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D&D 5E Comprehend Languages Saves Lives

Tutara

Adventurer
Have you seen the humble comprehend languages spell turn out to be very useful or lifesaving in your games?
Comprehend Languages is one of my 'always takes' as a player, and sees a lot of play at the tables I play at. Suddenly a combat encounter can be a social encounter, or an ancient unknowable text can be deciphered (and I love the visual of having the caster have to touch the text as they read it).

It's not strictly Comprehend Languages, but a good language moment was when a druid player I had, who was hunting down an elusive cell of spies, tried to use Speak to Animals to ask an innocuous rat if it had seen any sneaky looking humans pass by, and was surprised that she couldn't understand its squeaks. This tipped her off that it was a were-rat in disguise who was just making squeaking noises, rather than a real rat. It then dawned on the party just how many of the other 'rats' were watching them very carefully from the shadows...
 

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Clint_L

Legend
5e has an awful lot of ways for characters to communicate across language barriers, starting at very low levels. I think it's gotten out of hand - why not just have everything speak Common if it is going to be so easy to get past language challenges? I suppose it comes down to DM preference, but I would prefer it dialled back a bit.
 


Fanaelialae

Legend
Comprehend Languages is generally one of my go-to spells, particularly if my character is high enough level to consider their 1st level slots to be for utility. I can't recall any specific instances atm, but I know it has been useful many, many times.

That said, I disagree with those who think CL removes the value of Tongues. That's another mainstay of mine. CL is a great spell, but the communication only works in one direction. For the caster to communicate with the target, you're reduced to pantomiming or drawing pictures, which in many circumstances is less than optimal. Tongues allows for effortless two-way communication, making it a valuable tool, whether or not the party already has access to CL.

However, the value of these spells is somewhat DM dependent.

I've played with DMs who, if they want you to speak with a creature, will make sure that creature has a means of communicating with the party. And if they don't, then CL or Tongues is basically useless because the creature will most likely refuse to communicate (just mindlessly attack, or whatever). With a DM like this, these spells are all but useless.

My usual DM, on the other hand, regularly populates his campaign worlds with creatures and texts that are in an array of languages. Oftentimes, being able to speak with a creature or read something means the difference between having to face deadly danger, or being able to circumvent it. In his campaigns, these spells are invaluable.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
On average, how many languages do each of your PCs have available?

And do you rule that the first one has to be the character's native tongue, i.e. the one spoken in its family?

I ask because in my game characters have on average maybe 3-5 languages, and even then there's situations where some combinations of characters in the party can't speak to each other without a translator.

Another question: how many different languages and dialects does your setting have? If there's a few hundred, even if a party can put together 20 languages between them that still leaves an awful lot they can't understand... :)

Very cool. Well played to him! :)
Each of our characters has the same 3-5 as yours does, with "common" and their native tongue as the first two. For the Int spellcasters, while not optimal, Linguist bumps Int and give 3 languages just like that (no one ever accused me of being an optimiser). The party can always speak to each other due to Common, and with like 95% of the rest of the world, unless the DM decides the enemy doesn't speak common. And with 4-6 players, that's 6-24 languages on the high to low end (not including common and native languages) - my DM's don't really give that much thought to languages and their use (or non-use) in our games. Its just never been a lever that they have used.

My campaign currently in Greyhawk that I am running has no "Common" language, 4 human languages total so far (we're currently in Furyondy (party 1 - Velondi is the main language - though the main character here is from Veluna, and so could have spoken Velondi or Oeridian) and Sterich (party 2 - speaks Keolandish), 5 non-human languages (elf, halfling, gnome, sylvan, dwarvish, not readily available to learn unless those people live in and around your community), and 3 humanoid (orc, giant, goblin, even harder to learn). You gain your native language at creation, and can learn additional languages based on your Int score (we're playing OSE). It is no guarantee that, for example, that the Oeridian speaker from Veluna could communicate effectively with the Velondi speaker from Furyondy. Fortunately for him, he chose Velondi, as its the more common language in Veluna and Furyondy (in my world).
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
That said, I disagree with those who think CL removes the value of Tongues. That's another mainstay of mine. CL is a great spell, but the communication only works in one direction. For the caster to communicate with the target, you're reduced to pantomiming or drawing pictures, which in many circumstances is less than optimal. Tongues allows for effortless two-way communication, making it a valuable tool, whether or not the party already has access to CL.
Right. One can imagine that a social interaction challenge works normally when the creatures can speak each other's language. But if one or both sides can't effectively communicate with the other, any Wisdom (Insight) or Charisma checks can be at disadvantage, or attempts to read, deceive, intimidate, or persuade automatically fail.
 

Clint_L

Legend
That said, I disagree with those who think CL removes the value of Tongues. That's another mainstay of mine. CL is a great spell, but the communication only works in one direction. For the caster to communicate with the target, you're reduced to pantomiming or drawing pictures, which in many circumstances is less than optimal.
True...but also super optimal for hilarious times at the gaming table as the players try to pantomime "we don't want to hurt you, we just need to get into the tunnel behind you in order to retrieve a rare fungus to treat our barbarian's condition."
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Overpowered relative to Tongues, the same-family 3rd-level spell that is arguably less useful in most situations. (also OP relative to what IMO a 1st-level character should be able to do in general, but that's a whole other discussion)

Frequency of usefulness isn't the metric; it's the power of what you can do with it. In my mind being able to communicate in a language, and potentially influence others, is vastly more potent than merely understanding it.

But I could see moving Tongues to 2nd level.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Comprehend Languages is generally one of my go-to spells, particularly if my character is high enough level to consider their 1st level slots to be for utility. I can't recall any specific instances atm, but I know it has been useful many, many times.

That said, I disagree with those who think CL removes the value of Tongues. That's another mainstay of mine. CL is a great spell, but the communication only works in one direction. For the caster to communicate with the target, you're reduced to pantomiming or drawing pictures, which in many circumstances is less than optimal. Tongues allows for effortless two-way communication, making it a valuable tool, whether or not the party already has access to CL.

Right. And if what you are trying to do is influence the other party, maybe even by using other magic, pantomiming is not going to cut it.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Each of our characters has the same 3-5 as yours does, with "common" and their native tongue as the first two. For the Int spellcasters, while not optimal, Linguist bumps Int and give 3 languages just like that (no one ever accused me of being an optimiser).
Ah. I don't require that they all know Common; and some choose not to (or just roll all their non-native languages randomly and don't hit Common).
The party can always speak to each other due to Common, and with like 95% of the rest of the world, unless the DM decides the enemy doesn't speak common. And with 4-6 players, that's 6-24 languages on the high to low end (not including common and native languages) - my DM's don't really give that much thought to languages and their use (or non-use) in our games. Its just never been a lever that they have used.
Languages have always been important here.
My campaign currently in Greyhawk that I am running has no "Common" language, 4 human languages total so far (we're currently in Furyondy (party 1 - Velondi is the main language - though the main character here is from Veluna, and so could have spoken Velondi or Oeridian) and Sterich (party 2 - speaks Keolandish), 5 non-human languages (elf, halfling, gnome, sylvan, dwarvish, not readily available to learn unless those people live in and around your community), and 3 humanoid (orc, giant, goblin, even harder to learn). You gain your native language at creation, and can learn additional languages based on your Int score (we're playing OSE). It is no guarantee that, for example, that the Oeridian speaker from Veluna could communicate effectively with the Velondi speaker from Furyondy. Fortunately for him, he chose Velondi, as its the more common language in Veluna and Furyondy (in my world).
So by that it seems you have 12 languages in your setting. Yeah, covering all those would be pretty easy for a typical party.

I've never counted them all...so now I will. There's 120 named languages or dialects in my setting, plus numerous instances of "other/foreign"* and "off-world" possibilities and three instances of "Tribal - [region]; there are many, you know one" to cover regions where small tribes or groups have each developed their own distinct dialect over time (this to reflect situations like here in real-world BC where there are or were once dozens of different First Nations languages and dialects in a relatively small area). A 121st "language" is silent speech, or sign language.

A short list of the most common languages are player-chooseable at roll-up, anything else has to be randomly rolled for and the roll is binding. IME most often a couple of basics are chosen and if there's any slots left over they're rolled for.

We also have it that knowing how to speak a language doesn't guarantee literacy in it (exception: arcane casters are always literate in at least their native tongue, it's a job requirement!), if the language in fact has a written form (at least half do not). For each language you know that has a written form there's a roll for literacy, influenced by your class, Intelligence, and whether you're rolling for your native tongue or a secondary.

* - "other/foreign" covers off that only a part of my game world has yet been developed in great detail, and there's much more still out there.
 

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