I remember vividly when I was in high-school, I was creating a character for a 5e game and I spend a good while thinking about which languages I should pick for my dude, just for it to end up… like… not mattering at all lol. It’s a shame thought, and a while ago I was thinking on how to make languages matter and, more importantly, fun.
First, I made up 3 languages. I wouldn’t make more than 5 for any campaign. It may not be realistic, but quality over quantity. Besides, regional dialects can branch off of those languages, to add more nuance if necessary. Then, I figured out how does each tongue is actually spoken and written. I’m not a linguist, so I kept it pretty vague. I finished with the most fun part; what each language is good for, and what they are bad at. This isn’t meant to affect mechanics too much, but is a tool the GM can use to create flavorful roleplaying interaction. Groups who like CHA checks for social encounters may find that using the right language makes it EASY, but working withing the flaws of a language makes it HARD. Here are three languages I came up with for a fantasy campaign:
COMMON: The tongue of merchants is an universal language. Its mostly verbal, with gestures used to emphasize words or meanings, or disclose a simple communication silently. Written common is done using a condensed alphabet, making even long letters use little paper. Its easy to learn, and fast to use. However, this makes it hard to describe anything in precise details in common, asking the listener to read between the lines to figure out the true meaning of a complex communication.
FOLK: The tongue of immortals is an ancient language that is dying in the current times. It’s very complex, combining facial expressions, body movement and verbal communications to transmit detailed messages in an entrancing display. Written folk is done using pictograms, with multiple variations depending on how it’s drawn, in which order and how they are connected to each other. This makes it the ideal tongue of magic, nobility and anyone who requires nuance and details. However, folk is very slow to convey anything, even one word communications. After all, immortals don’t mind spending months simply saying hello. It’s also a pain to learn, and even experts can have a hard time deciphering folk.
MONSTROUS: The tongue of beasts is a set of primal sounds and gestures that are understood by monsters. It very clearly express emotions but not much else, although one can very easily guess what the speaker wants from the receiver. Written monstrous is not quite writing but a rudimentary code to leave messages behind you, notably to mark territory, feeding grounds, make threats and such. Monstrous is pretty easy to understand, but hard to learn, since you must express your emotions in their purest form. Any command requiring more than one step is too complex to communicate with monstrous, although people tend to take threats in monstrous a lot more seriously than in common.
If you made it this far, catch my and don’t hesitate to tell me what you think!