Ars Lingua is a supplement from Tangent Games. As part of their Campaign Dealer line of products, this book is world-neutral. The zipped file is just over 1.2 megabytes in size, and contains a single PDF file. The PDF is fifty-nine pages long, taking into account a page for the cover, half-a-page for the credits/legal, a page for the table of contents, one-and-a-half pages of ads, and a page for the OGL. The table of contents is hyperlinked, and the product has full bookmarks.
Perhaps fittingly, Ars Lingua, as a book about the written word, has little in the way of illustrations. The cover is full-color, though it?s subtle, with only light shades in the background of the Rosetta Stone. Beyond the color images in the ads, the only pictures in the book are the two pictures of example NPCs for the new prestige classes; there aren?t even illustrations for page borders. This makes the lack of a printer-friendly version largely a non-issue.
Ars Lingua attempts to add more depth to the way the d20 System handles language. It notes that having language be so easy, with a skill point or two conferring total written and spoken literacy, is too dismissive of one of the most fundamental building blocks of how we interact with the world. Anyone who has ever tried to learn a foreign language knows that it takes more than one or two skill points.
The book makes some bold first steps to correcting this. First, the Speak Language skill becomes Speak Language and Read/Write Language. Next, each language is measured the same way other skills are, with varying skill ranks; a rank of 20 means you?re fluent in that language. Characters get, based on their Intelligence at character creation, extra ranks to their native language (apparently in violation of the cap on skill ranks by level, though that?s never called out), as well as extra ranks to a few other languages. While the book mentions that these rules are optional, much of it assumes that you?ll use these changes. Perhaps disappointingly, there?s no mention given to any sort of epic uses for these rules ? what does it mean to have more than 20 ranks in a language skill, for instance?
The book then moves on to new skills. Here, it gives a proper description of their revised Speak Language skill, as well as Read/Write Language, two new Profession skills (cryptographer and translator), and Use Signal Device.
The next few sections deal with crunch ubiquitous to most kinds new supplements. Nineteen new feats are given, two of them metamagic. Many of them deal with the aforementioned new way of measuring languages. Bilingual, for example, lets you have two native languages, applying your bonus skill points at character creation to both of them. Others are modeled around making a Speak Language skill check (dealt with later in the book).
Several items of new non-magical equipment are then given, before the spells section begins. Interestingly, the spells section begins by reinterpreting several spells from the PHB to fit in with the new rules on language. After that, fourteen new spells are given, and while they?re all fairly innovative, you get the feeling more could have been added. There?s no ?zone of understanding? spell, wherein everyone can automatically understand everyone else, for example. The magic items section is quite short, barely listing potions and wands based on the new spells before giving seven new magic items. Worry not though: the babel fish is here.
The next section is decidedly different, as it expands n the first section in terms of the game rules for language. It first deals with spoken communication, and gives explanations and rules for using dialects, slang, and accents with the new language rules here, as well as for pidgin, creole, and non-standard languages. For non-spoken communication, it covers and gives mechanics for the four different forms of written language (alphabetic, featural, syllabic, and logographic), as well as things such as sign language, pheromones, codes, and more.
Dead languages are then touched on briefly, before two new prestige classes are given. The Linguist is a master of verbal communication, whereas the Rune Master is one of non-spoken communication. Both have an array of special abilities given for both using and not using the optional language rules from the beginning of the book. Each also has a sample NPC statted up. Finally, the book closes out with expanded magic item tables taking into account the items in the DMG, and here.
All in all, Ars Lingua does a very good job of expanding the language options in standard d20. By breaking speaking and reading/writing into different skills, and having each language be treated like a separate skill, but at the same time giving fairly generous language-only skill points at character creation, the book lets you more closely simulate what it?s like knowing a foreign language. Likewise, there?s plenty of new feats, spells, magic items and more here to build on that. Still, some more polishing would have helped. The first section doesn?t explicitly say that the bonus skill points can exceed the normal cap on skill ranks (though that?s obviously their intent), nor are the sections of hard crunch very expansive. Perhaps the biggest complaint about this product is that it fires the imagination, but doesn?t go as far as what it inspires. It could easily have handled twice as many new spells, magic items, etc., as well as given things like epic language uses.
Still, Ars Lingua does a very good job of giving you a wider vocabulary for languages in your game. This is a product that proves that mere pictures are not worth a thousand words.
<b>LIKED</b>: The new rules for language usage were great, firing the imagination, and the crunch that expands on them is the icing on the cake.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: While this product had a lot, it could have done much more. Even a single read-through is enough to inspire ideas that weren't touch on in the book.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>