Watch Your Language

What does the Draconic language sound like? In my mind it is an elegant romantic-esque language which is always intimidating, even when spoken softly. What is it in your mind? What about Elven? Dwarven? Halfling? Undercommon? Heck, even Common?

Language has been on my mind quite a bit lately. You see, I realize I’ve given myself a bit of a problem in Exploration Age…

Tower of Babble

For your reference.

For your reference.

As many of you know, Exploration Age is divided into several continents. Glacius and the Poles are barely inhabited, but Parian, Findalay, and Verda are teeming with civilized races who call Canus home. So far, so good. There’s just one language problem for the world of Exploration Age. While Parians and Findalayans have been aware of each other for years, these peoples only recently learned about the Verdans and their continent only a decade ago and vice versa. There’s no way they would share a common language like… well, Common. Or how might orcs speak Orc in Verda and in Findalay and Parian? Oof. It might be fun to have a language barrier in some games, but this would be a little out of hand. Two different types of Orc, Common, Goblin, Giant, Druidic, and more creates more than a few problems.

Exploration Age is all about covering ground and discovering new places. This could very well slow the process of adventuring to a halt. Every social encounter would become a tedious interaction of adventurers trying to exchange words in various languages with NPCs until someone hits on something that works for one PC and one NPC who then hold the conversation themselves or translate for their respective groups. Either that or be ready to cast comprehend languages constantly. This sort of encounter is fun once in a while, but not every time the party tries to have a conversation with a NPC.

I know. You’re saying, “But, James, that’s how it is in the real world and that’s how it was in the past.” I say to you, sir or madam, that I don’t play a game with wizards and a Tarrasque to relive the past. I play it to escape the real world, tell a story with friends, shoot some fireballs, and kick Tarrasque butt.

I digress. How could I justify in the story the existence of all these languages without my game turning into the Tower of Babble? There had to be another way. Perhaps I could have Common, simply be Common, but how would I do that…?

The Answer is Dragons

Dragons! If you’ve been following this blog for some time you know that chromatic dragons live in Parian and Findalay while metallic dragons make their home on Verda. The discovery of other continents and peoples existing on Canus was a shock to the humanoids of the world, but the dragons were unsurprised. The few humanoids lucky enough to have contact with one of these beasts at the time the news was spreading all have the same story – all dragons knew about the other lands, peoples, and the fact that there were both metallic and chromatic living dragons living in the world.

Now back to my original question. I have no idea what Draconic sounds like or even Common for that matter. I’m sure someone, somewhere is an authority on Dungeons and Dragons languages and how they might differ from Tolkien and other fantasy worlds, but in Exploration Age things are different. (What’s the point in being a power mad worldbuilding DM if you can’t make a sweeping declaration once in a while?) Also, while dragons might make the most sense, remember Exploration Age is all about mysteries and shades of gray, so I had to throw a few other rumors in there! Take a look at this excerpt from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

Language

Explorers from Findalay and Parian were shocked to discover Verdans speaking the same Common tongue as themselves, albeit with slightly different dialects and accents. After some brave scholars managed to speak and survive a few moments with dragons, who claim to have always known about the existence of all land masses and other dragons in Canus, the answer became clear. It was long theorized that the Common language, from which many other languages are derived, is itself derived from Draconic. Since dragons walked Canus and conquered the aberrants on all continents, they must have created a simplified form of their language for others to speak. From this Common tongue some races then created their own languages. That, at least, is the most popular theory.

Others believe that the ability of humanoids from across the globe to understand each other without ever having met before is actually the work of some chaotic demon prince or mischievous archfey. When the time is right, this being will cut off the magic that makes Verdans, Parians, and Findalayans understand one another and throw the world into a babbling chaos.

Other believe it is a sign of their gods’ power that all civilized humanoids can understand one another, while a smaller few whisper all in Verda have been infected by mystauk and so their enhanced intellect allows them to understand any language.

Believable?

So what do you think? Is this believable and interesting to you? For my money it injects and interesting story which allows for less tedium and more intrigue and mystery in the game, but maybe you think I’m wrong. Tell me! I’m not perfect. Maybe language differences and translation are one the factors that make a game centered around exploration fun. Let me know what you think, please! Sound off in the comments!

Survey

It’s been a while since I posted this survey and World Builder Blog has garnered a lot more readers in the past few months. I’m thinking about publishing this setting once Wizards of the Coast releases an OGL. What do you think?

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