No Dark Place
Stolen from the official Mephit James workspace blog.
“Polylect” is the substituted word used here for what linguists call a creole. Languages described here as polylects may be true creoles, in that they originated from the meeting of disparate cultures, or they may be otherwise the product of languages mixing together. In any case, the use of the somewhat pseudoscientific term “polylect” instead is simply to eschew any associations with Earth colonialism.
A creole language, or simply a creole, is a stable language that has originated from a pidgin language that has been nativized (that is, naturally learned by children). The vocabulary of a creole language consists of cognates from the parent languages, though there are often clear phonetic and semantic shifts. On the other hand, the grammar often has original features but may differ substantially from those of the parent languages.
Originally a term from French used to describe colonial dialects which were considered “improper” speech, the term today is applied to any language which fits the definition above, no matter what the parent languages are. Real world creoles include Haitian creole and other combinations of French and African languages; the original form of Swahili, which began as a trade language for Arabic merchants in East Africa; Spanish-based Chavacano widely spoken in the Phillipines; and English-based creoles spoken in Hawai’i, Belize, Jamaica, and Australia.
How does this work in the game?
The first thing to remember is that there are no rolls. Languages are meant to be simple in 4e and this page assumes that this is always the goal. Below are several things to keep in mind to create the feeling of “otherness” the DM hopes to achieve, all of which should be fairly intuitive.
Requires knowledge of two languages.
If a character knows both parent languages that contributed to a polylect, he can understand and communicate in that creole without incident. A goblin character, for example, who speaks both Common and Enochian well can understand any of the goblin ghettos he may enter in Korth or Sharn. Most members of the party, however, who speak only Common can manage just the basic gist of the conversation. The goblin NPCs may switch to pure Common (or pure Goblin) if they recognize that they are not completely understood, though a DM who wants to emphasize the foreign feeling of the goblinoid neighborhood might decide that these goblins don’t know standard Common and are doing all they can already.
Partial understanding is one-way.
Though they can understand generally what is being said to them, someone who knows only “half” of a creole (that is, only one of the constituent languages) cannot communicate fully back. They will sound just as strange to the creole-speaker as they perceive his speech to be. In game terms this means that any language-dependent effects are unusable as long as the speakers are not speaking the same form. This includes Bluff checks to tell lies, most Diplomacy checks, and Intimidate checks that rely on verbal threats. A DM should arbitrate these on a case-by-case basis and the effect is identical to two creatures without a common language. Note that, just as with situations where a common language doesn’t exist, non-verbal uses of Bluff and Intimidate that rely on body-language are unaffected.
Creoles are generally only verbal.
In the real world, creoles are usually reserved only for speaking and any written material or formal speech will rely on the more “standard forms.” In a half-elf community, for example, someone might face language issues walking down the street but find that all of the signs are written in standard Common. However, signage might be written in the standard form of either parent language depending on the community. In border areas it is not uncommon to see a steady progression from one language to the other, allowing someone to measure their proximity to another nation by linguistic clues.
This language is a linguistic creole derived from related languages. A character who is fluent in the related languages can speak and understand this language. See the description. A character who is fluent in one of the related languages can understand the gist of what is said, but not the details.