Humanoid Language
Date: Thu, September 23, 2004
Topic: Campaign Articles

Need some more depth to your humaniod encounters? It all starts with language.

Humanoid Language
By: Muscles
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

As a player, I was often frustrated by the lack of roleplaying encounters with the main humanoids. If they didn't speak common we fought. If I killed the orc that spoke common the backstory was lost. Many DM's would have me use my all to few slots for goblin, hobgoblin, orc, gnoll, ogre, norker etc.. While this is commonly done and accepted practice, as a DM I want to encourage rollplay. This article is meant to streamline the process and attempts to give a big picture view of humanoid languges. It is also intended to ease roleplaying with what many use as fodder.

There are only 2 main humanoid languages in the flaeness, Orctalk and Goblin. Primarily because both of these languages have a written form. The priests/shaman are literate, and keep their language alive through warning signs, their religious doctrine, markings about their alters and standards, etc. Seeing a good tactical use for written language, the leaders and chiefs will likely be indoctrinated into the written mystery. Perhaps 5-20%of the males in the major tribes will be passingly literate. The regional dialects vary enough to show a speaker to be an outsider, but the gist of the meaning will still be able to be conveyed.

Orctalk- Used by orcs, orog, and ogres. This language uses volume and intesity to add conveyed meaning, . An intricate language able to absorb new ideas, but in a brutally orcish way. There are almost 100 words for killing, and dying. blood, eat, capture and scream.. There is also a somatic component used that varies regionaly with insulting hand gestures, threatening body posturing, and menacing faces all incorporated into the spoken word. Also Orctalk incorporates a command language, reserved for the leadership. Simple, clear, and easily understood, talk, go, follow, sit. This is a one-way language from superiors to inferiors. Ogres use this as a matter of course. This command language is often the cause of inter-tribal battles for obvious reasons.

The written form is much more static, nearly unchanged in millenia. The use of a phonetic alphebet with 16 letters for content and glyphs for emphasis often confuse the outside student. The letters are all formed with straight lines, except the circle, which is also a Grummush glyph.. Texts will most often be carved into the temple area wall (if the tribe has any history and been in the region for a generation) or rarely on scrolled up skins. All manner of methods and material are used it these texts, human or demi-human skin is the norm, and often the words are tooled out of the leather and ash or blood used to fill the letters. In military applications ( messages and orders) a skin will be marked with a burnt stick or sloppily cut into a skin, hair is the binding of choice. If important orders are to be sent, the script will be wrapped around the Binding spear, a token of the chiefs authority with the sigils of his under-chiefs obiessance marked thereon.

Goblin-Used by goblins. Big Goblin is used by hobgoblins, norkers, and bugbears. There is an ongoing debate whether or not Big Goblin is a true language, as there are many similarities. We will consider this a branch of Goblin for the sake of this article. This language is as complex as Orctalk, but speed in delivery of speech is used along with pitch to add meaning to what is said. Unlike Orctalk gesticulations are not part of the language, but are used locally as insults and threats. they also use some limited silent hand signals for the simplist military tactics. While they have no command component, many words are reserved for the priests, and blasphomy will get you tortured. Big Goblin is akin to Goblin in content with larger sounds incorporated into the language. It is difficult for a human to speak Big Goblin as yelling is often involved.

The written Goblin, like Orctalk is ancient and rarely changed. They also use a phonetic 18 letter alphabet, but their script is a more fluid cursive as opposed to Orctalk penmanship. Their script has a capital component in the phrase structure. Big Gobllin uses the capital form at the beginning of every word. They use glyphs, but apart from the syntax. As with orcs, the tribal shamans/priest keep the language. Their ceremonial hall will be festooned with their patron gods wicked wisdom., and the tribes greatest battles will be carved on the walls of the high chiefs great chamber. Litteracy is akin to orcs, with 100% of priests and most of the leadership versed in Goblin but 10-25% of the males will have a grasp of letters. Hobgoblins are much more literate with every leader and fully 20% or more of the males comprehending. Bugbears much less so and commonly only the priests will use written language. Although goblins write on skins sometimes, bark, clay and rock tablets are mostly used. Hobgoblins use ink on their skins and have been known to use parchment. Bugbears have no norm. All messeges can be signed, unlike orctalk. Important distant messages will be affixed to some recognizable token or with words the recipient wouldn't read from another.

Yapper- Purely a spoken language used by kobolds, gnolls, and flinds. This is a doglike, gutteral language with growls and barks used intermittantly. Eye contact is bred into the language. Possibly the hardest language for a human to pick-up on. No written form is known.

With an expanded veiw of humanoids languages, DM's will be able to integrate more roleplaying opportunities. With a written language, it becomes easier to understand how some tribes have tapped higher magic, and created wicked items. Being able to read these languages can add a great depth to a story, and open up more possibilities for trading, and various adventure hooks.

I hope you can use some of these ideas in your campain,
Long live Greyhawk,


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