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Languages (3.5e Variant Rule)
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The Problem of Language
The real world has a plethora of languages, and it is rather unrealistic that any fantasy world be simplistically distilled to racial languages. The problems of language incomprehensibility should not be merely viewed as a barrier to gaming, but rather as a rich opportunity for roleplaying. With only minor changes, language rules can be changed to account for both a pluralism of languages as well as opportunities for collective and universal dialog.
Common: The Trade Tongue
In any world a common trade tongue will evolve, at the very least to aid in commerce and economic expansion. While this process is dynamic and organic and, thus, will vary from setting to setting, it is reasonable to assume that "Common" is this trade tongue, though--since it likely evolved from an earlier language--it is appropriate to name the trade tongue and give it a history salient to the setting in question.
The important change is that, as a pidgin and amalgamated trade tongue, Common is capable of being used only in simplistic terms. In other words, complex ideas (such as philosophy, religion, and politics) can be difficult to discuss in Common. Thus, while it is a ubiquitous language (generally over 80% of the urban populace should speak it, and around 40% of the rural populace), it cannot be treated as a catch-all language.
With this variant in place, the possibilities of expression in other languages open. Craftsmen and mechanics might often learn forms of Gnomish languages, since they have a wide vocabulary of technical terms and extensive practice with language involving machinery and invention. Likewise, many scholars and magicians may opt to learn Elvish languages, since these are unsurpassed in their ability to expresses the concepts of philosophy, art, and magic.
Each nation (or region, for large empires) should have its own language; many of these languages will be similar, and some crossover of understanding is possible at the DM's discretion. For example, in the sprawling empire of Rushile, the neighboring peoples of Verhollow and Cape Mourning can communicate simply ideas with the aid of gestures and simple words, though anything more complex than asking for directions or purchasing goods quickly breaks down; thus, the Common trade tongue is often more useful even than the dialectal similarities between regions.
Barbaric Dialects: The Wild Tongues
Each race should have it's own form of a barbarian language (unless that race has no barbarian members). For example, elves might have a barbarian variant widely spoken by wild elves. Likewise, human barbarians should have a wild tongue, Gnomes wild Gnome and so on. Orcs and other intrinsic races do not have barbaric dialects, since their languages are inherently barbaric. It is possible, though, that such races may evolve sophisticated dialects should they ever become civilized (the northern colony of half-orc philosopher-monks, for example, might have a much more sophisticated dialect of orcish suitable for discussing more complex topics than hunger, rage, and a desire to bash things).
Many parties, then, benefit from a translator (or two). Wizards, bards, and rogues all benefit from taking many languages. If using this variant rule, it is suggested that Speak Language is added to the class skill lists of rogues and wizards.