Cunning Linguist

Some people are naturally adept at learning languages. They can watch a subtitled film and pick-up the basics of a foriegn tongue. But most people aren’t that skilled at learning different languages. Every single D&D character is bilingual, while only half the world knows two languages while less than 25% of Americans are fluent in two or more languages. Yes, I know that adventurers are meant to be exceptional, but it does seem odd that every single one is exceptional in the same way: languages. 

But I’ve yet to see an RPG that handles languages in an entirely satisfactory way. Either you know a dozen languages or just one and the party struggles to communicate. Either learning new languages is a quick process and you can take a new one each time you gain a level or it’s a slow process that takes two or three times longer than most campaigns run. Either you’re instantly fluent in a language or… that’s it really; I’ve never seen a system that modeled only having partial knowledge and comprehension of a language.

It’s not really a surprise that linguistic mechanics are overlooked, as language often just ends up being cosmetic for narrative reasons: because having the adventure stop  if you don’t speak the right tongue is unsatisfying and frustrating, it’s commonly ignored or forgotten. Everyone just speaks the same shared language, like aliens in a Star Trek style TV show.