Ruins of Adventure
As for everything else (sentient races, rulers, gods, and year-numbering systems) there is a plethora of linguistic variety in the Realms. There are racial languages and regional dialects, professional symbols and secret tongues. There are five universal written scripts, and as many differing individual languages as there are those to speak them.
Most people north and east of the Sea of Fallen Stars are semi-literate, that is, they know enough of the written language to get by in their daily lives. The fact that written language is not universally understood accounts for many of the specialized sigils and runes within the Realms, as well as the popularity of bards.
Literacy is most common among the upper and more professional classes. It is also assumed to be common among most adventuring companies, and considered as much a survival skill as trapping or swimming. Westgate, southern Sembia, and perhaps Hillsfar in the Heartlands and Waterdeep on the Sword Coast are predominantly literate areas. Elsewhere one must “trust to your tongue,” as wayfarers say.
Common Tongue: Almost all intelligent creatures one might encounter can understand and speak common (the trade tongue of humans, spoken with little variance all across the known Realms), although they may pretend not to. From region to region of the Realms, common may have different accents and slightly different vocabularies as it becomes influenced by other local human and non-human tongues. While a native of Thay will be able to communicate with a denizen of Baldur’s Gate, each will be aware of the others ridiculous accent. In a similar fashion, non-human tongues each belong to the same linguistic tree, so that elves native to Evereska, Evermeet, and the Elven Court may understand each other (barring, again, local dialects and accent). To humans, the elven common tongue is referred to simply as elvish, and the dwarven common tongue as dwarvish.
The written common tongue, which is presented in these writing as English, is a descendent of Thorass, the original trade language. Most individuals use runes for conveying information.
Thorass (also called Auld Common): Thorass is the ancient written trade tongue and universal language of the long-ago Realms. It is often found in tombs, underground ways, and ancient habitations and is still in use among the scribes of the southern noble courts. It is the ancestor of the common tongue. This language was used primarily for documents and trading records, as well as histories, and as such did not achieve common usage. An inscription in Thorass translates directly into common, although it usually uses a stilted and archaic form of phrasing and vocabulary.
Espruar: This is the moon elven alphabet, in which most elves of the Realms render messages, either in common or their native language. A beautiful script alphabet, Espruar (ES-prue-AR) often covers elven jewelry and monuments in ornate designs. Espruar is rarely committed to paper, but when permanent records are required, it is pressed into metal in the dwarven fashion. Elven histories are rare, since most of the elves who experienced the historical events that would be in them are still alive.
Dethek Runes: Dwarves seldom write on that which can perish. Rarely, they stamp or inscribe runes on metal sheets and bind those together to make books, but stone is their usual medium: stone walls in caverns, stone buildings, pillars or standing stoneseven cairns. Most often, they write on tablets called runestones in the common tongue.
A typical runestone is flat and diamond-shaped, about an inch thick, and made of granite or some other very hard rock. The face of the stone is inscribed with Dethek runes in a ring or spiral around the edge, and the center normally contains a picture. Some runestones have pictures in relief and are used as seals or can be pressed into wet mud to serve as temporary trail markers underground.
To a dwarf, all runestones bear some sort of message. Most are covered with Dethek runic script, which translates directly into dwarvish or common. The runes of this script are simple and made up of straight lines for ease in cutting them into stone. No punctuation can be shown in Dethek, but sentences are usually separated by script slash marks, words are separated by spaces, and capital letters have a line drawn above them. Numbers that are enclosed in boxes are dates, day preceding year by convention. There are collective symbols or characters for identifying peoples (clans or tribes) or races. If any runes are painted, names of beings and places are commonly picked out in red, while the rest of the text is colored black or left as unadorned grooves.
Ruathlek: Ruathlek, the secret language or magical script of illusionists, is rarely found in the Realms. Illusionists themselves are fairly rare in the North, but Waterdeep is known to hold at least one library of books in that dweomer-guarded tongue. It has been surmised that this written secret language of the illusionists is derived from the use of magical runes. Illusionists only have access to this language upon choosing their class. It may be learned by others, but does not confer the ability to cast magical spells.
Druids and thieves have their own private languages, which they do not share with individuals outside their community. They cannot be learned by an outsider but are available to individuals who are druids and thieves (thus is similar to the illusionists use of Ruathlek).
Finally, some creatures can communicate with animals or plants, and some spells grant the same abilities. This does not mean that these beings have a language or intelligence, merely that communication is made possible on a deep, almost empathic level. With a few exceptions (such as gnomes speaking with burrowing mammals), such communication may not be learned as a language.
Languages of the Realms:
Written Languages: (Reading/Writing proficiency)
- Dethek 8
- Mulan Hieroglyphs (used with most Mulan-family languages)
Ancient Languages: (Ancient Languages proficiency)
|Language||Family||Region||Google Translate Equivalent|
|Auld Tharian||Thari||Moonsea, Ogre Magi|
|Noga||Mulani||Northern Moonsea, The Ride||Tamil (transliterate to Roman characters)|
|Auld Cormanthan||Thorass||The Great Dale, Elven Woods|
|Auld Wyrmish 1||Dragons|
Human Languages: (Modern Language proficiency)
- Note: Because of their similarities, a character can learn to speak all languages within a given family (excluding Ancient Languages) for a cost of 3 non-weapon proficiency slots.
|Language||Family||Region||Google Translate Equivalent|
|Bothii||Illuski||Barbarian Kingdoms, High Forest|
|Daelic||Waelan||Druids of Chauntea|
|Easting||Netherese||The Vast, Impiltur||Bengali (transliterated)|
|Uluik||Ulou||Sea of Moving Ice|
|Ulutiun||Ulou||The Great Glacier|
|Northern||Thorass||Neverwinter, Mirabar, Silverymoon, Waterdeep|
|“Shadow Cant”||Thorass||a.k.a. Thieves’ Cant|
|Cormanthan||Thorass||Cormyr, Dales, Sembia||German|
|“Trade Pidgin”||Thorass||a.k.a. Common||English|
|Maiden’s Tongue||Thorass||Priests of Loviatar|
|Zhent Argot||Thari||Secret tongue of the Zhentarim|
|Akurian||Chessan||Samarach, Thindol, Tashulta|
|Shaartan||Chessan||Lake of Steam, Shaar, Tharsult|
|Durpari Creole||Durpari||Eastern Shar|
Non-Human Languages: (Modern Languages proficiency)
Oddly, the languages of most non-human races differ only in their dialect despite their regional location and distance from one another. There is, as yet, no explanation for this phenomenon. Some sages believe that this homogeny among nonhuman races is an expression of the divine might of the nonhuman gods…others scoff at this theory.
- Translate as Persian.
- Kentaur (Centaur)
- Dolphin 2
- Draconic, Chromatic 1
- Draconic, Gem 1
- Draconic, Metallic 1
- Draconic, Linnorm 1
- Dragon Turtle
- Dethek (Dwarvish)
- Translate as Danish.
- Espruar (Elvish)
- Faerie (a shared tongue among sylvan fae folk)
- Genie Tongue
- Jotun (Giant Common) 3
- Jotunhaug (Hill Giant) 3
- Jotunstein (Stone Giant) 3
- Jotunise (Frost Giant) 3
- Jotunild (Fire Giant) 3
- Jotunskye (Cloud Giant) 3
- Jotunuvar (Storm Giant) 3
- Giant Eagle
- Gnim (Gnomish)
- Chuklian (Goblin)
- Hatian-Creole. Reverse syntax.
- Luiric (Halfling)
- Translate as Latvian.
- Invisible Stalker
- Yipyak (Kobold)
- Translate as Turkish.
- Lizard Man
- Night Hag
- Jogishk (Ogres)
- Icelandic. Always punctuated with exclamations!
- Replace T, F, and þ with P. Change non-accented i and e to u.
- Daraktan (Orc)
- Macedonian. Transliterate to roman characters.
- Remove all m, n, y, and i characters.
- Planar Slang (“common” tongue of the planes)
- The Were-Tongues of Lycanthropy 6
- Troll (Troll Hills) 4
- Umber Hulk
- Undercommon (Underdark common) 5
- Whale 2
- Will-O-Wisp 2
Sign Languages: (Sign Language proficiency)
1 Auld Wyrmish is the ancestral language of all dragons, and the tongue which they use when communicating with each other across species lines. In addition, there are four common tongues shared by dragons of similar temperament. One each for Chromatic, Metallic, Gem, and Linnorm dragons. Each dragon subspecies has its own tongue, derived from auld wyrmish. These tongues may be treated as separate languages, though a knowledge of auld wyrmish or one of the generic dragon tongues will serve the traveler well.
2 While these creatures have a common language among themselves, the nature of the language is undetectable by humans-dolphins use sounds higher than human hearing, whales use sounds lower than human hearing, and will-o-wisps use intensities of their own lights.
3 Giants have a common tongue used by all of their race and in addition have their own sub-languages. Common giant and hill giant would be considered two separate languages.
4 Trolls speak in a variety of tongues, consisting of corrupted and debauched phrases and loan words from other languages. Speaking troll refers only to the dialect of the Trollbark Forest and High Moors. Beyond this (say, in the Great Gray Land of Thar), the speaker might as well be talking in Midani.
5 Undercommon is the trade language of the Underdark. It differs fundamentally from the common used on the surface and uses sentence structure and loan words from the races beneath the earth.
6 Each type of lycanthrope has its own native tongue that is shared by the others of its breed. Each were-tongue must be learned separately, and cannot be used with lycanthropes of different breeds. In other words, a person speaking were-tiger cannot communicate with a were- bear.
7 There are numerous dwarven clans, each with their own unique set of signs. The most prominent are Clan Adbar (in the area around Neverwinter), Clan Battlehammer (in the Spine of the World mountains north of Silverymoon and the Barbarian Kingdoms), and Clan Griff (in the Galena Mountains and the Moonsea Region).
8 The Dethek script is covered under the Dwarven Runes proficiency, rather than the Reading/Writing proficiency.
9 Rauthlek is the magical language of illusionists (as noted above). However, unlike illusionists, the people of Nimbral have developed Rauthlek into a fully developed spoken language, covering topics both magical and mundane.
Like other Proficiencies, each language that a character knows has a proficiency score. This is typically equal to the character’s Intelligence score, but may be improved by spending additional proficiency slots and subject to other modifiers. The guidelines below can give you an idea of what level of communication your character is capable of. The GM may also call for proficiency checks for using a known language under certain circumstances.
|1-2||Recognizes and is able to produce the sounds of the language, but knows at most a handful of words. Illiterate.|
|3-4||Recognizes and speaks a few simple phrases. Illiterate.|
|5||Moderate level speaking ability, around the level of a 4 year old child. Illiterate.|
|6-7||Can recognize written letters and numbers, but cannot read.|
|8-9||Adequately fluent, enough so that if spoken to slowly and clearly, and in simple terms, will understand. Illiterate|
|10-11||Conversationally fluent, can hold relatively simple conversations, ask for common things (food, drink, where’s the outhouse, etc.). Reads at the level of the average first-grader.|
|12-13||Good fluency in speech, able to converse at a normal conversational level, though with unusual accentuation if not the character’s native language, and most idiomatic expressions are difficult. Reads at the level of the average fifth-grader.|
|14||Adequate level of literacy equivalent to the average freshman.|
|15||Most idiomatic expressions known. Literacy at the level of the average secondary school graduate.|
|16||Exceptional speaking ability, familiar with complex expressions.|
|17||Highly literate, at least collegiate level reading and writing skill.|
|18||Familiar with highly complex expressions.|
|19||Exceptional literacy, at the level of expert novelist.|
|20||Linguistics expert in both speaking and reading/writing, can accentuate perfectly in the language, even if it is not the character’s native language.|