Language Rules (5E) — updated for Beardly


As on earth, the languages of spoken in Tòlanar can be classified into various phylogenetic families. For the purposes of the game, these families are divided into Branches, Groups, and Complexes. The individual languages themselves can be subdivided into dialects which can be grouped into clusters of closely related dialects. The linguistic classification tree is shown below.


A. Branch

1. Group

a. Complex

1) Language

A) Cluster

a) Dialect

Not all levels will be present in any one language’s classification, which means that there is no differentiation at that level. For example all the languages in a linguistic family that has no branches listed are considered to be of the same branch, and languages within a branch that has no listed groups are all considered to be part of the same group, and so on.

Where a language is listed as having dialects, a character is assumed to learn either the local dialect or the “standard” dialect of that language, if that language has one (not all do).

When a character learns a language, he is assumed to be at least functionally fluent in that language and generally will not have to make an ability check when talking unless the character is attempting something beyond normal speech, such as trying to influence an audience, understand a complex or esoteric subject, pass as a native, read lips, eavesdrop, etc.  The Ability on which the check is based will be determined by exactly what task is being attempted, for example Charisma will be used of oratory and Intelligence for understanding an obscure passage in an ancient tongue and so on. As well, a Check is required when attempting to speak a language in which the Character is not proficient. The following table gives some rough guidelines.

TABLE 1: Sample Language Tasks

Task Difficulty DC
Ask for directions, express greetings and farewells, say, “I don’t understand,” “I like,” and “I don’t like,” describe colors, etc. Very easy 5
Carry out a full conversation with a native speaker as long as the topic of discussion is straightforward. Identify a speaker of a language known to the character by their accent. Easy 10
Speak and understand the language as well as a native, although with an obvious accent, or identify the native language of the speaker of a language not known to the character (or the native dialect of a known language) by accent. Medium 15
Understand technical topics, esoteric poetry, and similarly complex linguistic areas, speak with only a slight accent, or identify the native dialect of a speaker of a language not known by the character by accent. Hard 20
Speak the language so fluently that even native speakers cannot identify you as a foreign speaker unless they succeed on an Intelligence check (DC 15). If the listener is familiar with your native language, the DC falls to 10. In terms of the extent or speed of the character’s comprehension, success at this level of difficulty in a language does not differ from full professional-level proficiency. Very hard 25


If the language in question is the character’s native language (or equivalent – see Improving a Language below), then the relevant ability check is modified by a +10. When trying to communicate in a language with which the character doesn’t have skill, the check is modified by how closely related the language in question is to a language the character speaks as follows:

TABLE 2: Language Task Modifiers

Target language is… Mod1
Dialect in the same dialect cluster -1
In a different dialect cluster of the same language -3
In the same complex -10
In the same group -15
In the same branch -20
In the same family -25
In a different family -302
  1. These modifiers stack with the Native Language bonus, so a character trying to communicate in a language in the same group as his native language would have a total modifier of -5.
  2. The Native Language bonus does not apply to languages in a different linguistic family.

Learning a language.

According to the section on page 187 of the 5E PHB, to learn a language a character must first find a teacher (any proficient speaker or specific group of proficient speakers will do as long as the character has regular daily access to them for a number of hours) and then spend 250 days learning the language. As this number is somewhat arbitrary and does not fit nicely into the Tòlan calendar, for this setting it requires 240 days or 8 months (this change applies to learning any new skill or set of tools). If the character is in an area where the language is commonly spoken and he has the exposed to it and has the opportunity to speak it on a daily basis then the time required is reduced to 6 months (180 days). Learning a language is progressive, and a character will learn it gradually over time as shown in the following table.

TABLE 3: Progress Learning a Language

Days1 Mod Days1 Mod Days1 Mod
0 (0) -30 90 (45) -19 180 (90) -8
30 (15) -26 120 (60) -15 210 (105) -4
60 (30) -23 150 (75) -11 240 (120) 0
  1. The number in parentheses is used when the character has both a teacher and is in an area where the character has daily exposure to the language.

Note: If the process is interrupted and the character does not have the opportunity to use the language daily, then the process effectively reverses and the character loses proficiency as time passes.

Improving a language

If a character spends a second 240 day period learning a language (in this case the character needs only a teacher or to be in a place where the language is commonly spoken; however the time required is not reduced unless the character has both ) then the character gets a +5 bonus when using that language.

If the character spends a third such period learning the language, then he is considered to speak it like a native and so gets the +10 native language bonus in that language. As with learning a language, this is a gradual process and the bonuses are gained incrementally over time as shown below.

TABLE 4: Progress Improving a Language

Days1 Mod2 Days1 Mod2
30 (15) ±0(+5) 150 (75) +3(+8)
60 (30) +1(+6) 180 (90) +3(+8)
90 (45) +1(+6) 210 (105) +4(+9)
120 (60) +2(+7) 240 (120) +5(+10)
  1. The number in parentheses is used when the character has both a teacher and is in an area where the character has daily exposure to the language.
  2. The number in parentheses gives the modifier gained during the third training period.

Note: Unlike with the initial learning period, this process does not reverse if interrupted, and the character can break the time into blocks as long as each block of time is a full 30 days (or 15 if both a teacher and daily exposure are available).


12 thoughts on “Language Rules (5E) — updated for Beardly

  1. According to the PHB it takes 250 days (not sure why they settled on that number, but they did). As for speaking like a native, well that one I don’t know about, as far as I know (my familiarity with 5e is limited, I’m still learning its ins and outs) there is no ranks or levels in skills or proficiencies, so off the top of my head I would say that if you learn a language a 2nd time (i.e. spend another 250 days learning it) you get a +5 bonus, and after a 3rd learning, you get the +10 native bonus.
    How’s that sound?


  2. Sounds good! I especially like that you can (after learning enough to become conversational) become a native speaker just by living in the language region.

    I’m not at all familiar with 5e (I’m a 3.5/heavy homebrew guy), so I’m glad to hear it’s more logical than the ridiculous “put two skill ranks into speak language” mechanic that they had in 3.5e.


    • Well the improving part isn’t in the PHB, and to be honest I hadn’t even thought about that until you asked about it, so you get credit for that (and I agree it’s a neat way of doing it), so thanks for asking


  3. Many years ago I worked out a set of language rules for 3rd edition and integrated them with many of feats and skills. All largely useless now, but the gist was that most languages fell along the branches of a tree, having evolved from a common source. Keeping in mind that branch length could vary (but usually one or two units in length) then the difficulty of communication was simply affected by the number of units you had to trace in the tree to get from one language or dialect to another.

    Most people would know their own language at rank 6, which gave a basic difficulty, and other languages at a lower value.

    I, also, hated the idea of a “common” language. A pidgin is a hybrid that puts a node adjacent to to other languages at max rank two or so, but at least one person has to know the pidgin. I forget too much of it.


    • That is how it started out for me as well, but I decided to go with the 5E (even though I don’t like the 5E cleric domain rules – far too limited)


  4. Bob, could you let the admins at know that registration and “contact us” have been broken for a while? Looks like the captcha check is misconfigured, so if you are not already registered you cannot even report a problem with registration.


  5. Thanks, Bob. Might be best to post it as a new thread in the general forum. If you tried to PM it to admin it might not be seen for weeks. This way everyone is aware of it even if they cannot necessarily fix it themselves.

    Also, you made me realize that I should have been blogging my rule ideas all along.


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