Monday, July 30, 2012

Sprechen sie Neutral?

Alignment languages?  Yeah.  Let's talk about them.  A few days ago, Noisms was talking about making them the secret codes/handshakes of Illuminati style secret societies as a way to justify them and use them to add conflict to a setting.  I've got another take, although sorta similar.

So Gygax likens alignment languages to ecclesiastical Latin, but then tries to limit their usefulness to just checking to see if the monsters are really on your side or not, and maybe getting them to help out against some monster of another alignment.

I think in my games from now on, I'll keep the "ecclesiastical Latin" idea and ditch the rest.  Alignment languages will be specific dead languages in the campaign world.  They're not secret.  They're not exclusive.  They're not even really designed to be used as a secret code language or shibboleth.  But whatever alignment you choose determines which of the three (luckily for me, I run Classic D&D with Law-Neutrality-Chaos only) your PC knows, in addition to Common and any demi-human languages. 

Characters with high Int scores can choose to learn one of the other Alignment languages (or both if their Int is high enough).  This means you can't necessarily trust someone just because they happen to speak Ancient Gardelish and so do you (not that you should implicitly trust someone of your own alignment anyway, even if you're both Lawful).  It also gives a reason why adventuring parties might actually WANT a range of alignments in the party.  Jerrash the Wildling may be able to translate those inscriptions written on the black pit's rim in Albondish, while Stoutheart Aleena can read the holy scrolls written in Zebrionic, and Torgo the Uncommitted can negotiate with the centaurs.


  1. What if they were actually tied to doing things of that alignment? i.e. Lawful spells are actually cast in the Lawful language. If you summon a Demon you do it in Chaotic. So people who want to do those things have to speak that language and the language comes naturally to those who act like that. The lower classes of each alignment would have learnt the basic language from the educated of that alignment. Spell casters could still cast spells of another alignment (they just rember how to cast it verbatim) but it would be really obvious what alignment the spell was. Of course you would have to give each spell an alignment. That shouldn't be too hard.


  2. I just can't wrap my head around them as actual languages, and don't like alignments to be cosmic absolutes, either. I consider the alignment languages to be kind of an unspoken thing, like say an evil wizard uses the chaotic "language" with some monster to convince it not to attack the wizard's group but to wait and fight the heroes that are following him. Or whatever.

  3. John, I can definitely see Clerical scrolls written in the alignment language of whoever created it (casting memorized spells could be done in Common or an alignment language as the caster chose), but I think Magic User spells would still be in a "magical language" that isn't really a language except for spell casting purposes, as normal.

    Anonymous #2, think of it this way. Everyone in the campaign starts out knowing Common, and either Ancient Greek, Latin, or Hittite (for example). That's it. It's not some mystical tie to a cosmic absolute. If you find a helm of alignment changing, you still speak Ancient Greek, not suddenly Hittite.

    It's not for everybody, but I think I'll try this way out and see how it plays.

  4. Alignment Language is not that big issue if you bound it to Factions or Kingdoms, considering maybe as a trading language.