Language is a much-overlooked aspect of most DnD campaigns, but it adds a lot of flavor and scope for roleplaying. In the real world, we have a diverse multitude of languages.
If you add to that a fantasy world’s many races and creatures, the secret languages of guilds and religions, and the numerous otherworldly creatures whose communication barely sounds like language, you have a lot to work with.
There is an assumption in the DnD rules that all races and many creatures speak Common Tongue, meaning there is no language barrier. I suggest adding some interesting roleplaying situations by making Common Tongue less of a universal language, especially once you get away from the more cosmopolitan urban centers.
Perhaps, once the characters are out in the wilderness, the ability to communicate easily with village elders and tribal chiefs, non-human denizens, and newly encountered creatures becomes harder, allowing for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Even giving orders to hired NPCs might be fraught with mishap, the word for “kill” being similar to the word for “marry” in the local language!
Choosing Your Languages in DnD
But even if you decide to have Common Tongue ubiquitous and available to all in your world, there are still plenty of opportunities to roleplay language and communication. A character’s race, class, and background will give them access to languages beyond Common Tongue.
There will be national languages common to a specific empire or city; there can be academic languages, such as the way that Latin was used for law and religion in Medieval Europe, secret languages of the criminal classes or dockland slang, and there will even be rarer and more exotic languages learnable, at the DM’s discretion.
Below are the standard languages of most campaigns. Standard languages are readily available to all; class and race-specific languages come through initial choices during the character build. Exotic languages may be learned through adventuring by influential and high-level characters but will remain very rare outside their race or being.
Here is a list of Languages in 5e DnD:
Standard DnD Languages 5e
Exotic DnD Languages
|Deep Speech||Aboleths, Cloakers||None|
Languages Learned Through Background
In addition to the race and class language options, the Player’s Handbook suggests that niche languages are available to those from specific backgrounds. This is also something that the DM can add to reflect the unique nature of the world they have created.
In the same way that Acolytes, Nobility, and even Hermits have additional languages available, you can add all languages unique to your world and reflective of its social class and political, academic, and historical structures.
This means that many characters could start with two, three, or even four languages, and even if these are all standard languages, which they are likely to be, even those will prove very useful.
Imagine if you are a human character, but you knew some Orcish because perhaps your father was a mercenary or sword maker with plenty of dealings with that race. The shared language might improve your ability to gain that race’s trust. It would undoubtedly make diplomatic discussions easier or could be used to confuse enemies by barking conflicting orders at Orc guards in the dark.
And, even beyond these myriad possibilities, there are plenty of less natural ways of gaining linguistic skills.
If you are playing a Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Wizard, you can gain access to spells such as “Comprehend Languages,” which allows you to comprehend any spoken and written language for one hour. Several other spells are available, which can be found in the Player’s Handbook.
These same classes, as well as the Paladin, can also learn a 3rd Level spell called “Tongues,” which, when cast on another creature, gives it the ability to understand and speak a language known by the party, as if everyone was speaking Common Tongue. Monks, too, have access to similar powers at higher levels.
Language & Communication in DnD 5e
With some thought, language and communication can become critical factors in increasing the fun through roleplaying. The more challenging communication becomes, the more inventive the playing needs to be. Also, the potential for misunderstanding increases, leading to unexpected outcomes due to unintentional insults or a simple lack of understanding.
Get inventive, and design secret societies and social subgroups. Have characters who, as a youth, worked in a great library have a smattering of Draconic, or one who was born into slavery fluent in Ogre speak. There is a lot of richness and complexity to be had in the roleplaying of language.
It allows for secret discussions to take place between members of the group, with NPC’s and even enemies when they realize that they both speak a niche racial dialect or are knowledgable in the language of a military sub-cult having both served as mercenaries in a distant civil war… perhaps on opposite sides.
Remember, it’s your world, do what you will but remember to have fun with it.