D&D 5E How to make Languages fun?

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I always like the idea of different languages in D&D, but I find they actually come up very rarely. Usually everyone just speaks Common and they get on with the day.

Some fun uses of language I've seen in play:

A character proficient in Goblin, Orc, or Draconic can spy on enemies and hear about their tactics.

Characters proficient in the same language can have private conversations in front of NPCs.

Clues to solving traps or puzzles in an obscure language one character speaks.

...and that's about it!

What are some ways to make Languages more fun in D&D?

One idea might be to make language more Regional. Having different languages for different geographic or political areas could help a character's languages connect more with their background and journeys.

Another idea would be to replace Common with Pidgin. All characters can understand and speak Pidgin, but when relying on it they suffer disadvantage to Charisma checks. This would provide a reward for characters who speak the language of the NPCs they are interacting with.

Language families could be fun. Maybe the languages could be organized into three-to-five families. If you are proficient with one language in the family, then you can understand the basics of the other languages (making Charisma or Insight Checks with disadvantage, say) and read text in the other languages if you take ten minutes.

One crazy idea could be that proficiency in a language allows your character to think in new ways. Maybe proficiency in some archaic languages unlock Cantrips, or Ritual spells? Or spellcasters who cast using Celestial can heal more, and spellcasters who cast using Infernal or Abyssal deal more fire damage?

Anyways, those are just some ideas. What are some more ways to make Language more fun in D&D?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I remove Common from just about every monster stat block. A lot of information in various adventure locations are also presented in different languages. This immediately makes languages more valuable and the players are more apt to optimize which languages the party has or to take spells that help them communicate better, particularly if XP is earned via exploration or social interaction challenges (or combat does not award XP).
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
If the team knows a language the foes do not (in our group, everyone but the ranger knows elven, for example), it can make conversation amongst the party more private.

Second, you want language families? This was done back in the 1980s in the excellent dragon warriors game:

1635697090145.png
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Some languages could contain knowledge about different regions.

For example, if you had a Coastal Language (but with a better name), characters proficient in Coastal could have advantage on Intelligence (Nature) checks when identifying coastal plants and animals, tides, weather, etc. The idea being that the Coastal Language would have more vocabulary for local natural phenomena compared with other languages!
 



Lanefan

Victoria Rules
How to make languages fun is first to allow players not to always choose (or roll) Common as a language; and then assume most monsters don't know it at all.

This can lead to interesting situations where members of the same party can only talk through an interpreter, and spells like Tongues and Comprehend Languages become way more useful for communicting with monsters or very-foreign people.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
I always like the idea of different languages in D&D, but I find they actually come up very rarely. Usually everyone just speaks Common and they get on with the day.
There's a reason for that. Lots of players don't like to deal with language issues. That said, I like some of your ideas below! (Fair warning, my bachelor's was in linguistics.)
Some fun uses of language I've seen in play:

A character proficient in Goblin, Orc, or Draconic can spy on enemies and hear about their tactics.
Characters proficient in the same language can have private conversations in front of NPCs.
Clues to solving traps or puzzles in an obscure language one character speaks.
I've seen, used, and had great fun with, all of these.
What are some ways to make Languages more fun in D&D?

One idea might be to make language more Regional. Having different languages for different geographic or political areas could help a character's languages connect more with their background and journeys.
This is a bit vague. D&D is stingy about granting languages, so I can see this approach running into trouble. (See below about dialects.)
Another idea would be to replace Common with Pidgin. All characters can understand and speak Pidgin, but when relying on it they suffer disadvantage to Charisma checks. This would provide a reward for characters who speak the language of the NPCs they are interacting with.
I like this! Getting into the details about how language & dialect help or confound communication is a snarly thicket, but this is a manageable high-level way to encourage use of languages.
Language families could be fun. Maybe the languages could be organized into three-to-five families. If you are proficient with one language in the family, then you can understand the basics of the other languages (making Charisma or Insight Checks with disadvantage, say) and read text in the other languages if you take ten minutes.
Languages are more or less by definition not mutually intelligible (again, it's complicated). Dialects, on the other hand, are mutually intelligible—especially neighboring dialects. Plus, you can use dialects & accents as clues to identify the cultural origins and possible allegiances of particular characters. It might take special training—such as, say, a degree in linguistics—for a character to be able to recognize many dialects, or even whole languages, of course, but a character from a particular area should at least be able to recognize languages & dialects they would have heard regularly. That's getting to be a fair amount to keep track of though.
One crazy idea could be that proficiency in a language allows your character to think in new ways. Maybe proficiency in some archaic languages unlock Cantrips, or Ritual spells? Or spellcasters who cast using Celestial can heal more, and spellcasters who cast using Infernal or Abyssal deal more fire damage?
Not so crazy! Have you seen Arrival, or read the short story it's based on (Story of Your Life)?
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Yeah the Pidgin idea is good - Common is a trade language that can be used in the market to buy stuff but does not carry more complex ideas or subtleties of meaning especially when used across races/cultures.

If you really want to impress someone, or read an ancient tomb you will need a proper language to do so. Trying to speak to the local Elf Lord using common will have you frowned upon as uncouth, theres even a chance that you will be misunderstood
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
If you really want to impress someone, or read an ancient tomb you will need a proper language to do so. Trying to speak to the local Elf Lord using common will have you frowned upon as uncouth, theres even a chance that you will be misunderstood
Why would a noble even stoop to learning a language of rough commerce, after all? They have servants for that sort of thing.
 

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