When a player gains ranks in Linguistics, they learn a language. What exactly happens when a headband of vast intelligence grants ranks in linguistics? Does the wearer gain new languages, just as if they had taken those ranks at leveling up? Or do they only gain the other benefits of the linguistics skill?

I've been scratching my head at this one with a player for quite a while, and for how many problematic cases and interpretive issues we've been able to come up with, I'm shocked that I can barely find any information on this online. The issue is that linguistics is the only skill that has a "side effect": gaining a rank grants a static ability that has nothing to do with checks related to that skill.

Here is the relevant rules text for a headband of vast intelligence:

The headband grants the wearer an enhancement bonus to Intelligence of +2, +4, or +6. Treat this as a temporary ability bonus for the first 24 hours the headband is worn. A headband of vast intelligence has one skill associated with it per +2 bonus it grants. After being worn for 24 hours, the headband grants a number of skill ranks in those skills equal to the wearer's total Hit Dice. These ranks do not stack with the ranks a creature already possesses. These skills are chosen when the headband is created.

We also have this related FAQ that treats the topic of a Headband of Vast Intelligence and bonus languages. (For clarity's sake: bonus languages are based on your intelligence modifier, regardless of ranks in the linguistics skill. Languages gained from linguistics are not "bonus" languages, at least as far as this question is concerned.)

Intelligence: If my Intelligence modifier increases, can I select another bonus language?

Yes. For example, if your Int is 13 and you reach level 4 and apply your ability score increase to Int, this increases your Int bonus from +1 to +2, which grants you another bonus language.

Technically, Int-enhancing items such as a headband of vast intelligence should grant a specific language (in the same way they do for skill ranks).

Finally, we have this rules text from the Linguistics skill:

Whenever you put a rank into this skill, you learn to speak and read a new language.

So there's a number of questions here:

  1. If a character crafts a headband with linguistics as a chosen skill, do they learn a language for each of those ranks? The headband "grants" a number of skill ranks. Does "granting" these skill ranks to a character count as a character "put[ting]" a rank into linguistics?

  2. If so, how are those languages selected? Are they "fixed" in the headband? Or are they chosen when the character first attunes to the headband?

  3. If the character gets to choose the languages, do they get to choose different languages after taking the headband off and putting it back on, say, a week later? If not, is there a rules-as-written justification for why not?

  4. If the character gets to choose the languages, are those choices fixed for future wearers of the same headband, or not?

  5. If the languages are "fixed" in the headband, when are those selections made? At creation time? Does the crafter choose a "pool" of 20 languages to choose from, or do they define the languages to be made in a particular order?

  6. What happens when a Tengu, or some other creature with the Gifted Linguist racial trait (which grants two languages per rank in linguistics) dons the headband?

  7. If the character gets to choose the languages, but is limited to a single choice, what happens if they later lose the headband and take a rank of linguistics on their own? Do they need to make the same choices (and in the same order) as they did when they had the headband?

  8. If the character already has ranks in linguistics (say, for example, a fifth-level character with one rank), and then attunes to a headband of Vast Intelligence, do the headband's languages override their previous choices? Do the previous choices "stack" with the new ranks? (The skill ranks themselves don't stack, of course, but learning a language seems to be a side effect.)

  9. If the languages are fixed at creation time, does the creator need to know those languages?

Rules-as-written answers are preferred, but if there is an existing body of rules-as-interpreted evidence that would suggest solutions here, I am open to them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How is this question not answered by the FAQ entry it quotes? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2016 at 0:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie The FAQ entry is talking about bonus languages granted based on your intelligence bonus. These are the bonus languages you choose at character creation, but in Pathfinder everything is retroactive, so you get that bonus language at a later level. This question is primarily about languages granted from the linguistics skill, which are not "bonus" languages. I'll edit the question to be clearer. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2016 at 0:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Weaveworker89 We're not talking about one language here, but one language per hit die (since there's one rank per hit die). If they are chosen when the skill is assigned to the headband, that can get complicated: see item #5. Do you choose the order? Do you specify a pool of 20 languages? Do you specify 25 in case a balor lord wears the headband? Do you specify 40 in case a tengu wears your headband? The implications of fixing it at creation time seem so counter-intuitive to me that I wanted to see if others had more RAW support. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2016 at 3:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can I interest you in a traveler's translator? How about a helm of telepathy? That is, is there a way to back away from this question slightly and address the problem? What in-game discussion or events brought this on, or are you merely curious? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2016 at 6:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan In practice, I told the player to just take regular ranks in linguistics and put something else in the headband. But I do think a clear understanding of the rules is its own reward, and a solid answer here will also aid in related debates (for example, whether familiars can understand languages if their master takes linguistics). \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2016 at 16:02

3 Answers 3


It's up to the DM to decide, but you're asking for trouble if it does come with languages.

I'm going to answer my own question here, because I spent all night thinking about it and I don't think it's right to expect this much detail from anybody else.

I don't think this actually can be resolved with the rules as written. The other answers so far both say essentially the same thing: it's up to the GM. That said, I think there's a lot the GM would have to think about. Here I'm going to argue that the cleanest option is to rule that the headband's granted ranks do not allow a character to learn a new language. But I will also comment on what the GM will also have to rule if they rule otherwise.

Why Linguistics is Problematic

Languages are a separate system from skills. Many characters will never take a rank in linguistics, and simply speak languages based on their race and starting intelligence bonus.

Linguistics is an oddball skill in Pathfinder for two reasons. First, it is the only skill for which taking a rank in it grants an ability that can be used without a skill check. Second, and more importantly, linguistics is the only skill that comes with any kind of option or choice. When a character puts a rank in knowledge (local), they do not choose a different locale for each rank. When a character puts a rank in disable device, they do not choose a different kind of trap or lock to focus on. Linguistics is the only skill that involves a choice while gaining a rank (viz., choosing a language.)

Because linguistics is unique, there are really no other situations we can refer to when trying to come up with a ruling about how exactly the language-learning ability works. (The same applies to D&D 3.5's speak language skill, and so we can't look at 3.5 for guidance here. 3.5 sidestepped this whole problem because the headband of intellect didn't grant skill ranks; I see the wisdom in that design decision now!)

A Possible Rules-as-Written Argument

The rules-as-written debate centers around the wording of the linguistics skill: "whenever you put a rank into this skill, you learn to speak and read a new language."

There is a related debate with regard to familiars and the linguistics skill. Familiars use their master's ranks in place of their own, and so many players have wondered whether a familiar who gains its master's ranks in linguistics also gets to speak, understand, read, and write the languages its master chooses. (Or better yet, whether the familiar can choose different languages than its master chose.) Of course, most familiars probably cannot speak or write those languages because of anatomical issues.

The rules-as-written debate centers around the language of "put a rank into this skill." Some players have argued that familiars simply have ranks, which is distinct from putting ranks into that skill. See, for example, this thread on Paizo's forums. Any effect that simply replaces your own ranks, it is argued, is functionally different from putting ranks into the skill, and you do not get any added bonus that comes from putting ranks into it.

At the same time, I have seen this masterwork of rules-lawyer-ing that argues differently. The writer points out that there is one place in the rules that uses similar language to the linguistics rules: class skills. The rules read, "You gain a +3 bonus on all class skills that you put ranks into." It is widely assumed that familiar get class skill bonuses for skills it "borrows" from its master; therefore, if we apply the same interpretation to both usages of the verb "to put", it would imply that familiars should also learn languages based on linguistics.

I think that most people assume class skill bonuses apply to a headband's granted skills, and so therefore by the same argument, if linguistics is granted by the headband, you also get languages.

I think that latter argument is actually pretty strong from a pure rules-as-written standpoint. That said, I also believe that these debates bring us far past whatever the game designers may have intended; I doubt that the designers ever consciously thought about "put a rank" having a very technical meaning that they consciously considered both when writing the linguistics rules and when writing the class skills section. And so, even if the latter argument is stronger, I don't think any rules-as-written argument is going to be really satisfying here, and it should be just one factor weighing against others.

Assuming you do get the languages... and they're "stored" in the headband

So, let's assume you rule that a headband of vast intelligence that contains linguistics skill ranks grants the wearer languages. What then?

Immediately, you are faced with the problem of how to determine those languages. There are two approaches: either the creator chooses those languages associated with the skill ranks, or the player chooses those languages. Both of these approaches lead to counterintuitive results.

Intuitively, it feels like the choice of languages should be fixed at creation time. After all, bonus languages (the languages gained from a high intelligence bonus) are fixed at creation time, as are skill ranks. This seems to set a precedent that all choices made for abilities granted by the headband are fixed at creation time.

But this gets weird, very fast. The languages granted by linguistics are different from the other decisions made by the creator, in that there's a different choice to be made for every individual rank of the headband. If we're serious about making these choices at creation time, that means we should have a list of languages that should be taken in a particular order. That seems like a lot of book-keeping, though an interesting compromise position would be that the DM gets to decide on the language learned rather than the player.

Another answer to this question suggested that the creator can only store the knowledge of languages the creator knows. (This was based on the assertion that the creator can also only store the knowledge of skills they know, but I can't find any evidence for that assertion. After all, the wearer of a headband may well have more hit dice than the creator, and thus end up with more skill ranks—and hence more training—than the creator, and so I don't think there's really a solid argument that the creator has to know the skills.) But that would be odd: presumably there would be a point where wearer has exhausted all the languages the creator knew. Would they stop gaining languages as they gain hit dice? That seems odd.

Another possibility is that the creator designates a "pool" of languages associated with the headband. But how large should this pool be? Do you need to designate 34 languages in case Great Old One Hastur kills you and takes your headband? Or 40 in case a Tengu decides to wear your headband? (It has been suggested in another answer that a Tengu's "gifted linguist" racial feature should be overridden; as a player I would be pretty disappointed by that, especially since there doesn't seem to be solid RAW support for it.) Really, the "pool" solution is functionally equivalent to the wearer choosing the languages, and has all the same problems as that solution. (See below.)

Finally, there's the issue of the character's own ranks in linguistics. A character may well take a rank or two in linguistics before acquiring the headband; perhaps they choose orcish and elvish. If the headband doesn't have those two languages, what happens? After all, if the headband's bonus to a skill is better than the player's, the headband's ranks replace the player's own. And so all of a sudden should the player stop knowing the languages they knew previously? Or perhaps they keep their own languages and start on the headband's languages two ranks later?

Assuming you do get the languages... but the wearer gets to choose.

Already, we have to bite the bullet here and rule that linguistics is an exception to the general rule of the headband: choices related to linguistics are the only choices the wearer gets to make. Even though the headband doesn't let you choose a bonus language for intelligence!

If the wearer gets to choose, then the GM has to rule what happens when the wearer takes off the headband and puts it back on a few days later. Do they get to make entirely new choices for the language? Or do they have to stick to the same they chose before?

Intuitively, it seems like the latter has to be the case. Being able to put on a knowledge-granting magic item, take it off for a day, and put it back on and gain knowledge that was different from what you learned before seems very cheesy. It's actually pretty reminiscent of the infamous Paragon Surge, the abuse of which got so bad that they had to make an errata that fixed the choices made by that spell to a 24-hour period.

One could argue that, since there is no explicit errata on this point, that the wearer does indeed get to choose different languages each time. After all, knowing more languages isn't terribly broken, especially if you have to spend 48 hours (24 to unattune to the headband, 24 to re-attune) to make new choices--much longer than the time required by paragon surge. Still, I don't think the grounding here is really solid and it will come down to GM fiat.

If you don't want to let the player do something like this, though, you end up having to rule on a lot of other things. If the player makes their choices and they can't change them, then you also have to rule about what happens if they find a new, better headband (do they get to make different choices this time?). If they don't get to make new choices for a new headband, then you're probably relying on the intuition that the headband "unlocks" knowledge that the plalyer would have had, had they invested ranks in the associated skills. But by extending that logic, if they later lose the headband and take a rank in linguistics themselves, they have to make the same choices they made with the headband potentially many in-game years ago, which seems annoying. (And there's still even weirder solutions: what if they decide to put a manual rank in linguistics while wearing the headband? And what happens if a year after that they lose it?)

In Conclusion

The simplest ruling you can give here is that linguistics in a headband doesn't give you the languages normally associated with the skill, based on the interpretation of "put ranks in" discussed above with respect to the debate about familiars. This is the only ruling that does not lead the GM to having to make many other arbitrary rulings down the line.

If you don't want to do that, I would suggest letting the headband grant linguistics, letting the player choose those ranks, and letting them choose the languages each time they re-attune to the headband. This isn't terribly broken, and seems to me to be the second-least arbitrary option.

But really, this doesn't matter. As a commenter pointed out, there are numerous options for using a magic item to speak and understand languages, including a helm of telepathy or a traveler's translator. On top of that, magic users have numerous options available to them: wizards and witches have access to the spell tongues, wizards can make tongues permanent with permanency for only 7500 gold, and witches and shamans have access to a tongues hex. There is no shortage of options for gaining access to language comprehension via magical means.

But it's worse than that. You will never find a headband of vast intelligence in the wild with linguistics as a skill, unless the GM puts it there. Otherwise, the only way this comes up is if a character crafts the headband themselves. But this character could just as well take the linguistics ranks themselves and give some other skill to the headband. They'd only be missing out on one skill until they craft it, which could well be as early as 3rd level.

So, this really isn't a problem, practically speaking. In my own game, I simply ruled that the character should just take "regular" ranks in linguistics, put whatever other skill they would have taken, and that sidesteps the problem entirely. (And in future games, I'm just going to homebrew some non-skill-related system for languages, so I don't have to deal with these questions ever again.)


What exactly happens when a headband of vast intelligence grants ranks in linguistics?

This was not defined by the rules team and is subject to table variation (GM Fiat), but there are mainly two options the community accepts:

  1. They learn a language per rank of Linguistics gained. But the creator must choose those languages among those he knows (just like the skills), not the wearer. So if the creator knew a lot of languages, the GM will have to create a list of languages that the wearer will know when the headband is on his head.

    Which means that even if the creator was a tengu, the item only grants one bonus language per rank per HD. And if the wearer is a tengu, he still only gains one bonus language per HD, because those ranks are on the item, not on the character. And since the creator has to choose the skills granted by the item, he also must choose which skills are granted before making the item.

  2. They learn one language per +2 int it grants, so regardless of the hit die of the wearer, he will gain only a few specific languages, but use the full bonus on checks.

    This prevents nearly all problems with the headband.

This is only partially answered on the FAQ, but the answer given could be interpreted both ways:

Yes. For example, if your Int is 13 and you reach level 4 and apply your ability score increase to Int, this increases your Int bonus from +1 to +2, which grants you another bonus language.

Technically, Int-enhancing items such as a headband of vast intelligence should grant a specific language (in the same way they do for skill ranks).

Here are the words of James Jacobs, Creative Director at Paizo, about the Headband of Vast Intellect. And also two other topics on the subject, here and here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This FAQ text was quoted in question, and it's clear that the text applies to bonus languages, not languages granted through linguistics skill ranks. The clause "in the same way they do for skill ranks" is clarifying that the bonus language must be fixed at craft time, just as associated skills must be fixed at craft time. Moreover, this answer fails to address a significant portion of the implicit questions; even taking this answer at face-value, I would have no idea how to rule in situations where headband-linguistics override "real" skill ranks, and so forth. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2016 at 3:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting. In the edited version of this question, you say "the creator must choose those languages among those he knows (just like the skills)." As much as it seems intuitive that the creator should know the skills he or she puts into the headband, I don't think I've ever seen solid evidence to back that up. After all, the headband grants ranks equal to the number of hit dice of the wearer, and the wearer may well have more hit dice than the creator--thus exceeding the creator's abilities. What are you basing your assertion on there? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2016 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mainly on James Jacob's post, but also on other community members that are also linked on the answer. There is really no official answer on this. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Dec 1, 2016 at 16:16

The situation by RAW is a bit unclear here. Seeing the side effects of Linguistics is in a bit of a unique position here, and that it is not clearly written what happens in this situation.

From what I can see there are two perfectly viable options by RAW, which are supported by two different rules descriptions.
First is that you choose the languages you learn, as if placing the skill ranks yourself. This is (indirectly) supported by the FAQ/Errata: (My emphasis)

If I wear a headband of vast intelligence, do I get retroactive skill ranks for my Int increase in addition to the skill ranks associated with the item?
No. The skill associated with the magic item represents the "retroactive" skill ranks you'd get from the item increasing your Intelligence. You don't get the item's built-in skill ranks and another set to assign however you want.

This seems to indicate that the ranks you get are normal skill ranks, just with a requirement to put them in a specific skill. As such one could say that you "put a rank" into it, as per the wording in the rules for the skill.

Which brings us to option number two, namely that you don't get any languages. This is from the reading of the skill itself, where it states: (My emphasis)

Whenever you put a rank into this skill, you learn to speak and read a new language.

Before the the FAQ/Errata I'd say that this was a pretty clear indicator that by RAW you didn't get bonus languages, as it is not you yourself that put ranks into the skill. Post errata, I'd say it's more up to the DM and the group, in how they choose to read the rules and their interaction.

PS: While you do get to choose the bonus language as per the FAQ for the intelligence increasement, it is a bit of a red herring when talking about the ranks gained. :)


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