So, I have a party with a Half-Orc Barbarian who cannot read and only speaks very simply. The last session ended with the party discovering a note written in Orc, which nobody other than the barbarian speaks. Multiple members of the party speak and read Dwarvish.

Since Orc and Dwarvish use the same script, the plan is to read the note aloud to the Half-Orc and have him translate what he hears into common. Similar to if an English only speaker tried to read Spanish to a Spanish speaker for them to translate. I like the idea, but I don't know how best to resolve the result.

For more information: The barbarian has an INT score of 4, severely limiting his vocabulary anyway.

Would this idea even be possible to execute?

If possible:

What would be the appropriate skill checks for the reader and the barbarian? How much should the result of the reader's roll affect the barbarian's DC to understand/translate?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you a player or the DM? \$\endgroup\$
    – MrHiTech
    May 29, 2019 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on Languages shared script issue \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 29, 2019 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ It really depends on how the different languages use the alphabets in your world. To use a concrete example, English and Spanish both have "LL" sounds. However, an English speaker would probably phonetically spell "Caballo" (horse) as "cabayo". \$\endgroup\$
    – Renegade
    May 29, 2019 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like it could also be a highly entertaining exchange to role play. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    May 29, 2019 at 18:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I should note that using the same letters isn't much of a guarantee. In China they have a single written alphabet which is used by both speakers of Manadarin and Cantonese. The written words mean the same, but the pronounciation for each is different. You are the DM though so you can decide how the languages work. \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2019 at 23:28

2 Answers 2


Use an intelligence check

An Intelligence check comes into play when you need to draw on logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning. The Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion skills reflect aptitude in certain kinds of Intelligence checks.

The character has to hear mangled or mispronounced sounds and sort out what they are in their native tongue then translate that to the common tongue. This seems like a tall order. A professional translator or diplomat might struggle with this task. Set the DC for getting the correct message accordingly.

Tiered Failure

Failing to get the whole script spot on might still yield useful information. Some adventure modules provide different levels of information for different DC rolls. E.g. A 22 is required to get the whole message spot on, but a 10 might yield the just the nouns of the message.


This task could utilize a variety of skills. For example, A player could argue that knowledge history check could assist in helping the reader correctly pronounce the syllables based on some know history of their shared script or etymologies.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you done this? How did it work? What did you use for failures? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 29, 2019 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I've run similar translate or figure out script kind of challenges. Very similar to described in the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    May 29, 2019 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you add that detail? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 29, 2019 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I don't think it would add much to the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    May 29, 2019 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Up to you, but answers that aren't supported and backed up may generate downvotes/deletion (or not!) \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 29, 2019 at 18:22

He won't be able to translate

A creature with an INT of 4 is unlikely going to be able to translate a garbled version of one language into another that they can(?) speak.

Most creatures with INTs of 5 or less don't have this ability, and even Find Steed requires moving their INT to 6 in order to communicate.

Even if you rule that they can still speak with an INT 4, it just doesn't make any sense that they'd have the intelligence to translate. You've also stated that their speech is already simplified and that they can't read, so with that consideration, it seems an impossible task for them to do a translation based off of someone else's attempt at reading out loud an unknown language.

As with any task that is impossible to succeed at, there shouldn't be a roll for it. Of course, it is up to you what the DC will be if you do want to consider it. But note that anything over a 18 will automatically fail based on their INT even if they roll a 20.

A case of INT 3

There's a player at a table I'm playing at who has an INT of 3. He's chosen to play him as both illiterate and unable to talk. While that may be more extreme than OP's situation in that OP is allowing simple speech for INT 4, it does show that in my situation, it would be 100% impossible as they can't talk at all. While this may be a houserule, it is similar to what OP is doing and shows the disadvantage of roleplaying a very low INT.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are there any canonical cases of a minimum INT requirement to attempt some kind of task? I ask because the usual way we represent the effect of low INT is to make INT checks and fail, not to rule that some tasks are impossible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    May 29, 2019 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells It depends on the DC. But it also depends on how this table is Roleplaying a 4 INT. They've already decided it makes them illiterate and that even speech is simplified so I'm having a hard time parsing that with even being able to attempt this. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 29, 2019 at 18:35

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