Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[From A to Z in Kalamar] Merchant's Tongue

In almost every game world, there is a language that everyone knows. A "common" if you will. In contrast to our world where things like latin evolved from the learned world, the game worlds very often base it on commerce. KoK is no different. Today I will base my musings on languages.

So, why have a "common" at all? Isn't is very "unrealistic"? I guess it is, but also very handy. I have played games where not everyone could talk to each other, and it was fun a while. A short while. Having to roleplay not understanding is quite strain on the group after a while.

If we want to have a common language, what can we do with it? I have seen people suggest that you could imagine that a language evolved mainly for trade and commerce should have problems to convey subtler things. Maybe you could have a penalty to your die roll if you tried to talk diplomacy using the trade language?

Another interesting option is that the trade language can actually make people understand what the other person want, not what they say. If the language is used for trading, and maybe it a gift from a god of trade, it could be a magical effect transmitting just those kind of impressions even if you are not talking about trading. Try to wrap your head around that one.

Something which are very common in game worlds is the old empire. Usually it is long gone and the realms of today are the smaller states resulting from the squabbling and infighting which resulted from that collapsing civilization. You could build a lot of interesting game situations based on the fall of Rome. Seen from that point of view, maybe the different national and tribal languages are all strongly influenced by the language of the empire. In that way you have suddenly made that "unrealistic" common language make a lot of sense.

In the Kalamar setting there are multiple languages. There are even lists of common names in different languages, and examples of glyphs in the different alphabets. Since I am quite interested in typography, I like that bit. It's very cool to both have your cake, and eat it. You let everyone converse in Merchant's Tongue, but then the old treasure map you give out as a handout is written in old Brandobian letters!
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