D&D General Languages in D&D Are Weird, Let's Get Rid of Them.


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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But your games are not D&D standard. And that's fine, I'm not saying that your games have to be. But your rules on language are neither RAW nor RAI and thus are not typical for D&D games.

Eberron actually has public education, for instance. There is, or at least was, lots of private education throughout Ravenloft. The Realms has a god of writing and I'm sure his clerics teach literacy.
To those who can afford it, sure. But are all your PCs noble, or of high station?
I don't think I am. Language does evolve over time... in the real world, where people have short lifespans, literacy was uncommon to very rare, and transportation, and thus the spread of language, was highly limited. But in D&D world, people don't have short lifespans, literacy is very common, and transportation includes teleportation, magical communication, and flying mounts.

Sure, there's a huge amount of difference between modern English and, say, Old English--but Old English was spoken about 1,500 years ago.
Have you ever heard someone read Chaucer (who wrote in the late 1300s) in the original? I have, and I couldn't understand a word that was being said even though in theory it's the same language I speak today.
In a D&D world, there are going to be creatures that are still alive after 1,500 years. That's only a handful of elf generations (and if you use the idea that elves reincarnate and remember their past lives, then even that doesn't matter). That's one generation of lich or vampire. s, relatively few deal with the multuple tens or hundreds of thousands of years that the real world had to deal with.

With humans, in the real world, it seems to be that the first small language developed at point X in Africa and then people spread out, developing their individual languages as they went. If, as I mentioned, the gods created (modern) humans fully-formed and plunked them down all over the place knowing the same fully-developed language, then the changes afterwards are going to be much smaller.

Plus, let's face it--nearly all D&D settings are static. New technologies and philosophies just don't take over. There's no reason language would also change that much.
Different communities would still drift, though; and while the settings tend to be somewhat static I also see D&D worlds as being at least as old as the "multiple tens or hundreds of thousands of years" as ours, if not considerably older.
For the record, I'm not saying that D&D games should only have one or a very few languages. I'm saying that it's not actually illogical for such a setting to have few languages.
Got it. I just see there being fairly few languages as too much of a contrivance.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
To those who can afford it, sure. But are all your PCs noble, or of high station?
I see no reason to assume that only high-born people can read in a fantasy world, or that people couldn't teach their children, or that priests would consider teaching people to read as part of their clerical duties.

It's a world where priests can bless crops and heal major injuries, therefore automatically making harvests and lives better, therefore allowing people to break away from the lives of pure drudgery that existed in the real world, and thus gives them more time in which to educate themselves.

Have you ever heard someone read Chaucer (who wrote in the late 1300s) in the original? I have, and I couldn't understand a word that was being said even though in theory it's the same language I speak today.
Again, you're comparing the real world to a fantasy world, and ignoring all the differences there would be between them.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Again, you're comparing the real world to a fantasy world, and ignoring all the differences there would be between them.
It depends on how prevailing the fantasy is in your fantasy world.

My worlds do not have priests going around blessing crops and healing major injuries, so the drudgery of the real world carries over. Spellcasters are exceptionally rare.

As for reading, many nobles and such can't read, either, in my games. Which is why there were scribes and advisors, sages, etc. who speak and read/write several languages.

It is also why town criers exist who announce royal proclamations, etc.

There is such an incredibly wide spectrum of what a game world can be like when it comes to the "fantasy" element, that it can be as close to real world or as far removed from it as you want.

Have you ever heard someone read Chaucer (who wrote in the late 1300s) in the original? I have, and I couldn't understand a word that was being said even though in theory it's the same language I speak today.
Yeah, it's rough. I read it as part of my Medieval English Literature minor in college. :)
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Make languages in the game more detailed, closer to reality, and add in something like your social mechanic too.
Emphasis mine. What would it look like to make languages "closer to reality" using game mechanics? I'm asking sincerely. As someone who has lived and worked in other countries for a good chunk of my life, I love making language meaningful in my games, but I tend to get lazy and resort to the everyone speaks common, or at least that certain groups of educated NPCs do. Where I have make strong efforts to make language meaningful it was almost entirely role-play based, more than roll play. At most I might give advantage or bonus to certain skill checks. I find this especially satisfying at higher levels where mere understanding is less of an issue because of magic. Just because magic gives you the ability to understand or communicate in a language doesn't mean (in my games) that you are clued into all the subtle cultural contexts and that can be reflected in charisma checks, for example.

But trying to create verisimilitude by mechanically representing dialects, language families, different language within a shared culture, etc. seems it would get unwieldy if you try to model it with bonuses, tables, and other mechanical tools.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Emphasis mine. What would it look like to make languages "closer to reality" using game mechanics? I'm asking sincerely. As someone who has lived and worked in other countries for a good chunk of my life, I love making language meaningful in my games, but I tend to get lazy and resort to the everyone speaks common, or at least that certain groups of educated NPCs do. Where I have make strong efforts to make language meaningful it was almost entirely role-play based, more than roll play. At most I might give advantage or bonus to certain skill checks. I find this especially satisfying at higher levels where mere understanding is less of an issue because of magic. Just because magic gives you the ability to understand or communicate in a language doesn't mean (in my games) that you are clued into all the subtle cultural contexts and that can be reflected in charisma checks, for example.

But trying to create verisimilitude by mechanically representing dialects, language families, different language within a shared culture, etc. seems it would get unwieldy if you try to model it with bonuses, tables, and other mechanical tools.
I'd say take a page from GURPS and have different levels of of fluency. GURPS has three levels, broken, fluent, and native (I believe; it's been a while), in both written and spoken versions.

For D&D, maybe just two levels (broken and fluent). Instead of saying each PC knows X number of languages, give them a certain number of points. Spend 1 point for broken spoken, 2 for fluent spoken. Ditto for written. Maybe base it on their Int mod, with a few extra points based on class or background or whatever.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I see no reason to assume that only high-born people can read in a fantasy world, or that people couldn't teach their children, or that priests would consider teaching people to read as part of their clerical duties.

It's a world where priests can bless crops and heal major injuries, therefore automatically making harvests and lives better, therefore allowing people to break away from the lives of pure drudgery that existed in the real world, and thus gives them more time in which to educate themselves.
I think you're giving too much credit to said priests (and wizards, etc.) for beneficially affecting the daily lives of the masses. Further, what would the masses read? Most D&D settings don't have the printing press, and spells of photocopying are homebrew only (the only spell I've ever had any of my PCs research and design was in fact for just this).
Again, you're comparing the real world to a fantasy world, and ignoring all the differences there would be between them.
Of course I'm ignoring the differences, largely because in this case I posit there really wouldn't be any of much significance. Dialects can and do develop within a subculture on Earth within just a few years, as a means of group identification and differentiating themselves from the rest, and either catch on and become part of the mainstream language or fade away. Why would a game world be any different?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'd say take a page from GURPS and have different levels of of fluency. GURPS has three levels, broken, fluent, and native (I believe; it's been a while), in both written and spoken versions.

For D&D, maybe just two levels (broken and fluent). Instead of saying each PC knows X number of languages, give them a certain number of points. Spend 1 point for broken spoken, 2 for fluent spoken. Ditto for written. Maybe base it on their Int mod, with a few extra points based on class or background or whatever.
The other thing to toss in here is that not every spoken language has or historically had a written form.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I think you're giving too much credit to said priests (and wizards, etc.) for beneficially affecting the daily lives of the masses.
Real-world history and even most fantasy fiction would suggest that the magical class would primarily focus on benefiting their peers and themselves.
Further, what would the masses read? Most D&D settings don't have the printing press, and spells of photocopying are homebrew only (the only spell I've ever had any of my PCs research and design was in fact for just this).
My DM had a faster version of the printing press introduced in our campaign and it was a great moment. The existing guilds and power structures freaked out, as many of them realized it would have economic, social and political implications.

Unless one is wedded to a very Dark Ages technology level in their game, I 100% recommend introducing the printing press and related technology to campaigns.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
I think you're giving too much credit to said priests (and wizards, etc.) for beneficially affecting the daily lives of the masses. Further, what would the masses read? Most D&D settings don't have the printing press, and spells of photocopying are homebrew only (the only spell I've ever had any of my PCs research and design was in fact for just this).
They're my priests and clerics, which means that they're exactly as beneficial or harmful as I want them to be.

As to what people would read? Almanacs, religious texts, bestiaries, royal edicts, contracts, deeds, histories, legends, novels... there's so many possibilities. Also, while the printing press and movable type hasn't been around all that long, wood block printing has been around for a lot longer. Plus, not every race has to have the same level of technology or have developed technology in the exact same order that European humans did. Real world humans developed technology in different orders. Why wouldn't other not-human races do the same?

(For the record, 2e had at least one or two copy spells, as per the Complete Wizards Handbook.)

Of course I'm ignoring the differences, largely because in this case I posit there really wouldn't be any of much significance. Dialects can and do develop within a subculture on Earth within just a few years, as a means of group identification and differentiating themselves from the rest, and either catch on and become part of the mainstream language or fade away. Why would a game world be any different?
You're talking about vocabulary here, but that's different from a full language.

The other thing to toss in here is that not every spoken language has or historically had a written form.
That's true, but also fairly unimportant in a fantasy setting.
 

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