This entry is part 7 in the series On Alien Languages

Having given Campaign Mastery’s readers (and myself) a break from the series, today’s article contains another Kingdom write-up from my Shards Of Divinity Campaign, once again in more detail than even the players have seen it before…

Metagame Origins

A ‘Hinterland’ is technically a region behind a coast or rivers, i.e. separated from the main political region by water. I didn’t know that when I created the Longex Dextora, using the term in its more metaphoric interpretation of “Outlying Region”. As geographic relationships changed during campaign development, the concept of Longex Dextora changed with them, extruding a long finger into the central regions of the shared kingdoms, though the bulk of the Realm continued to form the south-eastern and southern sides of the Shared Kingdoms. Ironically, the upshot is that The Hinterlands are no longer hinterlands in any way, or at least, not exclusively.

Conceptually, the Hinterlands were created as a place for dominance-and-independence games between Orcs, Giants, Gnolls, and Goblins, and Byzantine politics between Humans. When the geography was redrawn for the umpteenth time, a large chunk of the former aspect of the conceptual origins was lost, and for a while I thought I had painted myself into a corner as a result of a somewhat piecemeal development process. It was only when the blindingly obvious – that these non-human races didn’t need to respect later, Human-imposed borders and boundaries – occurred to me that it all started to make sense once again.

Other elements of my original concepts remained. The heart of the Kingdom remains a series of hills of various sizes in a slightly marshy river delta. Each of these almost-islands has its own political independence and a blend of unique traditions and customs held in common with most of the others – so much so that I didn’t bother trying to enumerate specific variations. Each would have a slightly different population blend, slightly different land use requirements, and so on.

A trouble hot-spot

Above all, I wanted this to be a region where trouble was always brewing, and threatening to spill out into the rest of the Shared Kingdoms, which (up to this point) were generally looking far too stable.

I achieved this by postulating that some island areas had a regional strategic importance far in excess of their capacity to maintain the level of population required to support them as independent entities. These would serve as keystones to a temporary regional dominance; capture one or more and you became the dominant force in that part of the realm, but the need to maintain adequate defenses would soon drain the vitality of the conquering army to the point where a rival could (and would) relieve them of possession of that strategic keystone. The new conquerors would then hold it for a while, even as it sapped their strength, until yet another rival would grow strong enough to take possession.

Alliances of instability

This sort of anarchy only really exists in isolation, of course – as soon as one Kingdom allies itself with a stronger neighbor, the equality of balance required to keep everything on a knife-edge is disrupted. Perpetuating the cycle of anarchy in the face of this dampening presence made it necessary for one political alliance to be balanced with a second, and a third, and a fourth.

Lurking in the back of my mind was a vision of World War I, where a series of political entanglements forced one European Power after another into the conflict like a series of falling dominos. I was also rather inspired by the images of the brawl in the Taiwan Parliament in 2007 (Youtube video) who nevertheless had to come together every year or two to send a “unified representative” to the Council of Kings. It seemed to me that after getting swept up in the anarchy a time or two, the “allies” of the different factions would get together and actively conspire to lock the loonies up in their asylum, controlling the situation to prevent a WWI-style scenario. The “allies,” in other words, would act as firemen trying to keep this sputtering fuse from triggering an explosion.

Finally, I needed a reason for all this to matter. Setting the Capital of the shared Kingdoms at the northern end of the temperate zone, and having the Longex Dextora principally stretching from that point to the south and south-east placed it squarely in temperate and subtropical climatic zones (I had some other ideas for the tropics, so that was as fair as it went). That means that ultimately, even a smallish area could sustain a fairly large population. The region was now the equivalent of France and the Iberian Peninsula – while being mostly land-locked, and the grafting of the legendary passion of the Spanish completed the concept.

In-Game Origins

The Longex Dextora was, prior to the arrival of refugees from the Fall Of Paradise, part of a considerably larger region with a rich – if barbaric – history. In the temperate regions, Orcs had been subjugated by Giants from the northern mountain regions, while the Goblins living in the subtropics had been enslaved by Gnolls from the tropics. The dividing line between the two territories was the marshy river ‘delta’ that would ultimately become the Longex Dextora.

A series of border skirmishes resulted between the two forces with the border shifting from one side of the disputed region to the other depending on the season and the winds of fortune. Neither band of conquerors were entirely at home in the climates of the peoples they had subjugated; the Giants could only come south during the winter months, while the Gnolls could only come North during the summers. To rule their territories on their behalf during the “inclement seasons”, they appointed and educated selected proxies from amongst the conquered subjects. A striking pattern of semi-instability evolved as a result.

The Seasonal Conquests

At the start of an arbitrary year, one group – let us say it is the Gnolls – are dominant, and mount probing military expeditions into the North, capturing many of the Keystone “Islands” and becoming dominant in the region of the future Longex Dextora. As summer wanes, the Gnolls retreat from these territorial gains, leaving them under the control of their “trusted” Goblin proxies. The Goblins spend the autumn months building up their defenses using whatever materials come to hand, while in the north, the Orcs are similarly being driven to prepare for War by their Giant masters. As winter falls over the temperate regions, the Giants emerge to lead their Orcish fighting forces in a winter campaign against the Goblins. By the time the winter is ending, they have overrun the majority of the keystone “islands” and dispossessed the Goblins, who flee back to the south. Now is the time for the Giants to press their advantage, but the climate is opposed and the season is turning against them, and they are forced to retreat back into the mountains, leaving Orcish Proxies to loot the former Goblin settlements. Throughout the spring, they would strive to prepare fortifications, ready for the late-spring/early-summer return of the Goblins and their Gnollish masters.

A strange social symbiosis evolved. The Goblins would plant winter crops before departing for harvesting by the Orcs and the Orcs would plant summer crops for their Goblin enemies – actually, both sides were planting against the off-chance that this particular piece of territory would be held, this particular year. Sometimes, one side would decide they had no chance of retaining the territory and fail to plant these crops; when they were inevitably displaced, they would learn that their opposition had “punished” them by failing to plant their equivalent crops. The result was famine for both sides equally, and no real change in the balance of power.

Inevitably, and regularly, the “overseers” left behind would contemplate a revolt against their masters, perhaps even an alliance with their rivals on the other side, but these were always quickly settled by the simple tactic of not sending reinforcements, leaving the rebels to face an assured defeat at the hands of that “other side”.

Quasi-stability lost

It is not known how long this situation persisted. It may have been centuries, it may have been millennia. But eventually, a wild card brought this oscillating stability crashing down. Dwarves emerged from their mining tunnels – a force that neither Giants nor Orcs had known the existence of – and cut the supply and communications lines of the Giant commands. Sensing that the moment to overthrow their giant masters had come, the Orcs rose in general rebellion, trapping the Giants and their sycophants between hammer (Orcs) and Anvil (Dwarves).

Over the next several Winters, the Giants strove to reestablish their conquest of the Orcs, but were ultimately driven completely out of their former territories by Orcish Death-squads who were completely satisfied to trade their lives for another kilometer of territorial gain. Twenty Orc lives were traded for every Giant slain – which was a net victory for the Orcs. Meanwhile, the Goblins and their Gnollish masters were left in virtually undisputed control of the formerly disputed lands. The Orcish territories effectively contracted northwards.

The Giants then attempted to travel south through the Thunder Mountains which stretched almost all the way to the formerly disputed territory, thinking that they might be able to dislodge the Gnolls and conquer the Goblins as a replacement army, bypassing the Orcs and ultimately trapping the rebel Orcs in a pincer movement, for the Dwarves had proven no more receptive to Orcish types than they had the Giants.

Forced into the Gnoll territories, the Giants did their best to carve out a new realm, but were no match for the cunning and cruelty of the Gnolls, and were eventually forced back north into the frozen wastes. But they did enough damage to the Gnoll gangs that the Goblins were able to mount an insurrection against their masters, having built up their numbers during the years that they had been free of the annual Orcish invasion. The Gnoll flanks were overexposed by their pursuit of the Giants and the Goblins, despite horrendous losses, succeeded in dispossessing all Gnoll claims north of the tropic line.

A war of attrition

But this had given the Orcs time to regroup and rebuild their numbers, even as it diminished the Goblin ability to resist; an Orcish army came south, intent on subjugating the Goblins for themselves while they were weakened by their struggle with the Gnolls, just as they themselves had been dominated by the Giants, but the Goblins were not eager to trade one set of masters for another, and the old patterns were reestablished – without their former masters in command.

Slowly the Orcs – who could function in the subtropical regions – began to eat into the lands claimed by the Goblins, but each gain was difficult and Goblins proved adept at guerilla attacks behind the Orcish front lines. Keeping a region pacified frequently tied up as many troops as it had taken to conquer it, and both sides were bleeding each other to a standstill.

That was when the first human settlers arrived, moving into the No-mans-land between the two factions, renaming it the Longex Dextora, and forcing both factions to retreat. Captured humans quickly became the political ‘currency’ of the two adjacent hereditary enemies, the one thing they agreed on, and an already-messy two-way conflict became a three-way political minefield of shifting loyalties and temporary alliances, complicated by the occasional attempted Resurgence of Gnolls or Giants. As the human presence slowly expanded and ate away at the Orcish territories to the north and the Goblin territories to the south, the former occupants of the myriad of island forts found their regions of influence contracting.

The last gasp of the Orcish Empire

Blocked to the south once and for all, the Orcs began exploring west, and a cluster of small valleys containing Gnomish Settlements was discovered. Deprived of their chance of empire through conquest of the Goblins, the Orcs sought to turn their will apon the seemingly-vulnerable Gnomes. The result was an almost-stable condition of anarchy, with no group strong enough to dominate. But the Gnomes proved to be naturally-gifted at the Byzantine politics that emerged and were able to trade alliances with Goblins, rival Orc tribes, Human tribes, Gnolls, Giants, Fey, and Dwarves as necessary to always maintain enough strength to resist and those who would conquer them.

Eventually a wave of human settlers from the west reached the Gnomish valleys and before long the Gnomes were completely surrounded by men, the Orcs driven back to the east into the Thunderhell. The Gnomish Monarchy then rose to power in response to the human settlements around them, and the Parumveneaora joined the Shared Kingdoms, giving the Gnomes enough military backing that they no longer need fear Orcish conquest.

At much the same time, the Elves began to push south and west from their forest, pushing the Goblins still further south and even driving the Gnolls out from their subtropical domains in response to their own internal problems. The elves were not interested in conquest per se, but nevertheless cleared the way for new human settlements as a byproduct of the conflict between the newly-emergent Drow and the traditional Elven monarchy. When the Dwarves and Elves joined the Shared Kingdoms, the Longex Dextora was largely secured – only for the locals to fall victim to the tyranny of geography, which encouraged independent city-states and internal instability.

The Geography

The Longex Dextora is a somewhat lumpy and slightly wedge-shaped ribbon that runs from the western desert line to the coast of the continental landmass (which has never been given a name – there is not enough of it explored for it to be viewed as a continent yet). It spans five different geographic regions in the process, each with its own character.

The western region runs south from the capital along the desert line. The most habitable regions are to the temperate north, the east which encompasses both temperate and subtropical zones, and the south which is solidly subtropical. Much of it is relatively sparsely populated save for clusters of dwellings located around ancient wells that have yielded potable water for centuries, thanks to an underlying artesian water basin. This area is as flat as a pancake except at its northern extremity.

The central region runs from west of the Elven Forests to east of that area and to the south. Prime farmland, this is the food basket of the Realm, varying from temperate to subtropical. The climate and geography are similar to that of inland Texas, and more meat animals are raised here than anywhere else in the Shared Kingdoms. The region is also very reminiscent of the wild west in other respects!

East of the central region is the area surrounding the central river delta to the north, south, and west. Subject to periodic flooding, this region is the most fertile of the Realm, and the subject of intensive farming of cotton and grain. To the north are Orcs and Giants and the Thunderhell; to the south are Goblins.

The delta forms a wedge to the coast that is fully embedded within the Eastern region. A number of hills of varying sizes and heights surrounded by water, some connected by fords and others by bridges, while others are accessible only by boat. This is the dominant region, politically – not that the Longex Dextora has a capital city to speak of. South of this wedge is another, a swampland which is essentially a continuation of the delta without the higher lands. Think Louisiana bayou. While settled around the fringes, this area is still the native territory of Gnolls.

Finally, to the north and east of the coast, a number of small settlements nestle against the range of mountains that run north-south and on various islands. Each of these is essentially independent but lacking the resources of the delta “islands”, making them relatively minor members of the broader society.

Borders

For most of its length, the Lihume Magnusortali (Great Eastern River) forms the northern border of the Longex Dextora.

The only exceptions are where the Iriduserde Foliumprasi (Vivid Green-Leaf Forest), (Home of the Elves) runs along the river (taking a bite out of the Longex Dextora); and East of that point where the territorial claims of the realm expand to form a border fringe to the north (nominally with the Ineodolus Imperascora, but this is the Thunderhell where borders are ill-defined at best).

The eastern border is the Undus Verdestus (Green Ocean), while to the south lie the Jungle lands of the Tawnton Dieltriporprasi a collection of independent primitive Tribes. Although the Shared Kingdoms consider them collectively and don’t distinguish one tribe from the next, they are actually separate political entities with minimal connections to one another. In a state of near-perpetual war with each other are rogue Kingdom colonies, barbarian Orcs, and all manner of other strange creatures. It is often said that no good comes from the Tawnton, only varying degrees of trouble and strife. Serving as a semi-civilized fringe society between the Jungle and the Longex Dextora are a number of independent Goblin settlements, at their most numerous due south of the Elven Forest. These are technically part of the Longex Dextora but are not officially recognized as such. The geographic proximity leads some to speculate that Elves and Goblins are both varieties of Fey who achieved an independent existence during Fey prehistory; none of the races named will comment on this speculation.

Like several of the Shared Kingdoms, the Longex Dextora has one border that is (at best) a little fuzzy. To the west lies the Diabolectus Pectusora (The Devil’s Heart), a vast desert of blistering heat and ancient ruins and monuments, the origins of which are long-forgotten and which are the favorite targets of adventurers. While theoretically the Longex Dextora employs the desert line as its border, the reality is that the boundary is not so clear-cut and the realm gradually peters out as habitation becomes unsustainable.

Neighbors

The most significant neighbors of the Longex Dextora (politically) are therefore the Elves of the Iriduserde Foliumprasi, and the Traders and Guilds of the Ineodolus Imperascora. However, one would be foolish to ignore the Gnolls, Goblins, wild tribes, and desert-dwellers even though they have no political affiliation with the realm.

The Society

There’s little point in getting too specific about the society within the Longex Dextora – it changes all too frequently. Instability is the watchword in these parts, and impermanence a way of life. City-states change their names and affiliations frequently and unpredictably. Politically, it could be summed up as chaos within anarchy wrapped in confusions.

Nevertheless, there are some common features to the collective societies of the Longex Dextora, and while there are exceptions to every one of those common features, the starting point can be summed up fairly simply: A feudal structure overlayed on the top of something else, with byzantine politics as the cherry on top.

For example, the towns in the central regions can be considered large cattle ranches complete with cowboys, goblin “Indians”, and crossbows instead of pistols. The ranch houses are fortified small towns, often with a castle for the “ranch owner”. Sheriffs and outlaws and cattle rustlers – but the sheriff is appointed by the Nobleman (titles vary and are largely self-appointed).

Similarly, the settlements in the eastern Delta can be viewed as isolated Kingdoms or city-states, each with its share of serfs, villeins, craftsmen, farmers, tax collectors, its own city watch, and so on – but there is a neighboring kingdom, usually hostile, half a mile in this direction, and another in that direction, and one even close over there, and one a mile away in still another direction – none of which are fully able to support their populations without food and trade goods from outside their boundaries.

The western portion of the realm is a blend of Medieval Spain (without the seagoing aspects) and the middle east – again, overlaid with a ‘traditional’ feudal society.

The Noble Clans

Ultimately, the nobility of the Longex Dextora can be traced back to five distinct families – the Gaviota (Seagull), Lobiota (Wolf), Bueynte (Ox), Halconte (Hawk) and Serpienza (Snake) clans. While there has been some attempt to retain bloodline purity, this principle has been ignored often enough in attempts to create a temporary alliance that every member can trace some circuitous route to each of the five.

Nobles & Nobility within the Longex Dextora

While the City-states themselves are independents, they have adapted a republican political system for choosing their representative to the Shared Kingdoms. Each City-state nominates a Senator to represent their interests; the senators choose a member amongst themselves to be the Speaker Of The Republic, who in turn takes his place in the Council Of Kings. They use the standard Titles, and hence have no King. Most don’t place much importance on titles, anyway.

Education

Children from the age of 3 are rotated amongst the different craftsmasters of the settlement performing novice apprenticeships for a period of at least three months. At the age of eight, in an order of priority dictated by the local noble, the craftsmasters select a promising apprentice for more advanced training. Some horse-trading has been known to take place to ensure that a master will get a specific apprentice for whom he has a special fondness. If no craft has been identified to which the child is especially suited, the child becomes a serf, responsible for the maintenance and farming of a specific tract of land. If a child is deemed suitable for a craft but there are no vacancies within that craft, he will normally be traded to some other city-state for goods, wealth, or a suitably-skilled apprentice for whom the city-state has a need.

For the next eight years, apprentices serve under the tutelage of the master or his designated proxies. After each two year period, the master can deem the apprentice unsuitable and terminate the relationship or trade the apprentice with a master of the same craft from another city-state. At the end of this period, the child is deemed both an adult and receives the title of Journeyman. He is now expected to find his own opportunities to advance his craft (while paying 40% of his income in taxes to his parent city-state and 20% to the Master who educated him). When a master of his craft dies or retires (with the permission of the noble), journeyman have a year-and-a-day to present themselves to the ruler of the city-state as a prospective new Master. A panel of Masters – each of whom receives a fee set by the ruler of the city state for the task – examines the professional workmanship, character, and skill of the proposed new master. A year-and-a-day after the death/retirement of the old master, the panel may affirm one of the applicants as the new master, or declare the office vacant for the next five years as there are no suitable candidates.

A master receives remuneration and rewards from the ruling noble at a rate decreed every 5 years by the noble. In return, the noble is entitled to the full production of the master for that period of time. If the master is not paid the promised sum, he is entitled to sell some or all of his production to other city-states or members of the public to make up the shortfall, so nobles rarely fail to meet their promised obligations. While the master has no choice but to accept the offer of his patron, he retains control over how efficiently and effectively he works – so if the noble offers a pittance of what the master considers his skills to be worth, the master can produce a mere pittance of the total production he might have been capable of achieving, spending the balance of his time planning more elaborate works or simply relaxing. More honorable nobles will release a Master from obligations to his throne if they find they lack the resources to keep him productive much of the time. When seeking a new Master, the noble must publish his promises of rewards in advance – with the consequence that if he is too tight-fisted, he will fail to attract candidates of sufficient quality.

Upward Social Mobility

Some of the city-states have changed owner so frequently that the social system itself has adapted to take the circumstance into account. The principles that have resulted have, in turn, become generalized and applied to other situations, producing the opportunity of upward social mobility if they are willing to risk enough to claim that opportunity.

In a nutshell, once removed from the direct authority of a member of the nobility, a runaway of whatever social rank must be taken at face value by any other city state. If he can demonstrate sufficient skill, expertise, or simple willingness to serve, he can be accepted by his new patron as a legitimate member of the new social class he has defined for himself. Of course, no-one fully trusts a runaway on general principles, but there is a big difference between the childhood oath that new apprentices are required to swear and the informed oath of personal loyalty that must be sworn as an adult. Expectations of fidelity are much higher, and so are the punishments for the betrayal of that trust.

There have been a number of secondary consequences that have resulted to the general betterment of society. In most historical feudal societies, the serfs were considered expendable, cannon fodder at best, something to be trampled if they get underfoot at worst. They have been uniformly ill-treated by the majority of feudal nobles. Neither of these facts are true in the Longex Dextora; most conquests treat the serfs as part of the land, and harming them ultimately reduces the value of the ground conquered. They are not even forced to fight on behalf of the noble, and are left in peace by invading armies. And, of course, if a noble habitually mistreats his serfs and servants, they will all migrate to rival city-states – which means the noble and his supporters will start getting hungry by-and-by if they don’t pick up rake and hoe themselves – never mind that the desertions will weaken their ability to retain control of the city-state, whose vulnerability has just been advertised in all directions by the runaways. The occasional loss can be tolerated, especially since this is often a two-way street; mass migrations are to be avoided.

Spies

Of course, it doesn’t take much imagination for a noble to see in this social practice an opportunity to infiltrate friends, enemies, and neighbors with spies. Intelligence networks are an inevitability.

The thing with such networks is that they spiral, in costs and manpower, out of control at exponential rates. First you have the spies, and then the communications channels, and then the counterspies, and then the security officers, and then the backups for all of the above, and then the analysts and strategists, and then you need the resources to actually use the acquired intelligence to your benefit.

It is very easy to overextend your resources, leaving you more vulnerable than had you remained in ignorance.

The Politics

The independent city-states don’t agree on much, but one of the things they DO agree on is that they will not let themselves be steamrollered by larger alliances of communities. In many ways, the laws of Longex Destora are lowest common denominator with regional and municipal extensions. Even so, there are some communities that won’t even go along with the bare minimum laws of The Hinterlands, and these have broken away to form their own communities. Groups like the Solvo Mondibanus refuse to accept the conditions of the Shared Kingdom, unwilling to surrender one iota of their sovereignty.

Theory is one thing, reality another. None of the independent city-states is completely independent. They all have treaties and trade links both with other independent city-states and with the rest of the Shared Kingdoms. The result is that together they have formed four major political alliances within the Senate, and the balance of power between these groups is constantly shifting. The situation is made still more anarchic by the continual coming and going of members from each alliance, both with changing circumstances and through generational changes in rule within each City-State. Adding to the noise level are a number of truly independent states who will ally with, and bolster the numbers of, whichever group is most advantageous for them at the time.

From A PC Perspective

The Longex Dextora works brilliantly as the background for a character of almost any class. The combination of the Apprentice/Journeyman/Master hierarchy and the upward mobility permit a character to have a background of any social level the player might desire and still be a cleric, or paladin, or whatever the character’s chosen class is. There are combinations possible here that are simply unworkable anywhere else. Adding to the potential is the capacity for a variety of interesting events in the character’s past – betrayal, ambition, treachery, manipulation, seduction by a lady of noble birth – ingredients that propel the character into whatever personality profile wants to have.

From A GMs Perspective

That same potential makes this a fun place from the GMs perspective. Adding the potential for enemy incursions both foreign (Goblins, Gnolls, Orcs, Giants, Drow) and Domestic (another city state) to the variety of less widespread plotlines and the inherent political instability of the area means that almost any plot can be set here. It’s even possible for a long-forgotten Dungeon to be uncovered in the western realm (even though ‘in theory’ they lie beyond the borders of the Longex Dextora, that border is intentionally blurry). An entire campaign could be set here with some additional work specifying the key city-states. Even more useful is that the geography naturally sandboxes adventures here to whatever extent the GM might require.

Virtually any city or castle or ruin from any game supplement can be relocated to one of the islands of the delta.

And on top of that, there’s an entire genre-with-a-twist waiting in the central regions!

The Language Relationships Table: The Obscure Languages

There are 26 spoken languages in Shards Of Divinity, divided into four groups: Common, Unusual, Rare, and Obscure. As mentioned in the previous part of this series, if a character has more ranks in a language than its relatedness relative to the language he is trying to speak, he gains a +1 synergy bonus on his attempts to use the language.

For example, an elf would have Elvish (aka Elven) as his native language. If he was trying to speak Dwarven, he would get +1 if he had 8 ranks in his native language – or if he had 4 ranks in Draconian, Giant, or Terran, or 6 ranks in Trade Tongue or Abyssal or… well, the list goes on. He can qualify for multiple +1 bonuses if he meets multiple targets but only one per row on the chart – so he might get +1 for 4 ranks in Giant, +1 for 6 ranks in Trade Tongue, and +1 for 8 ranks in Elvish.

Twenty-six languages won’t fit all in one reasonable-length table, even though that’s how they were presented in the original house rules, so they have been broken down into a series of smaller tables. In this part of the article, we’re going to look at the Obscure Languages. Note that this table includes languages that are currently not known to exist in the campaign world.

Obscure Languages Relatedness
Ranks Related Languages
Pious¹

Notes: ¹Language is:

  • Common for Human Clerics and Priests,

  • Rare for other humans,

  • Obscure for non-humans.

 2 ranks   City-State, Celestial
 4 ranks   Original, Draconic
 6 ranks   Kingdom, Gypsy, Abyssal, Infernal
 8 ranks   Trade Tongue, Sylvan, Orc, Old Kingdom, Elvish, Draconian
 10 ranks   Druidic, Terran, Gnoll, Halfling, Undercommon, Dwarven
 12 ranks   Aquan, Ignan, Goblin, Tribal, Gnome
 14 ranks   Giant
Druidic²

Notes: ²Language is:

  • Unusual for Druids only,

  • Rare for Gypsies, Elves & Fey,

  • Obscure for all others

 2 ranks   Gypsy, Elvish, Sylvan, Aquan, Old Kingdom
 4 ranks   Halfling, City-State, Draconic
 6 ranks   Undercommon, Gnome, Trade Tongue, Original
 8 ranks   Kingdom, Draconian, Celestial, Orc, Giant, Tribal, Pious
 10 ranks   Goblin, Dwarven, Terran, Abyssal, Ignan
 12 ranks   Infernal, Gnoll
Undercommon³

Notes: ³Language is:

  • Unusual for Elves, Dwarves, and Demons,

  • Obscure for all others

 2 ranks   Abyssal, Elvish
 4 ranks   Draconic, Terran, Celestial, Infernal
 6 ranks   Sylvan, Aquan, Druidic, Dwarven, Draconian
 8 ranks   Pious, Gypsy, Old Kingdom, Original, Ignan, Orc, Gnoll
 10 ranks   Gnome, Halfling, City-State, Giant
 12 ranks   Kingdom, Goblin, Tribal, Trade Tongue
Terran  2 ranks   Dwarven, Infernal, Draconian, Undercommon
 4 ranks   Draconic, Celestial, Abyssal, Ignan
 6 ranks   Giant, Gnoll
 8 ranks   Orc, Pious, Trade Tongue, Original, Elvish
 10 ranks   Goblin, Tribal, Gnome, Old Kingdom, City-State, Gypsy
 12 ranks   Sylvan, Aquan, Druidic, Kingdom
 14 ranks   Halfling
Ignan  2 ranks   Infernal, Terran, Draconian
 4 ranks   Dwarven, Draconic, Undercommon, Celestial, Abyssal, Giant
 6 ranks   Elvish, Gnoll
 8 ranks   Original, Pious, Gnome, Orc
 10 ranks   Sylvan, Aquan, Druidic, City-State, Trade Tongue, Goblin
 12 ranks   Tribal, Old Kingdom, Halfling
 14 ranks   Kingdom, Gypsy
Aquan  2 ranks   Sylvan, Elvish
 4 ranks   Draconic, Druidic
 6 ranks   Old Kingdom, Gypsy, Undercommon
 8 ranks   City-State, Original, Halfling, Orc, Celestial, Draconian
 10 ranks   Trade Tongue, Gnome, Abyssal, Terran, Dwarven
 12 ranks   Kingdom, Pious, Giant, Tribal, Ignan, Infernal
 14 ranks   Goblin
 16 ranks   Gnoll
Draconic  4 ranks   Elvish, Draconian, Celestial, Orc, Original
 6 ranks   Dwarven, Abyssal, Giant
 8 ranks   City-State, Aquan, Sylvan, Undercommon, Terran, Infernal, Ignan, Goblin, Tribal, Gnome, Pious, Druidic
 10 ranks   Gypsy, Old Kingdom, Gnoll
 12 ranks   Trade Tongue, Halfling
 14 ranks   Kingdom
Abyssal  2 ranks   Celestial, Inferna
 4 ranks   Draconic, Undercommon
 6 ranks   Gnoll, Terran, Dwarven, Elvish, Pious
 8 ranks   Orc, City-State, Original, Giant
 10 ranks   Goblin, Sylvan, Aquan, Druidic
 12 ranks   Gypsy, Old Kingdom, Kingdom, Trade Tongue, Gnome, Tribal
 14 ranks   Halfling
Infernal  2 ranks   Celestial
 4 ranks   Abyssal, Terran, Draconic, Ignan, Gnoll
 6 ranks   Draconian, Undercommon, Pious
 8 ranks   City-State, Original, Elvish, Orc, Goblin
 10 ranks   none
 12 ranks   Kingdom, Druidic, Gypsy, Aquan, Sylvan, Tribal, Gnome, Trade Tongue
 14 ranks   Old Kingdom
 16 ranks   Halfling
Celestial  2 ranks   Draconic
 4 ranks   Pious, Abyssal, Infernal
 6 ranks   Orc, Draconian, Elvish, Original, City-State
 8 ranks   Gnoll, Ignan, Terran, Dwarven, Giant, Undercommon
 10 ranks   Sylvan, Aquan, Gypsy, Goblin, Tribal, Gnome, Kingdom
 12 ranks   Old Kingdom
 14 ranks   Halfling, Trade Tongue, Druidic
Original  2 ranks   Draconic
 4 ranks   City-State
 6 ranks   Elvish, Draconian, Celestial, Orc
 8 ranks   Gypsy, Dwarven, Abyssal, Giant, Tribal, Pious
 10 ranks   Old Kingdom, Druidic, Aquan, Sylvan, Undercommon, Terran, Ignan, Goblin, Gnome
 12 ranks   Trade Tongue, Gnoll
 14 ranks   Kingdom, Halfling

Language Descriptions & Notes: The Obscure Languages

The following language descriptions frequently mention rendering text using particular fonts that I have in my collection. Some of these may have unrestricted licenses, some may be free only for non-commercial use, and a few may even have come with collections or software that is only available to paying customers. In the seventh section on Languages,, I’ll include a brief sample of text rendered into each language and displayed using the relevant font. For now, all that really needs to be noted is that I have chosen fonts that ‘look right’ for the language as I envisaged it for this campaign.

Similarly, a number of modified modern languages have been used as a shortcut for simulating the various fantasy tongues. The goal was not to create a genuine language, not even to be consistent, but simply to create an appropriately non-English “sound” with the right sort of accents and noises. I hope no speaker of any named language takes offense – or undue compliment – from the use of their native tongue. Such usage says nothing about the language itself, and even less about the people who actually use it; at most it is a commentary on the sounds and flow of syllables that result to English-speaking ears.

Some of the languages fall into multiple categories. While it might be redundant, each language description is included in all relevant categories.

Pious:

Also known as ‘Divine Speech’. Used exclusively for the conducting of human religious services and ceremonies, the way churches used to use Latin. It derives from one of the City-State languages (described seperately elsewhere), making it the most ancient human tongue still in regular use. As such, it uses a lot of generic terms for more recent innovations; it has no descriptive terms or proper names for different non-human species, for example. Instead, it has a number of terms for describing an individual’s state of Grace, from “Irredeemable” through to “Most Holy”, which are applied to whole classes of non-human. “Heretics” might be Orcs or Elves or Fey or Wizards.

Pious is used for all formal church doctrines and holy books, and this blanket terminology shapes theological attitudes to non-human species. For example, the title ‘Paladin’ literally translates as Protector or Defender. As such, anyone who takes up arms to defend a Church may be blessed as a paladin by the church, and treated in the same way as would a Paladin, giving rise to such phrasing as ‘The Paladin then gathered to him paladins to oppose the heretic’.

This sample phrase also shows other aspects of Pious deriving from it’s age: (1) a stilted, almost pretentious, phraseology; and (2) collective nouns are used only for the subject, not the object; ‘The Heretic’ might be one or it might be a besieging army. The next phrase in this story might well be ‘And the Heretic were layed low by the holy might of the paladin.” Sentences tend to be short and declarative, with full stops used where commas might be expected. It is also normal practice to number each statement.

Note that this language is not taught to non-priests, though many laymen will gradually pick up phrases here and there. To render text into Pious, translate into Greek without font change, then add or subtract vowels as necessary to permit a smooth flow.

Pious is considered a Common tongue for Human Clerics and Priests, a Rare language for other humans, and an Obscure language for non-humans.

Written form: display translated text using a Greek language or appropriate mathematical Symbols Font.

Druidic:

The first release of the Shards Of Divinity House Rules asserted that “Druids do not have a separate language’. Further examination of the campaign concepts have shown that this is both true and misleading; there IS a language called “Druidic”, but it is NOT a language that can be used to communicate effectively with anyone else that knows the language. Rather, it is a learned ability to communicate with nature, to hear what the surroundings have to say about the weather that is coming, the local conditions, any threats within the region, any sites with peculiarities nearby, where the nearest spring is, and so on. It is also employed to tell the spirits of nature that inhabit every geographic feature, that shelter and nurture every species of animal and plant, that bring the rain and the storms and the weather, exactly what the Druid would like them to do. They may not listen (they often don’t) and may not answer the request in a timely fashion (they don’t have the same concept of time as mortals, but neither do Druids, so that’s all right).

This “Druidic” language has evolved from little bits of a number of different languages, predominantly Elvish and Sylvan, but with a slight tinge of more human languages such as Gypsy and Old Kingdom. Each Druid’s Circle – and, in fact, each Druid – develops his own Druid’s Tongue. As initiates, this essentially comprises parts of the lowest common denominator amongst the “Druidic” of the Druid’s Circle that has accepted the initiate; as a character grows in understanding, so his version of “Druidic” becomes more and more unique, and more and more dedicated to the terrain in which he spends most of his time. It also, therefore, becomes less and less useful generically, ie when the Druid is outside his own terrain. Druids who adventure will often need to select companion species to accompany him; while they may be useful for other reasons, the dominant reason for their presence is to translate the Druid’s requests into the local dialect. Of course, the less native they are to the local environment, the less help they can be.

Druidic is considered an Unusual language for Druids, a Rare language for Gypsies, Elves & Fey, and an Obscure language for all others.

Translating into Druidic is an ‘entertaining’ exercise. Extract and translate proper nouns other than animal and plant species using a random choice of Sylvan, Elvish, or Kingdom. Translate the remaining nouns into sounds and/or actions that are characteristic of the creature. Reformat the rest of the text using Alphabet Of The Magi – then interpret loosely into animal noises, weather sound effects, hand gestures, and anything else that comes to mind.

There is no written form of this ‘Language’.

Undercommon:

This is a “perversion” of Elvish, according to the Elves, that is spoken only by Drow and a few subterranean races that they have manipulated into attacking other species.

Undercommon is considered Unusual for Elves, Dwarves, and Demons and Obscure for all others.

To translate into Undercommon, first translate into Elvish as per the notes on Elvish Names and then apply the following transformations: replace c with z, replace ch with gh, replace p with k, and q with t. Then tweak for a flowing pronunciation.

To render Undercommon text, display the result using the appropriate Elvish variant by tongue.

Terran:

Terran is used by a number of underground-dwelling species such as Xorn. It is a blend of influences from a number of different languages, primarily Draconian and Dwarven.

Grammatically, it has been influenced by the Elvish dialect known as Undercommon. However, most of the simplest (and probably the oldest) terms derive from a fourth source – the same “other” that influenced Gnoll, and which theologians associate (rightly or wrongly) with Devils (Knowledge Religion, 20 ranks, is required to know of this association). Since Draconian contains elements that the same theologians associate with Demons (Knowledge: Religion 15 ranks is required to know this), the implication drawn by theology is that these anti-social elements abide in an underground environment, and have most strongly influenced the development of those who live beneath the earth. These theologians claim (with absolutely no evidence) that Giants and Gnolls were emissaries of these fell forces who were driven to the surface by primitive Dwarves, or in order to carry out the will of their hidden masters.

To translate into Terran, start by translating all 1-syllable words of 4 letters or less into Filipino, then modify the result as per the Naming rules for Gnomes. Translate everything else as per the rules for Dwarven names. Then modify to give a flowing speech.

To render Terran, use Dwarven runes.

Ignan:

Ignan derives from virtually the same sources as Terran, but has even less Dwarven and virtually no Undercommon influences. To theologians (Knowledge: Religion 20 ranks), this is obviously because those who speak Ignan are closer to the dwelling-places of Devils and Demons, and hence the conditions of The Hells (from whence Devils and Demons derive) must resemble those of Ignan speakers – underground, hot beyond belief, sulphurous atmosphere, etc.

To translate into Ignan, start by translating all 1-syllable words of 4 letters or less, and all verbs, into Filipino. Translate everything else into Greek, phoneticise, and then reverse the sequence of syllables. Then apply the character substitutions specified for Gnomish names.

To render Ignan, display the results in Autorealm Phoenician.

Aquan:

Aquan is a blend of Sylvan and Elvish, as heard underwater.

To translate into Aquan, first translate into Gaelic, then apply the substitutions specified for Elvish character names. Finally, replace all ‘a’ with ‘u’, all ‘e’ with ‘o’, all ‘i’ with ‘uo’, and all ‘m’ and ‘n’ with ‘b’.

To display Aquan script (very rarely encountered), display the results using Tengwar Sindarin.

Draconic:

This language is known only to Elves, Dwarves, and Fey, and then only to well-educated individuals (Ask the referee if you think you might qualify). Well-educated humans may have been taught a ‘reconstructed’ version derived from its influence on other tongues, but this is not true Draconic any more than pidgin English is James Joyce. Since no human in living memory can prove to have communicated with Dragons, despite the occasional rumors and claims to the contrary, and the other species don’t talk about Dragons, the language can be considered dead. There are legends that dragons taught elves advanced spellcasting, and that they had been taught to write by Dwarves, but these might by myth.

To translate into Draconic, use Russian and then phoneticise, rephrasing any terms that do not translate into literal phrases. Draconic mouths cannot distinguish between p and b, or between u and w, so replace the latter with the former.

To render Draconic – according to legend – use Dwarven Runes.

Abyssal:

The public at large don’t even know this language exists. This is the mythical ‘native tongue’ of Demons, and merely speaking it is grounds for the harshest of punishments and implicit proof of irredeemable corruption. Theologians of sufficient education (Knowledge Religion 15 ranks) may be taught to recognize its grammar, syntax, and parts of its vocabulary. However, some characters have an ‘effective’ ability in Abyssal due to the influence of the language on other languages used by species considered “fallen” or “corrupt” by the Pious, notably the users of Undercommon and Draconian.

Theological doctrine restricts this knowledge on the grounds that it could be confusing, as this language contains elements that bear a strong resemblance to the mythic language of Heaven, of which Pious is a simplified and imperfect child (much like humanity itself). It is felt by the church hierarchy that this would be too confusing for lay preachers and ordinary priests, not to mention the public. Again, unless you have sufficient Knowledge Religion to know about the language, you will not know about the controversy.

To translate into Abyssal, use Greek and phoneticise for nouns, then Russian for everything else.

To render it, display the results in Autorealm Phoenician without spaces between words except on either side of a Proper Noun, and without other punctuation except at the end of a complete passage of text. Then insert spaces at the end of every 1d4 syllables.

Infernal:

This language is also a secret from the general public, for much the same reasons as Abyssal. This is the mythical ‘native tongue’ of Devils, and merely speaking it aloud is believed by theologians to be an open invitation for the theft of the soul. Theologians of sufficient education (Knowledge Religion 20 ranks) may be taught to recognize its grammar, syntax, and parts of its vocabulary, and some characters have an ‘effective’ ability in Infernal through the influence of the language on the tongues of other species considered “evil” or “diabolical” by the Pious, notably the use of Terran, Ignan, and Gnoll.

To translate into Infernal, use Filipino. Rephrase anything that doesn’t translate.

To render it, use Autorealm Phoenician.

Celestial:

The existence of this language is widely-known to the religious, but no-one can actually speak it. Many characters have the equivalent or a marginal smattering of it through the impact it has had – according to theological doctrine – on other languages. Those with sufficient Knowledge Religion (20 ranks) will know that both Abyssal, Draconic, and Infernal are all purported to be corruptions of the language. The language most closely related to Celestial that is in modern usage is Pious.

To translate into Celestial, translate into Filipino.

To render Celestial, display the results using Symbol (a Greek-like font).

Original:

This is the mother tongue of humans, and is both dead and lost. The families of Paradise split this language into the Nine City-State languages. It would seem that with such a wealth of lingual structure, reconstructing the original language would be easy; even the fact that the City-State languages are themselves now dead and obscure would seem little more than an added complication. The problem is that the city-state languages are internally contradictory in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary; clearly there has been wholesale language cross-contamination and creation.

To translate into Original, use a random selection, syllable-by-syllable, of Dutch, Portuguese, Greek, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Latin, and Icelandic.

To render Original, display the resulting text in Czar, with the occasional syllable in Symbol (i.e., Greek Characters).

Choosing modifying adjustments to your source language

Okay, so using the tips that I provided in The Ineodolus Imperascora, you’ve chosen your language and even identified a few recurring character groups that you think will sufficiently transform the sound of the spoken language into something new. The next thing to think about is what you are going to actually do with each of those character groups.

After all, you have hundreds of choices. If your letter group is one particular consonant, you have 21 others to choose from – and that’s just replacing one for one. Instead, you could replace your chosen consonant with another plus a vowel – or even a vowel and a consonant, or a vowel wrapped between two consonants. You could even go “consonant – vowel – consonant – space – consonant” – padding out the original part-word and splitting the resulting word into two at that point.

For me, the best approach is to look (briefly) at the incidence of the character group being replaced. The higher it is, the greater the impact that the change will have. Then I plan my global search-and-replace sequences based on the resulting level of dominance that I expect the new sounds to have.

Here are a few relevant sites:

That last link is especially useful as you can copy and paste a body of text and have it analyzed for you. For example, if I copy this article up to and including this point here ·, I find that the most common letter pairing is th (by some considerable margin) followed by he, an, in, er, and then a number of pairs that are just about equal in frequency: ny, re, on, al. But that’s no real surprise; a check of the trigram frequency count shows that the most common trio of letters is “the” by a margin of three-to-one relative to the next highest – which is roughly a tie between the considerably less likely “bsp” and “nbs” – with “and” and “ing” just behind in fourth and fifth place. Changing “the-and-a-space” in a body of text would therefore have a huge impact.

In the preceding paragraph alone, just replacing “the-plus-space” with “AG”, “the-without-a-space” with “BO”, “bsp” with “ZOO”, “nbs” with “VHA” and “ing” with “RUE” gives:

That last link is especially useful as you can copy and paste a body of text and have it analyzed for you. For example, if I copy this article up to and includRUE this point here ·, I find that AGmost common letter pairRUE is th (by some considerable margin) followed by he, an, in, er, and BOn a number of pairs that are just about equal in frequency: ny, re, on, al. But that’s no real surprise; a check of AGtrigram frequency count shows that AGmost common trio of letters is “BO” by a margin of three-to-one relative to AGnext highest – which is roughly a tie between AGconsiderably less likely “ZOO” and “VHA” – with “and” and “RUE” just behind in fourth and fifth place. ChangRUE “BO-and-a-space” in a body of text would BOrefore have a huge impact.

But most of the English is still there and recognizable. That’s why I prefer to work with two-character pairs, or less.

Here’s the same paragraph again, but this time replacing the six most common letter pairs with “AG”, “BO”, “ZO”, “VHA”, “RUE” and “HUL” respectively, then replacing the most common pair of vowels with “EY” and the most common single vowel with “STY”:

AGat last lBOk is STYspSTYcially usSTYful as yEY cVHA copy VHAd pastSTY a body of tSTYxt VHAd havSTY it VHAalyzSTYd for yEY. For STYxamplSTY, if I copy AGis articlSTY up to VHAd BOcludBOg AGis poBOt ZOHUL ·, I fBOd AGat AGSTY most common lSTYttSTYr pairBOg is AG (by somSTY considSTYrablSTY margBO) followSTYd by ZO, VHA, BO, STYr, VHAd AGSTYn a numbSTYr of pairs AGat aHUL just abEYt STYqual BO fHULquSTYncy: ny, HUL, on, al. But AGat’s no HULal surprisSTY; a cZOck of AGSTY trigram fHULquSTYncy cEYnt shows AGat AGSTY most common trio of lSTYttSTYrs is “AGSTY” by a margBO of AGHULSTY-to-onSTY HULlativSTY to AGSTY nSTYxt higZOst – which is rEYghly a tiSTY bSTYtwSTYSTYn AGSTY considSTYrably lSTYss likSTYly “bsp” VHAd “nbs” – wiAG “VHAd” VHAd “BOg” just bSTYhBOd BO fEYrAG VHAd fifAG placSTY. ChVHAgBOg “AGSTY-VHAd-a-spacSTY” BO a body of tSTYxt wEYld AGSTYHULfoHUL havSTY a hugSTY impact.

Suddenly, most of the English is gone, aside from the occasionally recognizable word. But as I read over the results, I found myself changing the pronunciation of even those familiar words in response to a natural rhythm from the changes – “EYES” for “is”, “AYS” (rhymes with haze” for “as”, and so on.

So how did I choose that particular set of replacements? Well, to be honest, I made them up off the top of my head. If I were doing this “for real”, though, I would try to use phonetics to characterize the race in question. Elves, for example, should have a lyrical, melodic, even lilting quality to their speech. Sounds should all be relatively soft – lose anything harsh or hard. And stick a vowel in between every second or third word instead of a space – then replace all prior instances of that vowel with a space. Those are the sort of changes that immediately come to mind for converting English into a (non-Tolkien) Elvish. Thinking on it even further, I would realize that every “forbidden sound” involves moving the tongue to the roof of the mouth – “t”, “d”, “z” – or popping the lips – “p” – or a “k” sound (including some “c” and “ch” sounds. So my second draft of such a process would be to replace “t” with “th”, “p” with “f”, and every “k” or “c” with “ss”; then get rid of every “d” or “z” completely.

But it gets a lot easier when you aren’t starting from English in the first place. There are a number of languages with that lyrical, lilting quality already – Welsh, French, Spanish – so if you start from one of those, you not only have eliminated virtually all of those familiar words from the outset but achieved half your goals.

Using Accents

One final trick – no matter how bad you are at accents, reading words made up from a foreign language in a false accent adds yet another color to the language that helps make it distinctive!

Next: Parumveneaora (The Vale Of Dreams); The Language Map; And some discussion of the reasons for this approach to languages.

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