Feats are abilities characters either have or don’t have. By contrast, skills are abilities characters build up over time, slowly adding points to improve their expertise. At least, that’s how it works for all the skills except Speak Language (or Linguistics). This particular skill has rules more like a feat.
Having characters just “switch on” with a new language by spending a single rank simply doesn’t feel right. To begin with, learning a new language is at least as challenging as learning to ride a horse, yet the Ride skill must be built up slowly, using many skill points over many levels.
By letting characters jump straight from “not a clue” to “eloquent fluency,” you lose a multitude of roleplaying opportunities! To salvage those lost opportunities (and assuage the lingering hurt felt by those of those of us who struggled through 2 years of high-school French class), the Speak Language skill is hereby revised to work like all the other skills…
Speak Language (Int; Trained Only)
At 1st level, you know one or two languages (based on race). These are your native languages. No skill checks are ever needed to speak your native tongue.
You also know one additional starting language for each point of starting Intelligence bonus. You begin with 0 ranks in these additional starting languages (you can immediately begin spending skill points to improve these languages without bumping up against the “maximum skill points per level” cap). However, since you are already quite well trained in these particular languages, you also receive a +10 bonus on skill checks for each of these additional starting languages.
You must separately track the points you have devoted to each foreign language you know.
Basic question-and-answer communication only: “Where is the outhouse?” “Did a man run past here?” “I have no gold.” (10)
Light conversation, often rather halting, about simple, common topics only: talk about the weather, discuss the merits of the local tavern, or ask if any villagers have been ritually murdered lately. (15)
Discuss complex subjects, but with frequent interruptions to ask about the meaning of a word or phrase. Also, you notice if the person you are speaking with has an accent. (20)
Fluent conversation, rarely (if ever) wondering about the meaning of a word or phrase. (25)
Fluent conversation without an accent (useful if you are trying to pass yourself off as a local). Also, you can recognize and identify regional dialects. (30)
Fluent conversation without an accent. Also, you are able to imitate regional dialects. (35)
Check: Whenever you need to communicate using any language other than your native tongue(s).
Action: For correspondence, one check should be made per page being written or read. For spoken conversation, one check should be made about once every minute, or whenever the topic changes.
Try Again: Depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are simply trying to communicate, then re-tries are allowed until the person you’re talking with runs out of patience and gives up on the conversation. In this situation, skills like Diplomacy and Intimidation may prove useful for increasing the number of re-tries.
However, if you are trying to do something like pass yourself off as a native speaker of the language, re-tries are usually not possible: the first time you slip and let your accent show, the jig is up! (Very rarely, at the GM’s discretion, a really great Bluff check may still save the situation.)
Special: It is common to “take 10” on skill checks for spoken conversation whenever you are in a relaxed and friendly environment. Only if you are in a hurry or under duress (in the middle of combat or trying to pass yourself off as a native speaker) must you roll a skill check.
However, no matter how relaxed and friendly the environment is, it is never possible to “take 20” for spoken conversation. Taking 20 is reserved exclusively for written correspondence! Taking 20 for language skills normally involves long interruptions to consult reference materials.
Beginner’s Mistakes (Optional Rule): Whenever you fail a skill check by exactly 1 point and the fully adjusted roll was below 20, you have made a serious linguistic error. Usually this takes the form of misusing a word or phrase in a way that completely changes the meaning—with immediate consequences. For example, “I admire your necklace” might become “I lust for your gold.”