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Since Starfinder has been released I've been interested in using it as a system for an exploratory kind of campaign. Imagine West Marches meets Star Trek. There's a lot I and the people I'm playing with like about it for this case, but one particular thing that I'm struggling with right now is how to enable communication between alien races.

In traditional Pathfinder, D&D and a lot of other fantasy systems, there is often one language spoken by almost everyone (common), and then there is often a race specific language for each race. It's rare that you don't find another intelligent character that you or someone in your party can't communicate with, and in the few cases you can't, it can be presented by the GM as a cool puzzle to solve, or an interesting way of hiding information.

In the Starfinder handbook, it lists 32 languages and mentions that there are many more. Since the campaigns take place over the vastness of space there are many people on many worlds which would have no reason to share any language with any of the players. In fact there is a good reason they wouldn't even know common because they haven't had enough (if any) interaction with people from the pact worlds. This makes it difficult for the players exploring a world. They land on a planet, but have no way of communicating with the inhabitants. Sure, maybe the language barrier might be a cool problem to solve the first one or two times, but this will easily start to grate if the players have this problem every single session.


My question is, what ways can I enable my players to communicate with the many aliens they won't share languages with?

Answers can be from Starfinder or ported from Pathfinder, homebrew, or GM techniques. It would be nice if there remains a possibility for language barrier situations, for it to be available to low level characters and for it to be something which doesn't have limits (e.g. not "can only be used for 10 minutes a day") though I know that all of this is unlikely. I'm really just looking for options here.

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RAW

Telepathic Message (Spell, 0th, Mystic/Technomancer)
This allows the caster to send and receive telepathic messages with a target. It's not clear to me whether the caster and target must share a language already. Because so many other effects explicitly state that their telepathy is language-dependent or use the phrase "limited telepathy", I would rule that this spell is not language dependent. Note that all communications would need to be funneled through the caster.

Share Language (Spell, 1st, Mystic)
This allows the caster to grant a language to the target for 24 hours. This allows your whole party to communicate with as many creatures as spell slots you're willing to expend.

Mindlink Circlet Mk 3 (Level 14 magic item, 78,000 Credits)

You can telepathically communicate with any creatures within 100 feet that are capable of understanding language, including languages you do not understand. This otherwise functions like a shirren’s limited telepathy racial trait.

This would definitely do the trick, but would need GM fiat to acquire at low levels. It would also either be limited to a single party member, or require one for each party member.

Homebrew

You mentioned Star Trek. In that universe, Universal Translators are commonplace. Perhaps your crew is testing a prototype of one of these devices, or is using their recent invention as an opportunity to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

The device doesn't need to be perfect - maybe you encounter languages the device can't handle yet, and it requires engineering and culture checks to modify. Maybe it works, but your crew needs to solve a linguistic puzzle to truly understand it (as in the TNG episode "Darmok"). Even with a universal translator, there is room for interesting challenges as the plot requires.

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I know this is 8 months late, but I discovered this about a month or so ago while building using PCGen.

Pathfinder space add on translator:

Price 1,550 gp; Slot none; CL 3rd; Weight —; Aura faint divination

Description

This single earring consists of a prismatic crystal set into a platinum bezel. A traveler’s translator provides its owner a basic and limited ability to communicate with intelligent creatures that speak unfamiliar languages.

When created, a traveler’s translator is imprinted with a single base language chosen by its creator (typically Common), and is capable of learning one additional language. When its owner speaks the command word, the traveler’s translator begins listening to all spoken conversations and speech within 30 feet. After 1 minute of exposure to a language other than its base language, the translator learns the new language. Thereafter, the item automatically translates speech of the newly learned language into the translator’s base language, telepathically imparting the translated words to its owner. A traveler’s translator can store only one learned language at a time and can learn only one language per day—speaking the command word again after at least 24 hours causes the translator to erase the previously learned language (but not its base language) to make room for a new language.

As a standard action, the owner of the stone can designate a single creature within 30 feet. When the owner speaks aloud to that creature in the translator’s base language, the traveler’s translator telepathically transmits the owner’s meaning to the target, using the learned language. A traveler’s translator does not grant its owner the ability to read or write in either the base or the learned language.

Construction Requirements

Cost 775 gp; Feats Craft Wondrous Item; Spells share language

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to the site! Thank you for taking the time to try and help others, and help us to produce the most thorough compendium of knowledge for RPGs on the internet. However, in order to make sure that our answers are always useful to readers, we try to avoid link-only answers: this would be a far superior answer if you included some information about the translator itself in your answer. Basically, we want to make sure that this answer is useful even if that page dies, and since this is open-game content, we’re free to include the whole description right here. I’ll do that for you here. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 30 '18 at 2:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ The other thing that’s important, though, is that answers recognize the game that’s being asked about. Starfinder is not Pathfinder, despite being similar. If you have tried this, though, you could easily make a good answer from describing how this Pathfinder item worked in your Starfinder game. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 30 '18 at 2:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan While the question is about Starfinder, OP does also say "Answers can be […] ported from Pathfinder". \$\endgroup\$ – Draconis May 30 '18 at 4:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Draconis Derp, good point. Still, it would be better to describe why this particular port works, since the question also notes that Pathfinder has tons of ways to do this. But +1 nonetheless. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 30 '18 at 9:53
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Another option might be to use the Ultimate Campaign Retraining Rules for Pathfinder: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/ultimateCampaign/campaignSystems/retraining.html

It's not perfect, but with a little adaptation it could help. It assumes the party has the time either before, or during, the adventure - but depending on the scenario, you could handwave that a bit.

In particular:

New Language

You can spend time to learn an additional language. It takes 20 days of training to gain a bonus language, and these days need not be consecutive. Each language requires a trainer who shares a language with you and knows the language you want to learn, or a book written in a language you know that explains the basics of the language you want to learn.

The new language does not count toward your maximum number of languages (racial languages + bonus languages from Intelligence + Linguistics ranks). You can train this way only a number of times equal to 1 + your Intelligence bonus.

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