Magical Mondays: Smithspeak   Leave a comment

This time on Magical Mondays we’re going to be looking at something that I’ve used as a background element of a lot of my games called Smithspeak.  Smithspeak is, naturally, the language of blacksmiths and other workers of the forge.  Smithspeak is similar to the secret language of Druids, though the secrecy in this case is more of a matter of practicality than intent.

Smithspeak is based on a combination of real world history and folkloric traditions.  In ages past, blacksmiths weren’t always seen as the straightforward students of a craft that we know them as today.  The mysteries of their flame spouting forges and the high quality results that they could produce led some to believe that their work was supernatural in some fashion.  Some people feared the powers of blacksmiths.  For instance, one line of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, a prayer attributed to (who else?) St. Patrick, asks for protection “against spells of witches and smiths and wizards.”

The flip side of this comes to us from myths and legends about genuinely supernatural smiths.  In Norse mythology the dwarves (sometimes called dark elves) were masters of the craft in a way that made the gods seek out their skill.  Hair made out of living gold and boats that could be folded up and easily carried by hand were just two of the wonders they made.  Fairies and elves weren’t cited as metalworkers as often as the dwarves were, but a weapon from their cultures could still be seen as powerful.

In the land of Cantadel, I try to make a middle ground between these real life superstitions and these mythological marvels.  Smithspeak is a powerful language unknown to most, even among accomplished crafters.  In standard d20 rules, knowing about Smithspeak requires a DC 25 bardic knowledge check, or a DC 30 Profession (Blacksmith), Craft (Metalworker), or Craft (Weaponry) check.  The check cannot be retried until the character gains a level (and only one of those four possible checks can be made per level.)  Alternatively, a GM may allow a character to be taught of the language’s existence by an NPC who knows, or a book or treatise on the subject may be discovered as a nonstandard form of treasure.  It has links to both dwarvish and elvish history, so once a character knows about it a dwarf or an elf can add it to the list of languages that they can learn.  Similarly, a character with levels in the Expert class (and Magewright and Artificer if you use those classes in your setting) may add Smithspeak to the list of languages that they can learn.

Smithspeak can be spoken verbally, and is often chanted by metalworkers as they go about their business as a mental exercise.  Chanting Smithspeak adds 10% to the total time required to finish a project (a minimum of one hour) but adds a +2 bonus to the craft check being rolled.  To provide any further change the words of Smithspeak must be carved upon the metal during the crafting process.  When written, Smithspeak appears to be a set of angular runes that have been overlayed with curves and flourishes.  The following benefits are among those that can be applied to an item that was crafted with Smithspeak:

-The item weighs 5% less.

-The item has 10 temporary hitpoints when subjected to energy damage of a type specified at item creation.

-The item’s armor penalty check is reduced by 1 for characters of a certain type (dwarves, halflings, goblinoids, etc.)

-The item’s arcane spell failure chance is reduced by 5%  for characters of a certain type (dwarves, halflings, goblinoids, etc.)

-The item (if a suit of armor) grants DR 1/magic that stacks with other forms of damage reduction that is overcome by magic (but no other kinds of damage reduction).

-The item (if a weapon) can overcome one point of damage reduction that is overcome by magic (but no other form of damage reduction.) For instance, a longsword that would normally be reduced from six points to one point by damage reduction would instead be reduced to two points.  (However, a dagger with this feature that rolls four points of damage would still be nullified entirely without doing any damage.)

Any item crafted with Smithspeak runes gives off a faint transmutation aura.  Note, however, that an item prepared through the chanting of Smithspeak without runes being engraved has no aura.  While non-magical characters can create these items, the effect is, itself, a magical one (though for reasons no one can yet determine, the effects do not go away in most anti-magic fields.)  The price for crafting these items is the same as crafting a masterwork version of the same item and the decision must be made at the time of crafting (and since an item must be a Masterwork quality item in order to be affected by Smithspeak, it effectively requires two Masterwork components to be crafted, using the same rules for crafting Masterwork items.)

A character who knows how to read Smithspeak can automatically read the runes on an item crafted in this fashion and know what special qualities the item has.  A character who is aware of Smithspeak as a language (but not necessarily one who knows how to speak it) gains a +2 competence bonus on any checks made to identify the item’s magical properties (even those not granted by Smithspeak.)  As such, a wizard might not know Smithspeak as a language but could see the runes on a chain and use those runes to discover if the chain has (for example) a higher burst DC than a standard chain of that type.

Though Smithspeak is a magical effect, its effects don’t count against the number of magical enhancements that a piece of magical weaponry or armor can have.  In fact, some of the legendary crafters of Cantadel speak, sometimes, of lost Smithspeak runes and techniques that allow future magicians to add a greater number of effective enhancement bonuses.

Ultimately, Smithspeak is a tool for GMs to use to allow the mundane crafters of the world to have some pull where magical crafters usually get to run the show.  Smithspeak is designed to be synergistically powerful, even if the standard items it grants aren’t powerful in and of themselves.  When I use it in Cantadel, I try to make Smithspeak the kind of secret that only the true master crafters of the world know, and will only reveal to new students who have proven themselves to be masters (in classical terms, students who have successfully created a masterpiece that has been accepted as such.)  While those in the know aren’t expected to defend this secret with their life (it’s hard to disguise the fact that you’re chanting while hammering on an anvil, after all), it’s still a trade secret that smiths are expected to use discretion while employing.

As a final note, it’s worth noting that this is a form of magic that a non-magical player could use, but as a player I had fun, once, with an entirely non-magical character who was incapable of employing it.  One of my favorite moments was when he chanted Smithspeak while creating an item, and a dwarf master who watched him demanded to know what mistake he had made while chanting.  It was rewarding for me to have a master smith of the dwarves wonder why the item crafted wasn’t of better quality, as he had detected no flaw in the recitation of the chanting or in the act of crafting itself.  So, while in Cantadel even non-magical players can benefit from this, you as a GM may enjoy limiting Smithspeak in a way similar to how alchemy is limited (though Cantadel also allows non-magical people to use alchemy).

Wherever you use Smithspeak, though, try to keep it mysterious and rewarding.  Ideally, a player (or other character) should never be able to count on Smithspeak as a reliable or easily understood method of achieving a certain effect, but should still be able to find certain surprising results.

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