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%

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I don't worry about languages in D&D.

If someone can't speak my language, I just speak really loudly and slowly and use my hands a lot. Better than casting Tongues. Works great too, just like real life!
 

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Specific languages come up once in a while (I think about a handful of times in our campaign which is running for 1.5 years), but then it allows the knowledgeable character to obtain additional information that might otherwise not easily available at this point in time. It's not game changing, though, and mostly will provide just a bit of an edge.
 

Voadam

Legend
I used languages a little bit in some games to tie into the setting background with one fantasy Mesopotamian ancient civilization run by giants having used celestial and another one run by dragons having used draconic and the ancient fantasy Egypt having been run by elves used elvish and the players ended up doing some scholarly research where who knew what language came into play when the party split up in doing their mythos investigations with different lore being found in different books from the various cultures. Some players had wanted to be academics so there was some discussion at character creation of languages and what they would be tied to and sometimes this came up in play.
 

Voadam

Legend
It was more a thing in my 3e/Pathfinder games where it was easy for a character to put skill ranks into languages and gain up to a new one every level.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
It's not always the DM, though. The "can't understand each other over and over and over" piece more often comes up when two or more characters within the same party don't share a language, which is a) allowed and b) happens surprisingly often.

Example: if you're a PC with an Int score (usually 7 or less) that only allows you one language and you're from the Alotanian (faux-Spanish) region of my world, your only language* will be Alotan. If no-one else in the party can speak it, communication immediately becomes a real problem.

* - your first language, or "native tongue", is always that of the culture in which you were raised. Common is not and cannot be anyone's native tongue.
 

Voadam

Legend
In 3e I cut out common as a thing everyone knew, but I required PCs to spend a skill point to know it if they were not human. This way all PCs could talk to each other, but most NPC dwarves would probably only speak dwarvish.

In 5e in my games in practice it comes out mostly the same, by the rules PCs speak common +1 language and NPC languages are a DM's purview.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Roleplay

I'll provide players with a small list of common curses or sayings in their native language and encourage them to make more. Adds to ambiance and uniqueness of playing something different than others. I keep my own cheat sheet of those behind the screen for adding flavor. We'll shamelessly borrow from the internet if there's nothing in the core material (e.g. using Star Trek Klingon for the rough, earthy grumblings of dwarves, who, like Klingons, have a very fine range for singing if you can convince them).

NPCs

I'll use dialects and local languages, treating Common as a rudimentary way to universally communicate basic concepts (e.g. "Me want dagger" instead of "I'd like to purchase a dagger please.") If a native finds a PC who fluently speaks their language, that's often a big deal in improving relations.

Monsters

PCs who discuss their battle plans in front of monsters who understand that language had best expect the DM to plan accordingly. However, like a real-life sports team, those who've practiced together long enough can send basic ideas with a gesture or a look that your teammates would know.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
They come up here and there in most of campaigns, and almost always in either of these forms:

- PCs are scouting and eavesdropping on a group of monsters who of course speak among themselves their own language and not common

- PCs encounter/intercept an inscription, manuscript, sign or message meant for someone speaking another language

If one of the present PCs know the language, they will have more information or clues they can use to their advantage.

I almost never use non-common languages in direct social encounters, but I think I've allowed someone to gain advantage by using just the right language to impress during a conversation.
 

If you just keep to the languages in the PHB, it almost never matters. Almost everyone will speak common, even a good chunk of monsters. In my Greyhawk, I've included the ethnic human languages and ancient versions of many racial tongues to add variety. All human speak their ethnic language, and while the majority speak Common as a 2nd language, not everyone will. While it's generally considered rude to speak anything but Common among outsiders, most people are going to speak their local language when casual. This greatly shuts down eavesdropping, unless they happen to also speak the same language. I've also modified the number of languages based on Int modifier, including a negative reducing your number of languages. All of this makes potential language barriers an issue, improving the value of Comprehend Languages and Tongues.
 

Weiley31

Legend
Yes, but good luck having them be nothing more than Auto-Translated English sounding discussions that language speaking player informs the party while everybody else pretends they don't understand the convo.

I don't really have time to learn Gaelic for Elvish/Slyphan or Hebrew for Dwarven.
 


pointofyou

Adventurer
Sometimes the message is a clue. Sometimes the language the message is written in is a clue.

That said in every game I run the PCs have a common language and most of the NPCs will speak it too. I have never seen failure to communicate improve the experience in a TRPG.
 

Stormonu

Legend
It fluctuates.

I've had players run across monsters they didn't understand and had to get a translator or cast comprehend languages, tongues or find a way to communicate through hand gestures and the like to get their point across. I know enough words/cadence of a couple languages that I might BS my way through a scene with a different language the party doesn't know.

Likewise, there have been cases when the players run across notes, clues or other written text in a language they don't know, forcing them to use methods similar to above. I can't recall a case where vital clue was given out in a language none of the party knew and couldn't proceed, I usually do it for side quests or where as part of the quest the characters know they need to find someone who can decipher the writing.

In rare cases if I'm just too tired/lazy to deal with it (usually a wandering monster or spontaneous town visit), its in Common.
 

Languages matter a lot to me in game, not because there is no way through other than knowing the language, but because knowing the right language often leads to the non-face character needing to be the one making the social checks, or the non-intelligence-focused character needing to be the one making the knowledge checks. Language proficiency is a wonderful means to give characters who might normally take a backseat in social and exploration a chance to shine (or be comically inept, as the case may me). This happens organically for me every third session or so, and once in a blue moon I've planned around a language I knew a particular character had.

And there are definitely times when I'll have enemies whom I do not plan for negotiation to be an option with, but if a player reveals that they know the enemy's obscure native tongue, unlikely to ever come up again, suddenly we're having negotiations.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
This just came up in my last session, where the party encountered an intelligent monster that didn't speak Common. It started as a potential combat encounter, but when the group was able to find a common language they were able to avoid conflict. It's fairly easy for me to adjudicate this since I use a VTT (Fantasy Grounds) that has language support built in, so you can enter text in the chat and only the players that have that language on their character sheet will get a translation of what's being said.
 

Voadam

Legend
I thought of another time it became a front burner issue in a D&D game. In a 2e Ravenloft campaign I ran the Web of Illusion module where the PCs end up on the island of Sri Raji where common is not a local or trade language and there is a local power structure with religious assassins hostile to outsiders. The party did not have tongues or comprehend languages (which back then did not allow speaking in the language and required touching whatever you were trying to understand) so they started out with no understanding of anybody. Eventually they met two people who were originally outsiders themselves who speak both common and the indigenous language, one is a vulnerable innocent whose outsider status is hidden behind a mask and a claim of disfigurement, the other a villainous factional power player trying to overthrow the local power so a potential ally/potential enemy.

This meant the party was very much underground and hiding and not directly interacting with most people, with decisions about who to ally with and get involved with.

The limited fellow speakers definitely added to the isolation and outsider feeling and gave the island a much more exotic feel.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
I use language a lot like right here on Earth: everyone everywhere speaks something different. Once a character gets a bit far from their home, they will find folks speaking other languages.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
It's not always the DM, though. The "can't understand each other over and over and over" piece more often comes up when two or more characters within the same party don't share a language, which is a) allowed and b) happens surprisingly often.

Example: if you're a PC with an Int score (usually 7 or less) that only allows you one language and you're from the Alotanian (faux-Spanish) region of my world, your only language* will be Alotan. If no-one else in the party can speak it, communication immediately becomes a real problem.

* - your first language, or "native tongue", is always that of the culture in which you were raised. Common is not and cannot be anyone's native tongue.
That last bit is brilliant! I'm using that from now on.
 

Hex08

Adventurer
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.
Never, I don't allow my players to speak or sign or write during my games.;)

It occasionally comes up in my games. If my players sneak up on a group of monsters to try and spy on them, for example, the monsters will talk in their native language, even if they know Common. If not being able to speak a specific language would grind a campaign to a halt then I change the language or come up with another solution, but I won't change it up if it's just making it harder on the players.
 

It's not always the DM, though. The "can't understand each other over and over and over" piece more often comes up when two or more characters within the same party don't share a language, which is a) allowed and b) happens surprisingly often.
I had one group with a total troll player who insisted his character spoke only Elvish, which only a couple people in the large and unwieldy party spoke (perhaps with the right player in the right group this could be cool, this was a case of definitely the wrong group and a player who was just playing a whole separate game from the rest of the group). I got back at him by deciding that Elvish was French, and so whenever I, as one of the Elvish speakers, was required to communicate something to him I did it in (simple and butchered) French which the player seemed to be baffled by.

I'd like to emphasize that that was the only time I've ever felt compelled to "get back at someone" I was gaming with. It started out as a way to gently tease him about an annoying character choice, but it got a little more mean-spirited as the groups frustration with the choice grew.
 
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