Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four
IMAGINARY LANGUAGES EXCITE THE BRAIN
AND ADD DEPTH TO YOUR CAMPAIGN
I remember the first time I played using the "local tongue"
of my gaming group. What a great experience. Using foreign
and fictional words made me feel like a real native from the
game world I was playing in. It added a depth and style to
the campaign which I'll never forget.
The easiest way to tamper with language in your games is
through naming conventions. How are people and monsters
named in your games? The campaign I played in consistently
used French style names with a special pre-fix system that
indicated a person's rank. For example, all noble names
began with the letters "Al'".
This simple technique made a huge impact on our game.
Whenever PC & NPC introductions were made we immediately
knew our social situation--were we dealing with nobles or
commoners? It made a difference. Also, as soon as we met
someone whose name didn't sound French, we knew they were
outsiders...and we actually started treating them as such
Another way to harness language for effect is to come up
with your own fake language "system" and require all parleys
use that language or risk being understood by the locals.
Take, for example, Pig Latin. This sounds like a silly idea,
but because Pig Latin is a system to transform english words
consistently, everybody can figure it out and participate.
Even better, make up your own version of Pig Latin. Create a
simple rule that applies to all words. For example, add the
phrase "innag" between all syllables of words (one syllable
words simply start with "innag".) N-innag-ow, y-innag-ou
hinnagave yinnagour onnagown linnaguannaginnagage!
It works. It adds excitement to roleplaying and flavour to
games. Why? I'm not sure, but I think it allows people to
use their brains in a different way than they're used to. It
requires concentration and learning a new skill in order to
become proficient with saying and understanding Pig Latin.
Also, the languages become instant clues to the nature of
things in your universe--subtle clues which add depth to
Here are some tips before using a made-up language:
* Put the language rules in writing. If you can clearly
write them down then you firmly understand the system--
because if you don't understand it, who will?
* Pig Latin and other made-up languages will be novel and
very funny in the beginning. Go along with the first few
jokes and then treat the topic with seriousness and respect.
The players will soon take your queue and really get into
the spirit of things.
* Establish and then enforce social rules about using the
language during play. Let the players know who speaks the
language and what the social implications will be if they
slip and start speaking "plain english". Perhaps some NPCs
will grow suspicious because they don't understand the
"plain english" the characters are using. Or maybe the
characters will be labelled as strangers--or even branded as
* Give it some time. Don't quit until you've had at least
one conversation that went fairly fluidly. It may take time
but the work and wait is worth it. That first true
conversation is magic and unforgettable.
Here's a trick for creating neat, written languages that can
still be puzzled out by the players. Create three rules of
letter or phrase replacement to build your own language. For
1. Change all a's to uur's.
2. Chuurnge uurll Ch's to Kl's.
3. Kluurnge uurll n's to k's.
Uurkd kow you hurrve uur furrktuursy luurkguuurge!
Hint: if this idea appeals to you (i.e. for player handouts
and such) imagine what you can do with the Search & Replace
feature in your word processor to automate language
conversion and to invent new ones!
One last technique, start inventing new words for nouns and
verbs and then introducing them gradually during play. No
system or language rules are required. Just make up the
words and start substituting. Choose common words so that
players will get to use substitutions often: gold, sword,
king, mage, attack, etc.
Invent a penalty and reward system to encourage the use of
the new words. For example, give out an experience point or
story point every time a player correctly uses a new word.
And subtract a point every time they slip and use the old
word. I'd recommend not letting players actually lose EXPs
or points by slipping too many times--bottom the penalty out
to just cancelling any gains made by correctly using the new
Finally, keep the flow of new words down to a trickle.
Remember memorizing all those terms in biology? Not fun. Try
having the Word Of The Week and increase frequency if your
group is enjoying it.
Have more fun at every game!
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