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

Ondath

Hero
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.
Well, the 2014 PHB kinda does that as it lists Realms ethnicities for human names... But I think the 2024 PHB will move away from that. Someone made a comment about this phenomenon a few days ago: games like Pathfinder can have an assumed setting in their core rules, but D&D can't because it is too popular. The closest thing we had was 4E's Nentir Vale, and I think that was heavily disliked for requiring all other settings in that edition to be retrofitted to Nentir Vale's aesthetic choices (Eberron getting a Feywild and Shadowfell, Realms having a pointless apocalypse to justify all red tieflings and AEDU casting etc.).

As for the need for langage for game moments, I'm not against the idea. But I don't think we need mechanical rules that say every player needs to know X languages from the Standard Languages list to achieve that. We'd be better off with leaving languages to fluff, to be determined by the setting's worldbuilding and what the table thinks is appropriate for each character to know. I think that'd be better for the simulationist goal of language use. And Common/Allspeak/Regional Lingua Franca would be the only mechanical standard language whose point is convenience.
 

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jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
The absolute best treatment of languages (and, indeed, of cultures) that I've ever seen in a fantasy tabletop game was in Powers & Perils. Now, that game very arguably does a lot of stuff wrong, but it knocks languages and cultures out of the park.
 

tl;dr: Ignore languages if you don't like it. But leave it in the game, mostly unchanged. And I hate the idea of introducing a caste system through proficiencies related to communication skills.

Languages are a little optional game aspect that you don't have to use. The "Common" language is invented to allow DMs and players to circumvent that problem. And having racial languages is just easier because the races are the only similarity between all settings.

Connecting languages to social backgrounds feels awful. It has to replace Common or the "social affinity" is pointless. And then my Urchin suddenly cannot talk to a king anymore, even when it's level 16 and just saved the empire. Also, it sets D&D (which tries really hard to be inclusive) ten steps back and introduces a caste system.

Let's take languages for what it really is in practice: A simple trick to allow DM's to create puzzles and mysteries. If a DM wants to create a situation where the party does not understand what's said or written, then the wealth of languages is a benefit. I really don't see the problem leaving the languages in. Just like encumbrance, upkeep or alignment, you can just ignore it. But asking WotC to "get rid of it" is like saying that fastfood restaurants should stop selling cheeseburgers because you don't like cheese and burgers without cheese sell better than the ones with cheese. I like cheese. Sometimes.
 

Ondath

Hero
tl;dr: Ignore languages if you don't like it. But leave it in the game, mostly unchanged. And I hate the idea of introducing a caste system through proficiencies related to communication skills.

Languages are a little optional game aspect that you don't have to use. The "Common" language is invented to allow DMs and players to circumvent that problem. And having racial languages is just easier because the races are the only similarity between all settings.

Connecting languages to social backgrounds feels awful. It has to replace Common or the "social affinity" is pointless. And then my Urchin suddenly cannot talk to a king anymore, even when it's level 16 and just saved the empire. Also, it sets D&D (which tries really hard to be inclusive) ten steps back and introduces a caste system.

Let's take languages for what it really is in practice: A simple trick to allow DM's to create puzzles and mysteries. If a DM wants to create a situation where the party does not understand what's said or written, then the wealth of languages is a benefit. I really don't see the problem leaving the languages in. Just like encumbrance, upkeep or alignment, you can just ignore it. But asking WotC to "get rid of it" is like saying that fastfood restaurants should stop selling cheeseburgers because you don't like cheese and burgers without cheese sell better than the ones with cheese. I like cheese. Sometimes.
As you can imagine, I disagree with your assesment. When it comes to needing to replace Common to make social affinity make sense: Why? Social affinity isn't a "caste code" that only certain class of people can speak. It's not language, and that's the point. It's social capital, measuring how well you can adopt the conventions and styles of that group, which ingratiates you with them (hence the bonus to rolls). Your Urchin doesn't become incapable of speaking to the king just because he doesn't have the social affinity: It just means he doesn't talk like an aristocrat, so it's harder for him to get the king's ear.

As for social affinities introducing a case system, I have to disagree again. Social classes are a part of the faux-mediaeval fantasy D&D is based on: There's a Noble background, and your example itself uses a king as an example. Sure, it's not a proper mediaeval setting and I wouldn't expect your usual D&D game to bother itself with feudalistic details like scutage and investiture controversies. But you can add specific nods to mediaeval elements while still remaining inclusive. There's a reason I chose the name Rural and Urban in my examples. I could've just as easily picked Bourgeois or Serfdom, but those have the caste-like associations that concern you and that I also want to avoid. A Social Affinity system would not fail inclusivity by default: It only measures small social differences between groups but doesn't say anything about the power dynamics within them. You can acknowledge that people have different social conventions without limiting players to specific social castes (even the Urchin could gain the Nobility Social Affinity using downtime rules for learning a language under the current rules for instance, and then they'd be just as good as a blue-blooded Paladin player at convincing the king).

If we had it your way, then D&D also needs to remove the Noble and Acolyte backgrounds since those refer to mediaeval social classes.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
The issue with D&D languages is that the languages are static, dialects are only for Primordial, there and no transition languages, and no levels of proficiency.

For example I am only fluent in English. However I know enough Spanish, Russian, and Chinese to do my job which is real commercial. In D&D terms I only know one language.

There is a fine line between making a subsystem too simple or too complex for what it's used. The current one is too simple. It need more languages and possible options for lesser fluency in languages.
 

Connecting languages to social backgrounds feels awful. It has to replace Common or the "social affinity" is pointless. And then my Urchin suddenly cannot talk to a king anymore, even when it's level 16 and just saved the empire. Also, it sets D&D (which tries really hard to be inclusive) ten steps back and introduces a caste system.
I think most of this misunderstanding of the change to languages in backgammon is because you forgot that each player already gets common+1 from race, plus another at the end of creation.

Every PC in the playtest starts with at least 4 (some classes give more). That's a change from 5e where each PC starts with 2 to 7.
 

Another aspect I've disliked about D&D languages is a lingua franca in a world with no mass transit, no telecommunications and no recently massive continent spanning empire.

Common shouldn't exist. A random person in Thay shouldn't be able to talk to a random person in Waterdeep
 



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.
Going back to 2E Dragonlance, they handled languages largely from a nation to nation basis. While common was a language, the Solamnics and Ergothians had their own language for example. There wasn't elvish, but rather Qualinesti and Silvanesti languages. I always figured there could be some similarities if 2 nations bordered each other or had a shared history (sentence structure for instance) but they were different enough to make someone without proficiency not fully understand and as you said, it helped create tension. If the party only had people who spoke Qualinesti and they tried to spy on a Silvanesti group I'd allow them a check to see if they pieced together what was being said and depending on how well they rolled maybe slightly twist the meaning to have them jump to the wrong conclusion. Used properly, languages are great. I've never been a fan of racial languages because it just seemed lazy.
 

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