If you look at the list of Standard Languages, you'll see that most of them use Dwarvish as their script:

  • Common: Common
  • Dwarvish: Dwarvish
  • Elvish: Elvish
  • Giant: Dwarvish
  • Gnomish: Dwarvish
  • Goblin: Dwarvish
  • Halfling: Common
  • Orc: Dwarvish

(While that's 5e, I found a similar chart for 3e.)

The Forgotten Realms Wiki calls this script Dethek and explains some of its history, but I can't see how the explanation there relates to the Standard Languages at all. I also know next to nothing about DnD in-universe history.

Is there an in-universe explanation for as to why these languages all use the same script?

I don't particularly care where the explanation comes from as long as it is from some DnD canon where the premise is true. I don't expect too many settings to have an explanation at all, which should keep this from being too broad.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Draconis Yeah any setting is fine, as long as Dwarvish is also common as a script there and the answer isn’t “we don’t know anything”. \$\endgroup\$
    – Laurel
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 1:10
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Fering If we can't tell whether it's a joke or an answer the intent doesn't really matter. Remember that any tone or voice which would have conveyed the joke in speech is often lost in writing. Also, jokes aren't really what comments are for either, even if they are sometimes left up (if there's not more important comments which need the light). \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 11:57
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd argue that based on real life, this doesn't really need complex explanation. IRL there are very few writing systems compared to the number of languages. Of the 34 most spoken languages, there are only 17 distinct writing systems (and only four writing systems account for 21 of those 34 languages). There's no reason to expect that the situation would be different in a fantasy setting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 14:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @AustinHemmelgarn - I think the question is more Why Dwarven? rather than Why share a writing system? In the real world, we can blame Rome for a lot of it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:12
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ The out-of-universe answer is that the Dwarven script is based on Norse runes which are very popular in the fantasy community. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nacht
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 3:34

2 Answers 2


Dragon Magazine 278 (December 2000)

A Dwarven Lexicon (p44)

Many non-dwarven races also use the Dwarven alphabet, even if they use different pronunciations and meaning for the characters. The gnomes, longtime allies of the dwarves, adopted the Dwarven script ages ago to facilitate communication in trade and their shared war against goblinoids. Bugbears, goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs rarely use written words, but those that do use Dwarven runes, as they are too lazy to develop their own and recognize the value of a widespread language.

Other than giants, all the races you ask about are described in the short passage I quoted above. This refers largely to the Forgotten Realms setting, as the previous paragraph mentions the dwarven god Moradin and how he created dwarves.


Volo's Guide to Monsters

Runes and Tale Carvings (p20)

For much of their written communication, giants use a modified version of the runic letterforms claimed by the dwarves as their own. This alphabet is used widely today, including by many traditional enemies of the dwarves such as orcs, giants, and goblinoids. That giants were first in the world and thus the creators of the script is a fact that giants take for granted but which dwarves hotly dispute.

This passage shows that either dwarves took the script from giants, or giants took it from dwarves, but which version is true depends on who you ask. This is also Forgotten Realms lore, due to the source.

As for why one would learn it from the other, it is likely due to the fact that (according to the 4e PHB and/or MM) giants had enslaved the dwarves in the past, and so the two races interacted closely and influenced each other.


In DnD 4e, Dwarves were originally slaves of the Giants.

In DnD 4e, the Dwarves were, in ancient times, conquered and enslaved by the Giants. While they were eventually freed by the dwarven god Moradin, some of their tribes had been enslaved so long in areas of such elemental potency that they were permanently transformed into elemental beings such as the Azers and Galeb Duhr.

According to the DnD 4e Monster Manual:

Azer Lore

A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.

DC 15: Long ago, all dwarves were slaves to the giants and titans. Today’s dwarves are the descendants of those who freed themselves. Azers are dwarves that did not escape captivity before they were corrupted and transformed into fiery beings by their overlords. Although a few have escaped captivity since, most azers remain bound to their fire giant masters to this day.

Galeb Duhr Lore

A character knows the following information with a successful Arcana check.

DC 15: Long ago, all dwarves were slaves to the giants and titans. More than one variety of dwarf failed to escape during the initial revolution, including the galeb duhrs. However, unlike the azers that continue to serve their masters in the Elemental Chaos, many galeb duhrs have slipped away from their brutish masters into the world. On the other hand, some still serve their hill giant and earth titan overlords, both in the Elemental Chaos and in the natural world.

As a result, it's entirely possible that the Giants adopted the Dwarven alphabet following their conquest of the Dwarves, or that the Dwarves adopted the Giant script during their captivity (and over time, the Giant script came to be known as the Dwarven script, instead).

  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ The idea of captors adopting the writing system of their slaves is not that farfetched even in real life. This has happened with real world languages. The modern "French" language is a form of Celticized Latin, but was adopted by the conquering German-speaking Frank tribe and adopted as their national language. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 14:15

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