The best part of writing this comic was researching elven insults. Thanks to Ravandils Quest for providing the “knife eared” bit, and also for cracking me up. Now I’m imagining alternate subtitles for the Frodo-meets-Galadriel scene in Fellowship. I think the quest might have ended right there if Mr. Baggins had learned his elvish from Wizard.

Languages are one of those game elements that get handwaved all the time, mostly because it’s incredibly obnoxious to actually RP at the table. I mean, does anybody out there actually play it like this?

NPC: Uma lle merna ai’lereth?

GM: He asked if Bjorn would like any bread.

Linguist PC: He asked if you would like any bread.

Bjorn: Tell him I said no thank you.

Linguist PC: N’uma diola.

NPC (with angry gesticulation): Lle caela amin lereth. Sii’lle gurtha!

GM: He says that Bjorn has insulted his cooking. It looks like he’s preparing to attack.

Linguist PC: It seems you’ve insulted his cooking. Prepare to die.

Bjorn: Argh.

In order to avoid that kind of silliness, most tables generally assume that if at least one PC knows infernal or cyclops or whatever the day’s gobbledygook happens to be, then everyone can hold a conversation; the translator just does his thing in the background. The problem is that, since you’ve effectively decided to remove foreign languages from the in-world experience, “the common tongue” becomes “the only tongue,” and nobody winds up putting any points into Linguistics. For my money, it’s a shame to see an element of immersion disappear for the sake of convenience.

As a solution, I suggest inserting situations in which Linguistics actually makes a difference. Make them defend themselves in an ogre courtroom using only the ogre tongue. If they want to write a love letter to the princess, don’t let them use Diplomacy as a catch-all. Make it a Linguistics roll. Is it imperative that you provoke that giant into a rage? Then you’re going to want to roll well on the Linguistics check, because “stupid” and “ugly” are compliments in his native tongue. Even if you don’t want to muck about with gibberish that “sounds elvish,” there are still plenty of ways to make languages a plot point. Your game might even be better for it.