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Two PCs of our party, one of them mine, are speakers of a language that's not very common in the setting - a handy way to obfuscate communications when in risk of being overheard. What easy, immersive ways I can use to convey to the others when we're speaking in this language? Saying "...in Blurbnish" after every sentence, while commendably explicit, feels a tad awkward after a while.

Note that I'm not interested in the communication being illegible to the other players around the table, just roleplaying the uncommon language fluidly.

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I am afraid that there are no solution that fits all need. All have drawbacks and advantages.

Accents, if you can do them, work great. Pick a real life language and use an outrageous accent of the same for your Blurbnish. Clearly, the more outlandish and caricature the accent, the better as long as it fits the tone of the game. If the game is real life, then use the real life accent. Another related note is to use words in a real life language within the sentence but that gets complex and unclear quickly.

While some real life accents may be seen as or are racist and offensive, I shall leave it to you and your group to work out one that is not. Follow Wheaton's rule: don't be a dick. If this is really a problem for you, why not invent an accent?

A potential problem with accents, as SevenSidedDie pointed in a comment, is that no one can have accents while speaking a foreign language without being confusing.

Another language, if you both speak a different language, you can use that. Of course, it requires you to be fluent in more than one language. Maybe even use something like Pig Latin.

A prop, like a hand gesture, cards, or a hat. Hats got quite silly so we stopped using them fairly quickly but your mileage might vary. You could use cards or other visual cues but then you have to remember to swap them out and it could get messy with lots of languages. Hand gestures mean that the other players must see you which can lead to confusion if they do not or just miss the cue.

Another prop that might be useful is a small set of flags those country uses the language. This works for real and imaginary worlds but might make your gaming table look like an unholy meeting of the UN...


Just to stop the downvote faerie: Yes, I used all of those in games before. Yes, they worked great. No, no one was offended at my outrageous French accent or at my attempts at butchering English or my silly hat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a prop I once used a double-sided card on a lanyard. It had symbols on either side and I turned it to show appropriate one as necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr May 25 '16 at 10:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, a warning for accents and wild stereotypes: humans exist at your table and the possibility for offense exists. I don't know if that means "read the room" or "just don't do it", but there's a warning nonetheless \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 25 '16 at 14:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like props are the easiest way to handle this. If you only have one "secret" language you speak you can do the hand sign, if you have multiple you could do something like colored or labeled cards to hold up. "Red card is Blurbnish, green card is Loremipsum, plaid card is Welsh." \$\endgroup\$ – D.Spetz May 25 '16 at 14:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ One problem with accents, they can turn silly whether you want to or not. Be careful using that method if you are comically bad at accents like me. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Longspeak May 25 '16 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ The showstopper practical problem I see (and language switching is directly relevant to my sessions recently) with using accents to represent characters switching languages is that then I can't use accents for representing characters having an accent. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 25 '16 at 21:20
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One thing that I have heard very good reports of is this from a larp event called Captain Dick Britton in The Voice Of The Seraph:

If you have a skill in a particular language, then you can both speak it, read it, and write it. By default, everyone talks in English. Please adopt whatever accent is appropriate.

To speak in German, prefix whatever you’re about to say with “Achtung!” So – “Achtung! Mein Hovercraft iz full of eels!” To speak in French, prefix whatever you’re about to say with “Zut alors!” (zoot a-lore!) So – “Zut alors! Mon ‘overcraft eez full of eels!” To speak in Arabic, prefix whatever you’re about to say with “Effendi!”. So – “Effendi! My hovercraft, it iss full of eelss!”

Please play along – if you don’t have the skill to speak German, ignore whatever is said after the word “Achtung!” and so on.

This is simple, easy to follow and opens the door to all kinds of entertaining possibilities.

Obviously in a fictional world you don't have access to known words, but deciding this for in-game languages could be a really fun and useful part of the game. What does this language sound like? What is an elvish accent? What is an example word in Draconic? When you make those decisions it can show you something new about the world and the people who use those languages.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't matter what the word is - it is just a shibboleth to indicate that you are using a specific language. For this game, which was based on 1930s pulp fiction it worked well because it fitted into the cliches of the setting. You would want to base that decision on the game you choose to play. \$\endgroup\$ – glenatron May 25 '16 at 14:22
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If this private-in-game communication is happening between just two characters, you can make sure to have the players seated beside each other. You can then use any means, which clearly communicate that the characters are addressing one another and actively exclude everyone else. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Physical contact: One player places a hand on the shoulder of the other. This gets across "I'm talking to you" quite good among players. The intended association is that the characters are mimicking the players in regard of talking somewhat privately. It may be awkward at first depending on social practice regarding physical contact. I know role-playing groups of close friends, who hug each other for greetings. However I also know people just meeting for gaming, who wouldn't care to shake hands.
  • Take up direct eye contact: Its quite uncommon in most settings that you stare into the eyes of someone seated beside you. It's uncomfortable to turn 90° while seated and a bit strange to fix and hold eye contact during regular talk. However this is less intrusive with regard to personal space. In combination with in-character talk it still implies it's the characters talking to each other and excluding the environment by their 'usual' means, i.e. talking in another language.
  • Whisper loudly: You should make sure everyone at the table can hear you even though you act as if whispering. You can whisper quite loudly, just leaving out the regular tone of your voice and instead be more hissing. This does get the intention of obfuscated communication across. The only awkward thing about it, is that players at the other end of the table not listening closely might have problems to get everything.

The nice thing about this is that you can mix the above suggestions, because they are providing obvious context and everyone at the table can deduce that it's not an open communication that is happening right there. It may also become somewhat natural.
Using seating arrangements to enable semi-private communication has worked quite well for me, e.g. when role playing twins with not-a-twin player. Actually everyone could hear us coordinate what twins would naturally know of each other. For you the difference is that your characters are talking in-game but still exclude everyone else. This is just a different interpretation of what's happening in-game.

As a counter-example I often messed up when trying to role-play a character with an accent: I used the accent to describe my actions and forgot to use it when talking in-character. I also find it difficult to keep switching between languages although I'm fluent in two languages and know another two basics.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The key point of the question is about speaking Ina different language, not about speaking privately. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 25 '16 at 11:35
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You can simply speak with an accent that will be associated with the language. However be aware to match the tone of the table, do not choose a silly accent on a serious game.

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Use a name or term of address in the given language when you switch

You mention this language is mostly used for communication between 2 party members. In this case, you could simply call each other by your Blurbnish names, or the Blurbnish word for "brother," etc., as you are switching to Blurbnish.

Depending on your campaign setting, you might consider perusing a Sindarin or Klingon dictionary, to find a word or name with the right "Blurbnic" sound. If you just think of a LOTR elf or a klingon when you talk, it will probably sound distinctive, without having to "keep up" an outrageous accent (however fun those might be).

The fact that you are using a term of address for that particular person will reinforce the fact that the communication is just between you two.

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How about using a language game? It takes some time to get used, but then you will be able to speak it and understand each other quite fluently. I know this, because we used to play such "language games" back in school.

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As well as accents you could consider using dialects where the grammar and vocabulary are a bit modified from standard English. Some of these should be sufficiently familiar that you can drop straight into them, at least enough to make the point, others may need a bit more research or you could develop your own.

One example might be dropping in more archaic English usage, 'thou hast forsaken thy forefathers' etc... this may be a bit of a cliche for a fantasy setting but you could always seeks out some more unusual usages. After all you only need enough to make the point.

Another potential resource is something like Anglish, which is essentially modern english re-imagined as if there was no vocabulary derived from Latin.

You could also look at things like Pidgins which have greatly simplified grammar and tends not to decline or conjugate words at all.

Or you could treat all verbs as regular eg instead is saying 'I run, I ran I was running' say I run, I did run, I was run.'

Similarly you could play with word order (like Yoda) or always talk in the third person, or have particular syllables or expressions which always begin and end sentences, perhaps end every sentence with ...yes ? or ...no ? or ...eh? or begin every sentence with ah...

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Piling on to the people suggesting using accents, with just a bit of research and practice it can be both fun and easy to affect even multiple accents. Your rendition of the accent can be terrible, as long as everyone can easily identify which accent you're trying to do.

My role-playing group is getting together this weekend, and I think I'm going to use this. I can use my conventional mode of speaking (northeastern US) for Common, a cockney accent for Thieves' Cant, more conventional British for Elvish, and a deep growl for Infernal (which might irritate the throat, but what fun!).

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While there are many useful ways to signal a switch between languages without breaking character (many of them detailed in previous answers to this question), it sounds like you're looking for something that won't interrupt/distract from role-playing, but will still get the idea across clearly that you are now using a different language. Accents can be difficult to maintain/distinguish, so that's probably not your best bet. Wearing a different hat (or other prop) for every language is unnecessarily disruptive and can slow down role-play if you have too many languages involved ("Hold on everybody, I need to find my Elvish flag... I know it's in this stack somewhere..."). And actually speaking a foreign language requires everyone who needs to understand what you're saying to be fluent in that language. Probably not gonna happen.

Having said all that, let me tell you what my party has done to address this problem: We just say we're switching languages. You don't have to append "in Blurbnish" to the end of every sentence. When you start speaking a different language, just say something quick and easy OOC like "Switching to Blurbnish", and then you don't have to specify it again until you switch to another language. This is definitely the method that has fit my party's needs best.

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I'd like to add a suggestion for those not playing face to face.

I once played an IRC game featuring one channel for each of in character and out of character chat. To simulate multiple languages, we just used more channels, one for each. Any character who knew a language would join the side channel. This helped RP because players literally couldn't understand languages they didn't know.

Unfortunately, they also didn't understand when the game was moving forward in a side channel. So, a programmer/player updated the bot to echo back the foreign language channels to the main one with some modified text. Elvish had more L's and vowels with accents; Orcish and Dwarvish had harder K's and T's. Non-dictionary words went through unchanged, so place/character names worked nicely. Since the translation was deterministic (if simplistic), you got a reasonable power law distribution of phonemes.

After a while, you could start to half-recognize common words in the entirely made-up language. Between that and clues like names, you could take a guess at the conversation just like in real life. Hilarity ensues.

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