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Common

Is Common the same language in all settings?


  • Total voters
    23

haakon1

Adventurer
Should Common, Elvish, Orcish, etc. be the same language across different settings like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Known World? Or each has its own unintelligible version?
 

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Jack Daniel

OD&D Referee
I would say, even if the elves (or dwarves or orcs) all share a common plane of origin and have simply migrated to Oerth and Abeir-Toril and Mystara, they've all likely been separated for sufficiently many centuries or millennia for significant linguistic drift to have rendered one Elvish mutually unintelligible from another. Further apart even than Sindarin and Quenya. But there could still be commonalities that make learning a different Elvish, or very simple communication, easier.
 


aco175

Legend
How many people have characters bridge to other worlds? This has not happened in any game I played in for like 30+ years to the point that it is a non-starter. This also goes to @the Jester ('s) point of having languages be something in you games.

While it makes sense to have common drift into something not the same as another common from another land/world, most play with common being able to talk with others in the game. A point could be made for other races and their language being solid and maybe from their gods to not change, but then there are worlds with things like 'old elvish' or something.
 

the Jester

Legend
How many people have characters bridge to other worlds? This has not happened in any game I played in for like 30+ years to the point that it is a non-starter. This also goes to @the Jester ('s) point of having languages be something in you games.

While it makes sense to have common drift into something not the same as another common from another land/world, most play with common being able to talk with others in the game. A point could be made for other races and their language being solid and maybe from their gods to not change, but then there are worlds with things like 'old elvish' or something.
I have to say, I see travel from world to world occasionally in my game, but far more common is traveling vast differences. And when you go far enough from home, Common is a different tongue. "Common" in the main play area is actually "Imperial", while if you far enough away, it might be "Peshan" or some other tongue.

I miss the days when everyone knew like 8-10 languages and Hill Giant was a distinct dialect from Stone Giant. But it definitely complicated things.
 

Blackrat

He Who Lurks Beyond The Veil
I go so far as to say that common is different even within regions of the same setting. Sword Coast Common is quite unlike Dales Common and even further from Eastern Sea of Fallen Stars Common. They do share a lot, but they are distinctive dialects. Speaking slow and emoting with your hands, you can communicate with eachother.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
All are short hand for the lingua franca of various cultural groups. Some areas are remote enough that it is hard to find someone who speak any of the major languages, or have a strong sense of cultural chauvinism that they refuse to.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
In practice, there's a setting-specific Common, Elvish, Dwarvish, etc; though I can't recall playing a game where settings (as used here) really overlapped much.

My preference is to do away with Common entirely, except maybe as a simple trade-pidgin; and all the other languages are really more like language families, with individual regional languages that are mutually intelligible, to a more or lesser extent; and each language is more or less suitable for specific types of communication (eg, a wizard might accomplish more with some form of Draconic or Celestial than with mortal Dwarvish or Orc). And there are ancient versions of languages, and unusual dialects, magical and ritual languages, harder and easier languages, codes and cants and jargons, and so on....

But that sort of depth has always just ended up being more of a headache at the table without a LOT of buy in from players... which inevitably peters out over a few sessions. So again, in practice, they're all just single, setting-specific languages in my games.
 

Voadam

Legend
It would depend on your cosmology and your desire for languages to be universal versus realistic with hundreds of individual ones.

Do different worlds have a common origin? Are they alternate prime material worlds, Amber style Shadow reflections, different dreams in the same Dreaming?

Are different worlds actually different planets with independent different origins?

Do you have mostly the core D&D languages in your world or do you have the diversity of languages that say Medieval Europe or Ancient Mediterranean would have had?

Do you want your spelljamming PCs to be able to travel widely and talk to everybody or travel widely and have to rely upon magic translation stuff?

For my games I generally go with the core D&D languages and make things like ancient elvish be a dialect of elvish that is understandable but noticeably different so it can be a flavor cue without requiring magic to understand. I mostly don't want to deal with languages a lot in my D&D, but having some options and flavor is fine.

A lot of D&D is both fairly restrictive on languages known and makes most everything speak common as well, so that most PCs speak one other language and monsters speaking in their own languages to each other can be unintelligible or not, but most everybody can speak at core. 3e had some options for learning one language per level in the skill system which meant a linguist PC was an option to build.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Elvish is the same. It is a racial language devised by Labelas Enoreth and taught innately at birth. When the first elf will see a TV or a microprocessor, the appropriate elvish word will be revealed innately to him... and every other elf as the word will by written in the Elvish Language Thesaurus. You can read sagas from thousands of centuries ago easily because the elven language is timeless, unchanging and god-given, across planes.

Other languages are setting-dependent because they are devices invented by mortals to communicate.

At my table, we often play language barrier... there is Common but it's... quite uncommon, more like Latin in the middle ages. You'll find some people to communicate with in every village, but that's not the same as "everyone is speaking Common".
 


Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I would say that “Common” is the trade language for a given world. So it will have borrowed words from all the various cultures that have touched that setting.

But because the settings are mostly isolated, drift will occur. This means even the Elvish of one setting will not be the same as the Elvish of another. Similar, yes, but not the same.

OTOH, planar or alignment languages would be virtually unchanged.

This means “Common” will vary, but every form of it will have some points of familiarity,
 

Voadam

Legend
In my campaign I go with mostly the base core D&D languages.

In my homebrew mashup Alexandros the Great conquered most of the world and so now Common is very common to explain Common.

For my world the ancient Egyptians were elves, and a successor Greek Cleopatra type contemporary fantasy Egypt is human, but knowing modern elvish you can read hieroglyphics.

For the Ancient Mesopotamian type former kingdoms a lot is written in Celestial when they had rulers that were part divine like Gilgamesh.

This keeps some linguistic distinctions but the list is also manageable and ancient language experts still have linguistic usefulness in the not dead aspects of the language. Elves are part of my modern game and the difference between ancient and modern elvish will be like the difference in regional dialects, a PC can speak and read both and recognize the difference.

A merchant or widely traveled PC does not need to know English, French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, German, Dutch, Norwegian, Gaelic, Welsh, Turkic and so on.
 

bennet

Explorer
Should Common, Elvish, Orcish, etc. be the same language across different settings like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Known World? Or each has its own unintelligible version?
There is no should, only what you decide in your universe. Does it add any value to complicate things?
 

haakon1

Adventurer
This is meant to be an opinion question. Even if there were a canon answer, folks might ignore it anyhow.

I like the answer that Elvish is universal, but Common is not.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
"Common" isn't even the same in every place in my world, let alone across worlds. When the PCs travel abroad I will usually describe the style of common (if spoken at all) as inflected strangely and with local borrow words - these minor barriers of communication allow for common exchange of ideas, etc. . . but can also lead to (for example) disadvantage on a persuasion check if the ask involves potential for misunderstanding and detailed negotiations.

Edit to add: I also don't assume all the PCs are literate.
 

delericho

Legend
My default is "Common" is just whatever language is spoken and, unless there's a very good reason, everyone speaks it. Other languages basically don't come up.

For the occasional (very rare) adventure where I want language to be an issue, the PCs will just need to deal with an inability to communicate. But once they spend any significant time in the region (that is, when they get some downtime), they're assumed to learn the language which is thereafter called "Common".

Realistically, that's a nonsense, of course. But this is an area where I've concluded that realism is over-rated. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Several species-specific languages - standard Elvish (as opposed to any of the many dialects), standard Dwarvish, Hobgoblin, and a couple of others - are pretty much the same across all worlds largely because the associated deities gently keep them that way.

Some quasi-universal Human languages - Greek, Norse, Celtic, some others - work similarly, and for the same reason. Other more local languages might only exist in a very small region of one world.

Common, on the other hand, is somewhat world-specific. Yes it's comprised of borrowings from the other languages, but exactly what it borrows from who tends to be different world by world; thus someone from world A might understand one or two words in ten of the Common spoken by someone from world B but be more or less able to converse in Common with someone from world C.

Language barriers are very much a thing in my game. Nobody ever has Common as their native tongue (i.e. what they grew up speaking), and there's no baked-in requirement that players choose Common as one of their PC's languages; thus situations where two or more members of the same party don't share any languages arise on a fairly regular basis. Needless to say, perhaps, magic items that provide translation are quite sought-after. :)

Edit to add: as with @el-remmen , characters are not assumed to be literate in my game unless they are arcane casters (who by default have to be literate in something in order to write in and read from their spellbooks!). Even arcanists are only automatically literate in their native tongue; for al other languages and for any language known by a non-caster, literacy in each language known that has a written form* is determined by random roll based on class and intelligence.

* - a great many "monster" languages don't have a written form as the entire species is essentially illiterate or, in the case of some, physically incapable of writing.
 
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haakon1

Adventurer
Language barriers are very much a thing in my game. Nobody ever has Common as their native tongue (i.e. what they grew up speaking), and there's no baked-in requirement that players choose Common as one of their PC's languages; thus situations where two or more members of the same party don't share any languages arise on a fairly regular basis. Needless to say, perhaps, magic items that provide translation are quite sought-after. :)
I run Greyhawk, and my interpretation is Greyhawk Common is the official language of the Great Kingdom, derived from Old High Oeridian with Suloise and Flannae loan words. (Since Greyhawk is the or setting, I assume the Lake Geneva crew meant something like that, and the concept may not fit as well in other settings with less of a common history for most of the area.)

Like French pre-20th century or English now, it’s also a language of higher educatio, introduced to Keoland and from there to the upper classes of the Sheldomar Valley. That + former GK actually covers everywhere that speaks Common.

I have two PC humans whose native tongue isn’t Common.

The reason for my original post is that a PC whose player is on hiatus got Dismissaled to Forgotten Realms. He’s a Monk with Int 18 (random rolling 1e origin in 1996 for this character!) and speaks many language. I think he’ll be able to get by with Elvish, but won’t understand Sword Coast‘s Common.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
Common is specific to a setting in my view, and/but I find it weird to just call it "Common." In Zakhara, for example, the Common or trade tongue is the Midani language.

Which may or may not be distinct from the Common spoken in Faerûn, at a given table's preference, but giving the language an actual name makes it easier to distinguish them if you want.

I have no issue with Elven being basically the same from world to world, or at least coming from the same roots, though.

Really the question is, how much of a pain in the butt do you want to make communication in your campaign? Even in areas of the (real) world that speak the same language, it can be hard for some people to understand the words of someone from a different region. Years ago my spouse and I traveled through parts of the southern US, and while I had no problem understanding and talking to people there, my spouse (who is Hungarian) didn't even recognize what they were speaking as English.

Does that sound like a fun thing to have in your campaign? Then go to town; there's no wrong way to play. Languages in TTRPGs are stylized and streamlined to make play easier, and in general I roll with that. I focus my games on other things, but if your group loves the nitty-gritty of communication issues, have a party.
 

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