Beyond crafting the spoken language of the dragons, Pagliarulo and the rest of the developers at Bethesda needed one final important element to make their new language shine: a written alphabet.

“The idea was, how would the dragons write or scratch this language in the stone or on the ground? Everything is done with the three talons. You’ll always see combinations of one to three scratches, and sometimes the dot, which is like the dewclaw,” Todd Howard explains. With that concept in mind, someone had to make the idea into a reality: concept artist Adam Adamowicz. “One of our concept artists [Adamowicz] had the task of making a font. Make unique symbols for these letters that sound like this, using this scheme. He was literally like, ‘What?’ I think he sat there and stared at his monitor for an hour. And we came back, and he’d say, ‘I still don’t…say it again?’” Howard laughs.  

Working together with Adamowicz, a final runic alphabet emerged. “It doesn’t coincide directly with the alphabet we use in English. There are 34 unique characters within the language,” Pagliarulo says. Some Roman alphabet letters don’t exist, like the letter "c". In other instances, a single runic character represents multiple Roman letters, including many double vowels like “aa” or “ei.” For ease of use in implementing the language into the game, the final font was designed to work in word processors like Microsoft Word. Many of the number keys on a traditional keyboard are co-opted within the font to include the additional dragon characters.

Take a look at the individual runes in the written dragon language. Can you see how each character could be written by a creature with three front talons and a dewclaw? Even the shape of the letters echoes claw marks.

After months of work, the dragon language began to take shape and be implemented into the game. Even now, the designers at Bethesda continue to add new words to support the in-game existence of the dragonborn and dragon shouts. An entire internal wiki at Bethesda contains an evolving vocabulary list of words and phrases used in the game – any new uses of the dragon language have to be checked back against this list for consistency.

In the game, the final result of all the hard work is exhilarating, and even more so when you know how deep the rabbit hole goes. Every ancient wall you encounter carries an ancient legend. Every creature that cries out in dragon is saying an actual translatable thing to you. And perhaps most importantly, every dragon shout you acquire carries real meaning behind it. One power used in the game acts like a sort of invisible push of staggering power. Spoken in the game, your hero will intone the three words for the full shout: “Fus, Ro, Dah!” Translated into English, “Fus” means force, “Ro” means balance, and “Dah” means push.

After collecting more than 60 individual words that form up into over 20 complete shouts, Skyrim’s hero will be a force to be reckoned with, especially considering that these dragon-based abilities will be layered on top of his normal leveled-up abilities in combat, traditional magic, and stealth. He’ll be able to slow down time around him with one shout, or use a special whispered dragon shout to stealthily move close to an enemy in a mere instant. And while they’re cagey about the details, Bethesda says that one shout will let a player summon an actual dragon, calling him by name to fight.

The new dragon shout system, and the language that supports it prove one thing without a doubt. Bethesda is crafting one of the most intricate video game worlds ever made. Layered on top of over 15 years of previous Elder Scrolls games, the land of Tamriel has a depth of fiction you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else but in the most elaborate and well-loved fantasy novels. Many players may dive into the world of Skyrim this coming November and perceive the magic of the dragons and their shouts as a mere afterthought. You know better. 

Do you want to learn more about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? Visit our game hub to tour Bethesda Game Studios, learn the history of the Elder Scrolls series, explore the new game engine’s capabilities, and more. Just click on the banner image below.