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Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Art of (Mis)Speaking

In my posts about forgery and disguise, I detailed a way to handle deceptions using these steps:

  1. Keep track of all “facts” involved in the deception.
  2. Roll 1d6 for time needed to complete the deception.
  3. Roll for reaction, shifting reaction down/up for special factors.
  4. On Good reaction or better, deception works. It fails on a Bad reaction or worse. Otherwise, roll 1d6 to see through it after 10 to 40 minutes (1-4) or immediately (5+).

But the same process could be added to miscommunication, where the goal is to avoid getting the facts wrong.

Step One: Define the Message
When a player wants to give instruction or commands, or ask for information, and either the speaker or the listener (or both) is not completely fluent in the language used, clearly define what points the player is trying to make.

A character is fluent in their native tongue unless described otherwise. Other languages are ranked this way:

Languages spoken from childhood (“racial” languages): semi-fluent at Int 3-5, fluent at Int 6+

Languages learned later: add Int and months of study in a language. Halve that total unless completely immersed in just one language while studying it.

  • Fluent at 18+
  • Semi-Fluent at 9+
  • Not Fluent otherwise.

Step Two: Convey the Message
Getting a message across either through speech or writing takes minutes for simple instructions. Roll 1d6: 5+ means the shortest possible time, otherwise add 1 to result and multiply by the base time. Pick the base time from this list, based on how long it takes to say in your native language:

  • 1 to 5 minutes
  • 10 to 50 minutes
  • 1 to 5 hours
  • 4 to 20 hours (4 x 1 to 5 hours)
  • 1 to 5 days

Increase the base time (move down list) for any of these bad conditions:

  • talking in a noisy environment
  • writing (but not reading) instructions
  • one or both sides semi-fluent in language
  • one side not fluent (below semi-fluent) = two shifts downwards
  • one side Int 5 or less

You can reduce the time (move up list) if one or both sides are Int 13+.

If the situation isn’t critical (can’t cause a problem if one side misinterprets instructions,) you can skip all other rolls and assume the extra time is due to repeated communication attempts.

Step Three: Interpret the Message
If the situation is critical (message must either be understood quickly or a misunderstanding can cause a problem,) make the reaction roll.

  • Good or Better: Message understood.
  • Normal: Message understood on 5+ (1d6), otherwise takes extra time.
  • Bad: Misunderstood. Roll 1d6: on 5+, tries to figure out a different way to communicate (get a translator, try writing things down, etc.) On 1 to 4, gets that many facts from Step One wrong.
  • Very Bad: Complete communication breakdown. If PC is cursed or has low Charisma, listener is offended. Otherwise, listener gives up on the conversation.

As usual, move the reaction category down for bad circumstances, for example “communicating with gestures and a handful of words, instead of a language that’s at least minimally understood.”

Any topic (fact) that the listener doesn’t understand also moves the reaction down. Asking the medieval knight where to buy nuclear weapons will, in most game worlds, lead to confusion or chaos.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0

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