I have a player at my table that wants to use the spells disguise self and comprehend languages to pass herself off as an Orc so she can walk through a vast war encampment, which sounds great to me.

But then we ended the session before she could try, and now that I've had time to think about it, I'm wondering: based on the text of the spell, could she actually speak to any of them if they started questioning her? Seems like all it allows the spellcaster to do is understand what they're hearing, not respond.

I really want my players to be able to pull this off, but unfortunately none of them thought it was a good idea to take Orcish as a bonus language.

The team's Cleric is a high enough level to have access to tongues and the Warlock has telepathy, but neither of those options will allow them to talk to a pack of Orc guards without giving themselves away as foreigners to the rest of the group.

How do I get them through this without doing some serious DM hand-waving?

Is there a spell, magic item, or something else that allows a character to speak a language she doesn't know (without giving herself away)?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related on Whether Tongues has you speaking the language or if those listening simply understand you \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the title to be about specifically Orcish since that seems to be the primary focus if the question. If this was meant to be a more general question, please feel free to edit it (assuming you're still around). \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 18, 2020 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've removed the [spells] and [magic-items] tags, since tags are meant to describe the question (which is basically: "is there a way for a character to speak a language she doesn't know without giving themselves away"), not potential answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 6:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2: If that's the intended question, the body of the post would also need to be edited accordingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 6:27

4 Answers 4


I say to your players, something else is the way to go. Fake it til you make it. Give 'em the old razzle dazzle. Sell the sizzle.

You can't speak orcish, but maybe you can fake it with the best of 'em. Whatever the orcs say, nod, shrug, moan, make a vaguely orcish grunt, point to your mouth and move on. Or maybe when an orc says something to you, nod, try to make a sound that sounds like a sound the orc just made, and keep moving.

Some props might help. Wrap a bloody bandage around your lower face, and fake an orc with a ogre-size toothache. Maybe some real orc blood will help sell the smell. Maybe drag a "dead" halfling along like you're taking the body to the boss.

A little charisma and maybe some proficiency in performance and deception and some luck is your best bet. Any other spells you got, use 'em -- suggestion, charm person, friends, enhance ability, could all be useful.

A distraction might help. Illusory elves attacking on the other side of camp maybe. Elves, man, orcs hate 'em. Or maybe an ally lobbing a fire arrow into the other side of camp might cause a distraction. Setting fire to the tents is always an option worth considering.

And when the jig is up, and they're getting wiggy on you, you can point in the distance, wide-eyed, make some orcish grunts, and heel-and-toe it out the door. Haste might be helpful.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ That's beautiful. I got so lost in the nitty gritty, I almost forgot about the power of imagination. Since I feel like the matter is settled at this point, outside of engineering a task specific MacGuffin item that solves the problem, I'll just let it happen. Maybe remind them that they can understand but not speak Orcish - then sit back and watch them come up with their own work-around. Give them a chance to use their creative bones. \$\endgroup\$
    – AshRandom
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 2:07
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Awesome. And whenxxxx if she gets nabbed, then bold rescue attempt can ensue. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggestion requires you talk in a language they understand, though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ettina - yeah, good point. Suggestion says "hear and understand". Would it be sufficient to communicate through gestures and grunts for Suggestion? Probably not . . . . \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 20:30

As the DM, it is RAW for you to create an item that has this property.

In the Dungeon Masters Guide, under the “Special Features” section, on the “Minor Property” table:

Language. The bearer can speak and understand a language of the DM’s choice while the item is on the bearer’s person.

Therefore, you can give any magic item the desired property with a little customization. Furthermore, I know off the top of my head that the Moonblade has a chance of this effect occurring.

When rolling for its runes, on a roll of 41-80:

The moonblade gains a randomly determined minor property (see “Special Features” earlier in this chapter).

Other possibilities:

  • Wish, for obvious reasons.

  • True Polymorph can allow you to transform into a Deva or some other such creature that magically knows all languages, although it is debatable as to whether or not this is RAW.

These possibilities are likely not helpful, given their high power level, but worth noting for the sake of completeness.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You can hire some orc translator too, perhaps a mercenary one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tapiti
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 3:43
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @S3lok It would be difficult to pass yourself off as an orc if you needed a translator to speak orc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 7:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sneftel - difficult sure, but maybe you're passing yourself off as an orc with a speech impediment, or you're just shy, or in a hurry, or mumbling. Orc guard (in orcish): "You there, ugly one, where are you going?" You: mumble mumble, try to repeat a sound that sounds like what they said, point over your shoulder and try to pass on by. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 3:20

Here's the item that you want:

Ioun Stone of Language Knowledge:

A stone has AC 24, 10 hit points, and resistance to all damage. It is considered to be an object that is being worn while it orbits your head.

Language Knowledge. You are fluent in one additional language while this pulsating bit of red jeweled crystal orbits your head. The DM chooses the language bestowed by the stone.

This item is located in the Lost Laboratory of Kwalish adventure.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack, Melissa! Take the tour when you have a moment. This is a good answer, the item mentioned can provide the language, but I think you can improve the answer a bit by emphasizing further the caveat from the item description, "The DM chooses the language bestowed by the stone." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 20:47

Only one item that I am aware but still looking.

  • Belt of Dwarvenkind (if you are not already a Dwarf): Speak, Read and Write Dwarvish

You have already quoted the existing spells that allow you to communicate unhindered.

The Mystic Class from Unearthed Arcana with Path of the Nomad has Breadth of Knowledge feature which allows you to swap out languages but other than those I don't know of any. UA is entirely playtest material as well, and having tested the Nomad it is a bit overpowered with its versatility to be perfectly honest.

Obviously this will not help your specific situation.

Many DMs including myself consistantly forget the minor properties table in the DMG on p143, in this case it could help you if you find a magic item with the language property.

The bearer can speak and understand a language of the DM's choice while the item is on the bearer's person.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice find on the thrower. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SoraTamashii Funny, was doing quick text searches and realized that Whelm and Wave speak those languages but do not confer the ability to their wielder. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 18:36
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Ironically, this means that if you somehow manage to be a dwarf who does not speak dwarvish, the belt won't teach it to you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 21:00
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @SoraTamashii If you only think of the creatures in the books as bags of stats that are immutable, then you would be correct. It has long been a standing idea since like mid-80s to have options. Dragon articles even detailed a Dwarf being raised as an orphan by Humans, in which case the likelihood of him knowing Dwarvish was small to nil. It has always been my opinion that from about the end of 2nd edition they missed the boat on the differences between race and culture. 5E totally missed it as well in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 3:56
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Actually... that is fair. I didn't consider language as part of the culture and more as just a given. That's actually my mistake. Thanks for making that point. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 4:00

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