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Languages House Rule

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Languages – Sir Tifyable’s House RuleEdit

As a 3rd edition GURPS player/GM I was never satisfied with the language system. Ability with the language was based on a character’s skill level, which meant that a highly intelligent person could put half a point into it and immediately pass for a native and adopt regional accents.

I liked the Compendium I changes to the rules, which made your proficiency with the language dependent on the skill level in relation to IQ, so that you needed to have a skill of IQ+1 or better to speak with no accent (technically you’d speak with the regional accent of your teacher or the area in which you lived to learn the accent). Modifiers were given to imitate other accents than the one you had learned with, from -1 to -4, depending on how different they are.

When 4th Edition came out it changed it to a series of levels of comprehension: broken, accented, or native, with a flat cost for each level. All languages cost the same. It would be no more difficult for me (an Englishman with very poor language skills) to learn Chinese (a tonal language with completely different grammar, syntax etc and a different and very complex alphabet) than it would be for a Frenchman to learn the very closely related Spanish.

So here’s my house-rule merging the two.

The cost of learning a language is:


IQ/E

IQ/A

IQ/H

IQ/VH

Broken

1 Point

2 Points

3 Points

4 Points

Accented

2 Points

4 Points

6 Points

8 Points

Native

3 Points

7 Points

9 Points

12 Points

You can learn to understand a language better than you can speak it by treating it as an optional specialty. Count it as one level easier to learn for the purpose of understanding only. You will be able to speak it as if it was one level harder, because you have spent little time practicing it. This is a particularly useful option if the language involves something you can’t handle – a sound in an alien language that the human voicebox can’t make, for example, or a tonal human language for a tone deaf character.

If the language uses the same alphabet as your native tongue, literacy comes free with the language skill as long as you are literate in your own language. Otherwise it needs to be learned as another language. Your level of literacy applies to all the languages which use that alphabet. The alphabet’s difficulty is not necessarily related to the difficulty of the language – most are IQ/E. Languages based on pictographs, ideographs or hieroglyphics tend to be harder simply because there are more of them and you need to learn to analyse them, rather than simply assigning them a sound which produces the words when spoken.

To illustrate this from my Uplift campaign material: A character knows he’s going to have dealings with Tandu on his next mission, so he decides to learn enough of their favoured tongue to be able to converse with them without a translator. GalEleven is IQ/Hard, but for 4 points he can learn to understand it at Accented – well enough to understand a conversation. Those 4 points only give him a Broken skill level (at IQ/VH). In order to cover his poor skill at speaking, he will probably speak in his best Galactic language and act as if he expects the Tandu to understand it. (They will lose face if he speaks well but they still need to revert to a translation device to understand him.) He also becomes literate in GalEleven at Accented level for another 2 points so that he can follow the signs around their streets and Metro stations.

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