One of the great difficulties of trade and travel in the ancient world was the language barrier. With literally tens of thousands of tongues and dialects spread across three linked continents the modern concept of globe-trotting simply wasn’t possible.

Amongst cultural groups where trade is common or that group travels extensively, such as certain nomad groups, language tends to stay relatively stable across related groups – individual dialects are more about speech habits and “accents”. But where travel is rare languages tend to become insular and quickly break down into regional dialects which can eventually branch into wholly unique languages. The Indo-European barbarians are a prime example of this and variable dialects proliferated amongst groups from the same linguistic roots.

On top of all this a common language was simply unthinkable until a couple of very large ancient empires had found success in their campaigns of world domination. The closest thing to a universal language was the “trade pidgin” common to most coastal cities and trade routes. This “language” consisted more of gestures and names form various languages and varied significantly depending on the trading route in question and it’s cultural mix. The trade pidgin of the Mediterranean was nothing like that of the western silk road, for example.

The question is – with a backdrop set before these empires had taken over the world how do we get the feel of this linguistic diversity without unnecessarily tying down the setting? How do we keep things relatively simple and capture that feeling?

Common Is Trade Pidgin

All PCs are heroes and thus have some experience at communicating with traders and other outsiders, thus they have a working grasp of common. It’s an inexact and fluid method of communication lacking tone and depth, but it’s sufficient for meeting very basic needs like “I need a room for the night”. As PCs journey the trade pidgin will shift and change, but the PCs pick up these changes along the way.

Core D&D Racial Languages

The racial languages of core D&D remain in place. These are considered species specific tongues passed down by cultural tradition.

Cultural Languages

Several cultural groups are likely to appear in or otherwise influence the campaign setting. Rather than break these down into their many major and minor dialects these have simply been grouped together under.

  • Aeolian – The native language of many nations in the area where the Arikite empire was born.
  • Arikian – The official language of the Arikite empire and rapidly becoming the universal tongue.
  • Gair-tire
    • Brythoic – Dialect of the southern central folk, including the Cruthii
    • Gallish – Dialect of folk in north and north-west regions
    • Gallaeic – Dialect used by some pockets of the people far to the east and south.
    • Goideic – Dialect of folk far in the western regions.
  • Tukric – The language of the steppes nomads far to the east.
  • Sythian – The language spoken by desert tribes far to the east and south.

Where a language is listed with dialects (i.e., Gair-tire), PCs must select a dialect and not a language..

In reality each language/dialect consists of many sub-dialects, but these do not present a significant challenge to normal communication and are ignored for our purposes. Creatures speaking different dialects of the same language can understand one another in normal social situations, with some minor confusions and backtracking. Communication on clear, detailed and intricate thoughts in chaotic situations (such as combat) can problematic for creatures not sharing a dialect. Creatures who do not share a language (much less a dialect) must resort to the basic “Trade Pidgin” (aka Common) to understand one another.

Literacy, Languages and Heroes

As a fluid and changing language with many non-verbal component Common (or “Trade Pidgin”) does not have a written form.

Most other languages, and certainly the Gair-tire dialects, have little in the way of a written form. That said most of these languages have some equivalent that can be drawn, scratched, carved or scribbled onto some medium. Most folks did not know this form of their language. However, for the purposes of this setting our heroes are expected to be above-average and simplicity suggests that it is best to simply allow PCs the written form. If an individual DM prefers to change this it is entirely at his prerogative and his players need to accept his judgment.

“Eeek! Not Enough Languages!”

All PCs must select languages/dialects at character creation that are consistent with their character background. But this leaves few places for “useful” Core D&D Racial languages.

Fear not! The DM is generous awarding extra houseruled feats for thoughtful character backgrounds, character development and roleplaying… Particularly where those feats have insignificant repercussions on combat. Simply contact him through PM, email or on the Character Development thread!


Tír na Tíre surfarcher