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In various versions of D&D, there's a cleric spell called "Command" where the cleric compels an enemy to obey a one-word command. Typical commands might be "sleep", "flee", "surrender", "undress", etc.

The problem for me is this limitation of using only one word. A command that's only one word in English might be more than one word in another language, and vice versa. "Have a nightmare" and "card wool" are single words in Navajo. Czech has a single word that means "call someone and let it ring only once so they know to call you back". Many languages let you incorporate the object in one word with the verb, so "give me it" is one word in Spanish, or even "go play with dolls" as one word in Chukchi.

D&D may have started as an English-language game, but it's gotten rather worldwide now. So I'm wondering, how do people limit Command to one word when playing D&D not in English?

Edit: Note that I'm not asking for suggestions for me and my gaming group, I'm looking to find out what is actually done in non-English gaming groups.

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Forget real world languages, how does this rule work with Dwarven vs Elven vs Draconic or whatever... –  GMNoob Nov 4 '11 at 7:37
    
@GMNoob That's one of the thoughts I had that made me look at the problem, consider it briefly, and then reject trying to properly solve it as being a massive can of worms. As someone with a bit of a linguistics background, I can easily see how much work it would be to even begin solving this properly. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '11 at 19:20
    
Note that recent versions of D&D (i.e. 3.x, Pathfinder) sidestep this issue entirely by restricting legal command words. I wouldn't be surprised if language issues factored into that decision. –  AceCalhoon Nov 4 '11 at 20:25
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3 Answers

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Well, I would assume they get to use whatever is only one word in their own language. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Basically, if it's a single word imperative in your language, you get it. C'est la vie.

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I'd go with this. It's not going to be overpowered in the vast majority of cases, and the few that might be overpowered has a precedent in the game's English history with "die" and "suicide" not working. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '11 at 1:52
    
Although I'd agree that this correctly represents the inevitable bias that choice of language introduces, I'd also say that the definition of the spell can be improved to be more consistent across languages. –  edgerunner Nov 7 '11 at 6:53
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The spell should be thought of as a simple active singular imperative:

  • simple — meaning only a single action to complete
  • active — meaning that the doer does something
  • singular — meaning the actor can accomplish the task alone
  • the object of the verb must be implicit

As a heuristic, pick a language, say... the one you speak.. and any single word command qualifies for the spell. If a player insists upon a word in Orcish that means 'Travel to your home town and harvest the leeks of the strongest warrior' you should respond with a word that means 'You no longer get to cast that spell in my games'.. you know, to keep in the spirit of things.

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The idea of the question isn't to find out how Orcish handles this problem, but Spanish or Russian or Icelandic -- the language of the players, not the characters. –  Joe Nov 7 '11 at 4:49
    
Although, in my games, I usually come up with at least a bare-bones framework of the local languages, so if a player insists on doing this, I'll insist on them learning the language... –  Joe Nov 9 '11 at 16:19
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Why don't you stop counting words and redefine it as a one verb command? That would better define the intent of the original and be more consistent across languages. No adverbs, no nouns, just one simple or compound verb.

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Saying "one verb" doesn't actually fix the problem. Many languages require you to make the object part of the verb, so that one verb in that language carries the meaning of much more than one verb in English. It would be as if "defenestrate" were a completely regular way of making a verb. –  Joe Nov 3 '11 at 23:42
    
How about "exhume", a single word verb that automatically involves soil, or "cut", a verb that may be misunderstood in many different ways? You'll probably never get it to be 100% consistent across languages but you may increase consistency with a one verb rule that excludes nouns, even compounded ones. –  edgerunner Nov 3 '11 at 23:50
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Sorry, no. Languages are not so simple as that. In many languages it's actually impossible to isolate a verb and have it be comprehensible. This answer assumes all languages work the same as English, which is an irony. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '11 at 1:50
    
Trust me, I speak a couple more languages of different groups, know a bit about some others, and the dictionary definition of a verb is the same, although how a verb is represented varies widely. –  edgerunner Nov 7 '11 at 6:48
    
I don't dispute that "verb" means the same thing in other language contexts. I'm only saying that not all languages can have one-word verbs that both a) don't roll other semantics into the word and b) are grammatically meaningful. For example Inuktitut, being an polysynthetic language, doesn't have words that are "only" semantic verbs; one "word" is an entire independent grammatical phrase when translated into English. The verb particles on their own are meaningless, and the grammatical action-words are things like "Travel to your home town and harvest the leeks of the strongest warrior". –  SevenSidedDie Nov 9 '11 at 19:58
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