Rant: D&D Race and Language

Half of you will pick up on what’s stuck in my craw from the title alone.

In the core books for 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, each race has exactly one language (with “Common” being the language of humans, spoken as well by everyone else). One race, one language. When I first encountered it, I was too young and uneducated for this to bug me, but now, as a language geek, it drives me nuts.

This is not a new complaint of course, but part of a larger issue.

So, anyway, I’m introduced to D&D’s Forgotten Realms campaign setting. And it has something akin to natural languages! There are a dozen-ish major languages, each spoken by multiple countries! Chondathan, Damaran, Mulhorandi… “Common” is a simplified version of Chondathan! There’s even talk of extinct languages! This is a step forward, I say! But then I notice: it’s only for humans. Elves still speak Elven, Dwarves still speak Dwarven. Dammit.

Next comes Pathfinder. Pathfinder was supposed to be the great, promised evolution of D&D – the natural successor to 3.0 and 3.5, rather than the complete reboot that is D&D 4. In that regard, I would say Pathfinder succeeds admirably.

So I start reading up on the Pathfinder setting. Guess what I find? Plenty of languages for humans, sure, but Elves still speak Elven, and Dwarves still speak Dwarven.

Really, guys? Really? Is this so hard? I mean, nobody’s even asking you to develop the languages themselves. You just need names for languages, and maybe a language family tree if you want to get real fancy.

3 thoughts on “Rant: D&D Race and Language”

  1. Nargh.
    The reason they don't go into depths with this kind of stuff is because D&D is supposed to be core rules. They expect folks to do their own developing.
    The kind of complexity you're asking for would fill volumes.
    Why just stop at Elves and Dwarves and Gnomes. As soon as they open the door for those species they can't ignore Halflings, Orcs, Ogres, Trolls, Minotaur, Lizardmen, Gnolls, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds and Giants. Oh no! Giants? What kind of Giants, there's the basics of Hill giant, Stone Giant, Cloud, and Storm, but there's also so many others. And whose to say that the Red Dragon of the East sounds anything like the Red Dragon in the West, or the South, or the south-south west where deserts have created a more Bedouin tribal dialect which is nothing like that of the northern Red Dragons who live by the coast and have picked up seafaring languages from the Sea Monsters and trading ports.
    It's like saying to Marc Okrand. "Yeah man… good work on all that Klingon dictionary, klingon conversational stuff.. but are you trying to tell me Klingons only speak one language in their entire planet?"
    That sound you're hearing is Marc Okrand bashing his skull against his desk repeatedly.

  2. D&D is supposed to be core rules, yes. Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder are not – they're specific settings. And in both cases, they *did* come up with names for a handful of languages – *but only for humans*.

    It would be reasonable to stop at Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Gnomes, and Orcs, because those are the default *playable races*. That's where it bugs me – not so much when I see "Goblins speak Goblin" in the Monster Manual/Bestiary, but when when I see "Automatic Languages: Dwarven" in the "playable races" writeups.

  3. And in the case of Klingon – most (indeed, *all*, based on the impression we get from the show) is united under a single government. It makes sense for a single language to have hegemony, like Latin under the Romans, or English under the British Empire. Local languages would still *exist*, but it'd be reasonable for them not to come up all that often (any more than non-English Terrestrial languages came up – which was nonzero, but only just barely).

    Honestly, in the case of core rules, I'd rather they not even bother rattling off languages – there should just be a note saying "In most worlds, there's a simple trade language, called Common, which most intelligent beings learn to speak along with local vernacular."

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