... now with 35% more arrogance!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Troll Questions: Alignment Languages

Another post on the top ten troll questions.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?

Sure, why not? But for all the fuss that people make about alignment languages, I'd really like to know how often the topic even comes up. I think that, back when we played AD&D by the book (for the sections of the book we used,) someone tried to use an alignment language once or twice. And that's AD&D, with its greater variety of alignments.

I wonder how many people who object to alignment languages or even to the Common Tongue also object to the occasional speaking animal. Myth, legend, and literature has talking animals of various kinds, either as a freak of nature, a small group of freaks, or the normal course of events. Heroes can understand the language of birds or snakes or trees, in some stories. If you can accept a talking cat, why can't you accept a goblin who speaks the language of Chaos? It's actually a little more believable than talking cats, isn't it?

The existence of alignment language just indicates that the default setting of D&D exists on the edge of fairy tales.


  1. Talysman, the ol' "you don't have a problem with flying dragons so why not this" argument is beneath you. Even your example of the goblin stands on very shaky ground: have you ever read a myth, fairy tale, or legend where a goblin speaks his own language and a separate tongue known to every other being who happens to be aligned with chaos? It's the specific and universal nature of alignment languages that make them hard to swallow.

    When it's useful to advance the story or have fun at the gaming table to have two beings communicate who really have no business doing so, then fine, have them communicate. I don't think the game needs a heavyhanded contrivance like a Universal Language of Chaos to make such possible. Indeed it just mucks it up by disallowing Tower of Babel type situations: the orcs don't speak drow? No problem, they can just switch to Chaosian and get their jive on.

    Mostly this gets back to one's feelings on alignment. Generally I consider the whole alignment concept useful only as a barometer of the masses. There's little value in having individuals professing an affiliation, it's up to the players to decide how their characters behave, not the alignment cops. Even Elric--who I blame for this whole alignment business to begin with--is pretty wishy-washy on the matter.

    1. Oh, come on, you know this isn't the "you don't have a problem with flying dragons" excuse. I'm specifically talking about how language is handled in myth, legend, and fairy tales. As in, it's almost entirely absent. Intelligent creatures all speak the local language, even when the hero travels an enormous distance. Animals have secret languages which some heroes are born knowing, are given knowledge of as a gift, or acquire via magic.

      What I'm getting at is that language differences is specifically not a feature of these stories, and not even a feature of many literary fantasy stories. Even Tolkien's famous languages exist as a backdrop. Can you think of a moment in the Lord of the Rings where two groups are not able to communicate with each other?

      Alignment language are basically a nerdly rationalization of something that already exists in the source literature.