Playing with Words

Published April 15, 2014 by in Uncategorized

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TM and © 2013 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2013 Monte Cook Games, LLC

The following are a few ideas for the use of language in your games.  The Ninth World is so big and full of interesting cultures.  Language is such a prominent cultural artifact, taken with members of the society even when far from home.  It even flavors conversations outside of the language through accents.  Writing can be a window into the culture as well, providing interesting details to the campaign.

Language Weirdness

Here are a few bits to throw into your games or use for inspiration.

Glowing Speech.  Several of the tribes of Plains of Kataru, in The Beyond, are marked by an unusual language- one that can be seen.  The language is called Fraa and besides its musical sounding vowels and soft consonants, it manifests physically as a wispy cloud of green glowing energy coming from the mouth of the speaker.  The tribes who speak the language are all markedly pale of skin in comparison to the other inhabitants of the plains, and they do not generally mix with outsiders.  However those they trade with have been known to pick up the language, causing them to similarly glow from the mouth when speaking it.  Speakers describe the harmless plasma as having a taste and smell similar to the air after a storm.

Hunting Word.  A stalker of human and other sapient prey, the Wordsscratcher is a Level 6 creature that hunts the Seshar area of The Beyond.  It resembles a massive 4 legged spider, with what looks like a featureless humanoid face.  The scratcher hunts by using one of its claws to carve a single word into a flat surface near civilization and then hides by lying flat on the ground a ways off.  The scratcher waits until a passerby reads the carving, at which point the strange word embeds itself into the mind of the victim, causing them to do nothing but think about the word, even as the Wordscratcher consumes them.  The people of Seshar who live near these creatures work hard to avert their eyes from potential words carvings as they travel, usually looking at the sky for safety.

No Sound.  A virus that causes its victims to suffer muteness is rampant in the area near Rathscor Fortress in the Pyheron Empire.  The disease has been present for as long as locals can remember, and they’ve adapted to it by constructing a language based purely on facial movements.  Through complex and subtle expressions and eye rolls, the “Rathscor mutes” are able to speak with great speed and nuance so long as they are looking at one another.

Three Parts.  The nomads of Milave speak three distinct languages, depending on the situation.  Each language has a completely different syntax and vocabulary, the one unifying similarity being that the languages may not be blended with another, and may not be altered.  One may not speak Jad, the more formal language, while using curse words from the more familiar seeming Gensidia tongue.  The languages cannot change over time- their speakers find themselves at a loss as to why.  The nomads tend to use the different languages for different occasions- Jad for war and scholarship, Gensidia for casual conversation, and Dron for love and anger.

Walking Words.  Affable insectoid abhumans called Densee, who largely dwell in Malevich and Thaemor, have developed a kind of writing script that appears animated upon the surface it is written.  The chunky symbols are said by nano’s to evoke the Numenera in some way, causing them to writhe and move.  The language itself has adapted to this effect, so that words with relationships to one another happen to be the ones interacting on the page- “mother” embraces “child”, “war” causes words to invade each other, etc.

Additional Resources

Blambot Fonts has a lot of great fantasy and scifi fonts.  Here’s their “strange languages” section:

Here’s a repository of various constructed language scripts:

A great source of interesting iconography is The Noun Project:

Redheadstock on Deviantart has tons of free brushes for Photoshop and GIMP featuring runes, symbols, and sigils.  I used them extensively in my Numenera supplement: Angels & Ashes.


An example of a constructed alternate alphabet, with its own syntax and spelling conventions.  By James Walls.

An example of a constructed alternate alphabet, with its own syntax and spelling conventions. By James Walls.

All else fails make something up.  It can be tons of fun.  Here’s an example of a constructed language made by James Walls (who will eventually be writing articles here on theninthworld).  It’s an alternate alphabet that reads right to left, with phonetic spelling, allowing for a kind of encryption.


2 thoughts on “Playing with Words

  1. i wish i could vote this up more. great article and thanks for the additional resources section. i love design but am no good at it, having a bank of alien script is so valuable and (i hope) fun for the pcs…

  2. tygertyger says:

    This is the best article I’ve read on the site to date! As it happens, I was compiling a list of available languages in the Numenera setting at the request of one of my players (he took the “Lives on the Road” focus). I have added Fraa, Rathscor Mute, Densee Script, and the Milavian languages to that list. Thanks, Ryan!

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