D&D General Do you use languages in your D&D game?

How often do languages matter in your game?

  • They matter a lot and come up frequently

    Votes: 16 15.2%
  • They come up from time to time in a consequential manner

    Votes: 63 60.0%
  • They come up from time to time in a non-consequential manner

    Votes: 13 12.4%
  • They rarely come up

    Votes: 12 11.4%
  • Never

    Votes: 1 1.0%


Well, that was fun
Staff member
And if so, how much?

For me, I think I can count on one hand the number of times language really mattered in a D&D game I was in. Occasionally a DM will ask what languages people speak and generally somebody speaks the right language. If not, if the info is hidden behind a language gate, we get the info some other way if it matters. It's rare for a DM to introduce an NPC and not have us able to talk to them.

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I tried developing languages thoroughly in the first setting I built - different megaregions of the world had different "Commons", I even drew a linguistic map of my game world... Then it never came up.

Now, I'm running a multiversal game so it comes up even less. Making the party learn a new universe's common every time they jumped to another setting would be unwieldy, so everyone speaks a multiversal Common. Other languages are only used when the party/the NPCs want to talk between each other secretly, or if there's a minor puzzle, but even then that becomes trivial with a spell like Tongues or Comprehend Languages.

It was my dissatisfaction with not getting any returns from my investment into linguistic worldbuilding that really pushed me to consider ditching languages mechanically in the other thread I've started.


Space Jam Confirmed
One campaign where it mattered a lot was Tomb of Annihilation, wherein many creatures and characters are encountered who cannot speak Common. My bard was using Comprehend Languages and Tongues a lot in that campaign.

In a current Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus campaign that I'm in, three party members speak Celestial, and will sometimes use it to speak with each other if we feel like we're being spied on.

I too can't recall languages being a major gameplay element - they're mostly worldbuilding or character flavor.

Quick example: in a dungeon we came a cross a couple semi-friendly npcs. My character speaks Quori, so the dm ruled that meant I could speak to the other psychic npc. This allowed for some neat roleplaying, but all the vital info was presented in Common.

The only time I think not knowing a language really hurt us was playing Storm King's Thunder with no one knowing Giant. That was a persistent social encounter penalty, although Giants could all speak Common. If we had spoken Giant, it would have been easier.


I think languages are one of those things that folks either really like going through the process over and over and over and over, or you just don't care for it. As a GM I'd rather put my efforts into things more interesting to me. As a player, I'd be fine with it if the GM did interesting things with languages, but if it was the routine of you don't understand each other over and over and over, id ask them to drop it.

Yes and also no.

When I'm running a game I usually provide a list of commonly encountered languages for the players and keep track of what they know. If the players run into an NPC that shares a common language I generally handwave the interaction with the assumption that someone is translating if not everyone in the party understands the language.

On occasion I will have the players meet an NPC/monster that they need to talk to that doesn't have a shared language which necessitates them finding magic or a local translator.

Where I generally am stricter on language enforcement is when the PCs find journals/books/writings in old tombs/ancient sites. Depending on the age of the writing I will require the players to translate the contents into a modern understandable format. Generally this will take 1d8-1 (min 1) days of translation and requires an Int check (with prof if the character doing the translation has proficiency in the modern version of that language.

And if so, how much?

For me, I think I can count on one hand the number of times language really mattered in a D&D game I was in. Occasionally a DM will ask what languages people speak and generally somebody speaks the right language. If not, if the info is hidden behind a language gate, we get the info some other way if it matters. It's rare for a DM to introduce an NPC and not have us able to talk to them.
sometimes it matters more then others... Starting in 3e we had a string of (and I am as guilty of any of us in my group) "this hidden language wasn't an option to learn, and the comp language spell doesn't work on it" to make it matter. With 5e having so much less known languages (no more int mod) and having a built in 1 or 2 secrete ones (yeah PCs CAN know druidic or theives cant but they have to be class or background) has aloud us to use it more.

I often have commoners not speak common... "Hey sorry your in high elf lands 40-60% of the population don't leave and are not bilingual"

but as for the
If not, if the info is hidden behind a language gate, we get the info some other way if it matters.
that is a bit of a pain... on both sides of the screen. If you want language choice to matter you HAVE to leave the PCs without the info unless they find away (and there are magic ways or just hireing a translator) to get around it...


In my campaigns, I tell the players what the primary local trade language for the region is before they make characters, and that their characters really need to know it.
There never is a common language.

Most NPCs they encounter will be able to talk with the PCs, or at the very least someone in their group is. Listening to NPCs talking among themselves or talking to them in private might not work if the respective PCs don't know the language.

In the past year, I can think of a few ways language has effected the game.

- When only one member of the party speaks a given language, writings or conversations are given to that person in private. They then relay the info to the group. This presents RP opportunities for what/how information is shared.

- We had a scene similar to The Mummy where a magical shrine needed translation mid battle, but only one person spoke the language. That person was not near the shrine. Hi-jinks ensured.

- My DM did a dungeon that was full of instructions in "ancient" elvish. Due to it being "ancient", we could get the gist of what was being said, but not the exact details. So we had to decide when it was worth slowing down to use Comprehend Languages as a ritual (once is trivial, but doing it constantly becomes a problem), and when to just forge ahead knowing our info was spotty.

I would consider all of these to be consequential.


Moderator Emeritus
Really depends on the specific D&D game, its style, and where in the world it takes places or goes. Not much point in having the PCs travel to some far off foreign land just to have everyone speak the same language(s) they do.

I have also sometimes introduced different regional inflections or versions of common that vary based on accent, expression, and word use - and can apply penalties/disadvantage to some social interactions for potential misunderstandings despite having a language in common - like some American telling a British woman to beware fanny pack snatchers. :LOL:

Latin America is a great example, too - where despite most of us speaking Spanish, asking for a grocery bag in one dialect would get you weird looks for asking for a scrotum in another, and being offered one in that dialect is to suggest they take their groceries in a pillowcase!

Most of the time it's in written form when it comes up. I generally handwave spoken languages, because it gets pretty tiresome to have only one or two PCs be able to communicate with an NPC.


Magic Wordsmith
For me, I don't really need any NPCs to be able to communicate with the PCs by default. If I was running a plot-based game, where I needed an NPC to tell the PCs what to do next, then sure, they're going to need to speak Common or some other shared language so they can give them the quest or the like. But I try not to run those kinds of games.

Instead, if the players want to talk to an NPC or monster, it's often for their benefit as they are seeking a favor or valuable information or something like that. Therefore, limiting the NPC or monster to their own language creates a complication in the social interaction challenge with which the players must now contend. How do they get what they want if they can't communicate it clearly? That's an interesting challenge in my view and one that the players need to consider when they are making their language selections and spell choices. These are meaningful decisions that have a potential impact on their success in other areas of the game, and the more meaningful choices per unit of game time makes for a more engaging game in my experience.

I my own campaign settings languages tend to be incredibly important (language is often how I chart out the early history of my worlds). But when I run Ravenloft, I pretty much completely ignore language. I see it like those episodic shows on TV where characters go from one planet to the next, or one alternate dimension to another, where everyone magically speaks the same language, perhaps with accents. When I've run Ravenloft having the players as natives, then I might use the languages. But I prefer to do it with characters as outsiders. And generally speaking I want the focus in that setting to be on interacting with villains from different domains, I don't want to get overly bogged down in linguistics.


I used it as a background element in a bunch of my 3e games where elvish and gnomish were dialects of fey (and I made them subtype fey), dwarvish and giant were dialects of the same language and they were the same humanoid subtype (but they culturally vociferously denied any connections between the groups). This did not come up directly but set the mood for world elements and some extra flavor for elves and gnomes and dwarves. I also made orcs a subspecies of goblin to be a bit more Tolkien in feel so orcish was a dialect of goblin, again I kept the traditional orc vs. goblin antipathy and denials of any connections.

This cut down a little on the huge area of D&D languages (1e had different languages for each subtype of dragon and giant) which was a goal of mine and was a neat flavor element tying some things a little closer together.


I played in an online game where we used google translate to do posts in other D&D languages in the game with spoiler tags for those who did speak them to get the translation. So I used German for Abyssal and Portugeuse for Orcish as two that came up a bunch in those games. This way there was something for those who did not know the D&D languages to see stuff going back and forth.

It also allowed me to have a goblin speak haltingly in broken common to the party then give intense rolling dialogue in goblin/orcish to fellow goblins, which I felt was a nice touch about languages.

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