D&D (2024) Bonus languages in One D&D backgrounds goes contrary to their other goals

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
In One D&D, some dated ideas are being dropped, including racial essentialism and the pernicious real world idea that even a drop of "impure" blood fundamentally changes a person. Eric's Grandma wouldn't want us to go down that rabbit hole, but if you're unfamiliar with this, look up "octoroon" on Wikipedia and be, I hope, a little shocked at an attitude that was still around at least as recently as 1974.

So while half-orcs and half-elves aren't their own special categories any more, One D&D walks back in the door with a related idea that I don't think anyone was asking for:

Certain cultures, by default, are associated with certain jobs in D&D. I don't think you'd see a modern ruleset try to codify a similar argument.

If you haven't read the One D&D Character Origins UA yet (and it seems that plenty of YouTubers haven't, for instance, although that doesn't stop them from making 45 minute videos expressing their opinions about it), every one of the new backgrounds includes a bonus language.

The new PHB is going to say these are just examples and players should be making custom backgrounds. But let's be honest, that's an option already, and most players just go with the example ones. So what WotC puts in the examples matters, both as a model and because probably most players will use them and never make a custom background of their own.

Some of the languages seem like reasonable expectations for most worlds. Entertainers all know Elvish, which suggests that the elves have created great works of music and drama that other peoples will either perform verbatim or learn so they can adapt them to their native cultures. Urchins know Common sign language (a new default language added to the list, which is a nice change that I approve of, especially as it carries with it the real world reality that not every deaf person uses the same sign language), which I guess they're using to communicate on the street -- which is takes sign language to a little bit of a weird place, but OK. Acolytes know Celestial, which feels a bit limited (do the Lawful Neutral gods really write their holy books in the language of the upper planes?), but I can see what they're going for.

But Criminals all know Thieves Cant, which feels like a pretty significant element, historically, being handed out a little too freely. (I know people will tell me that Thieves Cant never comes up in their game, but I use it all the time, including just recently when a group playing through Empire of the Ghouls made a wrong turn in the sewers and stumbled into thieves guild territory, shrugging and ignoring the cant signs painted on the walls. I use this PDF from the DMs Guild, and it's served me well in the often rogue-heavy games I run.) And notably, they're not giving out the other class language, Druidic, as part of a background.

Why does every guide speak Giant? Every pilgrim speaks Halfling? Every sailor can speak Primordial? These feel like big setting decisions and some of them turn ordinary zero level characters (remember, the background is what happens to them before they start adventuring) into something mythic. A sailor being able to speak to magical sea creatures in their own language belongs on Odysseus' ship, not on some random fishing trawler.

And then it starts to get a bit icky. Every charlatan knows Infernal, which suggests unpleasant things about my gnome illusionist. Every gladiator speaks Orcish, which -- despite them walking back previously problematic descriptions of orcs in the Character Races section, makes a strong contrary statement here.

What's more, this feels unnecessary. If groups aren't using languages "enough" for WotC, that's those groups' call. (I make language pretty important in my games, but we're now reaching the level in my main campaign where magic will make it never an issue again.) Under the current rules, anyone can learn additional languages during downtime, so they don't need them handed out willy-nilly at character creation.

This is just a beta test, but this is a decision that should be rolled back. If you agree, please consider including this in your feedback in September.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Those are example backgrounds. They do not represent every gladiator etc. Each is an example for an individual.
The will be treated as default and standard, even if WotC writes "EXAMPLE -- PLEASE MAKE YOUR OWN INSTEAD" in big bold letters before each entry.

But let's step back one level: If you were to design backgrounds for the 2024 PHB, would you include a free language by default for each and every one of them?


I crit!
The will be treated as default and standard, even if WotC writes "EXAMPLE -- PLEASE MAKE YOUR OWN INSTEAD" in big bold letters before each entry.

But let's step back one level: If you were to design backgrounds for the 2024 PHB, would you include a free language by default for each and every one of them?
How else are they to show what one looks like? What if they said this is John the single legends background? He learned goblin from his Hobgoblin professor at the university of war in Eberron?
(Which I think is an hidden secret, the Ebberron reference, maybe)

But I do agree as presented it’s a problem.


The will be treated as default and standard, even if WotC writes "EXAMPLE -- PLEASE MAKE YOUR OWN INSTEAD" in big bold letters before each entry.
I don't think we actually know that, they're giving a lot of space emphasizing that they expect people to alter the example backgrounds to better fit their own character if needed. Why are we assuming that people won't alter them any as a default?

I just don't see an issue here.


Victoria Rules
I'd rather see non-mother-tongue languages somewhat divorced from capital-B Background and instead based on either small-b background (i.e. what makes sense for the region in the setting where the PC either a) grew up or b) is meeting the party) or on random roll (i.e. what did you happen to learn during your previous studies, travels, etc.).

Even less likely, but I'd also like to see something where a character's Intelligence score has input to how many languages said character can or does know, and-or whether said character is literate in any of those languages. Ideally there'd still be a random factor as well such that not every character of Int-score X always knows the same number Y of languages - maybe something like:

Int 7 or lower - d2 languages
Int 8-10 - d3 languages
Int 11-12 - d2+1 languages
Int 13-15 - d3+1 languages
Int 16-17 - d4+1 languages
Int 18+ - d4+2 languages

I also don't care if not every PC shares a common language with every other PC; while it's recommended they all know Common it's not required.


I crit!
There was a comment somewhere that language like “Orcish” are really what the problem is. Which I think is a valid point. I’m not sure what I think about that entirety, yet.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
I agree with the general premise of the OP. As written, the language from background is optional, but I would prefer if it weren't written as a default, but presented as a "quickbuild" choice. The same for ability modifiers.

I've seen many new players appreciate the quick build suggestions for ability score assignments in the PHB class descriptions. Exactly the same thing could be implemented for backgrounds: you pick a language, you apply +2/+1, and each background has a suggestion available for people not wanting to choose, or for DMs to have a "default".

The addition of CSL is great, in my opinion. I love it.

I too am hesitant about the addition of druidic and thieves' cant, but I am much happier with them being available than Abyssal/Infernal/etc. for most characters. Certainly the thought that all charlatans no a default extraplanar deception language seems, to me, wrongheaded.


I think it trivializes the idea of backgrounds and just makes it a bundle of characteristics with a collective label on it. If every background comes with a bonus language but they’re going to say “well of course you can swap out anything you like in your background if you decide your Guard doesn't know Dwarven,” why not just say everyone gets a bonus language, pick one? Why bother tying it in to background? They’re just saying “pick another language” in a more complicated way.

I think it would be a lot easier to say something like “everyone gets their race’s language and common, plus a number of languages equal to your intelligence modifier.”
Last edited:

Remove ads