Sunday, June 13, 2010

On Languages and Herbalism

Extending Languages

As with the rules for Retainers, I feel that the rules for languages have an untapped potential and can be extended to make the game richer and more interesting as well as more specifically evocative of the intended atmosphere. I recall paying very little attention to languages when I played D&D, and as a result of that, completely discounting the Intelligence attribute as anything but a guideline for role-playing. I think languages can be a means of introducing a kind of skill system-lite without adding a whole other mechanic.

All characters speak the Low Tongue (i.e. Common) and their alignment tongue, additional languages are granted to characters with high intelligence. Knowing a particular language not only allows a PC to communicate with other speakers of that language and thus have the opportunity to hire them as retainers, it also allows them to access and use particular equipment not available to speakers of other languages. Use of magical or sacred items of equipment requires special cultural knowledge that is unavailable to those that do not speak the appropriate language.

In effect, this allows the imposition of a skill mechanic by welding it onto an already existing and underused mechanic. Languages can provide options beyond those of race and class. I am interested in using languages as a means of utilising resources – treasure – as well as adding an aesthetic component, allowing characters to engage with different aspects of the setting in different ways.

Assuming that languages are generally fairly much ignored except as a means of providing important information to specific players, Intelligence becomes a dump stat, in much the same way as Charisma is a dump stat if retainers and reaction rolls are underutilised.

The Low Tongue: A bastardised version of the imperial tongue mixed with the ancestral languages of the peoples of the northern parts of the Empire. It is the language spoken by the most of the people of the Northern Marches.

Retainers: Peasants, Pilgrims, Poachers etc.

Special Items: Legendary Weapons and Armour, Amulets, Magic rings, caps and cloaks, Potions

The Sacred Imperial Tongue: The language of the Empire of the South and the divine language of the Imperial Church.

Retainers: Imperial Guardsmen, Agents and Priests

Special Items: The Sacred Canon, Clerical scrolls, Ensorcelled weapons of the Empire, Holy Relics

The Old Tongue: The language of barbarian outlanders and of witches and wizards.

Retainers: Heathens, Hermits, Druids, Shamans

Special Items: Magical spellbooks, Talismans, Idols, Druidic Tools, Magical Scrolls

The Language of Wild Beasts:

Retainers: Birds and beasts, Spirits of the Wild

Special Items: Wild Talismans

The Language of Trees:

Retainers: Entities of the Wild Wood

Special Items: Staves, Wands, Herbs

The Language of the Dead:

Retainers: Grave Diggers, Body Snatchers, Death Cultists, The Unquiet Dead

Special Items: Cursed Weapons and Armour of the Dead, Unholy Relics

The Language of Faerie

Retainers: Elves, Dwarfs, Halflings, Faeries

Special Items: Faerie Weapons and Armour, Fey Talismans

Tinkers’ Cant

Retainers: Vagabonds, Troubadours, Bandits, Tinkers

Special Items: Poisons, Thieves’ tools, Charlatans’ Tricks

Other Languages Might Include: The Trade-Tongue, The Celestial Speech, The Infernal Speech, The Language of the Kingdom-Beyond-the-Sea, The Secret Language of Gnomes, Alchemists’ Cant etc.


I’ve loved the idea of herbalism in rpgs since I played Maelstrom when I was young. It fits especially well with the psychedelic Dung Age vibe I’m trying to achieve and also allows for the introduction of minor magical effects to the toolkit of the Average Joe. The real Middle Ages was full of cultural practices that were attributed with miraculous power (little has changed, really). I want for there to be a spectrum between mundane items and magical items that encompasses herbs, idols, shrines, holy relics and scriptures, alchemical formulae and various other oddments. I do not want to overcomplicate things with extra mechanics for PCs but to open up options available under existing mechanics by introducing campaign-specific items that require knowledge of specific languages to utilise.

Herbs may be found at random, or sought out at the cost of a number of Wandering Monster/Unpleasant Event checks. Uncommon herbs are found 10% of the time after two checks, Rare herbs are found 10% of the time after 4 checks. The DM may adjust frequency of discovery according to discretion.

Bladdervine: +1 Strength, -1 Dexterity for 1d6 turns. Uncommon

Bog Moss: Heals 1d4 hp but stains mouth, teeth and hands, -2 Cha for 1 day. Uncommon

Lanthorn Poppy: Smoker falls into a deep slumber for 2 hours, after which one first-level spell may be recalled. Rare

Sweet Grimblewort: +1 Charisma due to delightful fragrance. Uncommon

Glimmerweed: Infravision to 60’ for 1d4 turn, Character is at -1 to hit in bright light. Rare

Salamander Rush: +1d4 temporary hit points for 1d6 turn, -3 to Wisdom. Uncommon

Fireflower: +2 to dmg for 1 turn but causes 1 dmg. Rare

Yeoman’s Blessing: +1 to missile attacks. Uncommon

Harrow Grass: Detect Invisible for 1d4 turns, PC goes blind for 1d6 turns, 10% chance of being permanent. Rare

Scathe Nettle: Grants a +2 to saving throw vs. poison for 6 turns but causes 1 turn of violent purging during which character is incapacitated. Uncommon