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As someone new to D&D, when I was making my first character (a forest gnome ranger) I struggled a bit through the character creation process, following some YouTube tutorials, etc. When I was picking my favored enemy, I decided to choose the option of picking two types of humanoids, but wasn't sure what my options were for humanoid creatures until a few minutes before my first game started, when I talked to some more experienced players.

In a rush, I picked orcs and goblins, but missed the part in the PHB about choosing to learn one language that one of my favored enemies speaks. Now I'm part-way into the campaign and not sure how to proceed.

Do I just add in a language now and pretend like I knew it all along? Or wait for a level up? Or never get one - treating it as a missed opportunity?

What makes it trickier is that by chance I have come across goblins and goblin writing in this campaign, so obviously I want to learn the goblin language. But is that unfair now, since I shouldn't have had that knowledge ahead of time? Or does it work fine since the whole favored enemy system is supposed to be about "reflecting the types of monsters you have encountered on your adventures"?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What are your criteria for "fair"? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 1 '18 at 11:39
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No answer we can give you will help you deal with the real yardstick of “what’s fair” you will need to clear: your DM. Settling this kind of thing is their job anyway, and bypassing them risks making a little nothing into a conflict.

Just ask your DM. “Hey, I’m sorry, I rushed making my PC and never noticed I was supposed to choose a favoured enemy language. Can I do that now? Is it okay if I pick Goblin?”

Just ask, and sort it out so that you and your DM are happy with the result.

Taking the advice of the internet on what to do without involving your DM is just asking for an unhappy DM. They’re your local authority on such things, and they’re also who you have to play with. So demonstrate your respect for their job: invite them to work with you to resolve this, and thereby help run the game well.

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Consult your DM

but I think your DM wouldn't mind since you've picked orcs and goblins as your favored enemies.

You would've learned either the Orc or the Goblin language. As long as you haven't utilized Orc before, it will be fine.

You are asking this question because you are respecting your DM trust. In my opinion, you are acting within the bounds of the rules, and wouldn't get mechanically unfair advantage by choosing Goblin now. As long as you inform the DM about this slightly metagame-y choice and they don't mind, you're good to go.

Tip: Offer to flip a coin instead before they respond. It might improve the chance of them saying yes.

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Consult your DM is certainly the right thing, but let me add my own experience as a DM: these kinds of situational abilities are really hard to deal with. I'd rather you have class features that are useful rather than ones which never come up. Therefore, my policy with these things is that unless you have a really strong character concept based around something, you should leave them blank, and sometime later during the campaign decide to activate them — at which point they are fixed. They're like Schrödinger's choices — not decided until they are observed. This lets players know that their selections will be relevant.

The relevance to your question: not once have I or players at my table felt like this was unfair. In fact, this feels more fair than effectively picking at random with no context.

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There is a game answer and there is a social answer:

  1. You can make any choice that doesn't violate continuity.
  2. RPGs are collaborative fun, and you should involve the DM in the decision because that's what RPGs are about.

This distinction is implicit in your question as to whether you should pretend like you knew it all along, which could mean pretend your character knew it all along (not violating continuity) vs. pretend you, the player, would have made this choice at the time and just forgot to write it down.

You can make any choice that doesn't violate continuity

Your character has a class feature that requires a choice. As a new player, you neglected to make that choice. But even with experienced players, I have been in groups where characters are being created at the last minute, or even as the session is being played. You still get to make the choices that are legal to your character. You certainly don't lose a class feature because the choice was not made in a timely manner.

If you wanted to try to be completely honest with yourself about it, you could make a decision that was "what choice would I have made with the knowledge I had at the time", and even outside of RPGs I often find myself or other players making these kinds of decisions in order to keep a game going. For example, in a card game, a player drops a card showing it, but another player decides to make the play they would have made not knowing the exposed card. However, as a beginning player, you probably didn't have a lot to go on in making that choice, so any choice is reasonable. If you feel your choice would have been nothing more than a mental coin flip, you could choose to flip coin.

Finally, there are two reasons why any choice in this case is acceptable.

  1. This is an extremely minor ability.
  2. It's goblins today, but it could be orcs tomorrow, and eventually it will be ghouls or dragons.

Furthermore, while I have stressed that any choice that doesn't violate continuity is acceptable, it is not uncommon for DMs to allow retconning of choices. Adventurer's League allows character rebuilds up to Level 4 (though not in the middle of a session). And I have seen DMs retcon abilities when it becomes necessary to advance the story line. Of course, this requires consulting with the DM.

RPGs are collaborative fun, and you should involve the DM in the decision because that's what RPGs are about

The above addresses what the rules require, and the fairly low-impact nature of the choice at hand. I don't think it requires DM involvement. Consulting with the DM may nonetheless be a good idea.

Before I suggest why I think consulting with the DM may be a good idea, I'd like to address why I don't think it is required. I believe that any reasonable DM would essentially say what I said above, and therefore it is fair to make the choice that a reasonable DM would approve. If the DM were to say you missed your chance to learn the language, that would be unreasonable (and, frankly, not in the rules). Forcing you to make an undesirable choice (that does not violate continuity) would be unreasonable, e.g. if the DM's reasoning is "Well, since you now know you're fighting goblins, you have to choose orcs." Even requiring a coin flip would be borderline unreasonable, since I think a good DM would make allowances for a new player, while letting you know "It's goblins today, but it could be orcs tomorrow."

That said, it is not a bad idea to consult with your DM, for three reasons.

  1. It will build trust with the DM.
  2. You don't want to feel you are deceiving the DM. If you are this concerned about fairness, and choose at this point not to consult with the DM, you may also find that you feel deceptive about this choice. No player should feel like they are hiding what is usually out-in-the-open information, like character creation decisions, from their DM (or other players), and you should avoid trapping yourself in this kind of feeling.
  3. It will be an early clue as to what kind of DM you are playing with. I expect a good DM to basically agree with what I have said above, but not all DMs are good DMs. This site has a tag devoted to s. If your DM tries to make you feel stupid for missing the choice at character creation, or tries to "punish" you with an undesirable choice, I would like to tell you now, from experienced player (and DM) to new player, that that is not acceptable behavior.

In summary:

There are (primarily social) benefits to involving the DM in the decision, but the correct answer, which I expect a reasonable DM to agree with, is that you can make any choice that doesn't violate continuity.

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As some of the other answers here have said, I agree that yes it's best to ask your DM. You could try to work it into the storyline with them, if you come up against a particularly memorable fight with a goblin or an orc it could be a character development for you to gain that favoured enemy and develop understanding of the language. Perhaps you have found a goblin diary and have taken time to learn to understand it, and only now can say that you feel confident in knowing your favoured enemy language.

Personally, I would say it is fair, as other classes have different advantages and without this particular Ranger advantage, you could be classed as being at a disadvantage. But that's just my own opinion and I would allow it for players in my game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and Welcome! Usually we prefer that answers stand on their own. Moreover, the answers change position as they are up-voted and down-voted, so sentences such as "As the above answers have said" lose much of their meaning. In the future, an answer above yours may say "No, you don't need to ask your DM". \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Sep 1 '18 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Noted and original comment edited. \$\endgroup\$ – shinobilou Sep 1 '18 at 17:41

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