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%


Guide of Modos
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.
My language-actually-mattered games also require no more than five fingers. To me, it's less about making the gathering of information difficult, or presenting puzzles that must be solved non-verbally.

Language has a pretty solid role in my games as defining who's an insider and who's an outsider. It's not about communication problems - using multiple languages (and dialects) is about defining classes of people, or the other D-word: discrimination.

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The main issue is that anybody smart enough to have the information that PCs need, is probably smart enough to speak common, or at least another language. Learning dwarven, elvish, gnomish etc is rather pointless as all those races can speak common by default. Primordial or Deepspeech come up really rarely, but at least are necessary when they do.

IMC I made common a pigeon/trade tongue that is OK for basic concepts, but very few people speak natively. It is hard to do delicate diplomacy or exact communication in it. People are at disadvantage to communicate complex concepts in it. I also give PCs more local languages at the start.


They don't often come up, but sometimes there might be something like a group of goblins talking and the stealthy rogue can't make out the language because they don't have goblin on their list of languages.


Mod Squad
Staff member
So, when players invest in abilities, I like to make sure the choice to do so becomes relevant. For example, if someone invests in a warlock power to read all languages, I will give them reasonable chances to use that ability in their favor.

If the party doesn't invest in languages, I will probably only take advantage of that to complicate their lives occasionally.


My experience with language has been strictly Linkin Park -- in that I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, it doesn't even matter.

Try to use it as an info gate? Either someone knows it and the gate is auto-passed or they don't and it turns into an annoying pixel hunt to find someone who does. There's no control for it unless you make up a language they couldn't possibly have taken or deliberately make it something they don't have and once I do that I feel like I have exited the realm of fair play.

So no info gate. How about just a plain old language barrier? Okay, so communicating with someone is now a pain, either having a translator, which eventually just becomes you narrating exactly as if no translation was needed, or not and the players end up hating the NPC because it's less about having empathy for someone who doesn't speak your language and more about going through rigmarole to ever deal with them.

So language barrier is kind of a poison pill. A bonus for characters who can understand enemy chatter? See the translator issue. either everyone just get the information anyway or I have to type more whispers for minimal return.

Ultimately, I feel like it's another of those things that works better in a non-interactive story rather than collaborative storytelling. Frustrating a character you control is a lot different from frustrating your friend who is just trying to have a good time.



I used to, many years ago, and it was nothing but a pain. In hindsight, I'm lucky games didn't collapse over it.

These days just about everyone and everything speaks Common.


CR 1/8
I've used language quite a bit, it's too interesting and important for me too ignore completely. Last several years I've learned to keep it to mostly non-mechanical effects, as a background color. So when DMing, I just assume that (active) communication is generally successful, and on occasion note that language somehow enhances or complicates the situation a bit. That said, it is also nice to be ready for some mechanical applications for certain situations, namely when communication is occurring without cooperation or under duress; and/or when failure doesn't completely block the players.


If my party encounters a monster or a humanoid NPC, and no one speaks that language, then we have to find an alternative way to communicate. No exceptions, no hand waving.


Victoria Rules
If my party encounters a monster or a humanoid NPC, and no one speaks that language, then we have to find an alternative way to communicate. No exceptions, no hand waving.
Further - if one wants to get more involved than what simple sign language, actions, and expressions can convey - sometimes those alternative ways are easily available and ready to hand (a third-party translator, or someone casting Tongues, or whatever) and sometimes they are not.

Language is like coinage, having different ones seems like a great idea until you try to implement it.

The happy middle I've found in my D&D game is this; languages are regional. If you speak Imperial, you're good throughout, equivalently, Western Europe. If you try to communicate with a neighbor area, make a check and we'll see how well you can communicate. If you expend a feat you have a choice:
  • Learn the language of a neighboring region (N. Africa, Eastern Europe, Jotunheim, &c.)
  • Learn a specific exotic or extinct language (Assyrian, Coptic, Atlantean, Algonquin), or distant area (Arabia, Thule, Axum, &c.)
  • Learn to read at an advanced level (Read protection scrolls, perform sage research, &c. Some classes already have this.)
  • Learn to disguise your accent. (While everyone speaks the same language, there are regional dialects or accents that can place you.)
Also, the efficacy of comprehend languages is tied to the number of living speakers / readers of the language. Casting it on a scroll from Great Zimbabwe allows you to read it as if you had native fluency. On an elvish scroll, well, they're all dead but there are a lot of scholars who study it. You'll be fine, probably, if you roll well on a check. A scroll of a first hand account of the Garuda / Naga conflict written in Nagesh'a? Eek. That will be rough. You'll have to find a sage or try to find a Rosetta stone like artifact somewhere.


Loves Your Favorite Game
I've only had one major experience using them, but a very enjoyable one. Venomfang actively chose to speak Draconic over Common, thus allowing the only player who could understand them to step forward into the negotiation role, one that they likely would never have grabbed of their own.


Back in the day there were a list of things that I wanted to do more realistically than the simple contrivances of the stock D&D game.

On that list was languages.

The trouble is that realistic languages aren't very fun for a game for a pretty simple reason - it's never as fun to not be able to communicate with an NPC as it is communicate with one. It's never as fun to not get the clue as to get the clue. The fail state of language failure just isn't that interesting.

You don't want to be making barriers to role-play in a role-playing game. So I use a pretty simplistic model of language that functionally limits the world's languages to a few dozen and the convenient conceit of the "common tongue" that most people can speak. Language occasionally shows up either as a barrier to understanding or a way of impressing upon an otherwise unfriendly NPC a connection between them and the PC, but for the most part I try not to have it matter too much.

All the time, since my campaigns don’t have Common, ahistorical nonsense that it is. There may be a commonly spoken language, but if they travel to a distant region they should expect to need different languages.

I'd love to use languages, but my players all believe their characters can speak and read and write every single language, even the weird ones.

They also think that when I say they don't understand a creature then that means they do understand the creature.

Me: The creature speaks in a language you don't understand.
At least one player: Is it Abyssal?
Me: Do you speak Abyssal?
Player: Yes!
Me: Well, given that it's a language you don't understand then its clearly not Abyssal.
Another player: Ooooo, is it Primordial?

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