The “Magical Languages” have inherent supernatural effects. Linguists claim that all languages have a certain amount of power, which is why they shape the worldviews of their speakers and why speaking makes magic easier to work, but these languages are blatant about it. Sadly, this generally means they’re either difficult to fully master or unsafe; when power is associated with an idea or symbol, it doesn’t matter whether that symbol is manifest in the world or simply stored in the mind – the power is still there, and having it running loose in your brain can be more than a little troublesome.
Ma’thak Koren: Ancient Dwarven, now the high liturgical language of the dwarves and a closely-guarded secret. Only a few elderly dwarves understand all it’s nuances, and few non-dwarves know more than a few words of it. The strength of Ma’thak Koren lies in it’s age and secrecy: it is filled with names and runic symbols linked to powers that predate the creation of the world – and were mostly wiped away in that creation. Those names and symbols are a link to the vestiges of those powers, and the fact that so few call upon them means that there is a reasonable amount of power available to those who do. Ma’thak Koren can be used as a component in Ritual Magic, it can be used as a governing skill by Tollers, and inscriptions in it will tend to gradually build up auras of appropriate forces (essentially an unskilled form of Ritual Magic that blesses or curses an area with the subtle presence of the forces in question). Those who learn Ma’thank Koren tend to be plagued with strange dreams, fragmentary whispers, and occasional odd visions, which can be an annoying distraction at times. Many ancient command words, magical formulas, and tomes of lore, were in the harsh, angular, runes, of Ma’Thak Koren, but such things are vanishingly rare these days.
Narthian: The partially-gestural and partially-psychic tongue of totem spirits, beast lords, and animals – albeit in limited versions. Narthian wells up from the deep, instinctual, levels of the mind; fully sapient beings can learn subdialects of Narthian (e.g – Canine, Equine, Feline, Ursine) but this necessarily involves incorporating the relevant instincts into their minds. Characters who learn subdialects of Narthian may occasionally need to make (fairly easy) will checks to avoid reacting instinctively rather than logically when a strong stimulus comes up – and each additional dialect they learn imposes a -1 penalty on their check. Most people don’t bother; animals aren’t very smart or communicative in any case and the subdialects are pretty limited. Full “fluency” in Narthian is normally a magical gift from the totems or beast lords. It generally has no written form.
Saenthor: The language of elementals, fey, and nature spirits. Saenthor conveys meaning through modulated patterns of magical energy; learning to speak it involved learning to both sense and generate such patterns. Anyone who can both speak and read Saenthor may buy specialities in the dialects of the Eight Thunders; a speciality in a given dialect provides it’s bonus in dealing with appropriate spirits and allows the user to generate prestidigitation-level effects within that field. Mastery of all eight specialities allows the user to both read and write patterns of magical energy impressed on matter – the equivalent of writing for Saenthor. Priests of the Lords of Thunder are most likely to be fluent in Saenthor, but many mages begin their studies with it.
Zaban-Gozar or “Soul-Speech”: This language is incompletely known at best; it is a tongue based on what little is known of the primordial runes which can be deciphered from the Maze of Souls. It may be the language of the old gods or the tongue of creation. Regardless of it’s true origin, Zaban-Gozar is the most powerful magical tongue known. Any living being will understand it. A promise made in it is binding beyond death – and even the minor overtones it lends to the user’s voice will make promises binding in lesser tongues. It lends great power to spells cast using it. It is the tongue of Naming, and it is insanely dangerous.
Learning Zoban-Gozar requires the expenditure of two skill points – one each for the Spoken and Written forms – and carries certain difficulties with it. Anyone who learns Zoban-Gozar will find that his or her promises – even in lesser tongues – are binding, and will result in some form of mystical backlash or curse if broken. He or she will be hunted by dangerous mystical entities for uncertain reasons. Actually speaking or writing it drains the user’s life force, and creatures without a life force of their own – such as constructs and undead – cannot use it.
On the other hand:
Any living creature will understand the user’s speech – although their reactions to being exposed to such power are sometimes unpredictable – at the cost of a mere 1d4 hit points per brief speech.
Naming an item, tracing the primordial runes upon it, and speaking to it in Zoban-Gozar can transform it into a relic – although the process is damaging (3d6 HP per CP invested), exhausting, and poorly-controlled (the details of the relic created are up to the game master).
Naming a previously-unnamed creature costs 3d6 HP to provide a true name (no effect unless the individual so named later develops powers or abilities tied to its true name), plus one CP if the speaker chooses to bestow an Destiny (equivalent to an Office, see Political Dominion) on the creature.
Casting a spell in Zoban-Gozar causes 1d6 damage to the caster per level of the spell, but grants the spell (Con Mod) levels worth of the Amplify metamagic. Unfortunately, the spell will also have unpredictable side effects and the details of the amplification effect are up to the game master.
For veteran Eclipse gamers, these abilities are in fact double-specialized versions of Mindspeech, Create Relic, the Amplify metamagic with the Glory modifier, and Dominion, with a net cost of 7.5 CP – coupled with a pair of Disadvantages (-6 CP) and a two SP cost (-2 CP). The benefit for the character is getting to bypass the limit on Disadvantages. The benefit for the game master is a shiny collection of plot devices that are badly enough limited that the possessor usually won’t want to use them much – and, since they’re a special package, the user can’t simply buy off those limitations. They’re an integral part of the whole deal.
Avanthil: The language of the Ikam. A rhythmic tongue, with a strong interlocking cadence. It’s a bit long-winded compared to most other languages because it incorporates a good deal of linguistic redundancy, allowing for easy reconstruction of fragmentary or only-partially heard sentences, but making it difficult to encrypt or compose formal statements in. Epics, poems, and songs composed in Avanthil are curiously hypnotic, very difficult to forget, and very difficult to change; only a highly skilled wordsmith can add or subtract anything from a formal Avanthil composition without having his or her meddling be blatantly obvious. Avanthil tends to be preferred for formal documents, epic poetry, treaties, and magical bargains; it contains very few ambiguities and it would be extremely difficult to misconstrue the terms of such an agreement. While Avanthil has it’s own script, it’s most often recorded in dwarven script these days.
Revan: The Veltine language. A rather guttural tongue, rich in words for describing the current environment, social relationships, and subtle shades of dominance. Revan is an exceptionally good choice for battle communications however, since it has it’s own tactical lexicon - essentially an entire “language of battle” which makes many tactical responses exceptionally obvious. Revan uses a cuneiform script, suitable for gouging into surfaces with the tip of a claw. A group communicating in Revan should be allowed to take a few moments out for tactical planning each round.
Temorak: The common language of the Dwarves. Relatively stable, thanks to literacy and formal education, Temorak still borrows occasional words from Untharik. It’s script is complex, with a system of basic shapes representing individual basic sounds with a variety of modifying strokes which can be added to them to represent variations. While this is wonderfully precise – and may be related to the dwarven propensity for engineering as well as being a wonderful way to record magical spells and unfamiliar words – it also means that “spelling” depends on how the writer feels that a word should be pronounced, making dwarven writings easy to read and pronounce, but sometimes difficult to comprehend. Projects which are laid out in Temorak suffer substantially fewer misunderstandings and errors when subordinates attempt to carry them out.
Untharik: The Shadow Elf tongue. Linguistically it shows signs of being a creole – incorporating elements of several older languages as adapted to the conditions of the Twilight Isles as well as a selection of loan-words from Temorak. It has a rich vocabulary, a complex and ill-organized grammar, and many exceptions to it’s various rules. The original written form – a complex pictographic system in which each symbol represents an entire thought or concept – effectively counts as another language, but can be “read” as whatever language the user speaks. Similarly, a purely gestural form exists – which ALSO counts as another language. Untharik is widely considered best for poetry, music, and similar works, since it offers exceptional flexibility and a pleasant, lilting, and liquid pronunciation. Attempts to compose subtle insults, beautiful poems, and similar things are much easier in Untharik, players should either be allowed extra time to come up with something or be given a small bonus versus attempts made in other tongues.
Draconic: Supposedly one of the primal tongues, either predating the world as it is, or imported from another plane. It’s little-used save by mages and the occasional pretentious noble house, especially since the (few) Dragons which have been encountered have generally insisted that nobody else can speak it without an awful accent and mangling the pronunciation. It’s original written form is highly ornamental, as the coloring of the complex glyphs is as important as their shape. A colorless, degenerate, form with supplemental notes in other languages can be found in a few places, but is even rarer than Draconic. Major spells and rituals are often recorded in Draconic, since it makes them somewhat easier to decipher and use.
Ishthin: Old Untharik, as it was spoken by the founders before the age of the High Queen. Ishthin is only found in a few ancient tomes today, and even those are usually translated via magic where they’re not written in the Untharik Universal Script. Fragments of Ishthin are preserved in a few old inscriptions, in prayers to various Old Gods, and in a variety of funeral-blessings and magical wardings – to which it adds a certain amount of extra power. No one really knows why.
Tradetongue or “Common”: A corrupt and simplified pidgin of Untharik and Temorak, commonly used for trade, simple greetings, and ordering food and drinks. It’s widely understood, but is also usually looked down upon by anyone who’s even slightly cultured. It’s not much of a tongue for literature, precision, or magic. Groups that rely on Tradetongue for communications will usually run into it’s limitations – a small vocabulary, representing many different concepts with a single word, and general crudity – in short order. Still, Tradetongue doesn’t even require a skill point to learn if you already speak two of more of the major racial tongues, you get Tradetongue for free.
Vorr: Spoken by the relict population of Hann Beastmasters (one of the very minor races), Vorr is a shamanistic language that assigns living qualities – motivation, gender, spritual aspects, and clan relationships – to any item under discussion, making objective discussions rather difficult. It’s “written” form consists of a hundred or so pictograms which can be used to mark trails, water sources, natural dangers, or territories, and to record simple messages. Oddly enough, those who speak Vorr, and observe the myriad small rituals and tokens of respect that it requires, can sometimes obtain small favors from the local nature spirits.
Next time around, I’ll get the extradimensional and rare languages.