 (attending classes that the Altimira University goes a long way, especially if you pay attention in class).  Estevan starts knowing Castillian, and picks Montaigne as his bonus language from having a point in Wits above 2.  Because he's got at least 1 rank in Scholarship, he's considered fluent in Old Thean, and is literate in all the languages he knows, and for his second rank of Scholarship, he chooses Vodacce to be fluent and literate in.

3) Adapt the Acquaintance and Pidgin Language rules from the 1e Nations of Theah: Pirate Nations sourcebook, and again getting rid of Old Thean as a trade language that everyone knows how to speak (want to learn it?  Take Linguist or choose it as one of your bonus languages from a high Wits).  Whenever a Hero would be fluent in one additional language, they can instead choose to be "acquainted" with two languages, or speak a "pidgin" of three langauges (which can cause problems because a lot of high-minded concepts are left out), but the Hero would not be literate in any of them unless they've got ranks in Scholarship.  So with each point in Wits above 2, you have the choice of 1) speak/read/write one additional language, 2) be acquainted with two languages, being able to speak them but not being literate, or 3) speak a pidgin of three languages, but any Risks that where fluency in the langauge would be a factor require one additional raise to be successful.  Example 1: Giuseppe the Vodacce Consigliere has a Wits of 3 and Scholarship of 1.  In his service to the Villanova family, he's had to deal with individuals from several neighboring nations.  He starts out speaking Vodacce and is fully literate (as any Hero would be in their native tongue), and opts to be acquianted with Montaigne and Castille, and thanks to his 1 rank in Scholarship he's fluent in both of them.  Example 2: Finn O'Malley the Inish Sailor has a Wits of 3 and no ranks in Scholarship.  He automatically starts with fluency in Avalon (speaking the Inish dialect of course) and can read and write in his mother tongue, and opts to take the pidgin versions of Castille, Montaigne, and Vendel for having an extra point in Wits above 2, though he's not literate in those three languages since he has zero ranks in Scholarship, and any Risks he takes where communication is a factor requires him to spend an extra Raise if he wants to succeed.

Obviously, Option 3 is by far the most complicated of the lot, and thus the least likely to get employed.  Ultimately, this may just be a personal hang-up that I need to get over, but I just like the notion of a Hero being able to speak a couple additional languages without having to dump valuable Trait points into Wits or wind up being able to speak pretty much every language on the face of Theah.

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BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

Personally, I'd go with #2 with a few tweaks:

Heroes start literate in their Native Language (unless they choose not to be)

Plus one bonus language to start with.

1 bonus language for every point in Wits

Sacrifice any one language to be literate in another non-native language possessed.

1 bonus language for every point in Scholarship, plus literacy for all know languages.


This gives the hero two more languages than your original plan, but sets them up nicely for the revised scope of the game. This way, heroes won't mind spending a few points on Ifri, Cresent, or Aztlan languages too (though I might set limits on those with Scholarship).

Also remember that most European countries had a high and low language. In France, for instance, most countrymen didn't actually speak French unless they lived relatively close to Paris. Germany had a high and low dialect. Giving the hero a few extra languages at the start lets you have a bit more fun with pigens and variations without going overboard with accents and the mess from 1st edition.

Kertész V
Kertész V's picture

Fluency is a tricky thing. It's possible to read English well without being able to write it fluently (spelling mistakes or awkward word order such as "green great dragon" which looks a little off to a native speaker).

The following idea makes language a bit more realistic, but also a bit more complicated:

For every rank in wits+scholarship, the hero has 2 language points.

Every language has three ranks of fluency.

  • Rank 1 - speak fluently​
  • Rank 2 - read fluently
  • Rank 3 - write fluently

Performing a risk that involves language (forging an invitation to a society ball, for example) would require the appropriate rank. An additional raise is required per rank below the appropriate level (so if you only speak a language, you would need 2 additional raises to forge a written invitation)

Heroes start with rank 1 of their native tongue. Gaining a rank in a language costs 1 language point.

So, a Vodacce hero with wits 3 + scholarship 1 would have spoken fluency with Vodacce (Rank 1) and 8 language points to assign. She could spend 2 to get reading and writing fluency in Vodacce, 3 for the same in Castilian, and the remaining 3 points to be able to speak Eisen, and speak and read Avalonian.

A decidedly less well educated hero with the default two ranks in wits and no scholarship would only have 4 points to spend, and might opt for speaking a total of 5 languages (native tongue plus four others) but unable to read a word.

That same less-educated hero could instead opt for speak/read/write his native tongue but only be able to speak and read one additional language.

The Rook and The Raven
A 7th Sea 2nd Edition Adventure Podcast

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

That approach is also viable and certainly a whole lot simpler than what I typed out regarding Option 2.  Though I agree that GM veto should be in play in terms of the more exotic languages that most Theans would have never heard of much less encountered before.

I think any approach to languages outside of what's in the core rulebook is going to add extra complexity.  It's just a matter of what degree of complexity and is it ultimately worth it?

What you've posted is certainly an interesting idea about the "language points," though I'd probably combine reading and writing into a single rank, granting full literacy at Rank 2 of the language if only to try and keep things fairly simple.  Definitely has some potentional, especially if also consdiering BluSponge's thoughts, and I'll bear it in mind.


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LibrariaNPC's picture

I haven't run the game enough to really see how much the languages get in the way (especially since 3/4 of the party took Linguist o_O), but I've been on the fence as well about other ways to handle languages.

My own approached has started with "Speak your native tongue for free, and start with a number of languages equal to Wits." This allows the Inisman to take Inis as his native language and still take Avalon and Old Thean, if he chooses. 

From there, I was going to make the process of learning languages at the speed of plot. I mean, Linguist is a 1-point Advantage, and gives all Thean languages automatically, so making it based on steps of a story is rather useless (and any pirate-like character can simply claim "I'll learn all of the languages from the various crew members!"). Unless the GM is going to restrict taking the Linguist advantage after character creation (and if a GM does so and doesn't make it clear to players at the get-go, they'll have angry players; if they do make it clear, they'll probably see a table of Linguists), this will probably be a quickly sought-after Advantage.

We don't really have a way of learning non-Thean languages yet, so I agree that we need something to work with.


Like most of you, I agree that finding an alternative to the current mechanic is going to complicate things, and I also agree that it may be needed. HEre's my input:

First off, I'm worried that Scholarship is going to become a catch-all skill, moreso than it is. Having learning languages tied directly to Scholarship is a concern, as it may further over-emphasize this skill, especially since it seems the knowledge acquired via this skill is up to player-GM discussion.

Second, Linguist has only shown up in Donovan's Option 3, and even then only in passing. If anyone is considering changing the language learning rules, then Linguist needs to be considered here. As an example, if a not-so-smart character wants to learn languages, he can either spend the time to learn a single language with these methods, or spend as much time (possibly less than, even) and just pick up Linguist.
Linguist may have to be changed for any real project to make headway.


That said, a few concepts/ideas to kick around:
(Note: I'm personally avoiding the points and the like. Partly because they were discussed, and partly because I don't feel they work for the feel presented in this game).

  • Make Linguist a character-creation only advantage with how it is written. This way, learning new languages, Thean or otherwise, has some merit.
  • Re-write the Linguist advantage using one or more of the below ideas.
    • "The character is fluent in the languages of their home continent, but may still struggle with lost languages or ancient dialects."
    • "The character is fluent in a number of languages equal to twice their Wits rating." (This means a Wits 2 character knows two additional languages besides their Native Tongue and Old Thean; still not a bad deal).
    • "The character is adept at learning languages quickly. With enough exposure, assume the character can converse in the language without fear of being misunderstood. Otherwise, assume the character can work their way through basic conversations due to their linguistic background, but there may be challenges of miscommunication."
      • I'm looking at 13th Warrior here. If you haven't seen it, go watch it. Best example of a Linguist, in my opinion.
  • Give everyone their native language, +1 language for each point in Wits. This gives every character 3 languages right out of the gate, at minimum. 
  • Learn languages at the speed of plot. Does the crew consist of Castillian and Vodacce vagrants, but the Captain and major officers are Eisen? Eventually, they'll all be able to learn from one another after a voyage or two.
  • Bring back Pidgin and Acquainted rules. Assume enough exposure (at least a couple of weeks, up to one story) is enough to Pidgin a pair of languages together or become Acquainted in one.
    • Shouldn't be hard to rule. Either use the original rules of roll a d10 and on a high enough result you don't understand (8 or under fo Acquainted, 5 or less for Pidgin) or come up with an alternative.

"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

Yeah, that is one thing that would have to be considered, is making Linguist only be available at character creation no matter what laternate option is chosen.

And that is a good point about providing perhaps too much weight to Scholarship, especially since it's both the medical skill as well as the "know stuff" skill.  While a lot of swashbuckling heroes tend to be well-read, that's not always the case and forcing player that wants theri PC to be more lowbrow to buy Scholarship to speak additional languages can cause issues just as as I'm trying to address the (admittedly self-perceived) issue of a PC either having to be a total omniglot (Linguist), a brainaci (high Wits), or be limited to a very small number of languages.

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LibrariaNPC's picture

I think you and I are in agreement here. Languages are one of the things I always found fun in 7th Sea (and games based in Asia), as they are both barriers and doors into interesting circumstances (my favorite to date being a player telling a story, in Ussuran, while at The Stone House in Freiburg, forcing my Vendel to translate it into Eisen). It's one of the thing of 2nd Editions simplification that bothers me the most, honestly.

As for Scholarship, that's exactly my concern. Sure, players can decide what Scholarship means (i.e. Player A is a Farmer with Scholarship 2 due to his understanding of agriculture, while Player B has Scholarship 2 due to a Castillian Education; both are equal in game terms, but thematically, they know drastically different things), but that still seems rather arbitrary and easily abused by certain types of players.

I also agree that most of the approaches here are a bit skewed; you either know all the languages, you'll need to be a brainiac to learn another language (a poor reason to raise Scholarship or Wits in my opinion), or you'll be in pain learning it (and tracking too many numbers). 

That said, I do think the more narrative approach of learning at the speed of plot is the better way, solely because so much of this game revolves around it. That's just my preference, mind you, and something I'll be using, but I think it's a bit better than players spending 1 step stories to learn another language in the end.

"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

Catalina Arciniega
Catalina Arciniega's picture

I don't agree with your approach. Linguist is a cheap enough advantage to learn new languages at one step story per language learnt, specially since most characters won't have more than one active story at once.

I would, instead, reward those characters who choose to be iliterate (no reading or writing in their native languages and no speaking in thean) with an extra point for advantages at character creation.

For learning new languages I would have them roleplaying the whole thing, finding someone who'd be willing to teach them and spending a decent amount of time actually learning the language while other characters might be doing other stuff in the meantime (courting their lover, working for wealth, searching for information related to their personal histories...).

This way they can learn actively without spending those precious history steps on something they could have gotten for one point at character creation. If you want to link it to their wits rating, you could say that they need to spend studying the language 6 minus wits points sessions per language (at least 1, at most 4).

You could also combine this method with some tiers, like learning a new language only grants the ability to speak It, reading and writing could need extra effort or being literate, having ranks on scholarship or/and having certain advantages (university, lyceum, etc).

I mean this for thean languages. I agree that completely alien languages such as crescent, ifri or whatever the natives of the New World speak would be much harder.

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

Here is how we plan to handle it in our group:

1) You start with Native Language (Literate), Thean, and Wits # of other Languages (Not automatically literate, see below)

2) Linguist works as is but without the "Even the dead ones" clause (Gives you basically 6 other languages)

3) 1 Rank in Scholarship makes you Literate (Read/write) in any languages you have

4) New languages the characters uncover or encounter can be learned at 1-pt Advantage each after encountering

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

So some interesting thoughts on how to approach this since last time I checked the thread.

I think the core problem comes down to the Linguist Advantage being incredibly broad as well as incredibly cheap at a single point.  Of course, given what I read over at reddit from Mike Curry, it was very much a design intent that languages not be as much of a thing in this version of 7th Sea (something I presumed at the outset, but nice to have it confirmed).  Though part of me wonders if at any point the notion of a Linguistics skill ever came up; that might be one way to handle it, using the concepts I discussed above regarding Scholarship but instead be applied to a seperate skill, though maybe called Fluency instead of Linguistics.  Granted, still has the core problem of the Linguist Advantage as written being the mechanically superior option after play has started, unless as discussed you make Linguist only available at character creation.

I'm generally loathe to reprice Linguist so that it costs more, though one possible option might be to change it in two ways.  First, that it's an Advantage you can take multiple times (like Reputation) and second that each time a Hero takes it, they gain additional languages equal to their Wits, and can choose "dead" languages if they so wish.  Granted, the setting material is kind of vague on just how many "dead" languages their are, apart from the Syrenth which I feel no PCs should really be fluent in.  Might just be easiest to take Harliquinn's suggestion and drop the "dead" part of what languages are known, and add in that the Hero can pick up basic fluency with new, unfamiliar languages with greater ease.

If that approach is taken, then I'd probably keep the default starting languages to how they are in the rules, although perhaps implementing a bit of Harliquinn's suggestion, in the form of a Hero getting their native langauge for free and then additional languages equal to Wits (so a Hero with Wits 3 would begin play speaking 4 languages in total) would probably still work as well.  Personally I would probably keep literacy as being the player's choice, with no special bonuses if a player opts for their character to be illiterate; unless the entire party is illiterate, it's not going to make much difference in most circumstances.

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Evan Sageser
Evan Sageser's picture

One thing that is interesting is that Linguist says that you learn all Thean languages.

Presumably though, there are more languages out there that aren't Thean.

One could argue that learning these languages would require additional purchases of the Linguist Advantage.

Thus we can have translation as an issue, without making it boring for everyone to learn each and every language individually.

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

That still covers a lot of languages, easily twice what most Heroes would start with, especially if the GM counts the dialects of Inismore and Highland Marches as their own languages; I roll the Glamour Isles under Avalon much as they did in 1e, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were GMs that had no experience with 1e that treated them as separate languages.

Personally, I'm very much leaning towards removing Old Thean as a "trade language" and using something akin to what Harliquinn suggested, namely a Hero starts with languages equal to Wits, one of which must be their native tongue, and if a PC has a rank in Scholarship then they're versed in Old Thean as well, and literacy generally being left to the player to decide.  For me, it's the simplest solution that still keeps Linguist valuable.

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Evan Sageser
Evan Sageser's picture

That's fine, I've never been the biggest fan of common languages anyway. It's enough to ensure that everyone has a common language between them as a group for me.

Tying Old Thean to scholarship also feels appropriate, because then it's less of a trade language, and more of a language of scholars and the priesthood, similar to how Latin was in Early Modern Europe. (There's a reason why scientific names are in Latin, it ensured that scientists from different countries could didn't have to translate everything, since everyone with a classical education knew Latin.)

I mainly object to making it require an advantage for each and every language. That's not really fun, it's just tedious. (It also can get expensive quickly. If each and every language requires a one-point story, than it would cost more than dueling academy for an average wits character to learn every common language in Theah (excluding secret, dead and obscure dialects.)

I think we can generally agree that being a master duelist should be worth more than being a linguistics expert in a swashbuckling game.

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

I roll the Glamour Isles under Avalon much as they did in 1e, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were GMs that had no experience with 1e that treated them as separate languages.

Just as an aside, in both 1e and 2e, Inismore and Highland Marches had their own languages. The Queen encouraged everyone to learn Cymric (The Avalon native language) but the others did exist.

J Ryder
J Ryder's picture

I've ran 1st edition before, and enjoyed the language differences.  I'm about to start a 2nd edition game, and I like some of the ideas that were posted here.  I really need to figure out how to deal with this, because, I have one player who wants to play a modern day American who finds herself in Thea.  I've done this with other systems, and I love a challenge.  

So far my plan is basing it on what modern languages she chooses, and she can slowly learn the equivalents.  If she chooses Latin, and has scholarship, she can slowly learn Old Thean.  

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

So mild spoiler for the Daughter of Fate story in regards to the main character and this topic...

Elena starts out really only being able to speak Vodacce, but as she adventures with the pirate crew that rescued her, she picks up fluency in a bunch of other languages, ranging from Castillian to Avalonian to Montaignus, in addition to being able to read and write in each of them.  No indication if she picks up Vesten or Ussuran during her travels though.

Admittedly, this could be covered with her just picking up the Linguist Advantage and being done with it, especially since when Elena's story picks up a few years later she's already learned the additional languages in addition to literacy, and any Thean languages she can't speak simply being chalked up to the narrative.

So what I'm thinking is instead of the more complicatd approaches noted above, just revising Linguist so that your Hero is fluent (and literate if you so choose) in a number of additional languages equal to your Wits.  This way, a Hero that just wants to speak a few extra languages can do so, while a Hero that wants to be a true omniglot or even picking up non-Thean languages is going to be an investment.  At one point, it's not that steep of a cost for a personal story to reflect learning those extra languages, and would revolve around "find someone that speaks the language I want to learn and is willing to teach me."

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Savinien De Cyrano
Savinien De Cyrano's picture

Languages are always a hardly point in fiction (RPG, films...)

Personally, I will use the following rule:

  • A character speak Wits + 1 languages.
  • A character read/write Scholar + 1 languages

A character always speaks with his native country accent and if he had no rank in scholar, he doesn’t know read/write.

If he takes the linguist talent, he double the know languages (read/write/speak) and he had no accent. He can also learn a language without teacher... but it’s only the character story, no effect on the games mechanisms. I can also add aan enhanced version of linguit who triple the numbres of languages for 2 points .

(I don’t speak about my own campaign, because I had eight new skills with one for managing languages)

A la fin de l'envoi, je touche.

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

To be honest, I've been sorely tempted to take the approach that FFG did with their Star Wars RPG, and not even bother with languages.  Instead, everyone is considered to be fluent enough with other actively-used languages (as well as Basic, the GFFA's version of D&D's Common tongue) that the PCs can all understand each other as well as most other NPCs without any problem.

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