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


Obstacles are the root of adventure, though. In another thread, I made a point about how not being able to understand someone/something can be what sends the PCs off on a quest to find someone who can translate/interpret for them, possibly while dealing with antagonists who don't want them to discover whatever they're trying to learn.
While this is true, this could also be achieved with a DC 30 History or Arcana check instead of having a completely separate characteristic called “languages.”
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Dusty Dragon
I think you aren't going far enough - you should do what your title says - get rid of languages, ALL OF THEM. PCs don't need language, they don't need to communicate, they have swords.

For those who think that this is too radical, I present: the internet. We should give up language too!


The EN World kitten
While true, I think the genre of the game sets the player expectations for the different kinds of obstacles they'll need to overcome. Most people don't expect to go through an Intercultural Studies problem-solving exercise when they sit down to play imaginary elves.
The example I posted, which is basically "go on a dangerous journey to accomplish a task," doesn't really seem like it could rightfully be called an "Intercultural Studies problem-solving exercise." I mean, none of the courses in that field I ever took required guarding someone in a trek across a hostile territory, but maybe my university was lame like that.
While this is true, this could also be achieved with a DC 30 History or Arcana check as well as having a completely separate characteristic called “languages.”
Sure, and it could also be solved with a simple spell like comprehend languages, but if there's some minor mechanic that's invalidating a particular problem that your PCs would otherwise face, maybe this is a good time to offer feedback that said mechanic shouldn't be part of the new edition.

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
I suspect a lot of it winds up depending on the balance of combat versus exploration or social interaction in your game.

If the last two are prominent, having to find someone who speaks the relevant language (or a spell to get around the problem) becomes part of the story and allows for cultural misunderstandings as a plot device if you want to get fancy.

If you're mostly fighting monsters, it's just a pain in the neck.

When starting my current campaign I came to similar conclusion. This is how I handled it:

Instead of languages existing as rules elements there is just a 'Linguistics' skill. Then when you go to an unfamiliar area you'll roll it to communicate with the locals. Longer you stay in the area, the easier the DCs get until eventually it can be assumed that you just know the language. If you're trained you might be able to instantly communicate with nearby cultures without a roll. And of course you would use this skill to decipher ancient stone tablets etc. Then realistic linguistic complexity can exist in the lore without being rigidly codified in the rules, and as the language proficiency is no longer a simple binary you can have potentially interesting/amusing miscommunication situations. Also, as literacy is rather rare in this particular setting (stone age/early bronze age) reading is trained only thing.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
First off, I'll be adding a halfling bard named "Rolkien" into my games at the first opportunity, so thank you for that, @Ondath.

Second, I disagree with your premise, but I have no way of knowing which of us, if either of us, use languages more "typically" in D&D. I will say that while I've used it as a gate to hide a clue behind (overhearing someone on the street, reading hieroglyphics in a tomb), it's also used in my games as a secret communication channel (my gnome illusionist in 3E had a familiar that spoke Gnomish, so she could communicate only with a select group of people, allowing her to pass on secret communications to the PCs all at once with less chance of being overheard by random strangers) and as background color.

These feel like typical uses to me, but I also grew up with a dad who worked all over the world and who speaks multiple languages and my wife speaks another language, so all of this stuff is just part of how I view the world.

Instead of dumping languages, I think there might need to be specific discussions in the 2024 DMG that might say "hey, if you don't want to deal with languages in your game, don't. Make your primary area one where 99% of the NPCs all speak the same language and you can bring in others if you think of an interesting use for them." (This also goes against the idea of automatically giving people a free language with their background, so if this worldbuilding advice is used, it should probably also say that a language is worth a tool proficiency and the DM should feel free to give those out instead -- and D&D Beyond should have that as a coded-in choice.)


Victoria Rules
I think the assumption since post-3.5 is that everyone is literate. In 3.5, Barbarians being illiterate was a big thing (which made it clear that every other class else knew how to read and write), and since then the only time I've seen an illiterate character has been Campaign 1 of Critical Role where the Goliath Barbarian was illiterate - and even there the cast's home game was in PF 1e so I assume it was the 3.5 rule at play again.
This seems to be common now.

I have it that other than mages (who by definition have to be literate as it's kinda hard to read or write spellbooks if you're not) and characters whose randomly-generated past professions imply literacy (e.g. scribe), everyone has to roll for literacy with the odds being affected by both your class and your Int score. If you hit literacy in your mother tongue (the odds are higher for this) you can then roll for each other language* you know.

Literacy can be learned by almost any PC as a downtime activity, but it takes time. And it comes up all the time - characters want to leave notes and messages for each other but have to stop and think whether the recipient is literate; I quite like this.

* - that has a written form; many "monster" languages do not. Unicorns and Pegasi, for example, have their own spoken language but they ain't real good at writing it! :)
Of course, PCs being literate and literacy being widespread in the game world are two different things - the PCs are supposed to be exceptional after all.
This is a conceit I don't buy into quite as much as do some. :) The PCs make themselves exceptional because of what they do as adventurers, not because of who they were before they started adventuring; and things like literacy etc. tend to come from who they were before.

Dire Bare

I haven't read the entire thread, so forgive me if I cover ground already trod . . .

When the heroes struggle to communicate with the other characters they meet, friend, foe, or unknown, it creates tension and story opportunity. When they discover strange writing none of them can read, again, tension and opportunity.

Removing languages from D&D would be a mistake. But the way they are handled currently isn't that great, and I really don't like the way they are handled in the new Character Origins playtest document.

IMO, even in standard PHB D&D, there needs to be more world-building and the use of a "culture" category, which languages would be tied to. You could choose the elf race, then choose the high elf, wood elf, or dark elf culture, each with it's own language. Ideally, I would also try to create some culturally specific backgrounds for each race to hit those classic archetypes . . . but of course, players could customize and mix ancestries (race), cultures, languages, and backgrounds.

No more monolithic racial languages such as "elf". Three major elven cultures are described in the PHB, why shouldn't each have their own cultural traditions and languages? Same with dwarves, orcs, and everybody!

Of course, the problem then shifts to humans. There is no "human" language (unless you count common). And traditionally, humans are described as culturally diverse, but rarely are examples given in the PHB . . . its saved for setting books. I would like to see some human cultures detailed somewhat in the PHB, each with their own language.

Maybe WotC just needs to finally break down and marry the core D&D books with the Forgotten Realms setting, and use the cultural groups of the Realms in the PHB.

While I agree that, from a worldbuilding standpoint, racial languages make little sense in the sort of cosmopolitan settings of current published materials, I think it makes sense to play to player assumptions and fantasy tropes on some basic things for the sake of grounding players in the narrative of this game based so heavily on a DM's oral descriptions. I think as is people can guess when they can use languages fine, players are willing to try to use them, and it leads to some good moments (if you make sure every NPC and monster doesn't speak common as stat blocks tend to let them).

My favorite part of having languages in D&D is that it often allows the player character who would not normally be front and center of a social or exploration moment to have some spotlight time in such things because they are the one who, on a whim, took the right language.

Voidrunner's Codex

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