Role-playing games: based on linguistics???

For some obscure reason (I don’t really understand why) I’ve just never been into D&D or any other role-playing games. And yet…

…and yet I keep running into various aspects of RPGs (role-playing games) that definitely interest me. Unsurprisingly these are mostly technical rather than social aspects. For example, if I see a reference to “chaotic neutral,” say, I can appreciate the reference and more-or-less understand what it means. But that’s just a detail. Of course there are sometimes tie-ins with science fiction, which you recognize as one of my interests that I write about in these pages, but I never expected tie-ins with my more important academic interests, such as teaching and linguistics.

Not until last week, that is, when I listened to an episode of the Because Language podcast that included an interview with Kathryn Hymes of Thorny Games. (“Thorn,” of course, is the name of the Icelandic and Old English letter that is both the largest symbol in the logo of Thorny Games, shown in the image above, and the equivalent of the third letter, ᚦ, of the Runic alphabet, generally known as Futhark.) Her first linguistics-based RPG was Dialect, subtitled “a game about language and how it dies.” How depressing! As a linguistic aside, note carefully that Hymes’s co-author of Dialect is Hakan Seyalıoğlu, where two clues in the surname immediately tell you that it’s a ________________________ word: the undotted “ı” and the breve over the “ğ”. Filling in the blank space with the name of a language is left as an exercise for the reader.

Anyway, the scenario and process for Dialect sound fascinating, so give it a try if you are a player of RPGs and can find two-to-four fellow players in this pandemic world — and then let me know how it went.

Hymes’s most recent game is Xenolanguage, which combines linguistics with science fiction! It’s currently a Kickstarter project which has raised ten times its goal, so it’s definitely a go. The description says that it is a “tabletop roleplaying game of soulful sci-fi stories where you uncover an alien language through a custom channeling board,” but you’ll have to wait until its release date. I will wait patiently.




Categories: Linguistics