Every game master has his or her unique tricks and tools to help immerse players around the table into the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Background music, drawings, maps, and detailed descriptions all contribute to the ambiance of a campaign. One of the more overwhelming elements of world-building, though, is figuring out how to implement various fantasy languages into your game.
The PCs typically speak at least two other languages in addition to Common, the language of humans, and many take pride in being accomplished linguists. For the precious few moments when NPCs are speaking a language they don’t know, some game masters like to deepen the immersion with actual foreign sounds and phrases.
The following tools can aid you in impressing and immersing your players in a fantasy world of your very own imagining. Whether it be a constructed language or one randomized for your pleasure, these resources can mystify your players and, by extension, their characters like nobody’s business. While you can use most of these for other RPG genres, we’ve decided to focus on D&D for brevity’s sake.
You know you can always rely on good old John Ronald Reuel to provide your comprehensive fantasy lexicon. There exist countless of Tolkien resources online, complete with dictionaries and translations of his many Elvish languages (such as Sindarin, below), as well as the Black Speech of Mordor. If you don’t feel like doing all the creating yourself, it’s okay, because Professor Tolkien has done all the creating for you.
FantasyNameGenerators.com helps you come up with names of characters, places, diseases, etc., for basically any kind of world you could imagine. But this site also has a very special language generator which provides you with what it calls “the basic building blocks of any language”: verbs, adjectives, common phrases, and more. Users input different letters and characters that they want to appear most often in their language, and the generator provides a list of language’s most common words and phrases unique to their specifications. If you don’t want to go the Tolkien route of creating your own language, this generator is a nice shortcut.
Some game masters make lists of words from existing languages in our world and draw from them whenever they need to speak a fantasy language in their campaign. Game masters take words from dead or lesser-spoken languages like Basque that their players may not recognize let alone understand.
Constructed languages such as Esperanto, the most widely spoken constructed language in the world, work well to provide an established basis for fantasy languages. Relatively easy to learn, Esperanto was designed to become a universal language, simultaneously similar to all languages yet still foreign. Chances are no one at your table will understand a word.
Random Name Generator
Another fantasy name generating website, Rinkworks lets you customize the parameters of the names with its advanced interface. By changing the frequency of the letters, you can control which types of names the generator spits out at you. But we’re talking about more than names at this rodeo. For some decent-sounding fantasy words and phrases, you can use Rinkworks’s advanced interface to come up with a list of terms which you can pull from during a campaign.
A genius trick we picked up from Reddit user realpudding is to generate vowel-heavy words to emulate flowy Elvish speech and consonant-heavy words to emulate the stocky hardiness of the Dwarves. Read the “names” out randomly to shock your players with some on-the-spot fantasy jargon.
D&D Language Dictionaries
If you’d rather try to adhere to D&D lore, you can always find resources devoted to informing you about the fantasy languages specific to the Forgotten Realms. Various online translators and dictionaries exist for D&D languages, such as Draconic and Elvish. You can spend some extra time perusing these databases for the appropriate suffixes that convey the appropriate meaning, confident in the knowledge that no one understands what you’re saying and that a group of experts have approved the words. These resources might not help as much with making up conversations on the spot, but you could still write down a list of words that you like in order to have them on hand.
What are your favorite ways to bring fantasy languages into D&D? Do you prefer to learn from Tolkien and other fantasy resources or to use elements from existing languages in our world? Let us know in the comments!