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My hapless band of seven adventurers of eighth-level are about to encounter unfriendly Lizardfolk, who only speak Draconic.

The only character that speaks Draconic is the Wizard with bad breath (CHA 8, -1).

The Bard (CHA 19, +4) usually does the talking. However, he doesn't speak Draconic.

In case they decide to parley with the Lizardfolk, with the Wizard translating for the Bard, I plan on letting the Bard roll a Charisma (Persuasion, or whatever) check with disadvantage, because of the loss of nuance in translation.

Does this make sense? Is there some official ruling on using "social" skills through a translator?

Note that I'm aware that the Bard could use some McGuffin of Comprehend Languages, but they don't have one of those. The other party members are a Fighter, a Cleric, a Druid, a Rogue and a Ranger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking 'are there any rules for using a translator' or 'can my bard do all the talking'? I seem to read this very different to others, and your bad breath note makes it sound like you don't want this wizard actually doing any physical speaking. I would also suggest you remove the 'does this make sense' because you are drawing opinions as answers, asking about official rulings as you are also doing is good though. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 30 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri: I personally would love for the Wizard to also talk. (It's not that he has not been doing so, they don't go over the top in terms of having only people with good stats do specific things.) I'm really looking for a fun way that everyone's character choices - the Wizard knowing Draconic but having low CHA, the Bard having high CHA but only knowing "standard" languages - has an impact on the game. I'm really looking for reasonable ways to deal with this, so I would like seeing official rulings, but I'm not above breaking rules in the name of fun, so opinions are fine with me, too. \$\endgroup\$ – Stephan Kolassa Jan 31 at 10:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joe Please don't answer in comments, we try not to do that here. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Feb 1 at 1:23
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There is no precedent, but that seems pretty clearly a situation that calls for disadvantage. Alternately, if you want to involve both players, you can instead have each one roll a separate check - the bard rolls Charisma (Persuasion) to see how convincing an argument he makes, while the wizard makes a Intelligence (Persuasion) check to see how well he can translate it (I suggest Intelligence here because that attribute has a long history of association with languages, including being the attribute raised by the Linguist feat - and also because it's much likely to be a good attribute for the wizard). If you take the lower of the two values, it'll be a comparable result to a single roll made with disadvantage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't get behind something that is effectively 'make up a new type of action that has no precedent in the entire game'. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 30 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, why would you let the wizard use intelligence? Just because that is what wizards are good at? A citation of the rules would be good here to explain why you are recommending this, and make it seem less like an opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 30 at 17:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Languages have a long connection with Intelligence in dnd - Linguist is a intelligence half-feat, and intelligence used to give you additional languages in prior editions. Also, the wizard doesn't need to be charismatic and convincing, he just has to not screw up the bard's figuring out the right words to make others see their side (IE charisma). \$\endgroup\$ – vonBoomslang Jan 30 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ While expannding on your reasoning was indeed helpful, you should still cite from the sources that confirm this. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Feb 1 at 11:29
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Addressing your particular situation, your ruling would be appropriate, but you can do something both more interesting and closer to the spirit of the rules : Let Wizard do the roll, but give him advantage for being helped.

First, when you ask a player a roll, it's because his character is acting using his character's stat. In you case, Wizard is doing the talking, doing the negotiating (with arguments and wording chosen by Bard). So Wizard should be rolling. Bard literally can't communicate with words. He can't choose the words Wizard uses, only highlight the over all plan. For this reason, letting Wizard roll is closer to the rules.

Second, it is more interesting because you put the spotlight on the logistic with talking with the lizardfolk. The players realise they can't always be carried by Bard. And you give the spotlight to Wizard who probably doesn't shine in speaking challenges usually. In my group, I've seen my players bond over that kind of indirect challenge. When the best character (played by the most experienced player for this kind of challenge, it was thematically related to the player's work) is out of the picture and can only help. While a weaker character is the main focus of the action.

However, as someone pointed out in the comments. By RAW, Helping requires that the helper can also do the thing. Which I would argue Bard can't do in your situation, but it seems to me like it's the ruling would be fair in this case.

There are a few things you can do to add more than just advantage :

  • If you want to make the help from Bard more significant, let Wizard roll with Bard's proficiency bonus (they should be the same). This reflects Bard feeding him with the plan and strategy.
  • If Bard wants to help, let him communicate non-verbally. As SeriousBri points out, this is covered by the Other Intelligence Checks rules.
  • Finally, vonBoomslang gives an excellent idea in his answer. Let both players roll a persuasion check with their own character, then take the lowest of the two. This makes the outcome similar to disadvantage while highlighting that both characters are participating. This would be two seperate checks that must both succeed if the full task is to succeed.

Note that vonBoomslang actually suggest that the translator rolls an Intelligence check. I could personally see both the translator(Wizard) or the strategist(Bard) roll the intelligence check.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good discussion of letting characters share the spotlight, but a possible problem: "Let Wizard do the roll, but give him advantage for being helped." The rules for working together require that each character be capable of performing the action themselves. Since you don't specify what 'the roll' is, it is difficult to say, but RAW the Bard would have to be able to make the check by themself before they would be permitted to assist the Wizard with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jan 31 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kirt good point about the RAW requirement of Helping. I'll add a note about this for conpleteness. But since the question is already in not-really-raw territory, I'd say it's "gnah, close enough". \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Jan 31 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Charades. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Technically the bard could make the persuasion attempt without speaking the language. \$\endgroup\$ – Shane Feb 4 at 4:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Bard literally can't communicate with words. He can't choose the words Wizard uses" Assuming the Lizardfolk are willing to work through an interpreter, that's actually exactly how it works. \$\endgroup\$ – Shane Feb 4 at 4:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shane Yes, but then RAW it would likely be an Intelligence (Persuasion) Check, not a Charisma (Persuasion) one. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Feb 4 at 6:42
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First, the party needs to state a goal

"Decide to parley" is not an action the party is attempting, as it has no specific goal or purpose. When you say "I plan on letting the Bard roll a Charisma (Persuasion, or whatever) check with disadvantage, because of the loss of nuance in translation," the vagueness of 'whatever' is likely founded in your lack of knowledge about what the party wants from the outcome, which is justified since the encounter hasn't happened yet. Will they try to convince the Lizardfolk that they just want to pass through the area and mean no harm? Persuasion. Will they try to connive the Lizardfolk into believing that they are allies, only to attack them later when their guard is down? Deception. Will they try to demonstrate to the Lizardfolk that they are the superior force, so that the Lizardfolk should back off? Intimidation. If the players just say 'we talk to the Lizardfolk', then you just roleplay the conversation without making any rolls. Only if they specify a desired outcome is a skill check called for, with the skill being appropriate to their stated goal.

Once you know what they are attempting, you can decide whether it is appropriate to give them disadvantage (or even advantage). As you say, "the loss of nuance in translation" might call for disadvantage in the first two cases, but if the Bard is simply threatening the Lizardfolk, that is perhaps a more 'universal language' that doesn't require translation.

For the remainder of this answer, let's assume that the party's goal will call for a Persuasion check.

Possibilities for resolving a check

(1) Suppose the Bard was working alone, and trying to Persuade the Lizardfolk of something abstract enough to require language. You could rule that they simply can't do it - no check allowed. The addition of the Wizard as translator makes the task possible, though at a disadvantage, because the bard is not fully capable of implementing their Charisma (Persuasion) when working through another. This would be similar to not allowing a skill check unless the character attempting it had an 'appropriate tool'.

(2) As SeriousBri explains, Intelligence checks are called for when attempting to communicate without using words. You could allow the Bard, acting alone, to attempt a flat Intelligence (Persuasion) check if you consider the idea simple enough to be communicated without words.

(3) As ValhallaGH says, the mechanic of "Working Together" exists. In this case, the Bard and Wizard could help one another (rather than the Bard simply using the Wizard as an imperfect tool). The requirements for this are (PHB 175)

A character can only provide help if the task is one that he or she could attempt alone. For example, trying to open a lock requires proficiency with thieves’ tools, so a character who lacks that proficiency can’t help another character in that task. Moreover, a character can help only when two or more individuals working together would actually be productive. Some tasks, such as threading a needle, are no easier with help.

In this case, it is up to the players to explain to you why each character could attempt this alone, and one could also assist the other in relevant ways. For example, either of these characters could attempt an Intelligence (Persuasion) check to communicate their peaceful intentions without words. If the Bard was making such a check, the Wizard could grant advantage by interjecting a few appropriate words in Draconic here and there. If the Wizard was making the check, the Bard could coach them on posture, carriage, appropriate gestures, etc, or supply them while the Wizard was communicating. Neither of these base checks are likely to be good (the Bard likely lacks a high Int mod, and the Wizard likely is not proficient in Persuasion), but working together they can at least have Advantage on a poor check for one of them.

Since they speak Draconic, the Wizard could attempt a Charisma (Persuasion) check alone, albeit not a great one. You might be tempted to allow the Bard to help them, granting Advantage on the Wizard's check, since the Bard can provide them with just the right words, tone, etc. However, keep in mind the requirement that both characters need to be able to make the check on their own in order to use the working together mechanic. If you have already ruled that the Bard cannot be allowed a Charisma (Persuasion) check by themself (even at Disadvantage), they cannot assist the Wizard with such a check. Similarly, the Wizard could not prepare a translation of the Bard's planned speech and hand it off for the Bard to try a Charisma (Persuasion) check working together, because that is not something the Bard could do alone.

A final note on Halitosis

There are lots of possible reasons, in-game, for a below average Charisma score - poor posture, lack of eye contact, speaks too softly, etc. If your game hasn't described why the Wizard has a Cha of 8, they just have a -1 Mod for no specific reason. But if your game narrative has specifically established that the Wizard does actually have bad breath, and this is the canonical reason for their Charisma penalty, you might consider not applying the penalty in this particular case (treat them as having Cha 10). Lizardfolk are omnivores and likely have as much meat in their diet as they can get. One can imagine they don't brush, floss, or rinse. My personal experience in feeding bearded dragons suggests Lizardfolk breath might not be that pleasant, so they may simply not notice the Wizard's breath, or have any cultural stigma attached to bad breath. Heck, it might even be considered an important social cue where their status is in part assessed by what they most recently ate.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your mentioning of CHA due to bad breath. Though according to RAW this might create issues as this would be an CHA 8 that can be (changed in quite some situations, whenever smell can be cancelled / ignored) \$\endgroup\$ – gelonida Feb 1 at 11:35
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That is a reasonable table ruling.

I can't find any specific rules about translating for other characters. However, I did find two options that would apply to this situation.

  1. Working Together: Similar to the Help combat option, one character makes a skill check to grant Advantage to the leading character. PHB, page 175. This would allow the Bard to assist the Wizard.
  2. Disadvantage: Having to use an unreliable translator is an impediment sufficient to justify a situational Disadvantage. This is consistent with the proposed table ruling.

Good luck.

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There are no specific rules that I am aware of for what I think you are suggesting

It seems to me that your bad-breath comment (and I am not going to get into harmful stereotypes) is meaning that you don't want the wizard speaking directly, so the first part of my answer is based on that.

That said it is difficult to prove a negative, but I can't find any mention of using a translator at all. However I have found mention of communicating without words, which covers not having a common language.

That is in the PHB section on skills, under Other Intelligence Checks (page 178 in my version)

Communicate with a creature without using words

That would therefore be an intelligence check, not a charisma check.

My own view on your situation is that a language is often really hard to copy. I can just about to German or French which I am regularly exposed to, but something like Mandarin to which I have very little exposure I can barely even hear the words well enough to replicate, let alone successfully replicate them.

I would also suggest that charisma is not a good idea here, what you have is a player wanting to use their best skill, but seeing someone butcher your language and look unsure of themselves is the opposite of charismatic.

You also should consider the situation:

  1. Wizard needs to be close enough to the lizardmen to hear them
  2. Wizard translates to their party - to the lizardmen this is a potential enemy speaking in a foreign language, they might worry what is being said given it isn't directed at them so not an attempt at communication
  3. The wizard then tells the bard what to say in draconic
  4. Given the distances involved the lizardmen very probably here this
  5. The lizardmen then sit quietly by while the bard butchers the language back to them

To me that would look some combination of dangerous and mocking, and certainly not charismatic.

It sounds to me like your player wants to use their best skill for every situation, but that isn't how the world works, and this should be an opportunity for the other players to shine.

I would also caution that if the bard normally does all the talking they are taking potential options off the table for other characters to get involved. They may be the best at it, but everyone else shutting up while the bard does all the talking is like the bard pulling out a deckchair while he watches the fighter in battle. Give every player a chance to be involved in every type of situation.

Using the real rules

The wizard is the only one who can reasonably communicate, unless someone wants to try the non-verbal option.

Your wizard might have low charisma, but that is a result of player choices, and letting them work around it too much (such as by always letting the high charisma player use their modifiers) invalidates that choice. Roleplaying is as much about playing the negatives as it is the positives, don't take that away.

So the usual situation would be the wizard making a standard charisma (persuasion) check. You could instead have your bard use the help action, and grant advantage on that check.

This is the only rules based answer that I can find, but doesn't match with what I think you are trying to ask.

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    \$\begingroup\$ that's.... that's not how speaking through a translator works. \$\endgroup\$ – vonBoomslang Jan 30 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe what would be expected is that the Lizardmen say something in Drsconic, Wizard translates whatever the Lizardmen say into Common and says this to the Bard, the Bard then tells the Wizard a response in commom, the Wizard then translates the response into Draconic and speaks to the Lizardmen. The Bard never speak Draconic \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 30 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 That's hardly going to hide the wizards bad breath which is specifically mentioned in the question, and makes me think the wizard doesn't want to be speaking to the lizardmen. Are you suggesting this is just 'can the bard tell the wizard what to say'? If so the whole language barrier is irrelevant information. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 30 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vonBoomslang my reading of the question isn't just 'can I use a translator' this is using a translator who isn't allowed to speak. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 30 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vonBoomslang that is the point. The answer assumes that it is a bad ruling because that is not how translators work. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jan 31 at 10:53

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