Languages of Northumbria

CGG member Mike Garcia offers some of his copious campaign world documents for the continent of Northumbria.


ALCHEMISTS’ TONGUE, THE

This was the language created by alchemists in the ancient Aquilonian Empire, over a dozen centuries ago. The alchemical concepts are far older, dating back many millennia, but Aquilonian alchemists codified a set of unique and mystical runes to allow them to record and share their knowledge in some secrecy. No alchemist will teach the concepts or the runes to a non-alchemist.

AQUILONIAN

This was the common language of the ancient Aquilonian Empire, once located across the sea, but now in ruins. The Aquilonians used a sound-based system of letters, and this alphabet is now used for writing both Frangian and Zeelander.

FRANGIAN

This is the common language of the Kingdom of Frangia and its colonies. Derived from Old Frangian, Frangian is a sister language to Zeelander. Those that can understand Zeelander have a 20% chance to understand Frangian and vice versa. Frangians use the Aquilonian alphabet.

HIGH TONGUE, THE

This is the language of the Frangian nobility, derived from the peculiar dialect of one of the Frangian ruling tribes from centuries ago. Those that understand Frangian have a 10% chance of understanding the High Tongue and vice versa. The High Tongue uses the Aquilonian alphabet.
Though the High Tongue is widely available in books and thus familiar to many scholars, few understand how to speak it fluently. Frangian nobles have carefully guarded the precise verbal nuances of their language—a practice that allows them to recognize one another and to distinguish their own from imposters.

KENIENKA

This is the language of the Kenianka, one of the main native human populations of eastern Northumbria. They call it the ‘Flint Tongue’, as the Kenienka call themselves the ‘Flint People’ or the ‘People of the Flint Place’.

NORSK

This is the common language of the Varangians, who once ruled the mighty Northern Realm in Northumbria. Though that kingdom is now in ruins, the Varangian people spread throughout Northumbria, keeping alive their native tongue. Norsk and Old Frangian both come from an ancient northern language, now forgotten. Those that can understand Frangian or Zeelander have a 05% chance to understand Norsk and vice versa. Varangians use a sound-based system of runes, derived from those of the dwarves and elves.

PICTISH

This is the common language of the Picts in Northumbria. It is entirely different from all other known languages in the region. Picts use a sound-based system of runes, possibly derived from those of the Varangians, but many scholars argue that any similarities are coincidence.

WENDAT

This is the language of the Wendat, one of the main native human populations of eastern Northumbria. Its origins are unknown.

ZEELANDER

This is the common language of the Kingdom of Zeeland and its colonies. Derived from Old Frangian, Zeelander is a sister language to Frangian. Those that can understand Zeelander have a 20% chance to understand Frangian and vice versa. Zeelanders use the Aquilonian alphabet.

ELVEN

Dating back many millennia, this is the common language of the fey folk. They call it the ‘ancient song’, or vanha laulu. It is entirely different from all other non-elven languages.
The elves use a sound-based system of runes, which later became the inspiration for other runic systems, such as that of the dwarves and that of the Varangians. The elves actually use two sets of runes, one for common writing (called sanat, meaning ‘words’) and another (called voimat, meaning ‘powers’) for important concepts like magic and law.  All elves know the former, and all elders know the latter as well.

DWARVEN

Dating back many millennia, this is the common language of the mountain folk. Dwarves refer to their tongue as the ‘song of stone and fire’.
The dwarves use two sound-based systems of runes, both derived from those of the elves. They use the first set of runes, which they simply call ‘carvings’, for common writing. These runes undoubtedly had some influence on development of Varangian runes. The second set of runes, which they call ‘smithing marks’, they use for important concepts like magic and manufacturing secrets.  Most dwarves know the ‘carvings’, but only proven dwarven smiths know the ‘smithing marks’.

GNOMISH

This is the soft language of the reclusive forest-dwelling gnomes. Gnomes do not teach their tongue to non-gnomes so the languages remains a mystery to most.
The gnomes use a sound-based system of runes, possibly influenced by those of the elves, but aso similar in some ways to those used by Picts. Some scholars suggest that the early Picts learned their runes from gnomes.

DM’S NOTE ON NUMBER OF LANGUAGES KNOWN

A PC’s intelligence determines how many languages he or she can learn, but the PC does not begin with his potential fully achieved.

  1. Each PC should start out with a primary human language, plus any suitable racial language.
  2. Frangian nobles raised as such will also know the High Tongue (the family should be wealthy though—DM’s call).
  3. Thieves will also know Thieves’ Cant, which is not really a full language.
  4. Each magic user, illusionist, or cleric may start with one additional language that is open to him or her.
  5. Thereafter, if intelligence allows, each PC may know one additional language that is open to him or her.
  6. A PC must learn anything beyond this starting number of languages during the game, taking active steps to learn from an NPC. It will take time.

For example, a Frangian knight with a 16 intelligence (maximum of 5 additional languages) would know Frangian as his base language, plus the High Tongue. As he could start with one more, he might choose Zeelander. That means that he starts with three languages and can learn three more in the course of play.

Another example: A Zeelander ranger with a 16 intelligence (maximum of five additional languages) would know Zeelander as his base language. His back story explains that he has been on the frontier for many years, so he can chose Kenienka or Wendat or Varangian as a second tongue. he starts with two languages and would be able to learn four more.

Another example: A Frangian cleric from a noble family has a 14 intelligence (four additional languages). He starts with Frangian as his base language, and, having been raised in a noble family, he knows the High Tongue as well. As a cleric, he then chooses Zeelander. Lastly, he selects ancient Aquilonian as his bonus language, having studied it for years before arriving in Northumbria. He therefore starts with four languages and can learn one more during play.

DM’S NOTE ON LANGUAGE RESTRICTIONS

The guiding principle is that a PC’s knowledge of a language must make sense. Languages are not flippantly learned. One must spend a great deal of time and energy both learning and practicing a language.

Some basic rules for a Blackwater Campaign:

  1. No PC, save under very rare circumstances, will know the Alchemist’s Tongue. Only alchemists learn this carefully guarded code.
  2. Only Frangian nobles, raised in such a household, will know the High Tongue.
  3. Anyone wishing to know Kenienka or Wendat must have spent a good deal of time in eastern Northumbria among the native speakers. It cannot be learned through books, and it cannot be learned quickly through casual conversation.
  4. No PC can know Pictish. It is very different, but more importantly, the Picts are utterly hostile to other peoples, and they do not value intellectual pursuits so their literature is almost non-existent.
  5. Save under rare circumstances, no human PC should know the elven tongue as the elves do not readily teach it to others. If a PC knows elven runes, they will always be the ones for common writing (sanat).
  6. Dwarves are less guarded in teaching their language, though any PC that knows dwarves runes will know only the ‘carvings’ for common writing—not the smithing marks.

One comment

  1. Decent stuff. I have two really off-track questions.

    “All elves know the former [common writing (called sanat, meaning ‘words’)], and all elders know the latter [(called voimat, meaning ‘powers’)] as well.”

    My curiosity is about the definition of “elders”. Does an elf become an elder simply by living long enough, or is there some selection process which might in rare instances result in a relatively young elf holding the position, or is it something between the two?

    Also, “no human PC should know the elven tongue as the elves do not readily teach it to others….” Are there half-elves? Do they speak elvish, or are they integrated among humans, or do they have their own culture (and if so, does it have its own language)?

    Good list. It’s kind of funny, really. I actually catalogued all the languages in OAD&D (here http://www.mjyoung.net/dungeon/lang.html on a random language selection table), and still felt the compulsion to create a baker’s dozen of “ancient mystery languages” (here: http://www.mjyoung.net/dungeon/mylang.html with brief explanations) so I could use them for ancient texts. I do like your ideas about probability of understanding a related language. I’m not sure I know the difference between “a sound-based system of letters” and “a sound-based system of runes”. I take it that a rune system that is not sound-based is more word-based like hieroglyphics or hanzi.

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