"Secret" Languages in Tears of Blood
Some portions of society have ‘secret’ languages. Over the years, these individuals developed a means to communicate without disclosing their content to others. In all cases, these messages are simplistic. Secret languages are generally not capable of discussing religion or politics. Instead, they are used to mark areas as dangerous, identify safe-havens, show membership in a guild, and other simple messages. They are more than a sigil or symbol, but less than a full-blown language.
Mechanically, all secret languages work the same. Secret languages do not take up a language slot nor do they require any skill points in Linguistics. A class grants access to a “secret” language for free. Fluency in any secret language is measured at a skill level equal to the level gained in the class that granted it. As a rule of thumb, the skill level is also the number of words that can be included in a message. Most messages are ‘written’ in glyphs or patterns while some secret languages include - or are entirely - hand-signs. Non-members can sometimes determine the usage of a secret language using skill checks as outlined here.
Those who know a secret language can read any message in that language whose skill level is equal to or below their own. They must succeed at a skill check to read higher-level messages. The DC is 10+skill level of message, against a D20+the skill level of the reader + any bonus. Those who are not fluent in a secret language can make a Linguistics check against the same DC to determine if a particular secret language is being used, although they cannot automatically decipher the message. Regardless of whether one is fluent or not, a synergy bonus applies to their check as described below.
The "Secret" Languages include:
Morvaniman Sign Language [this could use a new name]
‘Thieves Cant’ is a language known only by Rogues and Assassins. It can be used either in written/glyph form, as hand-signs, or as a combination of the two. Translation/Detection: a synergy bonus of +2 applies to any check regarding Thieves Cant with 5 or more ranks in Knowledge: Local. Translation is possible with Comprehend Languages only for that part of the message that is in written form.
‘Draconic Prophecy’ is a language known only by Dragons. It can only be written and usually appears as complex glyphs. Translation/Detection: a synergy bonus of +2 applies to any check regarding Draconic Prophecy with 5 or more ranks in Knowledge: Arcana. Translation is possible with Comprehend Languages, although even then the meaning may not be clear.
‘Druidic’ is a form of communication known only by Druids. It uses an obscure system of patterns, colors and symbols, with messages often appearing as nothing more than an arrangement of stones or other objects. More permanent messages can appear as carefully tended groves of trees or in the winding path of a river. Some Druids wear a pattern on their clothing as a hidden message. Translation/Detection: a synergy bonus of +2 applies to any check regarding Druidic with 5 or more ranks in Knowledge: Nature. Translation is not possible by non-Druids, and Druids are forbidden to teach this language to any non-Druids.
‘Morvaniman Sign Language’ is a silent hand-sign language known only by Morvanima Elves. Never found in written form, it is passed down from parents to children only among the Morvanima. Translation/Detection: a synergy bonus of +2 applies to any check regarding Morvaniman Sign Language with 5 or more ranks in Knowledge: Local. Translation is not possible, and Morvanima are forbidden to teach this language outside their race.
‘Shadowsign’ is a secret hand-sign language used by an organization called The Shadows of the Sunlit World, more commonly known as The Shadow Guild. This is a secret organization believed to be controlled by Gnomes who wish to spy on the upper world. It is taught only to members of the Guild. Translation/Detection: a synergy bonus of +2 applies to any check regarding Shadowsign with 5 or more ranks in Knowledge: Arcana. Translation is not possible, and it is forbidden to teach this language to anyone outside the Guild.
‘Xoko’ is a secret sign language used by Sorcerers to communicate among themselves. It allows Sorcerers to recognize each other in public and communicate basic messages without drawing Imperial attention. Sorcery is outlawed in most parts of the Empire, and although enforcement is chaotic at best, there are still those who use the law to their advantage. Sorcerers will never teach this language to non-Sorcerers, except perhaps for a few hand signs or words of recognition to their allies.Translation/Detection: a synergy bonus of +2 applies to any check regarding Xoko with 5 or more ranks in Knowledge: Arcana. Translation is not possible, and it
is forbidden to teach the full language to anyone who is not a Sorcerer.
Other secret languages may be developed as your DM/GM sees fit. Note also that Comprehend Languages can only translate spoken words or written messages, and Tongues can only translate spoken words. Even if translated, the meaning may not be clear. Neither spell can translate sign language. The Linguistics skill also applies only to spoken or written languages.
Smiley the 5th level Rogue needs to mark a business as protected by the guild so other rogues won’t violate the Guilds promise, and ruin the protection racket. Since he is 5th level, he has 5 skill levels in Thieves Cant and can write up to a 5 word message. However, he also doesn't want any mistakes, so he uses a message that states ‘Guild Paid’… a skill level 2 message that should be readable by any other Rogue or Assassin of 2nd level or above. For a 1st level Rogue or Assassin, the DC would be 12 to decipher the meaning. A 1st level Rogue would have a minimum of +1 to their check from their level, plus any synergy bonus.
Furfred the Druid wants to help errant travelers. He sets up some simple markers to lead the way to shelter and fresh water. The message reads ‘shelter water east’. Any passing Druid would have a chance to notice the message and read it. At the shelter, Furfred places a longer message of “Avoid western valley, dread spirits, eastern hills protected.” This has eight words, and so requires a Druid of 8th level or higher, or a Druid who can beat a DC 18 check, to read it. Alternatively, Furfred could have spread his message out into three messages but he would have needed a larger space to ‘write’ all the symbols.
Any character who devotes a Linguistics Skill Point to "Reading Lips" can read the lips of the speaker of any language in which they are fluent. Note that a distant or partially obscured speaker may require a Perception check in order to see what is being said. Reading the lips of a speaker of a language for which the character is not fluent is not possible unless used in combination with Comprehend Languages, Tongues, or similar.
Using Bluff and Sense Motive
You can use Bluff to pass any hidden messages to another character without others understanding your true meaning. The DC of this check is 15 for simple messages and 20 for complex messages. If you are successful, the target automatically understands you, assuming you are speaking in a language that it understands. If your check fails by 5 or more, you deliver the wrong message. Other creatures that hear the message can decipher the message by succeeding at an opposed Sense Motive check against your Bluff result.
You may use Sense Motive to detect that a hidden message is being transmitted via the Bluff skill. In this case, your Sense Motive check is opposed by the Bluff check of the character transmitting the message. For each piece of information relating to the message that you are missing, you take a –2 penalty on your Sense Motive check. If you succeed by 4 or less, you know that something hidden is being communicated, but you can't learn anything specific about its content. If you beat the DC by 5 or more, you intercept and understand the message. If you fail by 4 or less, you don't detect any hidden communication. If you fail by 5 or more, you might infer false information.