“Old High Gallifreyan. The lost language of the Time Lords.”

highgallifreyIn ‘Time Of The Angels’ the Doctor and Amy discover that River Song has left them a message, inscribed in High Gallifreyan on a starliner Home Box. The Doctor explains to Amy that High Gallifreyan could burn stars, raise empires and topple gods.

This serves to mythicizes the Time Lords. With them trapped in the Time Lock only their legend remains, spread by the Doctor. Looking at this scene can help establish how you wish to portray the Time Lords in your campaign, regardless of whether it is pre or post Time War.

When first introduced the Time Lords were mysterious god-like beings that everyone was rightly terrified of. They made sort work of the War Lord and his associates before capturing the Doctor and exiling him. They were the one opponent the hero of the show could not defeat.

During the Third Doctor’s era they continued to be an unseen mysterious power, occasionally despatching the Doctor on missions. Their power began to dwindle when we saw them powerless to save themselves in ‘The Three Doctors’.

In the Fourth Doctor’s era we saw more of their political and social arrangements. They had television reporters, traffic control and had all but forgotten the significance of their own historic artefacts.

The Time Lords were rapidly become mundane the more we learnt about them. What is more the presence of Eternals and Guardians further decreased their place in the power structure of the universe.

From this we can see that less is more. By making them a powerful force in the universe (even if they aren’t interested in conquering) their influence can be felt, long after they’ve gone.

Returning to our starting point of High Gallifreyan how literal should we take the Doctor’s comments? He probably means that orders written in High Gallifreyan initiated the use of technology that burnt stars (the Hand of Omega?), arranged the founding of empires or co-ordinated efforts to depose powerful beings.

This paints a picture of the Time Lords being much more involved with galactic affairs. This could make a pre-Time War campaign based on Gallifrey much more exciting as the PCs get involved in decisions that could shape the universe.

Their non-interference policy might only apply to using time travel. If Gallifrey has a present (and ‘Timelink’ by Jon Preddle suggests it is around the 1980s) they can freely get involved in galactic events that are contemporary to them.

Few would dare oppose them for fear that CIA agents might pop into their past to engineer more favourable conditions for themselves. The Time Lords could also send agents forward to glimpse what is going to happen, giving them a further edge.

Burning stars might just be a way to create black holes for their time travel technology. It could be that a TARDIS has a limited range in the universe and creating more allow them to explore further.

It could also be used to destroy planets, as it did Skaro. What planets have the Time Lord’s destroyed and why? PCs could investigate this mystery or find themselves on a world scheduled for destruction.

The Time Lords are powerful patrons and it is quite believable that they could raise an empire. What cultures currently in existence owe everything to the support of the Time Lords? What did the Time Lords want in return?

It has repeatedly been shown that the Doctor is rather sceptical of ‘gods’. To what was he referring to when he mentioned that his people had toppled such beings? Were they Eternals or creatures like the minotaur in ‘The God Complex’?

It is easy to imagine that the Time Lords would feel threatened by such powerful entities. Did they fight them in the present or use time travel to erase them? This could make for an interesting ongoing campaign, with the PCs trying to destroy a timeline, rather than preserve as normal. They could spend centuries from their perspective fighting an incredibly powerful opponent throughout history.

We might take the Doctor’s words to mean that the just the language itself was capable of these feats. In this interpretation they are like spells, able to change reality just by being spoken.

Those who learned how to interpret High Gallifreyan in the absence of the Time Lords could be unstoppable. The PCs could get involved in trying to discover this key (perhaps a Time Lord Rosetta Stone) to stop a terrible threat or they could try to prevent someone else from learning the secret.

It is notable that the TARDIS does not translate the High Gallifreyan for her. The Doctor says that the language is lost but that probably means because he is the only member of his race left. The TARDIS should still know the language but isn’t sharing its understanding with Amy.

This suggests that the symbols themselves aren’t the important part but their meaning. After all, Amy can see the High Gallifreyan letters and the Doctor has just given her a translation (unless he is just being flippant and it doesn’t actually say ‘Hello Sweetie’.)

What this could mean is that the High Gallifreyan language holds concepts and ideas that aren’t accessible to other races or that would unlock new, more dangerous thoughts. This makes them much more alien and mysterious.

Having PCs encounter untranslated messages in High Gallifreyan will make them want to find out what it says. A Time Lord PC could find out but you may wish to prevent them from telling their companions (by not telling the player exactly what it says, only its intent). This can create a divide and remind everyone that there is a difference between them.

The Home Box, with the lost language of High Gallifreyan has been existence for 12,000 years without ever being translated. We don’t know how long it has been on the Delerium Archive but it is a fair bet that someone must have attempted to do so over that period and since no one has been able to (as far as we know) it isn’t likely that they’ll ever succeed.

The PCs might easily come across other artefacts with High Gallifreyan on it. If they’ve got a Time Lord with them they might be the only ones to realise its significance. This can  be a great way to start an adventure, as they’ll want to know what the message says, who wrote it and what the artefact is.

We know that at least River Song understand High Gallifreyan (did the Doctor or the TARDIS teach her?). It is possible that non-Time Lord PCs might learn it. This can give them a secret language that only they understand. Perfect for communicating without fear of your enemy finding out what you are saying (unless they also know High Gallifreyan).

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