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 15.1%
  • They come up from time to time in a consequential manner

    Votes: 64 60.4%
  • They come up from time to time in a non-consequential manner

    Votes: 13 12.3%
  • They rarely come up

    Votes: 12 11.3%
  • Never

    Votes: 1 0.9%


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.

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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.

Voidrunner's Codex

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