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Quality in Rifts: Remembering Pete Overton

Quality In Rifts: Language in Rifts

By Pete Overton


This file surveys the various languages of Rifts, both prior to and after the Cataclysm, as well as special circumstances pertaining to Rifts Earth and language. It also offers optional rules for involving dialects into your game and how to run cascading language skills.


I am, as you know, dedicated to bringing more realism and more background to the setting of Rifts. That's what this page is all about. However, I would strongly suggest that you find an easier way of handling language in Rifts. The fact is that most every RPG and Hollywood production deftly steps around the language issue because its inclusion, while very realistic, often causes many more problems than it solves.

We all know that Star Trek's "universal translator" is laughable at best, and we know that it is a concession made so that their characters can communicate with those who need to push along the story. It's a very nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of commonly accepted tip of the hat, primarily because the shows wouldn't be really interesting if they could barely talk to anyone. Watching Picard for an hour trying to communicate with the Romulan Prelate out of his Romulan/English dictionary would be realistic, but not really entertaining.

This isn't to say that language should never come into it -- it should -- but that getting bogged down in the details will cause the game to drag and frustrate the hell out of your players. Some very good storylines come from the inability to communicate with something, or a miscommunication. The language barrier should never be eliminated entirely. But I personally take a very cinematic approach to it, the sort of Hollywood magic way of handing languages. Unless the language is a plot device in and of itself, it's really a can of worms that shouldn't be opened.

However, the systems outlined below are a way to handle things if you do want to make language an issue in your games. Mail me and let me know how they work, they haven't been field tested at all. Please note also that I am not a linguist, and I have no interest in being a linguist, so all of this is an amateur opinion in the grand scheme of things.

Evolution of Language in Rifts


Prior to the Third World War, many of the countries of Earth put aside their differences and came together united in a common goal, to advance humanity throughout the solar system and space itself. It was a truly multinational pursuit, co-ordinated by the United Nations, and drawing upon the resources and people of the entire globe (mostly). It might help to briefly cover some of the major languages on Earth prior to the Cataclysm. Note that this should supercede any information in my Culture file.

English was, of course, the driving language of the planet. This is not arrogance on the part of your humble scribe, but rather the fact that the United States was a driving force behind much world development during the 21st century. Anyone dealing with the US or its allies would ultimately have to learn English, simply because it was necessary. By the peak of the Golden Age, the language was spread around the globe quite liberally and it remained a primary language for the space programs. Its variants in Britain and Australia perpetuated and particularly Australia arose to prominence in the 21st century, so a large amount of Aussie words were subsumed into English.

German was the driving force of Europe. In the 21st century, Germany took more and more control of the direction of the European Union and with their benevolent vision, guided Europe to prominence once more. Much as businesses and governments found learning English to benefit North American associations, German became the *unofficial* language of the EU -- no language could ever be declared to be official due to EU charter restrictions, but much of the EU was run in German. With the US and China looking out to space, German remained a prime language on Earth when the war broke out.

French was always hotly defended by its speakers and it remained incredibly resistant to assilimation. French culture had always been passed around the world, but their politics tended to sour any positive association with it. France rabidly defended its language rights, ironically mirroring the battles of Quebec and the Canadian government many years before.

Spanish became a major language simply due to the sheer number of people speaking it. By the time the Golden Age had peaked, Mexico had straightened out many of its numerous internal problems and that combined with the rise of the language on the US west coast meant that it became a fairly common language. While never declared so, as such, it became the secondary language of the United States.

Russian was used extensively on the orbital and space colonial projects, because the Russians had gathered detailed data on space travel and living in space. The Russians also provided a large pool of raw manpower for various projects and its use became widespread as a result, and is still evident in many space projects.

Japanese was a hot language among the technically literate and the art communities. Japan exported culture and technical expertise during the Golden Age, as Western powers found the elegance of Japanese, although they often had trouble learning it. It also didn't have the political associations with it that Chinese did. Japan's US-friendly policies and ties ensured that Japanese was well promoted by the time the war hit, and to this day, their influences in the orbital stations and colonies can be seen in their art and culture.

Chinese remained quite prominent due to its large population, but also because China to a great degree tried to emulate Japan and export its culture, with mixed success. There was still a great stigma attached to China, but their culture was exotic and new to many Western powers. The Chinese also had their own space program and their various space projects are still in evidence and perhaps were secondary only to those of the US (though some say equal to). By the peak of the Golden Age, China had cleaned up its public image a great deal and Chinese didn't have so much of a negative association.


Scholars on Rifts Earth are only now starting to understand just how close Humanity came to extinction due to the Third World War. The war left none untouched and its legacy -- the rifts -- continue to plague Earth to this day. Its social implications were even greater.

With the intense nuclear strikes on both coasts, the survivors retreated inland and eventually pulled together around the Great Lakes region. During that initial period of unlikely survival, petty differences needed to be put aside for the hope of survival, including such things as gender and racial bias. In those times Humanity came to the stunning realization that they were no longer the center of their own universe, and that scared them intensely. In response, they pulled together like never before, and especially as clumps of survivors gathered, differences that would have split them previously were treated as almost nothing. Racial traits blended together and it was not overly unusual to see a blond haired, blue-eyed man named Winston Chang. Survival became the glue that overcame the differences and Humanity was enlightened, if by a terribly stressor.

Language barriers were the first to be overcome. As diverse communities came together, they overcame their problems and out of the crucible of a multitude of languages came a single forged language. Again, simply because of the location, often times this was an English base with additional words subsumed into it, at least in North America. Each respective area of the world clustered around the major survivors, and those they clustered around tended to set the lingual tone for the area. Many strains of "pure" language disappeared entirely during this time, and others drifted from their "purity" to the point where it wasn't simply a dialect but a new language in the metafamily.

Generally speaking -- again, this is a layman's view -- languages only change radically when faced with competing language. By that, I mean that, for instance, Australia speaks a fairly homogenized languaged and never had that challenged by any other major ethnicity, so they remain fairly pure. However, a place like the United States has a number of ethnic groups living there and often terms become interchanged or absorbed from neighbouring countries. By having several languages in a concentrated geographical area, terms and phrases are borrowed out and exchanged and over time simply become part of a new inclusive language.


A brief note on lingual shift. The English we speak today is not the same as was spoken 100 years ago or 300 years ago. Languages have a tendancy to drift over time, away from their original pure form (if such a pure form can be said to exist, since often it does not). The culture shock that someone from the 18th century would receive at being placed in the early 21st century would extend to simple language as well. The forms and language conventions we use are similar, but not identical -- often the context, slang and regional words would remain a mystery. The definition of words changes over time as well -- no one in medieval Britain would know what "fuck" meant! This is even worse when you consider a commercialized modern society -- consider the term "xerox" which is a company but has been subsumed to mean photocopy in general. Popular culture references would make things even more obscure -- if a rifted human said that they were going to "vote someone off the island", who would understand that without knowing about late 20th century TeeVee? In Rifts, this is something important to keep in mind since a lot of rifting that can occur is simply time rifting, meaning that people from our past could not simply walk out of a rift and have American (98%). Lingual shift rules are down below.

Since the Cataclysm, whole languages have disappeared. The idea of "dead languages" applies quite literally now! With the advent of psychic and magical individuals, however, no language is fully dead, although the current Coalition administration looks dimly on any translation done by such methods (and they would subsequently want to know why you want to translate written words...). The following is a brief survey of major languages after the Cataclysm.

English remains a major language, but no longer commands the dominance that it once did. Much of what North Americans call English is in fact only about 80% pure English, with a great deal of subsumed words from French, Chinese, Japanese, Australian dialect from prior to the Cataclysm, Polish and Spanish. With the Coalition rising, English will soon again become a global language. The British and Australian dialects remain fairly pure, though both had incorporated words from the global village before the war. Because of the loss of globalization, English in North America is now referred to American.

German exists primarily because of Triax and the corporation's friendly partnership with the New German Republic. In the face of the Gargoyle War, German people have a renewed interest in their culture and that tends to include the language. As the major survivor on the European continent, Germany attracted vast numbers of refugees who were absorbed into their society, but there were a good number of words swapped between refugees and the NGR. As such, German is peppered with terms and words from various European languages. It is my belief that the Euro language from the Rifts book is simply a German base language with a good deal of other European languages' terms absorbed into it. Call it German or call it Euro, whatever floats your boat.

French shouldn't have survived at all considering the vast damage France took during the war, and even today rarely do you find anyone in France who actually speaks French. The true French heritage came in the form of Quebec, which joined the Coalition as an equal partner and thus received concessions that allowed it to safeguard its language and identity. While the French in Quebec isn't proper "France" French, by and large the proper French no longer exists so for all intents and purposes, Quebecois French is the only French in use. Call it Quebecois French if you wish, but not to their faces, they get annoyed.

Spanish is a going concern again because of the rumours of Mexico being infested by hordes of vampires. Those in Lone Star have always found Spanish more useful than, say, Quebecois, so many of the more southern enclaves picked up Spanish. While nearly the entire west coast was wiped out, Mexico survived with fairly pure Spanish because there was little to contest it. Contrary to popular belief, Spanish is not the unofficial language of the CS simply because American subsumed a good number of Spanish terms and phrases already and rarely do Mexicans get out of the southern US or Yucatan thanks to their dark overlords.

Russian remains active primarily in and around, surprise, Russia. Russia got hit hard during the war, simply because they were next door to China, but they were never properly invaded. It may simply be that refugees looked at Germany and looked at Russia and picked the better weather, or it may just be that Russia redirected refugees, but for whatever reason, Russia remained quite isolated and linguistically pure. A number of smaller satellite states that used to belong to the USSR as an entity were absorbed back into Russia and so a lot of the Eastern European languages were intermixed in much the same way that the various European languages were intermixed with German as its base, but the various Slavic languages were fairly pure to begin with and remain so.

Japanese presents an interesting problem. The Empire of Japan was virtually uncontested in its locality and quite literally barely survived. The survivors returned to a traditional way of life and went back to traditional language, with some obvious new elements and synthesized a sort of neo-Japanese language. Then, after a few hundred years, the Republic of Japan reappeared out of its limbo, fresh off what to them was a three-day trip and bringing with them their preserved peak pre-war culture, society and language. It's interesting because although some 300 years *after* the Republic of Japan, the Empire of Japan had reverted much of their language to a time before even the Republic! This would be akin to a city in England disappearing for 300 years and emerging to find out that the survivors in England all speak Shakespearian English! The languages were compatible after some parsing, but there are still occasional misunderstandings and explanations for words needed. Between the Japanese that both empires speak, the Japanese on Rifts Earth remains nearly entirely pure, because there was no contest to it on their islands. Arguably, this form of spoken Japanese is one of the most pure languages left by a major power.

Chinese survived, as might be expected, due to the vast quantity of Chinese people that existed before the Rifts came. Chinese has remained fairly pure because of the fact that China and areas around it are demonic playgrounds and so very few people voluntarily enter the area. Near the Russia/China border, where fighting was heaviest between them, forced peace turned into (eventual) brotherly agreement to war against the supernatural, and the language there is mixed more than anywhere else, but as it is only the two major lingual groups and they are from different linguistic families, the impact is negligible, limited to contextual translation difficulties. Interestingly, Chinese has become the de facto language of Rifts Earth scholars, sort of how Latin used to be viewed in the Dark Ages. This is presumably because Chinese is difficult to learn and very hard to decrypt.

Yes, before you purists go insane, I realize I missed many languages, and before you nationalists go insane, I may have forgotten your country and left it out. This is simply because the languages above are the major languages used in most Rifts games. Other languages aren't major anymore or don't exist anymore. For instance, when the war broke out, India and Pakistan bombed the living hell out of each other and quite effectively annhiliated each other between the nuclear weapons and the rifts. The Middle East *still* glows after all of the mass destruction that took place there during the war and many languages including Israeli Hebrew and Arabic aren't nearly as common as they might be. The various Asian subcontinental languages (Vietnamese, Thai, etc.) are rarely in enough use that they qualify as major. The same goes for the various Native American, Aborigine and such languages. Most all of the European continent absorbed into Germany (including Scandanavia and points south). Regional languages are not included (Celtic, for instance) as they are localized. Africa was a mix of tribal languages to start with and has since become a continent of mystery under a mix of tribal languages. So what's left is the aforementioned languages. Also note that while Japanese isn't a globally known language, it is a major language simply because of the fact that the Republic of Japan is starting to contact outside the island once again.

You may also be wondering if any languages were created during this time. The basic answer is not really, simply because Humanity was more intent on recovering than being scholarly. There were some attempts during the Golden Age to create "universal" languages that were easy to learn and use, but most failed to catch on. Novelty languages were common before the war (Klingon, Tolkien Elven, etc.) but few have the luxury of that much free time these days to create entirely fictional languages. There only "new" language to be created during the entire Golden Age that lasts to this day is Techno.

Techno was originally created around 2029 by a student who needed a good project for his only English class. He took his major, computers, and applied a linguistic standard to the morass of technical terms and forms out there, and aside from receiving an A+, set new international standards for technology terminology. It's a very specialized language, meaning that it's not really meant for casual communication purposes, but rather a codified structure for all terms technical and the associated verbs. In many ways, it might be best to think of it in terms of Star Trek technobabble -- except that it has literal real world meaning and is more shorthand. It quickly gets to the heart of technical matters and aspects, though hearing two people talk in techno to each other is incredibly disorienting, or at least, annoying.

One other language must be mentioned, because if I don't, people will lynch me silly, and I'd like to correct one little oversight in Rifts canon.

Atlantean is the language spoken by True Atlanteans, who were originally from Rifts Earth. Contrary to popular belief, they did not speak English, since English did not exist back then. Nor did they speak Greek proper, although they were versed in Greek. They instead spoke an advanced form of Greek combined with some proto-Chinese. Speakers of either Greek or Chinese would be hard pressed to understand Atlantean these days, but it was once the mystical language of scholars. It possesses no magical power in and of itself, but is rather the tongue of an advanced civilization. As they have slowly returned to Rifts Earth, they have absorbed more and more Chinese and American into their Atlantean vocabulary and tend to conduct their affairs in the language of the area they are in, but to each other, they speak only Atlantean most of the time. Despite their transdimensional status, Atlantean has very little lingual drift, since they rarely converse to other races in it.

Special Case: Technological Translation

With the advent of supercomputing and cybernetics, translation software could be placed in the hands of even the most lowly peasant. Commercial translators often have large libraries of languages that they translate, although the low end often has only a few programmed in and can be affordable to some communities or wealthy peasants. By and large, this is vocal only because of the fact that lots of consumers around North American can't read (or shouldn't be able to, anyways). There are models available with full text display. Around the world, this is a fairly common thing and is hardly even novel anymore. Even many borgs have translation software installed so that they can understand the enemy. This is great, right?

Well, not really. The best of gear is limited by its software. The language software is programmed like anything else, but it has the same problem as many linguists -- some things just don't translate, or don't translate well. It also doesn't handle slang or dialects (see below) at all well. The net effect of this is that the translations made are often "best guesses" using contextual clues. While on Star Trek, the computers are hyperadvanced and always get it right, rarely is that the case with Rifts software, being simple low-end trinary. This, along with the fact that all language is dynamic and fluid, means that it can often be wrong in context, translating the literal but not the implied content. Since new words emerge and old ones change meaning or disappear, there is always something of a differential between the real use of the language and its software counterparts. On some older models, especially those that don't update their linguistic database, this can lead to considerable confusion.

Why wouldn't Near-Sentient Intelligences or other advanced computing be used? Cost, primarily. Every translator is built to "best guess" and the more advanced guesses they can make, the more expensive the computers get. Also, the lag time can get bad if the computer is too advanced (ironic, huh) because it considers such a vast amount of possibilities and analyzed entire past conversations. This is good for long-distance communication, but not so good if the troll is breathing down your neck with a big rusty axe. It's simply not cost-effective to mass produce superior translator models. Such models exist and, rest assured, are in the right hands and work pretty well, but even they can make mistakes from time to time, or translate too literally. They simply can't read inflection or emotion, so a troll yelling in your face may just get you a dull, monotone translation of "I-will-kill-you-END OF STATEMENT". Reading literal translations from it will also ring hollow, sort of "mechanically true" but lacking any emotional impact. It is usually pretty obvious when someone is operating off of a translator.

Nothing really beats a living person who knows the language in question. Technology isn't bad, but it has a long way to go before Star Trek.

Special Case: Magical Languages

Rifts Earth is a very diverse world since it awakened with magical and psychic energy. The question of whether or not Humanity was alone in the universe was answered with great and tragic finality. Humans are nothing if not adaptable, however, and some humans became able to use and manipulate that energy, and those we call mages. Mages learned that there wasn't simply a universe out there, but an entire megaverse and then some, crackling with life and sentience.

Magical languages are a class unto themselves. They encompass not only the mystical language of spells and incantations, but also the common language of higher entities, and in a very select set of cases, a powerful mortal race that incorporates magic into its very being and language. Magical languages are *very* rare and, as might be guessed, very subjective to each GM. :) Some GMs consider dragons as cosmic powers, for instance, while others think they are glorified animals. Use your own judgement, but the fact is that magical languages are extremely hard to learn for most anyone (impossible for those untrained in the magical arts). One does not learn to read magic, for instance, but rather comprehend what is written or said. It's not so much a pure language as it is a medium to allow communication of ideas and concepts that can't be expressed in mortal terms. Get it?

Enochian is said to be the language of angels. The veracity of that is unknown, but it is a higher language and its alphabet brims over with mystical energy. It isn't necessarily a language of power, in the sense of Power Words, but rather the language of the Higher Realms, where thought and reality break down into the same thing. This isn't the language used for spellcasting, although scrolls can be written in Enochian, but is more for those who have traffic with the Higher Realms.

Demonic is simply the opposite of Enochian -- the language of demons. This may be an oversimplification, because it is the higher language of the Lower Realms, which also tend to break down thought and reality into the same thing, but they often destroy it rather than create it. It is a dark and grim language and its effects on the sanity of those untrained in its use is rather gross. Again, this isn't the language of spellcasting, though those who traffic with the Lower Realms often learn it. Note that native speakers of Enochian cannot learn Demonic, although native speakers of Demonic are quite capable of learning Enochian (though they would have little use for it).

Hermetic *is* the language of spellcasting. Its name is taken from the old occult group, and the language is known by an infinite number of names around the megaverse, but for Rifts Earth purposes, it is referred to as Hermetic. It is a jealously guarded language and is never given out to non-spellcasters. Spellcasters who do not cast spells in the traditional way (druids, shamanistic mages, etc.) do not generally learn Hermetic.

Draconic is one of those subjective languages I mentioned from above. In my own game, dragons are rather cosmic in both nature and destiny, and they had their language handed down to them from the Elder Dragons. Draconic is the language dragons speak amongst each other, and only each other! It is dizzying in its complexity but can be used to exchange maximum amounts of information in minimum amounts of time, a good thing for a long-lived and rarely-visited race.

Special Case: Other Races

This file deals primarily with humans and our own languages. This is simply because adding every race that Palladium feels the need to put in their games into *this* file would make it impossibly huge. But there are some guidelines to keep in mind when dealing with species other than human. This does not cover the supernatural, including the Higher and Lower Realms, which are both covered under Magical Languages. This is simply for other standard races.

Alien languages are just that -- alien. This isn't to say they cannot be learned at all, but it's much harder to learn a deeb language, especially if the language doesn't have the same sort of mindset as the human species. Also note that just because you can understand the language doesn't always mean you comprehend what is being said. Terms in alien languages, especially slang and metaphors, are often entirely lost in the translation, or translate badly.

Easiest to learn are languages that are structurally like our own. A basic alphabet, pronounciation, grammar rules. The pronounciation may be a little off, or hard to do, but it can be picked up about as easily as any language, primarily because the mindset is the same. The various Goblinoid languages are a good example of this.

Harder to learn are languages that are not structurally similar, but that maintain a basic alphabet and rules. The basics are easy to learn but it can be incredibly hard to put it all together into coherence. Elven is an obvious example of this, with its musically fluid form.

Yet harder to learn are languages that have structure but have a very difficult alphabet, or even no alphabet at all! Languages of this kind tend to be incomprehensible to humans unless they are well trained and have a good ear, because while it has a structure, it's hard to determine the sounds and pronounciation. The most obvious example of this is Wolfen, with its barks and yips.

Hardest, if not impossible, to learn are the languages that have no identifiable structure or consistent alphabet. Often languages of this type are used by races that are wholly alien to humans and there is no common ground between them. This includes insectile species like Xiticix (and yes, purists, I know the Xiticix haven't been proven sentient, but they communicate if only by rote), or truly alien races.

Special Case: Psychics

Raging debate continues over whether or not psychics need to be versed in the language of the person they are in mind contact with. A fair argument can be made for either side, but I tend to fall on the side that says that thought to thought communication is often transcendental of mere language. That said, of course, what the psychic may receive won't necessarily make sense, especially the more alien the creature. Different people think in different ways, and while a human thinks much like the psychic, an elf would think in an entirely different sort of way. Other races have varying amounts of psychic powers themselves, so they are not entirely defenseless.

However, if you determine that psychics need to know the language of the person they are scanning, then quite often perhaps the psychic only receives images or "scenes" from the mind rather than a sort of running monologue. You may have it not fixed, but rather depending on how the roll goes for the psychic connection -- roll very high and you get automatic translation, roll lower and you do not. Because we know so little of the mind and how it works, much less psychic powers, there is no definite right way and only depends on your personal style and preference.

Language in Your Game

Language Families

The first thing that must be decided upon is the metafamilies of the languages. This groups languages that are structurally similiar to each other and sets the first major hurdle. This is more for expedience than for accuracy, so please don't e-mail me and flame me about this.

Basically, it's easiest to divide the languages into four major categories -- African, European, Asian and Arabic. African not only covers Africa itself but many Native American and tribal languages. European also covers English, by extension of Britain, although the link between Britain and Europe as a whole is very thin indeed. Asian covers all of the various Oriental langauges as well as Hindi, Pakistani and the area. Arabic covers the majority of the Middle East with the obvious exception of Hebrew.

Every language on Earth can be placed into one of the four language families. It may not be a perfect fit, but it's good for retaining some degree of realism as well as making it flow easy enough. Each family has its own basic structure and form that are at least somewhat similar to the other languages in that family. Or at least, close enough for our purposes.

Understanding Languages

The relatively anticlimatic skill roll for understanding a language in fact covers a great deal of activity. Often, it is not a simple case of either understanding or not understanding, but a degree of shades, with some ideas and concepts getting through and others simply not. Often, things simply cannot translate well into another language, even if the speaker is entirely sure of what that concept it. Other times, the translation may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Language rolls aren't about getting the exact message. It's about being understood. Just because a character can express himself in a language doesn't mean he will necessarily be understood.

The following guidelines can be used as a quick reference to understanding languages, if you don't want the hassle of going through all of the language rules, or even in addition to the language rules. Just because someone made a successful language roll doesn't mean he understands it all necessarily, especially if his core language skill is low! Keep in mind that this is the most briefest of shorthand. In general, unless people grew up with the language around perpetually, the language skill should rarely go above 90%. Anything above it represents a serious immersion attempt or many, many years of speaking the language (without it being your primary language).

0% to 10%: The character barely grasps the language. He cannot hold any legitimate form of conversation and is likely only limited to very basic words and pantomime. Roughly equal to a toddler.

11% to 25%: The character has started to grasp the underlying structure of the language but his range is still very limited. He knows basic numbers, some useful verbs and individually important phrases to get around on, but cannot hold any kind of higher conversation, only relay information mostly. Equivalent to a grade schooler.

26% to 50%: The character understands the structure of the language and has a wider range. He can conduct himself in a basic fashion in a social situation, and can convey information reasonably well, although he will get caught up on the details. Can handle past and future tenses reasonably well. Equivalent to a high schooler.

51% to 75%: The character has a good grasp of the language at this point, and can handle himself well in social situations. Can discuss some limited advanced concepts at a simple level and can convey information fairly easily. Equivalent to a college student.

76% to 90%: The character has a firm command of the language, and can handle most any situation that arises. Can even discuss technical and philosophical points with others in the language. Speaks with a very slight accent that is barely noticeable anymore. Equivalent to a professor.

91% to 98%: The character owns this language. He can discuss most anything with anyone who speaks the language, as well as advanced concepts like existentialism and energy-mass transfers. Chances are the character is either native to a place where the language is spoken or was on an immersion program that lasted too long. Speaks with no deteactable accent. Equivalent to a long-lived area native.

Cascading Language Skills

Have you ever noticed that someone who speaks Spanish can often get the point across to someone who speaks Italian, or French? This is because the languages of the aforementioned metafamilies are often quite similar to each other structurally, if not by content. What this means is that someone who speaks German may in fact be able to get their idea across to someone who speaks Dutch, or Spanish. The exact extent of this is up to the GM (which is why you have to group your metafamilies carefully) but in general allows for a chance at communication with someone who speaks a language of the same metafamily. By the way, the detail you put into your metafamilies may entirely make this option void, but if you play it cinematically, it will work fine.

In general, speaking any language in your same metafamily that you are unskilled at gives you a chance to be understood. This applies only to languages in the same metafamily (African, Arabic, Asian, or European). The GM has the final say on whether you can do this or not. If the option of cascading language skills is allowed, you have a chance equal to 10% of the core language skill in question. So if Johann the German Juicer has German (98%), he could attempt to speak to any of the European metafamily languages at a base chance of 10%. That does not sound like a lot, but that's for a slightly silimar language with no basis other than a whole other language. Be nice and round up.

Note that if the character has less than 10% in a language skill, he cannot attempt this as he simply lacks the knowledge to even attempt to parse into a different language. This cascading can *NOT* be used across metafamily lines, meaning that you could not use Japanese as a remote base to try to speak German.


Adding regional dialects into your game is often enough to provide a sense of diversity without hamstringing the characters into choosing all language skills just so they can have a conversation. Dialects are not languages proper, but rather regional flavour, including unique local words and various slang (which never translates well). The key is that they use a language as a base, but then make it into their own patois. So for instance, with English, there are many dialects including Newfie, Bostonian, Cajun, Texan, and so forth. Anyone who speaks the base language can understand them, but depending on the thickness of the accent or the density of the dialect, it might be hard or damn near impossible to understand them. Going up into the Highlands of Scotland is a good example of this -- they speak English there, but the Scottish dialect is so strong that you can't understand a word they say.

The easiest way to represent this in game is to give a flat penalty for dealing with a new dialect until the character can get a sense of it. It could be as little as -10% for a simple drawl (Texan or Bostonian) to -60% for truly incomprehensible dialects (aforementioned Highlander). This assumes that the character has the root language -- if he does not, then treat it as an encounter with an unknown language. If the character has the language but its rating is below the penalty, he can't crack the patois and simply stands there looking bewildered.

The harder way to include it in the game is to create subskills off of the root language. The first encounter with a dialect would be at full penalty and would be written down as such, and then the dialect can be worked on until it reaches the full value (but not more!) of the root language. So if Bob the Cyber-Knight has American (98%) and runs into a Highlander (not the immortal, dumbass), the -50% would apply and so Bob would have on his character sheet:

American (98%)
   Highland Scottish (38%)

After a certain amount of time, as Bob gets used to the Highlander's unique style of speech, his penalty would gradually diminish until he was only at -10% of the core language skill, since there will always be oddities and variations in the dialect as compared to the main core. The dialect can NEVER exceed the amount of the core language! Bob's sheet would eventually look like this:

American (98%)
   Highland Scottish (88%)

This is more realistic, but also more of a pain to keep track of, not to mention making the Language skills messy. However, if you are going to deal with a lot of dialects, it's often better to keep track of them in detail than if the PCs are just passing through and should thus get a flat penalty. The exact rate at which the penalty bleeds off should be determined by how hard the dialect is and how much exposure the PC has to it. Ultimately, frequent exposure will reduce it faster than periodic exposure, especially if the speaker is willing to indulge in the PC's questions ("What's a ba'heid?").

Note that if you are going to include dialects in your game, don't forget to use it universally. Which is to say, regional variations apply to deebs as well as humans, like anything.

Lingual Shifts

Characters who emerge from the rifts or are in suspended animation with a hot anime cyborg chick for 300 years or what have you, they come into Rifts Earth with a problem. Treat lingual shifts, which are changes in meaning and additions and subtractions from language, as dialects until the character gets used to it. This assumes the character speaks the same language as someone he is talking to on Rifts Earth. For dimensional imports, the more varied the difference between the culture the character came from and Rifts Earth, the larger the penalty will be. It's possible that the character could come from an identical dimension as Rifts Earth, but still have significant lingual shift simply because the language on the other world took a different turn (perhaps Survivor flopped).


Despite having said all of this, I still support the idea of a more fast and loose language system, more of a Hollywood-style version. It is simply because each question opened up on the language issue manages to open up three more with each solution. If we took language as most literal and realistic, then no one in Rifts could talk to each other, by and large. It's the same reason that we don't want to see Picard spend an hour looking up Romulan words -- it just ain't at all fun. Rifts is a game, not a course in linguistics. Take it as serious or as light as you wish, but keep in mind that the more realistic you get about language, the bigger headache you're going to have later when your custom-designed giga-enemy fails his language roll and can't tell the characters his carefully crafted plan a round before they all die. :) Okay, so I'm trying to be funny. But seriously, it is one area, one of very few, that I concur with the majority of the RPG world and just agree to nudge and wink and tip the hat a little and let it be.

This isn't to say that there shouldn't be any language problems in your game. Quite the contrary! Language can provide some great roleplaying, and some wonderful story hooks can come out of a lingual misunderstanding or misinterpretation ("You mean he *didn't* want us to paint his sink?"). Keep the language issue loosely realistic, but don't get overboard about it. You know me, I'm all about fixing this game, but this is one of those things that we let sleep. So get over it. :)

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