I'm new to DnD and my drow character should (if I got that right) know Elven and Common as by the PHB definition of a drow PC. Also, I'd like to take duergar or undercommon as an additional language because of my character background of trading slaves to the grey dwarves.

Does this character also know drow sign-language, maybe as part of undercommon or elven, or would this classify as its own language?

I've come across the mention of drow sign-language when I was confused about why my PC would not know undercommon. I got it now that drow usually speak an elven dialect with undercommon only as a traders language (and I do understand that I can choose undercommon as language from my background). References where I read of this sign language are amongst others the following from the Forgotten Realms wikia:

Drow Sign Language is a silent hand code used to communicate in the Underdark. Unlike other languages that must be heard to be comprehended, Drow Sign must be seen to gather meaning. It has no alphabet or written form. Humans and other goodly races often confuse the language's motions as spell conjurations. Drow Sign Language is commonly known by drow, who find it particularly useful on patrols and in other instances when silence is expedient. It is a very expressive language, able to convey tone and emotions.

And a previously asked question on this site: Can anyone else learn Drow Sign Language?

It seems to be a thing according to the internet, but I believe it is not mentioned in the PHB. The first link also contains some reference links, which I did not yet took a closer look at.

Also, R.A. Salvatore seems to have said that all drow know sign language. I do not know how much of an authority he is, but according to your comments, it seems like he is the authority (?)


3 Answers 3


Drow sign language isn't an officially included language in D&D 5e rules, at least not as far as I can find.

The languages a PC knows are determined by their race and, save for a special few, are mostly listed on page 123 of the PHB. You'll notice that's there's no mention of a drow sign language. It's not even mentioned in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (a 5e sourcebook for campaigns set in the Forgotten Realms).

If you also look at the references for the Wikia page you've linked you'll notice that it's mostly referencing novels by R.A Salvatore set in the Forgotten Realms and previous editions of D&D. In general, a novel does not equal a rules books for a TTRPG. Even the other question from this site that you've linked is asking about 3.5e, not 5e.

In terms of how much influence a novel does have on rules created for a TTRPG, well, that will be determined by your DM and the world they set their campaign in.

However, this doesn't mean your drow can't know drow sign language. It just means that, by default, it doesn't know it because it's not a part of the rules.

A DM is free to create their campaign setting, their world, their universe, their multiverse, however they please. If you want your drow the know sign language, talk with the DM; see if it's something they think would make sense in their world and if they can incorporate it.

The DMG even has a section on languages, from page 20-21:

When fleshing out your world, you can create new languages and dialects to reflect its unique geography and history. You can replace the default languages presented in the Player's Handbook with new ones, or split languages up into several different dialects. [...] You might invent additional secret languages, besides Druidic and thieves' cant, that allow members of certain organizations or political affiliations to communicate.


With your DM's permission, you can instead choose a language from the Exotic Languages table or a secret language, such as thieves' cant or the tongue of druids. (PHB 123)

Undercommon is listed under the available exotic languages and you could get it with anything that lets you learn a language if your DM approves (but this is reasonable so you should have no problem). Your background may give you languages at start or you can later get it during downtime or as a feat.

Knowledge of secret languages is explicitly pointed out in multiple places (druidic for druids and thieves' cant for rogues). Thus the lack of such here should be taken to mean that by the rules you do not get it for free.

This is completely in the hands of your DM, but I see 3 reasonable ways:

  • If you consider it central to the lore, the DM might grant it to you free.
  • The DM might let you take it as another language.
  • If you are a rogue or druid, the DM might let you switch the appropriate secret language for this one.
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ But all examples of "secret language" involve spoken language... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 1:38

Drow sign language is a language on it's own...and your drow should get it as a bonus.

Drow as a race are a bit of a special case in the D&D space because many elements that define the drow and their culture grew out of D&D novels, comparable maybe only to parts of Dragonlance in that respect. R.A. Salvatore is mentioned in your question - he wrote a series of famous drow novels about a dark elf called Drizzt Do'Urden. In the novels (at least those few I know), every drow is expected to know and understand sign language, and some non-drow were able to learn it, too.

While I'm not aware of any mentions of the drow sign language in 5e, I personally feel it would be wrong to exclude it because it's an established and distinct part of their culture with lots of flair that offers some great RP opportunities.

Let's look what previous edition's materials say:

The Drow of the Underdark for AD&D2 (2e):

A citizen of an underground city who seldom ventures far afield will know two tongues: the everyday spoken language of the drow, or Deep Drow (which varies slightly from community to community, in the same way that spoken Common has regional accents, phrases, and words) and the soundless language of gestures and expressions developed by drow long ago. This silent language of drow, sometimes called the hand code, is a language as detailed as the spoken word.

In 3.5, it was a bonus language, meaning reasonably intelligent characters could get it 'for free' during character creation (Drow of the Underdark for 3E, Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting for 3.5E).

I did not find a mention of the drow sign language in 4e or 5e materials.

To summarize

Of course it's your DM's decision (as usual). But here are the main reasons I think a drow should know sign language for free:

  • It's explicitly mentioned by R.A. Salvatore, the author of many bestsellers about the Drow and their culture
  • The 2e Drow Sourcebook explicitly mentions that drow growing up in the underdark (= in drow culture) will know sign language
  • The 3.5e source books offer options to get it for 'free' (for suitable characters)
  • Players familiar with the lore of the drow from previous editions or from secondary media would expect a drow to know sign language. It would break the established canon if sign language didn't exist or if ordinary drow couldn't 'speak' it.
  • It makes the game more interesting and offers some nice opportunities to differentiate a drow from other races, and maybe opens up some creative uses.

But if your DM disagrees

because she doesn't want to give you something for free, maybe she would accept a custom background. There are multiple backgrounds that give additional languages, and a Drow of the Underdark background that gives Drow Sign Language as a language, together with maybe Stealth and Intimidation or Persuasion might be easier to accept.


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