Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts Part VII(a) – Language

In the Beginning Was the Word.

Crafting – the creation of tools and useful items – is one of the fundamental pillars of civilization. The other is culture. A complex array of facts, beliefs, behaviors, and mental processes passed on from one generation to the next – and it is Language that grants the ability to reliably pass on abstract ideas and tales of events from long ago, to communicate detailed messages, to teach the young more than the basic procedures that they can learn from example and encouraging noises.

Language is what makes an advanced culture possible. Language shapes our worldview, our notions of how reality works and what is logical. It is even more fundamental than tools. Tools allow sapient creatures to build civilizations. Language allows sapient creatures to engage in abstract thought and build cultures. Regardless of how the world came to be… the Word is how PEOPLE came to be.

And the fantastic settings and worlds of games are fundamentally built of words – often literally so in the case of fantasy settings defined by various cosmic entities. Words are the stuff of magic, names hold power, and the hidden language of creation is not just the mathematics of physics, but something that can be spoken, understood and – with that understanding – manipulated. For we are geeks, and d20 is OUR world.

Of course, on the downside, communications is another one of those assumed fundamentals in d20. While d20 does include a few nods to linguistics (such as a language list, with no indication whatsoever or if any are related to each other), a few low-level spells and psionic powers (mostly Comprehend Languages, Tongues, and Mindlink), and a few intelligent creatures that characters specifically cannot communicate with – but, as a rule, free communication with anything other creature currently capable of speech in the immediate area is pretty much assumed. So this list is going to have to look at some fairly abstract notions of what languages are and mean.

Pretty obviously, anyone seriously interested in linguistic powers should take one or more versions of the Mystic Artist ability too. After all, language is so fundamental that it already has quite a list of powers associated with it.

Sample Stunts for Linguistics, Speak Language, Decipher Script, Perform (Oratory), and Craft (Language or Literature).

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • Argot: You may communicate with others in a personalized dialect, making it quite difficult for non-native speakers and anyone who doesn’t know the pattern to understand you. Examples include “Pig Latin”, “Satrovacki”, and “Verian”. Occasionally used by adventuring groups who want to shout directions to each other that their friends will understand but which will take many of their opponents at least a few moments to decipher.
    • Babble: You may produce sounds that give the impression of a language without actually being one – possibly holding up questions or interrogation while an attempt is made to find someone who understands whatever “language” you are speaking. Sadly, the DC tends to rise very rapidly as you attempt to keep it up – unless, of course, you actually HAVE invested a skill point in some invented language for private communications.
    • Cluelessness: You may avoid properly understanding something with some vaguely plausible explanation as to how you misunderstood or misheard.
    • Sounds Like: Given a sample of speech or writing, you may attempt to identify a related language that it might be, even if you do not speak it. Thus, for example, you can determine that it “sounds sort of Chinese” – and that seeking out someone who spoke Chinese might be helpful (if only by telling you that it is actually Japanese, and you need someone else).
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • Digression: You may attempt to briefly hold the attention of an individual or small group with your inane chatter, overrunning initial attempts to shut you up and always at least appearing to be coming to some sort of point. While this will not override attention to combat or other urgent situations, it is an excellent distraction.
    • Insinuation: You may suggest an idea without actually saying it, causing the notion to go through the heads of an individual or group whom you are speaking with. Do you want the guards to have the thought that their boss may not be paying them enough to die for him? For the king to at least consider the idea that the Baron is a traitor? Now you don’t have to say so outright, you just let your targets own brains put the idea together.
    • Provocation: You may upset and annoy someone – trying to get them to say something stupid, focus their attacks on you for a bit, accept a personal duel, or admit to wrongdoing in an effort to shout you down. This is, effectively, a very limited version of Suggestion.
    • Shocker: You say something so offensive, clueless, or otherwise distracting as to cause a brief pause, and possibly a change of topics (anyone who wishes to get stick with the current topic may make an opposed check) in any social situation short of outright combat. Go ahead; delay the execution briefly to see if a last-minute pardon arrives.
  • DC 20:
    • Aphorism: You may summarize something complicated in a few pithy, easily remembered, phrases – making explaining things, even to those of limited understanding, quick and easy.
    • Decipher I: Given a reasonable sample, you may easily break and read a simple cipher for any language that you speak, such as a substitution cipher, binary code (such as morse code), scytale cypher, or transposition cypher.
    • Pidgin: Languages borrow bits and pieces from each other all the time. This stunt allows you to get basic messages across in languages that you do not speak for the rest of the day.
    • Reconstruction: You may examine a badly damaged, or partial, linguistic effort, such as damaged pages from a book, a partially recorded or translated message, fragments of ancient clay tablets, or some such, and accurately reconstruct the original information – restoring a document from as little as (101 – Check Result, 1 minimum)% of the original.
  • DC 25:
    • Create Language: You may construct a new language, complete with an extensive vocabulary, coherent grammar, pronunciation rules, and various other features, and teach it to others – a quick and easy way to arrange for reasonably private communications in many situations.
    • Deep Resonance: You may identify the effects if a spell with verbal components as it is being cast. This is DC 30 if the spell is modified by Metamagic.
    • Read Runes: You may Read Magic, Decipher Scrolls, and determine the purposes of magic circles and runic inscriptions.
    • Thoughts Like Serpents: You may rephrase and translate incoming questions and directives, as well as your own responses, in your head so that whatever answer or action you wish is “correct” – for example, a magical or psionic command to “Surrender!” might be interpreted as “Give up your attempts at control, give into your rage, and go berserk!” – or in whatever other way suits you. This can be employed as an immediate action and lasts for up to (Intelligence) minutes.
  • DC 30:
    • Beast Speech: You may speak with animals and use any social skills you may have against them without penalty.
    • Body Language: You may interpret body language, gaining a +(Check / 4) Insight Bonus on Detect Motive checks and a +2 (increasing to +3 at DC 50, +4 at DC 75, and +5 at DC 100) Insight Bonus on your Armor Class, Attacks, Damage, and Saves (against opponent actions only, not versus environmental hazards), for 3d6 minutes.
    • Legacy: You may make an informational structure self-sustaining – creating a version of a tale that will endure for thousands of years unchanged, of which successive translations will come ever closer to your original structure rather than diverging or writing a computer program that corrects any copying errors in its code as it runs.
    • Shankara Mantra: You may augment the power of your spellcasting with the power of your words, increasing the effective caster level of a spell by +1 (DC 30), +2 (DC 35), +3 (DC 40), +4 (DC 50), +5 (DC 60), +6 (DC 75), or +7 (DC 100). Sadly, this does not stack with the effects of a Primal Utterance.
  • DC 35:
    • Echoes: You may hear and speak, or see and reproduce (within the limits of your skills) what was once but is no more – if you are where it was made or in the presence of a relic of the creator. At the tomb of an ancient leader you could echo a speech they gave in their voice, at a fallen temple you could build a model of what it looked like and echo prayers long lost. You can visit an old studio and reproduce (within your skills) the portfolio of the artist who worked there. Sadly, echoes fade; the game master may increase the DC for especially complex events, for those that were a very long time ago, and for things that have been intentionally obscured.
    • Primal Utterance I: You may add any one desired +0 level Metamagic to any spell you cast that has a verbal component. This does not stack with Mana’s Spell Enhancement option.
    • Tongue Of Secrets: You may use the Unskilled Magic option with whatever Mana reserve you are using to power your Stunts even if it could not normally be used for other purposes. You may also reduce the Mana cost to a minimum of one point of mana by taking 1d6 damage per point by which the cost is reduced. For +2 Mana/d6 of damage you may create a simple, immediate, effect involving a single word of command (Stop! Burn! Heal!) as an Immediate Action, although the normal constraints of unskilled magic continue to apply.
    • Tongue Of Magic: You may unleash the magic contained in a scroll. It is wise to have deciphered it, so that you know what it is, first.
  • DC 40:
    • Cognitive Disruption: There are holes in every language, the places where there are words that cannot be said, concepts that no normal mind can hold, and thoughts that disrupt the neurology that supports the mind. A sufficiently skilled linguist can use a fill those voids with words that take their form without actually hosting those thoughts – a sonic Basilisk Image or Killing Joke. This affects only those who speak the language used as a native language. A disruptor may be whispered to a single target or shouted to affect a radius. Victims who fail a Will save may be Dazed for 1d4 rounds at DC 40, Stunned for 1d6 rounds at DC 50, Confused for 3d6 rounds at DC 60, be rendered Unconscious for 4d6 minutes or Feebleminded at DC 75, or slain outright at DC 100. Alternatively, the user may opt to inflict (Check Result) lethal or nonlethal damage, with a Will save for half. The DC increases by +10 level for written disruptors, and by +25 for symbolic ones.
    • Decipher II: Given a reasonable sample, you may easily break and read intermediate-level ciphers or encryptions for any language that you speak, including keyword cyphers or shifting caesar cyphers, fractionating ciphers, and book ciphers.
    • Nymic Arsenal: You may call a nonmagical/nonpsionic “item” (this may mean a set of items, such as “court dress”, “quiver of arrows”, “chainmail armor”, “alchemists kit”, “hand grenade”, etc) worth up to 400 GP (+100 GP per +10 DC) into being by naming it – although such items are distinctively “unreal” when examined. If touched, being used, or being worn, such items remain in existence for up to (Check Result) minutes, but otherwise will fade from existence after (Cha Mod) rounds. Sadly, such items cannot be used as spell components.
    • Primal Utterance II: You may add one level of any desired metamagic to any spell you cast that has a verbal component. This does not stack with Mana’s Spell Enhancement option.
  • DC 50:
    • Read Intent: Upon listening to a speech, examining a document, or otherwise being exposed to a communique, you may read between the lines – determining the purpose of, and the motivation behind, it, as well as obtaining a fairly detailed description of the author. Was the speech given by a high-level rogue working for a rival nation and intended to soothe the populace long enough for troops to move in? It will be quite obvious to you if you employ this stunt to analyze it.
    • Spell Shattering Tongue: You may attempt to disrupt the casting of any spell with a verbal component as if using Dispel Magic using your hit dice as the caster level as an immediate action. At DC 75 this acts as Greater Dispel Magic using your hit dice as the caster level and at DC 100 this counts as a specific counterspell.
    • Sunspeech: You may speak with plants. At DC 60 you may persuade them to Animate and help you out, as per Animate Plants.
    • Transcription: Your words carry enough power to impress themselves on the structure of matter and magic in the vicinity with a (Cha x 5) foot range. They may hang in the air, echoing for years to come, be recorded in a nearby book, be impressed into the magical structure of some item to be heard by whoever takes it up, or be inscribed upon some surface. The user may thus create records, cast and inscribe Symbols, Glyphs, Runes, and similar spell effects at range as a standard action (although they must be capable of such things before they can be so augmented), and inscribe magical circles and Runic Formulas (see The Practical Enchanter), simply by speaking and/or gesturing (sign language works too).
  • DC 60:
    • Aphasic Sphere: You may scramble or distort one of the languages you know within a radius of (Charisma x 10) feet. Anyone who attempts to say something in that language must defeat you in an opposed linguistics check or find themselves unable to say anything in that language for 3d6 rounds.
    • Linguistic Mirror: Language shapes Culture as Culture shapes Language – a dance as close and interdependent as the two halves of a coil of DNA. If you know the language… you can predict cultural tendencies and popular movements, tell a cultures ancient hero-tales without actually having heard them first, and meld into the culture seamlessly. Once active for a particular language, you may employ your linguistic skill as a knowledge skill of the culture, to predict what the likely reactions of a member of that culture will be to various situations, in checks to avoid social pitfalls, and to augment other relevant social skills (+5 circumstance bonus) for the next full day.
    • Primal Utterance III: You may add a total of two levels worth of any desired metamagic or metamagics to any spell you cast that has a verbal component. This does not stack with Mana’s Spell Enhancement option.
    • Tongue Of Creation: You may opt to speak in the Words of Creation. While this effect is active…
      • Any living creature will understand you. If the setting happens to include things like “sea spirits” or “the spirit of the north wind”, those can be communicated with as well.
      • Your promises are binding. and will result in some form of mystical backlash or curse if broken. Moreover, anyone who hears them will instinctively know this.
      • You may attract the attention of mystical entities, sending your words to otherworldly beings – and perhaps attracting their notice whether you will or no.
      • You may give an item a True Name, transforming it into a relic (and expending your own CP). .
      • You may give a newborn creature (or other newly created entity) a True Name, bestowing upon it a Destiny (equivalent to an Office, see Political Dominion).
      • You may swear a Great Oath (see Oathbinding), regardless of whether or not that world law is in use.
  • DC 75:
    • Babelsmith: You may leave everyone who attends a meeting or social function with a different impression of what was said, tailoring each such account as you please. At DC 100 you can do the same with orders in battle, affecting a radius of up to (Cha Mod x 10) feet.
    • Creation Myth: You may spin a tale that duplicates the effects of a Rod Of Security – transporting you and up to 199 listeners into a pocket creation. At the end of the duration, you may either let everyone return to normal reality or let the pocket paradise “hatch” – beginning a new world.
    • Narration: You may describe events about you, and cause your “spin” on them to override reality. While you speak you may modify die rolls by a circumstance bonus or penalty of up to +/-4, although opponents may opt to save to resist the modification of their die rolls. At DC 100 you may throw in three “Minor Detail” and two “Notable” reality edits during the course of your narration. Narration is a free action, but anything that keeps you from talking will stop it.
    • True Decryption: You may freely read any stored or recorded information, ranging from genetic codes to computer files to alien languages, provided only that you can perceive the record (if you can’t sense magnetic fields, looking at a floppy disk is not enough – but displaying the contents as a screen of ones and zero would be).
  • DC 100:
    • Animistic Voice: You may speak to things that are not alive and cannot normally communicate – stones, walls, doors, rivers, buildings, fires, and more – as long as it has a perceivable existence as an individual entity, and is small enough to notice you (mountain ranges and forests and such usually are not) even if the setting does not feature such things having spirits or any form of consciousness. While you speak, they effectively do – and so such things are normally reasonably friendly; after all, they only “exist” while you interact with them. While you are so interacting, objects are more than willing to talk (if mostly about themselves), and to tell tales (albeit from their own viewpoints) – but they are also capable of acting independently if you can persuade them to do so. Of course, it’s much easier to get things to act within their normal tendencies. It is very easy to talk air into moving about and creating wind, but very difficult to talk it into holding still and acting like stone (even if it may well recall being stone long, long, ago). Similarly, doors are made to let things through – but trunks and their locks tend to be much less cooperative about opening up without their key. Stone tends to just sit where it is, but is usually willing to fall down if it can as walls, arches, and similar structures tend to do over time – and it is fairly often willing to shake, shift, or fault if you just happen to be asking for a way to get into a collapsed area. It does that fairly often anyway. Talking it into turning into lava is a lot harder.
    • Primal Utterance IV: You may add a total of three levels worth of any desired metamagic or metamagics to any spell you cast that has a verbal component. This does not stack with Mana’s Spell Enhancement option.
    • Spelltwister: When someone casts a spell with a verbal component within (Wisdom x 5) feet you may take an immediate action to attempt an opposed level check to add your own words to the spell, redefining it’s controllable parameters – retargeting a ranged effect, instantly dismissing a dismissible effect, taking over concentration on a sustained spell, and so on.
    • World-Shaping Tale: Your words may overwrite the structure of the world. In an existing world you may add environmental features such as walls, rough terrain, lava pools, trees, hills, and similar items within a radius of (Wisdom x 10) feet. If you are expanding the pocket realm created by the Creation Myth stunt into a new world, you can lay out its description, general nature, and early history.

For some reason (possibly because language is tied into so many things that it is hard to keep linguistic abilities distinct) this one has been taking a very long time to write – long enough that I’m going to have to put the Epic Stunts in part (B). Still, there should be quite enough here to inspire some linguistic mayhem in any game that’s making use of skill stunts.