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Please Explain Alignment Language to Me

BeZurKur

Registered User
Validated User
Pretty much what the subject line says. I'm NOT interested in hearing all the reasons why they DON'T make sense: I can figure those out myself. I AM interested in what they are in-game and meta-game. In 30 years of gaming, I never used them because I could never make them click in my head. I'm rethinking them, however, and need some help.
 

Marc17

Registered User
Validated User
Probably not what was originally intended, but the best way I think I ever heard them used was that alignment languages were sets of subtle clues that only people of the same alignment could understand. Body language, choice of words, sarcasm and other types of emphasis that only a like minded person would catch, etc. You could say one thing, mean something else, but only people of the same alignment would catch what you really meant if it was meant to be concealed. Sort of like telling a joke and seeing who laughs and who is confused.
 

Alter_Boy

Big Brain Ideas
Validated User
Someone somewhere told me to think of them as languages of secret societies. Like Latin for Roman Catholics, it is a language rarely heard outside of the ethos group, so it makes a good universal identity language.

It's not that all Evil creatures naturally know how to speak the Evil language. It's that the languages of the Drow, Duergar, Goblins, and other evil races have been linguistically influenced and descended from an original language of evil, more ancient than even Abyssal. It fits into a Planescape worldview.
 

The Killer Shrews

Retired User
I view alignment languages, at least as far as I understand the concept having never actually played a game with them, as a variety of trade language. Basically, creatures of similar ideologies are more likely to interact cooperatively (even, I'd say, in the case of chaotic; it may just be a loose sort of interaction). Sharing a language, especially one that does not privilege any one race, would allow them to better coordinate and function together. At the same time, it'd work as a sort of members-only passcode; anyone who speaks it has at the very least spent enough time around the culture to not be a total outsider. I imagine that the Lawful tongue might be some sort of universal language specifically designed with this in might, kind of like a fantasy Esperanto, while Chaotic would probably be a pidgin mishmash of the component languages of all the local chaotic races, stirred together into some new organic whole. Good and Evil would fall somewhere in between.

Meta-game-wise, I think they serve to allow characters (PC and otherwise) to communicate surreptitiously, and also to share some sort of logical link. It handwaves a lot of issues that could otherwise come up (How do the orcs and the bugbears coordinate ambushes in the dungeon? Easy, they all speak Evil). It also gives both groups a chance to lock outsiders out of any shouted planning mid-battle (assuming a roughly consistent PC alignment mix), which is a big help (in 3.5, my groups would always pick something unusual like Gnoll to all learn for this purpose, which always felt a bit silly. An alignment tongue, in that case, would have actually stretched credibility a whole lot less than all these disparate people having happened to pick up Gnoll in their travels, despite being hundreds of miles from Gnoll-infested territory).
 

Evilhalfling

Registered User
Validated User
ha ha ha ha

okay well it makes slightly more sense IF you only have 3 languages.
Law, Chaos and Neutrality. Once you start using 9 or even 5, it looses whatever semblance of reality it had.
was it at least restricted to intelligent speakers? Even when I was young I think I tossed it out as a bad idea.
the company of the bling is the only place i ever saw it used.
 

Kimera757

Registered User
Validated User
I've never read the source book, but I figure the language of "evil" is the "Black Speech" of the Middle-earth setting. Other alignment-based languages could be based on outsiders (so the language of chaos might be the ever-evolving language of the slaadi).
 

ryven

softie
Validated User
The world turns on an axis of Law and Chaos. These are not merely personal tendencies or beliefs or stances - they are two of the fundamental forces that make up the universe, and they are rooted deeply in the consciousness of every sapient being. The alignment language is an expression of that force, built on the shared understanding of similarly-aligned creatures. It is not like mortal languages - it is not something you can learn, with a relatively fixed vocabulary or grammar. It is communication based on a shared understanding of what it means to be, based on your alignment, which is not something abstract like a political affiliation, but rather as much an obvious and important part of your life as having two arms. When you are speaking your alignment language, the trappings of your particular culture fall away and you open yourself up to the universal influence of Law, Chaos, or Neutrality.

I infer that hearing someone speak a foreign alignment language is deeply unsettling - consider the reaction civilized people in The Lord of the Rings have to the Black Speech of Mordor.

If your alignment changes, you lose the ability to speak your previous alignment language. This is not like "forgetting" because an alignment language is not a kind of knowledge - it is a power you possess through your connection to your alignment. Similarly, you do not need to learn your new alignment's language - you simply find that you are able to.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
I love alignment languages. Here's my rationale:
I mentioned it many pages back the last time alignment languages came up, but they really seem to be based on the idea of divine or angelic languages, like the Language of the Birds. It's not a learned tongue, or something that can be studied or rationally understood. It's a granted tongue, understanding of which is a gift from higher powers. They are probably quite literally gibberish to someone who does not understand them; they cannot be decoded or deciphered because they speak to the soul, not to the ears and the mind. The sounds just open the doorways of the spirit so it can receive the true, nonverbal, message.

It would actually be fascinating to extend the idea. Perhaps the Language of the Birds is just one language; birds are the messengers of, say, Neutral Good. The Language of the Crows might Neutral Evil, Bats or Rats might be Chaotic Evil, Serpents might be Lawful Evil. Uses parallels and symmetry. Cats might be Neutral, Dogs Lawful Good, and so on. These animals are the messengers of the gods of that particular alignment. The neutral examples tend to be indifferent or uncaring; the good examples are beautiful or friendly; and the evil examples are ugly or raucous.

These animals might (or might not) be considered sacred or profane. They might visit everyone at some point in their lives. They certainly whisper the secrets of the language to babies and children, and they may, at the end of a mortal's life, come to speak the words that will carry them to the afterlife. These messenger smight also appear in times or crisis, or to heroes, to bear warnings or to bring omens. And when someone changes alignment, they may be speechless (either entirely, or just lacking an alignment tongue) until they are visited by a messenger who brings them the gift of understanding and speech.

This makes the 1E's assassins ability to learn other alignment languages even more interesting. Somehow, they mask their soul and inveigle their way into the good graces of another messenger.
It's also a good way to introduce talking animals. Talking animals are huge in a lot of folklore, but there's a tendency to over rationalize them these days. Instead of accepting them for what they are, we start extrapolating cultures, exploring the civil rights implications -- all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the stories in which they appear. In those tales, they're usually there to impart a moral message of some kind. Otherwise, they're just animals. Making them emissaries restores them to that role, and makes the world a little more magical.

Especially if they're not tiny little angels, appearing in a flash of light and with a whole list of super powers. They're just animals. Any animal of the right type has it within them, slumbering. But every once in a while, when the need is there, they take on the role and become a messenger who speaks the divine language of their kind. They may be sent by a god of the right alignment, but that's just a courtesy, because the god asked. It's not their reason. After all, not even the gods can awaken an animal. It just happens, a natural (and magical) manifestion of the nine alignments. This is just another way the higher purpose of the world (of which the gods are just more powerful servants) manifests.
 

Davies

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Validated User
I think there's ONE example of the use of an alignment tongue in D&D inspired fiction (unless there's some in Quag Keep, which might not surprise me all that much.) It's the scene in Dragons of Autumn Twilight where Tanis and Raistlin have a short conversation in "Battlespeech" or something like that, represented as a somewhat simplified English. ("I speak you this ..." "We talk if want, but little know I".)
 

Mailer

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Validated User
Their purpose in the game is so players may converse and negotiate with monsters. Also so that Bugbears can communicate with and command orcs and goblins, and so other like-minded monsters may communicate and work together even though they use different native tongues. I think of them as simplistic, pidgin languages.
 
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