The ice toad (Frostburn 140-1) is a magical beast with an Intelligence score of 6 yet no language. Beyond being conceptually annoying and making me feel bad for the handful of aberrant genius ice toads that lack the capacity to express their brilliance outside their own heads, this utter lack of language makes the often neutral ice toads almost totally inscrutable.

  1. Can intelligent creatures with no language learn languages? For example, could the ice toad just sink a couple of skill points into the cross-class skill Speak Language and pick up Common? Could the ice toad then speak Common?
  2. Besides the extraordinary ability tongue of the sun and the moon of a level 17 monk and maybe the obscure 8th-level Drd spell speak with anything [div] (Masters of the Wild 94), is there a spell or special ability that permits communication with such language-adverse yet intelligent creatures?1 With such creatures, the typical go-to methods all seem to fail (the supernatural ability telepathy and the spells comprehend languages, tongues, and arguably even telepathic bond).

1 Early access to the special ability tongue of the sun and the moon would be acceptable, I guess.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be a good idea to note that the toad is a magical beast, and thus not a valid target for speak with animals. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ It might not be helpful, but there's at least one example of this in Core: The Remorhaz is a magical beast with an Int of 5 that specifically can't speak. d20srd.org/srd/monsters/remorhaz.htm \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DuckTapeAl Yeah, I don't even know what that means, really. Does that means that the rhemoraz is utterly silent or that the rhemoraz is, like, neurologically incapable of verbal self-expression or what? I know, I know, fantasy game, move on. But still. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would guess it just means that remorhazes are anatomically incapable of speech, that is, incapable of sufficiently-fine control over the sounds they make to attempt to communicate that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interestingly enough, 5e includes ice toads who have a language unique to ice toad-kind, and HotDQ includes an ice toad who is an aberrant genius! \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 22:36

5 Answers 5


The psionic power mindlink does exactly what you want: It's low level and works on any creature that has an Intelligence of 3 or higher. (As long as you spend the points to make it work on an unwilling target.)

And most importantly:

You can communicate telepathically through the bond even if you do not share a common language.

As a backup option, as long as you can touch the ice toad, you can cast tongues on it. Tongues doesn't require a willing creature, so as long as the ice toad fails its will save this should allow it to speak to and understand you.

This spell grants the creature touched the ability to speak and understand the language of any intelligent creature, whether it is a racial tongue or a regional dialect. The subject can speak only one language at a time, although it may be able to understand several languages.

This won't allow it to speak to other ice toads:

Tongues does not enable the subject to speak with creatures who don’t speak.

So if you want it to be able to speak to other ice toads, you'll have to cast the spell on them too.

There is one other fly in this ointment:

The subject can make itself understood as far as its voice carries.

This is potentially problematic, because if ice toads don't have a voice (which may or may not be the case), they will be able to understand you but not speak loud enough for you to hear. This will enable any communication method that relies on the creature understanding you, and might allow communication methods that rely on the creature having a language. (Depending on whether understanding every language counts as "having a language"; I can't find a rules definition of what that requirement actually entails.)

Alternatively, with one-way communication established, you may be able to talk it into accepting a telepathic bond or some other method that relies on having a willing target.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I +1ed. Although I struggle with mind link because it implies both creatures must already have a language (the game assuming any creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher possesses a language, an assumption obviously too bold by half), and I struggle with tongues because I can't imagine any creature in a fantasy world willingly failing a saving throw against a spell it couldn't identify unless it trusted the caster implicitly (and I always imagine casting tongues on oneself not on another), this is probably as close as we're gonna get. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 7:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Yeah, with tongues you're going to have to hope that they don't beat your save DC. As for mindlink, I'm pretty sure the designers didn't mean to put ice toads in this weird mess, so I'm treating it purely as a RAW problem (although I can totally see your point). \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 7:44

Magical Beasts can have character levels.

From the SRD:

The separate table for Intelligence ensures that no PC ends up with an Intelligence score lower than 3. This is important, because creatures with an Intelligence score lower than 3 are not playable characters. Creatures with any ability score lower than 1 are also not playable.

As mentioned in comments- Remorhaz, from the SRD:

Abilities: Str 26, Dex 13, Con 21, Int 5, Wis 12, Cha 10

No statistics is less than 3 - therefore - theoretically playable.

Ability modifiers would be:

  • Strength +16
  • Dexterity +2
  • Constitution +10
  • Intelligence -6
  • Wisdom +2
  • Charisma +0

Work with your DM to figure out a level adjustment. There are rules to figure out level adjustments within Savage Species.

Savage Species even outlays a monster class for the Griffon (p. 174). The Griffon is a magical beast. This could be a good model for your Ice Toad to follow, since Griffons can't speak as well.

Automatic Languages: None. A griffon cannot speak or communicate without the assistance of magic, but it can understand Common.

Communication without the assistance of magic could be a key factor. Tongues, comprehend languages, and etc. could be a further avenue of enabling communication.

Gloves of Man (Savage Species, p. 57) could be a good magic item investment as well.

These magic gloves provide humanoid fingers and thumbs for the wearer. Any creature may wear them, provided the creature has tentacles or paws over which to slip them.

Battle Signs and Drow Sign Language are examples of non-verbal communication that everyone in the party would have access too, including the magical beasts that otherwise wouldn't have a language.

One way to get a guaranteed language:


A druid also knows Druidic, a secret language known only to druids, which she learns upon becoming a 1st-level druid. Druidic is a free language for a druid; that is, she knows it in addition to her regular allotment of languages and it doesn’t take up a language slot. Druids are forbidden to teach this language to nondruids.

Not to mention Use Magic Device for scrolls that could change your form into one that could speak.

Use a Scroll

If you are casting a spell from a scroll, you have to decipher it first. Normally, to cast a spell from a scroll, you must have the scroll’s spell on your class spell list. Use Magic Device allows you to use a scroll as if you had a particular spell on your class spell list. The DC is equal to 20 + the caster level of the spell you are trying to cast from the scroll. In addition, casting a spell from a scroll requires a minimum score (10 + spell level) in the appropriate ability. If you don’t have a sufficient score in that ability, you must emulate the ability score with a separate Use Magic Device check (see above).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to have to call an "eh, unlikely" on your claims that becoming a druid or using battle signs / drow sign language would allow a gryphon to communicate. While RAW it may very well be possible, becoming a druid does not suddenly give a monster vocal chords capable of speaking a language, nor does understanding Drow Sign Language or Battle Signs allow it to make the right gestures without having the 'right' appendages. (It can't even give a thumbs up, could it really make intricate sign language?) \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 9:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ The griffon's ability to understand Common is called out in the text, unlike an ice toad or a remorhaz, which say nothing about languages or merely that they cannot speak, respectively. That may make the griffon's case an even uniquer one than either of the others. (I didn't downvote, but I know I encouraged you to answer. I'm sorry. I didn't check the griffon entry first.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik You didn't see the Gloves of Man magic item? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 12:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I will stand by this answer. IRL - Trainer's swear by their dog's ability to understand simple language commands - I will leave it at that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ What would stop a Griffon from scratching words out in the dirt? Not being able to speak is not the same as not comprehending. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 12:37

Can intelligent creatures with no language learn languages? For example, could the ice toad just sink a couple of skill points into the cross-class skill Speak Language and pick up Common? Could the ice toad then speak Common?

Not entirely. An Ice toad that gains a skill rank can take a rank in Linguistics to Understand Common, but if they lack the Vocal chords to speak that Language they won't be able to Vocalize their knowledge of your language.

Once said ice toad manages an understanding of your language, then Telepathy(Su) and other abilities like Telepathic Bond will function properly. You could also use the Polymorph spell to turn the ice toad into a creature with Vocal Chords such as Human or Elves, so they can speak Common with you until the spell expires.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this only really answers #1. I agree that, if the toad makes an effort to learn a language, communicating with the toad is possible. However, if the toad makes no effort to learn a language, the adventurers (so far, anyway) remain without means to communicate with the toad. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 13:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Communication is inherently a two-way street. You may have to accept that without the ice toad's cooperation, there is simply no way for the party to communicate with it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 11:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dyndrilliac Well, really, without anything's cooperation, only coercion (magical or otherwise) can force something to communicate. That's not the issue. (The old saw is Anybody can speak with dead; the hard part's getting them to answer.) The issue is whether there's a way to make oneself to understood to an ice toad and to understand it if it responds if one happens upon the typical ice toad. That this answer doesn't disclose. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 0:37

The Polymorph spell would suffice

Creatures with a score of 3 or more are regarded as having humanlike intelligence, capable of more than just simple, instinctual thoughts. Moreover, they can understand language.

The Monster Manual (p.7) refers to this matter in the entries section:

Intelligence: [...] Any creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher understands at least one language (Common, unless noted otherwise).

This doesn't mean that a creature is automatically able to speak such a language since the books happen to make a distinction between the terms speaking and understanding in many instances.
Furthermore, it can be argued that understanding a language might not be sufficient to establish the writing capability of that creature, while being able to speak would be enough. (The rules assume that writing is as hard to learn as speaking, see the question Min INT score needed to read).

The anatomical scenario:

Some creatures just "cannot" speak (e.g. the infamous Tarrasque), underlying an impediment that could arguably be anatomical but, truly, the reason behind it is anyone's guess.
Polymorph can clearly overcome the anatomical limit, as it retains the following feature from the spell Alter Self:

If the new form is capable of speech, you can communicate normally.

It's not clear if the polymorphed creature is physically able to speak all languages, but Common seems to be within reach of the broadest spectrum.

The unfathomable scenario:

Other creatures like the Ice Toad (or the much misunderstood Gray Render) lack the entry entirely, allowing them to understand Common but not explicitly able to speak the language.

The Player's Handbook II (p.96) introduced the Polymorph Subschool, a section added to a later reprint of the PHB (p.320) in which we read:

  • The subject retains the ability to understand the languages it understands in its natural form. If the assumed form is normally capable of speech, the subject retains the ability to speak these languages as well. It can write in the languages it understands, but only if the assumed form is capable of writing in some manner—even a primitive manner, such as drawing in the dirt with a paw.

(Emphasis mine)

A polymorphed creature would in fact be able to scratch on the ground the words in its head overcoming the undiscernible reasons behind his mutism.

Beware, ice toads having levels in the barbarian class might find themselves locked out of this option due to their illiteracy.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It's my first time answering, so any advice is welcomed :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Dr. Bak
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 10:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the answer! I know that the ice toad and creatures like it can understand Common due to their Intelligence score. The issue is that the ice toad, despite its Intelligence score, itself speaks (i.e. possesses) no languages—including Common—, and only an extremely unusual member of the race will have an Intelligence bonus. Using polymorph on it doesn't help as it can't normally use language. It's a weird, small gap it and some others fall into between smart enough to understand a language but technically not having one that I'm trying to fill. Thanks again, though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 23, 2022 at 12:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ How could an ice toad not be able to speak Common if it understands it? I had to assume it was just a physical limitation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dr. Bak
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 12:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ As to how: IRL it's receptive multilingualism; in the setting, it could be that or anything else—up to and including a magical gift from the ice toad god (whose name cannot be spoken, of course). More to the point, though, the game doesn't say when a language gap is a physical limitation (q.v. the griffon, the remorhaz). (Were it to, I probably wouldn't've posed the question.) Really, the goal's to find a way within the rules to get 2-way communication with such creatures because the games' rules say that that's normally impossible. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 23, 2022 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Be it some otherwordly cause behind the language gap, still polymorph allows the recipient to write in a language it understands, and if I were in that toad's shoes I would certainly write to my god asking why I can't speak. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dr. Bak
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 14:37

Much of "verbal" communication is in fact, non-verbal; tone, timeliness of expression, gestures and body language. It is conceivable an intelligent but non-verbal creature could hold up two fingers, for example in response to a question. The more intelligent and social the creature, the more likely it would have a formalized method of communication. Limitation of vocal chords would not limit an intelligent creature's ability to point, gesture or otherwise "communicate".

If you read "no language" as "no communication", then this precludes any and all communication, so the question is moot.

However, if you read "no language" as literally "no spoken or written language", as is the case with nearly all creatures the game rates as "animal intelligence"; like a score of 1 or perhaps 2, and you see all the myriads of communication between bees, ants, horses, ad nauseum, then clearly communication is possible. If the creature has a score of 6 for Intelligence, it will not only be able to communicate with others of it's own kind, it will be able to reason, ponder consequences, et al. I think it would be nonsense to assume you could not establish communication with such a creature.

For a real world example, your dog is conceivably what the game would rate as a 1 Intelligence, but yet it can communicate to you when it's water bowl is empty, right?

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: While interesting and mostly true, this doesn't really answer the question. The point of this question is that this kind of creature doesn't have a formalized method of communication, and the querent wants to be able to talk to these creatures and use complicated and/or abstract concepts that are easy enough to speak but impossible to express nonverbally. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 5:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ The ice toad and remorhaz, while intelligent, literally have no language. Trying to communicate with either solely via scowling and pointing is liable to just get the pointing scowler killed. I mean, I guess a skilled enough mimic could imitate comforting mother noises at the creature or something, but I'd certainly consult with an equally skilled naturalist first to confirm that was the right play for whatever I wanted to convey. Better to have spell or special ability, I think. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 5:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood But humans have language. Not a common language, perhaps, but the possibility of existence of language. Besides, humans don't exist in D&D (there's a race with the same name, but it bears only a passing resemblance). \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2015 at 1:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood "[I]ntelligent creatures with no language don't exist IRL." How would we know? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 1:42

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