Writing a bit again for the Mythlands of Erce, I am contemplating alignment languages again. I wrote on this topic a while back and I am still a fan of them.
For one because I like the idea of alignment having tangible impact on the game world in a world of "alignment as [cosmic] faction".
Secondly, because having a multitude languages are mostly just a sucky obstacle to problem solving in D&D - Having a few pervasive languages that chart well to the broadest possible enemy/ally lines in the setting is a big positive.
Thirdly because it's D&D and I am somewhat committed to making sense of the various D&Disms in my game world.
I find myself wanting to re-work it from "granted by divine inspiration" model I previously went with due to it failing a critical litmus test: Anyone walking up to the [secretly chaotic] cleric in the Keep on the Borderlands and speaking Lawful to him would instantly know he is a fake.
SO... Something a bit more nuanced is needed that maintains a lot of characteristics of the first take. Here is take 2, written for a world of 3-fold alignment:
Alignment languages are: Celestial/Lawful, Fey/Neutral, Black Speech/Chaotic. They are primordial languages, the antediluvian vibrations of the cosmos itself.
A character can learn alignment languages like any other with the following qualifications:
Common is a crude derivative of Lawful/Celestial. Everybody in lawful communities learn Lawful, because:
- A/ It is relatively easy to learn if you speak common (or any other human language. all which are also ultimately derived from the lawful tongue).
- B/ The language has magical properties. Learning Lawful is widely believed to shape one's character in a lawful direction (DM's call how true that is).
The second is also one reason why alignment language is rarely spoken. It unfailingly resonates much stronger when spoken than common language and speaking it casually or carelessly is considered crass at best and at worst blasphemous.
Not to mention that speaking, or hearing, it for more than a minute or two will give most speakers a searing headache due to the forceful magical timbre of it.
Besides this many believe that its magical resonance may create unintended consequences. As a result, most people learn only a limited standard vocabulary of phrases that is known to be relatively safe to speak.
Lawful sounds to a Chaotic as vile as Gandalf's black speech recitation did to the elves who covered their ears. And vice versa. It is defiling oneself to a certain extent to do so (imagine Gollum having to speak Elven). And the world itself will respond to such blasphemies in one form or another. The clouds do not grow dark when orcs chant "one ring to rule them all" in black speech. But when Gandalf blasphemes all Rivendell with it, it has a different impact.
Chaotic/The Black Speech is the language of demons and monsters and is obviously forbidden in any lawful realm due to the widespread belief that the magical properties of the language means that learning Chaotic has an inherently corrupting influence (DM's call how true that is).
Not to mention that it would be a torturous experience for a lawful creature or character to actually learn the language due to its unpleasant and forceful timbre to lawful people.
and that's not even considering the unintended consequences that keep lawful people from speaking Lawful more than rarely. How much more so for Chaotic? Why would any lawful person go through that? Demonstrating knowledge of Chaotic is in itself incriminating.
Derivates like Orcish and Goblin, while distasteful languages, may be useful to learn and have none of the same corrupting influence.
Orcs and goblins etc all learn Chaotic for similar reasons that Lawfuls learn Lawful.
Learning Fey/Neutral is not easy as it is never written down and only taught to elf-friends, rangers and druids. All fey creatures, including elves, speak it. Both elven and the secret language of druids are closely derived from it. Whilst not seen as quite as corrupting a language to learn as Chaotic, speaking Fey/Neutral nevertheless raises disconcerting questions concerning the trustworthiness of such a person.
A few other tidbits:
- Clerics learn lawful thoroughly and do not get headaches from speaking or hearing it. To most people, their mastery of Lawful also speaks highly of their character in general.
- All spells are cast using alignment language.
- Wizards know all three alignment languages because the arcane tongue is an amalgam of all three alignment languages. BAM.
- Due to the metaphysical nature of alignment languages, characters who dive into the deep end of an alignment without having learned the language (ie. a highly chaotic human raised in human lands) may find themselves spontaneously becoming autodidact in the language of their dedicated alignment, manifesting in spontaneous utterances, poetic inspiration, curses and battle cries and such until they realise they understand the speech of others using that language.
- Thieves Cant is an odd mixture of low-key Chaotic and Lawful.
- Alignment language is also used for mundane basic purposes such as identification (calling out Lawbearers on the road, ), prayers ("godspeed"), customs (sacred hospitality of the host), rituals (marriage) and proverbs. This is because even such 'normal' invocations do have some power and are, effectively, very mild spells/prayers that anyone can cast.