Languages are handled simply — simplistically, in my opinion — in D&D, using the Speak Language ‘skill’. There are several things I don’t care for with this model.
- A single rank in Speak Language provides full fluency with a language; you either speak a language fluently or not at all. This does not match my experience with language.
- Literacy is binary as well; if you can read and write any language, you can read any language you speak (assuming it has a written form). This seems overly simplistic to me, given the setting.
- For that matter, literacy is rampant; among PCs, only barbarians start off illiterate, and can easily correct this by dipping into any other (PC) class. Granted, adventuring classes make up only a small part of the population, but it still doesn’t seem right.
- Speak Language is not really a skill; ranks in Speak Language are not constrained as other skills, you can buy as many ranks in this ‘skill’ as you wish, regardless of level.
In this article I describe how I would change the language model so it better suits my understanding of linguistics and how I wish to treat languages in my campaign.