No Common Language

I was just thinking about home rules. Who runs a game where there is no common language? In my home game I can not imaging this. I created a whole religion based on greed in Alidor, and I figured for this religion to really work, it would need a common language for trade among all the races, at least that is my game excuse for having a common tongue. Yup in Alidor, you can thank the church of Yol for a trade tongue. I figure, there are Yollian missionaries that go out into the world to teach the this common language to all. They do it to improve their profit and reduce paper work; multiple languages mean multiple interpreters and higher operational costs. One language equals lower costs…

I use the one common language rule for my game so the players could talk to each other. I know sometimes it is fun to role-play that you don’t know what the others are saying at the table, but I think that style of play would get old real fast. Imagine a game where everyone at the table is oblivious to what everyone else at the table is saying. How do run a game like that? I suppose if you have everyone playing the same race or enough of the players know at least one language like elven. Elves and Half-elves could adventure together without trouble I suppose, but then you get a player running a dwarf, and that dwarf does like the “elf” language and bang you’re back to some people knowing what’s happing in the game and some who do not.

Oh, and then there is always that one player that will never tell the “language challenged” player (dwarf) the true story, and you have a TPK on your hands or worse.

To me, it is just “crazy talk” to say you run a game where there is no common language in the world the payers explore. Crazy Talk.

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About shent_lodge

Shent_lodge, AKA Jon, started this website, in 2000, initially as a player's guide to his home game. He has run through, and run for, hundreds of players of the Dungeons and Dragons game since 1980. These days he plays, or runs games using the WORST RPG rules set.


  1. I’ve always wanted to run a game where there isn’t a common language. The players would have to translate amongst each other for the others, or hire interpreters when dealing with NPCs. Perhaps they’d have to haggle using only hand signals with a merchant. I think it would make for a much deeper RPG experience. If you think about it, in the middle ages, there wasn’t a true universal language. The nobles had french and latin, but for peasants, you only knew the language of your homeland, and if you went elsewhere, you were screwed.
    .-= Dice Monkey´s last blog ..Bring Out Your Gods =-.

  2. I’d always make sure the party all knew one language, but since they’re generally either from the same place or worldly travelers, it seems logical that they would. Having conversations with NPCs that only some of the players can understand is fun, if it doesn’t happen constantly. That said, I haven’t run a game without common. Just games where not everyone speaks common. Which I suppose could make it no longer “common.”

  3. Once, I did that for a fantasy campaign based on Europe in the Reformation period. It was a huge hassle making sure the various characters could communicate, the French and Latin-equivalents being the most common shared languages, but it was a problem to track especially as the characters traveled. The occasional communication barrier can be fun but when it starts getting in the way of a good adventure, it can be a problem.
    .-= Sean Holland´s last blog ..New Magic Item – Strength of Spring Potion =-.

  4. 7th Sea is the first thing that came to mind when I saw this, as everyone always wants to play different nationalities and rarely is there 1 common language that the whole party speaks. They also did something pretty interesting to overcome this with mechanics for pidgin languages that were semi-functional mash-ups of two different languages. It was something to the effect that you had an 80% chance to understand the language if it was spoken to you, and a bit lower (maybe 50%) if it was written.

    More importantly, language barriers are a pain in the butt for GMs and players.

  5. The system I wrote has no common language. This has a couple additional implications which dovetail nicely with the way I want the world to work:
    -it’s not high fantasy
    -languages work like any other skill
    In high fantasy, it’s pretty common to have a PC party with no two players the same race. In low fantasy it isn’t or shouldn’t be. No common tongue encourages players to pick the same race, and anyone who doesn’t has to blow almost 20% of his starting skill points just to be able to communicate with the rest of the group. Since it’s only in playtesting, I have yet to see how huge this impact is.
    I have eight (or nine, depending on how you count) distinct nations or cultural groups, but only seven languages. The shared languages illustrate a shared history, like Germany and Austria.

  6. @Josh, The percent chance to understand a language is a great idea. Because even if you have a common language you will always get a player that chooses not to take it.

    Thanks for all great comments and suggestions.



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