Game mechanics for language skills
Language skills mostly act to limit your use of social skills. When using any skill where your command of the language you are using is a factor (most notably Persuade and Performance, but others may apply), if the language skill has a lower rating than the skill you are rolling, you use that instead.
Example: Alice has Persuade d10, English d12, and Sprawlspeak d8. When trying to Persuade someone using English, she rolls d10. But when using Sprawlspeak, she can only roll d8.
Occasionally, you may also need to roll the language skill itself, eg. to understand something or make yourself understood when acting under time pressure.
Language skill levels
In core SWADE, a language is treated as a full skill, costing one skill point per die type to raise. This gets very expensive in settings with lots of languages, so I am replacing it with the following houserules:
- There are only two levels of “knowing” a language; Partial and Fluent.
- It costs one skill point to take a language to Partial, and a second skill point to take it to Fluent. This is regardless of your Smarts die type.
- Within the game, Partial languages are regarded as having a die type equal to your Smarts die. So if you have Smarts d8, any language you know at partial level is also considered to be at d8.
- If you raise your Smarts die, you also automatically (and for free) raise the level of your partial language skills.
- Fluent-level language skills are treated as having a d12 rating, and they never act to limit your use of social skills.
Free language skills for characters
At chargen, everyone gets:
- A native language at Fluent level
- Sprawlspeak (see below) at Partial
The Linguist Edge
Per RAW, the Linguist Edge is “character gains a d6 in a number of languages equal to half her Smarts die.”
As in RAW, the Linguist edge will give you knowledge of a number of languages equal to half your Smarts die. Rather than working at a d6 level, however, in these rules this edge grants Partial level knowledge to the bonus language skills.
These languages can be upgraded to Fluent for one further skill point each.
Languages of the Seattle Sprawl
In my campaign, the Seattle sprawl is a melting pot of Pacific Rim and Native American cultures, and, accordingly, of languages. English, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, Cantonese, Salish, Sioux, Russian; all are commonly heard around the city.
Each megacorp and major criminal organisation typically conducts day-to-day activities in their native tongue:
- Ares, Horizon, NeoNET - English
- Saeder-Krupp - German
- Mitsuhama, Renraku, Shiawase, the Yakuza - Japanese
- Wuxing, the Triad gangs - Cantonese, some Mandarin
- Evo - Russian
- Aztechnology - Aztlaner Spanish
- The Mafia - mostly American English, reverting to Italian can be used as a rank signifier
- Seoulpas gangs - Korean
Two ancient languages have returned to the world with the Awakening:
- Sperethiel (elvish) - the official language of the Tir nations, the Ancients gang, and some Native American tribes.
- Or’zet (orkish) - used in the Ork Underground and ork/troll gangs.
- Rumours abound that the dragons speak their own, ancient, unknown languages.
With a sharp need for inter-group communications across language barriers, a pidgin language has emerged in Seattle and other similar international metroplexes. Called Sprawlspeak or Streetspeak, it is a mixture of half a dozen common languages in the area. Sprawlspeak is a common language amongst ordinary people in lower-class areas; anywhere people from different language groups have to mix and communicate, sprawlspeak flourishes.
In Seattle, the local dialect of sprawlspeak is about half English, with the other half comprised mostly of Japanese, Salish, Sioux, and Cantonese. Loan words from another dozen languages creep in here and there, though.
Over time, linguistic scholars are watching with interest to see if sprawlspeak continues to develop and become a creole.
Sprawlspeak is still an awkward, halting language, although it is becoming more sophisticated and fluid over time. It can only ever be learned to Partial level. There is no such thing as Fluency in sprawlspeak. Therefore, characters planning a social manipulator role would be well-advised to consider taking multiple language skills, so they can converse with their targets in their native tongue.