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How can I optimize a character in regards to known languages? Unearthed Arcana, Multiclassing and such are allowed, as are feats. I am not interested in every single possibility to get a language, but a way to get a lot of languages without investing too much. For example, going Mastermind (3 levels in Rogue) would bring two languages, compared to only one language from Cavalier (3 levels in fighter).

This is similiar, but distinct from Every language character optimization, as this questions aims to find a way to actually learn the languages, not find a way to speak/read/write every language.

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12 languages before you leave Tier 1
11.5 with limited multiclassing.
10.5 with no multiclassing.

Ideal background:
Sage

Ideal races
Half-Elf, Yuan-Ti Pureblood, Firbolg (3 languages instead of 2)
Human (2 languages and Linguist feat before 4th level)

Ideal classes
Cleric (Knowledge): 1 level -> 2 languages
Druid: 1 level -> 1 language
Fighter (Cavalier): 3 levels -> 1 language
Ranger: 1 level -> 1 language (6, 14 levels -> 2, 3 languages)
Rogue (Mastermind): 3 levels -> 2 languages + Thieves' cant (1/2)
Sorcerer (Storm): 1 level -> 1 language


Using Tier 1 as the cutoff for a "low level" character, the ideal build is
Human Sage Cleric 1/Druid 1/Ranger 1/Sorcerer 1 (12 languages):

Common
Primordial
Druidic
a monster language
8 other languages of your choice

If not- or limited-multiclassing, the next best would be
Human Sage Cleric 1/Rogue 3 (11 languages + Thieves' Cant)
Firbolg Sage Cleric 4 (10 languages)
Half-elf Sage Rogue 4 (10 languages + Thieves' Cant)

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I like that you limited your answer to tier 1, but multiclassing so much can be considered a large investment. Since Hohenheim does not want to invest "too much", I think your answer would be more useful if it also listed which single-class build(s) grants the most languages and which 2-class build(s) grants the most languages. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Apr 6 '18 at 19:42
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Use money

You can buy languages with downtime. You get one language per 250 days, at the cost of 250 gp. This means you need neither class levels nor any other character resource to acquire languages and, unlike previous editions, there's no cap on the maximum number of languages you can learn, int-based or otherwise. (See PHB, p. 187, Downtime)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Awesome answer. You don't need any levels! Pretty sure you can't beat that ;) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 6 '18 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ For completeness, perhaps you should include the total amount of gold and time required to get all known languages, assuming you start with only Common. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Apr 7 '18 at 0:30
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If you're wanting an answer based on a character build, then by level 4 you could have 11 languages if:

  • You are a Half Elf: Common, Elvish, plus one other
  • You take the Sage background (or another with two langauges): Two more languages
  • You are a Mastermind rogue: Two more languages, plus Thieves' Cant from level 1
  • At level 4 you take the Linguist feat: plus 3 more languages

Also:

  • At level 5, you could take a dip in Druid to learn Druidic, depends how many levels you want to spend just learning languages
  • And/or, multiclass into Sorcerer and take the Storm archetype, teaching you Primordial.
  • And/or, borrowing from Speedkat's answer, taking a level in Cleric with the Knowledge domain gives you an extra two languages.
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