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I've chosen the Haunted One background for my new half-orc blood hunter. I get to pick an exotic language (Abyssal, Celestial, Deep Speech, Draconic, Infernal, Primordial, Sylvan, or Undercommon), but other than Draconic (which I've only ever used as a dragonborn, to talk privately with other members of my party), I have never come across any of them before.

What indications are there in published books as to how many NPCs speak exotic languages? Do these languages have any other use suggested in published content? How is the relative prevalence of the different languages listed above?

I'm yet to flesh out my backstory, perhaps that will guide my choice, but before I do that it would be good to know more about the languages.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you asked your DM or other players for advice on which languages would be useful? \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ May 30 at 23:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not yet, that would be a good idea though \$\endgroup\$ – jonnybolton16 May 30 at 23:32
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Ultimately it will be campaign-dependent; ask your GM for guidance

I suggest that you speak with your GM about what language options will actually be useful (or even available) for the campaign. You can either choose a useful language from that or you could choose a language you want and then work with the GM to make that language useful in the campaign.

Most GMs I have had have detailed what languages will be prevalent in their campaigns to prevent the PCs from choosing a language only for it to be utterly useless all campaign long and the ones that did not do this helped to make my various character and background decisions matter in the campaign, be those languages, skills, or something else entirely.


Here are some useless totals

DnD Beyond allows you to search through monsters and one of the search settings there (under "show advanced filters") is to sort by languages; using this we can conclude the following (note that 29 monsters know all languages and are included in each one of these totals):

  • 222 know Draconic
  • 164 creatures know Abyssal
  • 147 know Undercommon
  • 133 know Infernal
  • 75 know Sylvan
  • 73 know Deep Speech
  • 42 creatures know Celestial
  • 51 know Primordial which has four mutually intelligible dialects:
    • 64 know Terran
    • 53 know Ignan
    • 57 know Auran
    • 73 know Aquan

Note that this search is not perfect, in fact, far from it; many creatures have variants that are counted as separate monsters (dragons have multiple colors/metals, demons have summoner variants...), nothing is said about the distribution of these monsters (their average CR, or anything similar), overlapping languages are unaddressed (monsters that know multiple languages, especially including common), and a given language's chance of making an appearance in a campaign is known only to your GM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow thanks. I didn't realise you could search the monsters by language. But I agree there is no measure of distribution, likelihood of encounter, those who also speak common... I will definitely ask my DM! \$\endgroup\$ – jonnybolton16 May 30 at 23:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer but I would like to add to that last point... instead of "useful" it is also important to know what languages are available in the area from which the PCs reside. As an example: in my campaign they are all from the same large peninsula and only a handful of languages would be available for them to start off with given that the races are much more isolated than in a standard published campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth May 30 at 23:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil The Haunted One Background explicitly grants you an Exotic Language, so I'm not sure that's relevant, hopefully I've made your other suggestions \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 30 at 23:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega That's what DnD Beyond says for some reason. Under those that know Primordial some know all languages (like Deva); the Kraken knows "Abyssal, Celestial, Infernal, Primordial" and the Night Hag knows "Abyssal, Common, Infernal, Primordial" which... confuse me so I'm not really sure here. I don't have access to all the other monsters nor the knowledge how DndBeyond categorizes its languages \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 31 at 0:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM Because creatures are listed very weirdly, read my previous comment. The books really can't seem to care correctly about the differences \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 31 at 1:03

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