HERO System (5th ed.)
Franklin's House Rules for Languages
All original work herein is copyright © by Franklin W. Cain. All rights reserved. (Last updated: 21 September 2006)
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General Info

I have never liked that Languages were the only Background Skills without associated skill rolls. They've always been "either-or" -- either the hero has the language (and at the necessary level of fluency), or else he doesn't...

So, I have written my own version of Language skills, to be used in any campaign I run using the 5th edition of the HERO System.

Native Language(s)

Each character has one (and only one) native language. This native language costs no points, and has a (base) skill roll of 14, which can be improved by +3 to the skill roll for each +1 point to the cost of the Language skill.

For a character to be bilingual, the player must still choose the one (free) native language, and then purchase the second "native language" for the usual price (see below), improving this second language to a skill roll of at least "14-".

Degrees of Similarity

I will be using a corrected version of the Language Familiarity Chart (page 43) for determining the costs for additional Language skills.

     Inter-relations of Germanic Languages and Romance Languages...
Errata:

There should be a thin box with square corners surrounding the Nordic Languages (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) as well as the Germanic Languages (German, Yiddish, Dutch, and Afrikaans, but not including English)...

Also, Hebrew should not be in the same box as German and Yiddish. Instead, there should be an asterisk on Yiddish (as per the Errata)...

Here is an image (to the right) showing these specific corrections. These corrections have already been included in my version of the Language Chart.

When determining the difficulty (i.e., the base skill roll and cost) of a new language, use the most advantageous degree of similarity among all languages already known to the hero at a native degree of fluency (i.e., all languages with a skill roll of "14-" or better).

"Closely Related" Languages

A language having "four points of similarity" (as per the Language Familiarity Chart) with the character's native language (or other language of similar fluency) is considered to be closely related to that language.

"Related" Languages

A language having "three points of similarity" with the character's native language is considered to be related to that language.

"Distantly Related" Languages

A language having "two points of similarity" with the character's native language is considered to be distantly related to that language.

"Barely Related" Languages

A language having "one point of similarity" with the character's native language is considered to be barely related to that language.

"Unrelated" Languages

A language having "no points of similarity" with the character's native language (yet nonetheless "native" to some members of the character's species) is considered to be unrelated to that language.

Note that this last type of Language Skill costs exactly the same as a regular Background Skill.

Alien Languages

A language that is "native" to another species entirely (e.g., in a sci-fi or fantasy campaign) may be learned by the character, but solely at the GM's discretion. Its degree of similarity should be limited by the alien species' physiological similarity to the character's species. For example, since elves, dwarves, and goblins are usually portrayed as being physically humanoid, there should be ample justification for human characters to be able to learn (and speak) these languages...

Literacy

Literacy costs one point per alphabet (or writing system). Note that many languages use the same alphabet/writing system, while some languages have more than one alphabet/writing system.

Finally, this level of detail is usually needed only for a historical or fantasy campaign. For most other campaigns, literacy is automatically assumed (and illiteracy is a possible Disadvantage).

Linguist (Skill Enhancer)

The Linguist skill enhancer gives a one-point discount for each language, including the hero's native language. This discount does not reduce the language's base cost below one point, unless that language's base cost is already at zero points (i.e., native language and closely related languages).

In those cases where the language's base cost is already one point (or zero points), the language's base skill roll is improved by +3 (as if one point had been spent to improve the language).

Summary Chart

This chart summarizes the costs for Language skills.

           Degree(s) of
Similarity
         Base Skill Roll
and Cost
         Improvement          Base Roll & Cost
for Linguist
Native   (n/a)   "14-" for no pts.   +3 per +1 pt.   "17-" for no pts.
Close   (4)   "11-" for no pts.   +3 per +1 pt.   "14-" for no pts.
Related   (3)   "11-" for 1 pt.
("8-" for no pts.)
  +3 per +1 pt.   "14-" for 1 pt.
("11-" for no pts.)
Distant   (2)   "11-" for 2 pts.
("8-" for 1 pt.)
  +3 per +1 pt.   "11-" for 1 pt.
(see below) *
Barely   (1)   "11-" for 2 pts.
("8-" for 1 pt.)
  +2 per +1 pt.   "11-" for 1 pt.
Unrelated   (0)   "11-" for 2 pts.
("8-" for 1 pt.)
  +1 per +1 pt.   "11-" for 1 pt.
Alien   (n/a)                               (GM's discretion)                            

*    At the GM's discretion, the Linguist might be given a skill roll of "8-" with a Language of this type, as a "default" (i.e., for no points)...

Language Group (New "Talent")

Using the write-up explaining Universal Translator as an example, I've come up with a feasible means of incorporating language groups, as a way of documenting a hero's exhaustive fluency with a group of related languages, while not requiring a ridiculous expenditure of points.

A language group will cost 15 points for a base skill roll equal to the hero's INT roll, for all languages within that language group. This skill roll can be improved by +1 for each +2 points spent.

This skill is constructed as follows:

As a further restriction, I will require that the hero first have the Linguist skill enhancer, before purchasing any Language Group.


http://fcain.tripod.com/h5skills/language.html
All original work herein is copyright © by Franklin W. Cain. All rights reserved. (Last updated: 21 September 2006)