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I am looking for an analogue to Latin for the world of D&D. To modern English speakers, Latin is not well known, but since it is still taught in some areas and it supplies a lot of vocabulary to English, English speakers can have some luck puzzling Latin out. On top of that, many other modern languages are much more closely related to Latin than English, so if someone knows e.g. Spanish or French, they may have an advantage here.

Is there any language that might serve a similar role for the languages spoken in D&D? I am playing 5e in a homebrew setting, and I would like to create some language puzzles that doesn’t just involve having a player who happens to know the language used.

Basically, if Common is English, what language would be Latin? What languages would be closer to that language, like Spanish or French?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I am adding the Forgotten Realms & Lore tags, as D&D implements Forgotten Realms and the answers about languages are probably more available in the material for the setting than in the game rules (if they exist). \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 19 '17 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, this is about the in-universe evolution of the various languages spoken in the Forgotten Realms, and not "What real-life languages did the writers draw upon for inspiration," correct? \$\endgroup\$ – chif-ii Jan 19 '17 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that revising this to be about the Forgotten Realms is the correct maneuver for this question. The Realms is not actually the default setting of D&D 5e, and this is particularly evident when it comes to languages — note that the language list in PHB chapter 4 is incompatible with the language list of the Realms. There does not appear to be an answer for D&D 5e by itself (especially in a homebrew setting!), but switching this to be about a setting that has an answer does not appear to be a valid RPG.se administrative move. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 19 '17 at 21:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, the problem is that there's no answer for "5e in general" or "D&D in general" - in isolation from a setting rules are just random rules. This can be answered meaningfully in the context of e.g. FR. However, since the OP is playing in a homebrew setting, it's questionable whether that's relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jan 19 '17 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ This relates to a thought of mine. For some cultures, there is a ‘classical’ language on which coiners of specialized vocab can draw freely: Latin, Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese. (Others?) I've wondered whether there's any interesting difference between such cultures and those without such a well; and now, whether it makes a difference whether that language is ancestral or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Anton Sherwood Jan 20 '17 at 6:18
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Thorass was a human language that became the basis for Common, in Forgotten Realms lore. (The Wikia article for the language cites the Campaign Setting 3rd Edition and Campaign Set as the basis of this information.)

The Forgotten Realms Wikia also shows where Thorass lies on a language family chart. See "Faerûnian Languages by Grouping" especially, which presents this for the Thorass language family:

  • Thorass
    • Central Thorass
      • Jhaamdathan • Thorass • Chondathan • Common • Maiden's Tongue
    • North Thorass
      • Auld Tharian • Tharian • Zhentarim Argot
    • East Thorass
      • Telpi
    • Turmic
    • Aglarondan

Emphasis provided to make Common appear more obviously in the chart

You're the DM of a homebrew campaign, however. If you want your players to have a particular ancient/root language at the start, make sure that they include the language as one of their starting languages. You can call it whatever you like. If the lore of your world includes a source language from which other languages are derived (or have evolved from), go for it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast That particular citation also includes a language similarity or source chart that covers most of the nearly 50 languages that show up in FR lore. \$\endgroup\$ – rogueone1 Jan 19 '17 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rogueone1 Which citation? (there's no similarity/source chart in the wikia link) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 19 '17 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener you are correct. I've added the source material. \$\endgroup\$ – rogueone1 Jan 19 '17 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I've updated your answer to recompose the description of Thorass, and I've also put that section first. "Make it up yourself" is always an option, and it's so much a given that suggesting it as the primary solution when someone's looking for material guidance is very often a faux pas. The Thorass part coming first puts your best foot forward: first answer their question, then suggest a reasonable alternative. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 19 '17 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener cool, thanks for the assistance. \$\endgroup\$ – rogueone1 Jan 19 '17 at 18:45
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When you have a homebrew world, questions like this show up. Solving this one in any sensible way tends to involve making an outline of the history of the world and deciding on the origin of the various races. JRR Tolkien got a bit carried away with this and did a very comprehensive job; you don't need to go nearly that far. Two examples, one from my own homebrew world, and one from a friend's world:

  1. Aramar has a pantheon of deities of its own, corresponding to the D&D Alignment system. They are intrinsic deities of the world, but they allow other deities to exert power, provided their worshippers don't try to destroy the world. However, the local pantheon say they did not create the world, it was there before them. The various and sundry people of the world all came here in the last few thousand years (although the history is not well recorded) through a system of dimensional gateways that still exists, although only adventurers tinker with it these days. If there was a native population or deities before people starting coming through the gateways, it is not widely known. Common was the language of a large group of humans that had effective leadership on their arrival, so it became dominant; very little is known about its predecessor language, because it wasn't spoken on this world.

  2. Midgard was originally populated by the dragons, who made all the other species to serve them as various kinds of servants: humans to farm, dwarves to make things, elves to make art, and so on. Giants, orcs, goblins, etc., were to be soldiers in various wars, and so on. Gnomes were a variant of dwarves that tasted nicer. The servants rebelled in various ways, and history happened; changes of the age altered the balance of power. The language of dragons is still "oldspeech", an intrinsically magical language that can be used to alter reality. The normally used languages of common, elvish, etc., all derive from oldspeech, but are not so magically powerful. Dwarven is an oddity: the Valar Aulë, who is described in Tolkein's The Silmarillion visited the world and taught dwarves the language he had devised for them and much of the culture that goes with it.

Don't sweat the details if you decide to do something like this. Players tend to be more interested in adventure and loot than linguistics. Establishing that there is an ancient language, and what it looks like will do. If you want it to be somewhat cryptic to English-speaking players, use Latin to represent it; if you'd like it to be significantly more cryptic, use Greek. Google Translate is your friend.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want it to be somewhat cryptic to English-speaking players, use Latin to represent it; if you'd like it to be significantly more cryptic, use Greek. One of the better DM's in my 1e days did precisely this. He learned both at Divinity School. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 19 '17 at 20:07
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There are few rules of this kind in modern D&D; the game is designed to be easy to extend, but not to contain details that don't lend themselves directly to epic adventure (and never mind that several of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser's adventures stemmed from Mouser's ability to decipher ancient writings, after much puzzling).

One option I'd suggest for house ruling would be to look at real language similarity charts -- before there was Latin, or Greek, or even Hebrew, there was Indo-European, which ties together nearly every language currently spoken in Europe, the Middle East, and India. Hero System has a very good game-oriented language similarity chart, along with related rules that could be adapted without excessive effort. The language names are real, but it shouldn't be a major project to attach existing, real-world language families to hypothetical root languages like High Elven, Old Dwarvish, etc.

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