Going through the bestiary DBs, you find that of the monsters that speak a language, almost all speak Common as well. (Or have some form of telepathy or truespeech.)

From the data my friend gathered, he determined that about 75% of speaking creatures speak Common. Of those that don't, 20% are elementals or variants of them, so this leaves only about 20% of creatures that can speak that don't speak Common.

What would the consequences be of removing Common from a large majority of creatures?

My goal is to give players more immersion (not everything understands them if its more abnormal or abstract from common folk) and letting those that pick extra languages feel like they are more useful tools, without overshadowing someone who has a lower Int character, but may still want to be a social butterfly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a really straight-forward, on-topic, workable question—that had a distracting title. Change the title, and suddenly it looks exactly like the kind of “good subjective” question that we handle all the time. Nothing in the body of the question cared all that much about why the designers did things this way—only about what problems might arise from doing it another way. We can answer that (if we’ve tried it ourselves, or have other relevant methods of backing it up). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 23, 2020 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related question: How to have a realistic set of languages without making adventuring prohibitively difficult? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Apr 23, 2020 at 22:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a thought- if you want to make languages more viable, remember that even if most things speak common, they may not write or read in it, or speak it among themselves when PC's are eavesdropping. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2020 at 19:10

4 Answers 4


You ask about the effect:

What would the consequences be of removing Common from a large majority of creatures?

It often makes the game needlessly difficult

We - the people I played with from about 1975 to about 1987 - tried this in early versions of the game1, in a variety of ways, and it simply slowed down play with little to no other benefit unless Common was indeed a very common means for communication in a game where role-playing, which has a heavy communication element, matters.

I am even running into this problem in a published adventure in 5e where a key NPC does not speak common, and only one of our five PCs speaks Elvish. We had to do this awkward translation thing: "OK, so he says to him {content}" and then that PC has to tell everyone else.

I finally decided "Heck with it, this NPC speaks Common!" (and the PC version of sea elves speak common per DDB) so that we could Play This Game - which is far more of a fun game when you aren't slowing it down with waiting for one PC to translate for all of the others.

Languages differences can make for great and rewarding play

A few years ago we, the players, had a challenge: none of us spoke goblin and we were in the jungles of Chult. The Batiri did not speak Common . So, for this Single encounter, we had to arrive at a novel way to communicate with them, and we did. The Bard kept casting Minor Illusion to show pictures of what we were trying to convey, and, he had already cast Comprehend languages so that he understood their response. The other party members described their sign language efforts.

This was great for an occasional challenge; it's lousy for a session after session, encounter after encounter, obstacle to communicating with NPCs and other denizens of the imagined world. Role playing games are built on being able to communicate with one another at the table.

Depending on who you have at the table, using a variety of languages to inform a style of game play can be fun; but the appeal of that style varies widely. (Thanks @GMJoe for reminding me of that Q&A). This is a style that you need to discuss and try out with your players. If you all like it, then have fun with it. It may take a few sessions to see what other adaptations your table wants to make.

Having Common as an almost universal lingua franca makes the game play more smoothly.

Having NPCs and monsters not speak Common makes for an interesting exception now and again, but does not make for an interesting standard situation.

You want languages to matter more?

OK, do that, but I suggest that you pick your spots. Or, provide some means, via spell or magic item that perhaps have a cost or an opportunity cost, that allows most interactions to be smoothly executed at the table.

One possible silver lining

If you choose to make languages and language proficiency matter more, it gives you a way to spread the spotlight around depending on who speaks a given language that is needed for a given situation.

1 D&D is the game I refer to. PF is a spawn of D&D 3.5e which has carried over many of the conventions in the game's DNA: Common being very common is one such.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. (My fault! :P) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Apr 23, 2020 at 23:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ That was a super-fun encounter for me, too. And I would not have wanted to keep it up for more than the ~45min. we did. Though I did have hopes that somehow you'd cross paths again and we could do a short 5-min stint of that before one goblin stumbled forward and spoke in halting common, their work on Rosetta Stone paying off =) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Apr 24, 2020 at 12:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ The crux of this answer seems to be that having one player repeat all the dialog spoken by the DM is un-fun. But surely having everything speak common isn't the only way to avoid this. For instance, in my sessions, the one player usually just says "I relay that to the party", then the rest of the party plays as if they understood the original dialog. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vaelus
    Apr 26, 2020 at 12:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Vaelus That's going to really depend in the table, and the level of immersion. I have seen it done that way as well and often what happens is that one of the Characters who doesn't have the language is the one who begins the follow up based on the player's idea/initiative; having to keep reminding people 'you don't have that language' can contribute to the disruption of play. With other, groups, the ability to compartmentalize is better adhered to. It is very much dependent on how each player chooses to, or not to, go along with that. That is why I recommend "pick your spots" \$\endgroup\$ Apr 26, 2020 at 13:31

It spreads the skill checks around

If the only character who speaks lizardfolk is Akiro, then any social rolls involved in dealing with lizardfolk have to be rolled by Akiro's player, using Akiro's CHA.

Even though Malak's player put a lot of points into CHA and proficiencies, they can't be the face (for this encounter).

It adds tension to NPC dealings

If Bombaata (an NPC) is the only one who speaks the villagers' language then the players and characters might wonder, is Bombaata negotiating in good faith?

It removes options in encounters

If none of the characters speak bullywug then negotiation is not an option in an encounter.

On the other hand, sign language and drawings are always an option, which could lead to a more entertaining encounter for the players than if they just talked to the monsters.

It adds hooks

If the characters find a note in a language none of them read then they have to find an NPC who can read it for them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would add to this that it gives the DM an extra obligation to make language skills useful. If I spend a feat learning bullywug and then don't get a chance to actually talk to the bullywugs I would be really annoyed. That changes how a DM has to think about specific encounters and the potential solutions, though having not everything end up in a fight is a good way to play anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Apr 24, 2020 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri In Pathfinder, languages don't require feats. Instead, you get some bonus languages for having a positive Int bonus when you start (one language for each +1 you have), and one language for each point you have in Linguistics. This is far less of an investment than a feat. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2020 at 20:42

There’s more to making languages matter than removing Common.

If all you do is remove Common, then what you’ll end up with is mostly incomprehension leading to frustration. The way that D&D, and therefore Pathfinder, decides who speaks what language and the fact that language comprehension is all or nothing means that without Common, most races cannot communicate with each other. This is fundamentally incompatible with the prevalence of racial mixing assumed in most settings.

I’ve tried two things to get around this problem: regionalize languages and introduce pidgin languages.

  1. To regionalize languages, what language a creature speaks is based on where it’s from. I tried this by segregating the races, but this created problems in character creation as the players (somewhat predictably) wanted to play a wide variety of races and so we had to work out why some of them were so far from home (and for low level play, how they managed to get there). This could be avoided by breaking the tie between race and language, but I haven’t tried this.

    When regionalizing languages, most characters also chose the langue of the area where they were starting, so that practically replaced Common for the early parts of the campaign. It wasn’t until they really started globe trotting that language difficulties cropped up.

  2. Introducing pidgin languages was slightly more successful. In this house rule, instead of gaining proficiency in one language, a character could gain proficiency in two pidgin languages. Each pidgin language was basically half a language they knew (usually their native language) and half something else. If the conversational partner knew the same pidgin, then you could communicate no problem. If they knew one at full proficiency, then any skill checks to communicate took a penalty (-5,IIRC) and when there were no skill checks involved in a particular conversation, I would sometimes introduce misunderstandings to keep things interesting (use sparingly). If the conversational partner had a overlapping pidgin proficiency in a language (say an elf with the elven-dwarven pidgin and a gnome with the gnomish-dwarven pidgin) then the penalty was doubled and misunderstandings were practically guaranteed on anything but the simplest concepts.

    This ruling went over better (though with a different group) as it increased, rather than hampering player choice. I had one player who took so many pidgin languages he could get by almost anywhere.

One other idea that you may want to consider, as the DM building a world, but that I’ve not been courageous enough to try is to assemble a family tree for languages. In this setup, characters speaking related languages would have a chance to understand each other, with the degree of relation determining just how well or poorly that went. There’s a lot of up front linguistics work in this idea, however, so I’ve never tried it. Still, I mention it in case your interested.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Appreciate the experience based approach to this answer. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2020 at 17:56

It Changes The Value Of Language Skills

I come by this knowledge from the other direction: I don't generally have a lot of patience for the kind of circumlocutions that role-playing through language difficulties brings, so I tend to design worlds where some sort of lingua franca exists for everyone's convenience. I also therefore tend to steer players away from investing heavily in languages because it is mostly a waste of points for them.

On the other hand, if there is no common or trade language, and communicating with groups outside the local language area is at all important, then you've made those feats, backgrounds, spells, etc comparatively more valuable.

This is the sort of information that I would strongly encourage making available to your players, especially if you're changing the default. (It is, after all, something most characters would know about their game world.)


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