Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Babbling in Common

So I stumbled across this post over at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, and it made some things click into place for me.

Your typical old-school D&D setting is basically a howling wilderness with only small bastions of civilization, right? Basically a post-apocalyptic world. (It certainly explains all of the dungeons and other ruins.) And yet, the people in these isolated fortresses and Medieval-Europe-Meets-Mad Max-style ramshackle villages, who have little contact with outsiders, little in the way of wealth or resources, and little access to what we would consider "education" in the modern sense, all manage to speak at least one common, consistent language. And if I'm not mistaken, many (even most) of these people are generally portrayed as literate, too! We're talking modern or near-modern literacy levels in a setting that is both pseudo-medieval and post-apocalyptic. That's got to be some kind of miracle, right? Some kind of magic?

Well, why not explain all this by sticking a Tower of Unity somewhere on your world map? A reverse-Tower of Babel, the construction of which created a common tongue. The aforementioned blog post called it the "Lexicos Spire." You could even go a step farther and say the Tower somehow creates or enforces other commonalities between the far-flung remnants of civilization, like a common form of currency and a common set of by-laws for all those Thieves' Guilds and Druidic Circles and such.

And maybe a well-organized coalition of bad guys are trying to bring down the Tower and pull a Babel on the world for their own nefarious reasons. Since this would make life a lot more difficult for the PCs, they might want to do something about it.


  1. The Common tongue is given to the normal-types of the Realm of Men by God, just as the alignment languages are given.

    1. There are several ways you could handle the God-Given Language things, some closer to the original rules than others. I was thinking maybe the Tower creates/teaches/enforces Common and the alignment languages, while all other languages are "normal" in that they are taught and spread in the usual way, and they existed before the Tower was gifted to the world. Humans are usually too busy, too distracted, or too short-lived to study or remember their old pre-Tower languages (assuming they haven't been totally lost), but most of them are content to use Common. I mean, it's just more convenient, and all the elves and dwarves know it too, but the elves and dwarves (and goblins and kobolds and aboleths and...) have a stronger sense of history and cultural identity, so they've tried their hardest not to lose their languages as well. If the Tower falls, the humans who only knew Common will find themselves totally lacking the ability to speak, read, write, understand, or even THINK IN words, so they'll be screwed. Everyone else (including humans who know other languages) won't be so hard off, but they'll still face the problem of suddenly lacking the most convenient and universal languages, making communication between people from different groups or societies extremely difficult, and causing anything written down in Common (or an alignment language) to be lost. So it's not like they'd be happy about it, either.
      But of course, do whatever you want in your campaign. :)