Friday, April 30, 2021

Languages: It Boils Down to This

As a kind of wrap-up to this series (for now at least) I want to share the following text. It reflects decisions I made about how common and alignment languages work for my OSE campaign world. I believe this represents a workable perspective with internally-consistent logic and that presents some interesting fictional opportunities.


There are three alignments, Law, Chaos, and neutrality. However, neutrality is an agnostic or transitional state between the other two. One can ally with the forces of Law or of Chaos, or attempt to remain neutral. Chaos and Law constantly battle over the allegiances of men and other species. Some supernatural entities also attempt to maintain neutrality in this war, with greater or lesser success, but they tend not to interfere in power struggles or gift powers to mortals.

Alignment Languages 

Those allied to Law or Chaos are granted a type of supernatural language. To speak or understand Law, you must be aligned to Law. The same is true of Chaos. If you ever drift away from your allegiance, you will lose the ability to speak/understand the language. The range of concepts communicable in these languages are related to their nature. For instance, there is no word for “truce” in Chaos; but one may speak of a bargain.

Speaking Law or Chaos is a powerful and often dangerous act. It may reveal your presence to supernatural creatures. It will certainly be recognized by enemies and can be used as a kind of litmus test among allies. Characters who are exposed to an alignment language they don’t know for very long will suffer, physically and mentally. Anxiety and headaches are followed by tears of blood or other stigma. If the exposure is prolonged, madness may result. Characters who are neutral will suffer less than those of the opposite alignment to the language being spoken.

Some spells are scribed in alignment language. This means that they may not be cast by individuals of other alignments without the use of Read Magic and without sustaining damage and eliciting the attention of supernatural beings. (It also means that despite being magic, someone of the same alignment could read it without using Read Magic.)

[Rules text for OSE. Still noodling a little over the specifics and they may evolve at the table.] Suggested damage for exposure to an opposite alignment language is d3 hp per round (1 hp for neutral characters) If the exposure is prolonged or especially intense, the GM may call for characters to Save vs. Spells to avoid madness. On a successful save, the damage ends . Characters can try to drown out the voice of someone speaking by making loud noise or even speaking loudly in the opposite language. Combining voices of the same language don’t do additional damage, and Chaos and Law being spoken at the same time cause a painful noise but essentially cancel each other out other than probably calling every servant of Chaos and Law within psychic earshot.

Speaking an alignment language requires concentration. Characters and move and speak, or speak and attack or cast, but can’t move, speak, and attack/cast. The damage for casting a spell in the language of another alignment is d3 for neutral casters and d6 for casters of an opposed alignment, for each level of the spell.


Common is a trade language based on the most common, wide-spread human dialect.  Most humans know Common and, as does any species that commonly interacts with humans.

Common consists of about 800 very basic words. It is pretty easy to learn, but lacks any depth or nuance. For most things, there is only one word: e.g. “home” covers house, hut, den, burrow, nest, etc.

Species with mouth-shapes that significantly vary from human are less likely to (be able to) speak Common. Communication with such a species takes longer (requires more patience) and is likely to include a number of misunderstandings from concept drift or simply misspeaking/mishearing.

Speaking to another culture in their own language automatically gives you a +1 on reaction rolls. It probably also gives you a rudimentary understanding of their culture.

Some folk refuse to learn or speak Common. Usually their reasons are seated in some form or cultural/regional pride and/or dislike of other species. Speaking Common to them may cause a -1 reaction penalty.

Learning Languages

Languages other than alignment can be learned through study. Speaking a language may require a mouth similar to the species whose language is being studied. 

Languages are often related to each other. Given a steady stream of nonverbal cues, context, and words, a bystander can sometimes follow the gist of a conversation by others if the language being spoken is close to any they know.

The INT bonus determines how many additional languages (other than alignment, native, and common) a character can learn. These languages may be chosen from the list below during character creation or they may be saved for learning a language later. Adventurers aren’t scholars and simply don’t have the time to study/learn an endless number of languages. If a character wants to learn a language at some point and doesn’t have any open slots left, they may study to learn a kind of smattering or pigeon form of that language. Mark it with an asterisk on the character sheet to indicate its limited nature. To change languages, mark an old one with an asterisk (the character is extremely rusty with it) and fully learn the new one.

Starting Languages

Your list here.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Words of Power, Chaos and Law as Weaponized Speech

[Please note. I edited my last article after discovering a section in the 1978 DMG that I had previously missed on alignment languages. Essentially I crossed out the last few sentences and wrote a small, new section after the image in the article. The gist of it is that Gygax does define alignment languages as a set of signs, gestures, phrases with a limited range, similar to Thieve's Cant. It's an explanation that is somewhat late to the game, literally, being written four years after the original rules. Perhaps it appeared in Dragon previously; I'll have to look that up. Even so, it's the "official explanation" of 1e AD&D. Notwithstanding, I am on a kind of roll, and I want to continue thinking of them as a kind of gifted language.]

I'm continuing to experience thoughts on alignment languages in D&D. This round I want to talk about speaking alignment language as an act of power. Inspiration came in the form of a response to an earlier post:

GrymlordeApril 21, 2021 at 10:00 AM

I think I can safely say that in the Midwest during the 1970s, everyone assumed that the Chaotic alignment language was the Black Speech of Mordor. Rightly or wrongly, Tolkein had an unbelievable huge impact on everyone's campaign. The early Judges' Guild products are a good examples.

Yes! This thought occurred to me at one point in my earlier writing and I lost it. So I am indebted for Grymlorde for both reaffirming it and returning it to my mind. When Gandalf makes the faux pas of reciting the Black Speech from inside the one ring aloud at the council of Elrond, a shadow passes over the sun, everyone trembles, and the elves stop up their ears. Later, as the fellowship attempts to cross Caradhras the Cruel, Gandalf rattles off a fire spell and two things happen, only one of which is the intended effect of the spell:

Gandalf himself took a hand. Picking up a faggot he held it aloft for a moment, and then with a word of command, naur an edraith ammen! he thrust the end of his staff into the midst of it. At once a great spout of green and blue flame sprang out, and the wood flared and sputtered.

"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," he said. "I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin" (The Fellowship of the Ring).

Art for the Bakshi Lord of the Rings
movie poster, by Tom Jung (I think)

If, as we supposed in a previous article, alignment languages are gifted by their representative forces, I really like the idea of each alignment language embodying a meaningful fraction of the power of those forces. In other words, when one speaks Law or Chaos, one is literally doing something powerful – invoking supernatural forces. I want character's ears to bleed. I want to see minds shattered. I want characters to think twice before speaking in an alignment language!

Here's how I might handle it at my own game table. Taking cues from Tolkien and dialing things up to 11, I would say that speaking an alignment language reveals not only your alignment, but may reveal your presence to enemies. Second, hearing an alignment language that you don't understand causes you immediate discomfort and, if prolonged, real physical and/or mental wounds. The latter would especially be true if you were of the opposite alignment.

This treatment makes alignment languages feel powerful! And it keeps them from being a kind of shortcut. Theoretically, if there are no ramifications, a party consisting of characters from each alignment could converse with almost any intelligent creature in its alignment tongue. Despite Gygax's suggestion in the 1e AD&D DMG that one never flaunts their alignment language for reasons of secrecy and social pressure, many a player has remained undaunted by peer pressure inside the game world! Conversely, eliciting dangerous attention from the powers-that-be and causing pain to creatures of another alignment would be a good deterrent. 

It could also be weaponized. If a party entirely consisting of lawful characters spoke Law in front of a gaggle of chaotic drow, they could slip in some extra damage. But it's a slippery slope, as they could also draw more agents of Chaos. It's more likely that weaponized language would be abused by the GM; having evil persons speak Chaos to cause damage to Lawful characters, under the assumption that there creatures safe in their stronghold of chaotic or neutrally aligned creatures, would worry less about drawing the attention of Law. It's likely, however, that this problem would be checked by two factors. 1) The GM really has infinite power and could kill characters any number of ways, so another trick doesn't really make things worse. The real limit to a GMs power is the tolerance of their friends. Rough handling and unfair practices leads to an empty table. 2) Chaos doesn't necessarily want to draw the attention of Chaos. The same might be true of Law. Not all agents of each faction are united in purpose.

All of these thoughts are leading up to a kind of setting document that I will produce as a summary of my own preferences. None of this (and I hope this has been understood) is prescriptive or didactic. I am following my own ideas, interpretations, and preferences. If yours differ, please follow them to your own conclusions. The real value of these articles, I hope, is to get people to think more about alignment languages and Common.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Further Matters on Common and Alignment Langauges

Literary Sources of Chaos and Law ... and Neutral?

The main sources for alignment concepts in the Appendix N are probably Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, Moorcock's Elric and Corum series, and Zelazney's Chronicles of Amber series. I have read all of these, with the caveat that I have only read four Elric books and three Corum books. For the most part, Neutral is not a force, but rather an in-between, a neutrality. The exception might be Moorcock's Grey Lords. (See quotes below; page numbers emitted because they were pulled from e-texts.)

“True,” Rackhir nodded. “Most recently we averted a threat with certain aid from the Grey Lords—but Chaos had caused the gateways to the Grey Lords to be closed to mortals. We can offer you only our warriors’ loyalty" (Stealer of Souls)
“Arioch!” Elric bowed his head before the Lord of Chaos.
“Aye, Elric. I took the demon’s place while you were gone.”
“But you have refused to aid me . . .”
“There are larger affairs afoot, as I’ve told you. Soon Chaos must engage with Law and such as Donblas will be dismissed to limbo for eternity.”
“You knew Donblas spoke to me in the labyrinth of the Burning God?”
“Indeed I did. That was why I afforded myself the time to visit your plane. I cannot have you patronized by Donblas the Justice Maker and his humourless kind. I was offended. Now I have shown you that my power is greater than Law’s.” Arioch stared beyond Elric at Rackhir, Brut, Moonglum and the rest who were protecting their eyes from his beauty. “Perhaps you fools of Tanelorn now realize that it is better to serve Chaos!”
Rackhir said grimly: “I serve neither Chaos nor Law!”
One day you will be taught that neutrality is more dangerous than side-taking, renegade!” The harmonious voice was now almost vicious.
“You cannot harm me,” Rackhir said. “And if Elric returns with us to Tanelorn, then he, too, may rid himself of your evil yoke[…]”
(The Sleeping Sorceress)

This is a kind of straw argument, but if you search the wikipedia page on Elric you get 13 mentions of Law, 28 of Chaos, and 0 mentions of neutral or the Grey Lords. IOW, the works are focused on the former two and the latter, neutrality, is almost an afterthought or just natural byproduct of the dichotomy (anything NOT Law or Chaos).

Given this, one wonders why Gygax posited a Neutral alignment language. But I've probably already said enough about that in my previous posts.

Common Is Esperanto?

My friend Aonghais (who also dug up the quotes above for me) reminded me of this attempt at universal language. It hit a nostalgia chord with me as I was once an avid reader of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series. In that fictional world, Esperanto is the galactic common.

I think the efforts of linguists to create a universal language of some kind teaches us something. Such efforts always (or at least have always) failed. Why? Because language is political. Let's start by recognizing that some languages might be superior to others: more normalized and rational in construction but also with a depth and sophistication. Even if we could all agree on which language is the "best" – which of course we can't – it wouldn't mean that everyone would rush to learn and speak it. 

There's lots to say here, but it has been said by others. We all recognize the fact that language is used to create borders, to mark insiders from outsiders, to force allegiance. We can look at both noble and not-so-noble manifestations of language wars: like the efforts to retain French as the native language of Montreal, Quebec, or the bigotry espoused by songs like "Speak English or Die!" by Stormtroopers of Death. It's a thing, and we all know it. 

Non-Verbal and Mimetic Langauges

In the comments on my previous Common Is... post, Ron Bishop said "Andre Norton utilizes this limited common tongue concept in her Beast Master stories. Terrans and Norbies communicate through a limited "finger talk" since Norbie vocalizations sound more like birds."

In other discussions I've had on social media about Common and alignment languages, gamers have indicated similar interpretations. 

"I always thought alignment language was like how Italians can talk with their hands and tattoo people have this inside thing."

"I’ve always understood alignment language to be more akin to unspoken like body language or maybe more what is talked about."

This is an interesting take. Of course hands might vary as much as mouths. Can two races share a hand-language if one has 5 fingers and the other 6 or 4? It's a viable alternative for your game world though. If we assume some kind of convergent evolution around 5 digits (which does seem to happen in our own reality), a sign language would have more universal potential than a spoken one. 

I've thought about interpreting alignment language this way: as a set of culturally-shared memes. Like, in America, if you go up to someone and say "Peace be with you," you will know they are Christian (or perhaps just certain sects of Protestant) if they say "And also with you." If you say "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" to someone, you will know if they are a Trekkie. If you sing "My Bologna has a first name" any American over 50 will find it hard to resist singing back "It's O-S-C-A-R." We have all kinds of insider languages that aren't true languages. Functionally, though, it's clear that D&D alignment languages are listed alongside real languages, unlike Thieve's can't, which is delineated as a kind of slang of words and symbols. There's no evidence that they were intended to be used this way – not that anyone (including pre-1977 Gygax) would care. Your game; your rules.  [This was wrong. See below.]

I Missed the Mark

[EDIT: The following was added a day after the initial post.]

On page 24-25 of the 1e DMG.

Alignment language is a handy game tool which is not unjustifiable in real terms. Thieves did employ a special cant. Secret organizations and societies did and do have certain recognition signs, signals, and recognition phrases — possibly special languages (of limited extent) as well. Consider also the medieval Catholic Church which used Latin as a common recognition and communication base to cut across national boundaries. In AD&D, alignment languages are the special set of signs, signals, gestures, and words which intelligent creatures use to inform other intelligent creatures of the same alignment of their fellowship and common ethos. Alignment languages are NEVER flaunted in public. They are not used as salutations or interrogatives if the speaker is uncertain of the alignment of those addressed. Furthermore, alignment languages are of limited vocabulary and deal with the ethos of the alignment in general, so lengthy discussion of varying subjects cannot be conducted in such tongues.

It goes on. And on. But it's all interesting. It's clear that by 1978 Gygax had thought about alignment languages in some detail. Oddly none of this is even suggested in the PHB. My fault for assuming it would be and not checking the DMG before.  

The point is if you are playing AD&D 1e rules-as-written you have a strong guideline for how to treat alignment languages. It also means that my own interpretation runs a little counter to those guidelines based on my own assumptions and interpretations of material leading up to the DMG. 


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

What Are Alignment Languages?

I'm going to start this post the same way I started the last one which covered "Common" as a language. 

I've been thinking a lot about RPG languages recently. (This article is pretty specific to TSR D&D and related games, but general principles apply to other games as well.) Some of the questions I've been asking myself are:

  • Why is each species language seemingly monolithic? Humans don't all speak the same language so why should goblins or lizardfolk?
  • Does it help to know a related language? If my character knows Goblin, does he have a chance to understand the gist of a conversation in Orcish?
  • What the hell are alignment languages and why is there one for "Neutral?"
  • Finally, what is Common?

Alignment Languages

The concept of alignment languages was baked into the first iteration of D&D (Oe, 1974) and reached it's most elaborate state with the nine-point alignment as detailed in the 1e AD&D Player's Handbook (1978). Here are the relevant passages:

Law, Chaos and Neutrality also have common languages spoken by each respectively. One can attempt to communicate through the common tongue, language particular to a creature class, or one of the divisional languages (law, etc.). While not understanding the language, creatures who speak a divisional tongue will recognize a hostile one and attack (Oe D&D Vol. 1, 12).

In addition to the common tongue, all intelligent creatures able to converse in speech use special languages particular to their alignment. These alignment languages are: Chaotic Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Evil, Neutral Good, and Neutrality. The alignment of your character will dictate which language he or she speaks, for only one alignment dialect can be used by a character (cf. CHARACTER CLASSES, The Assassin). If a character changes alignment, the previously known language is no longer able to be spoken by him or her (1e AD&D PHB, 34).

[Edit: I missed a section in the DMG which alters the following assumptions somewhat. For now, just go with it knowing that this is my own take on alignment languages. I address EGG's thoughts in the DMG in the following post. ]

Conceptually, we are led to believe that these alignment languages are:

  • Full languages in which two proficient speakers can converse
  • Languages that "come with" a character's alignment - so they are neither learnable by someone of another alignment, nor retained if one changes alignment
  • Of a nature that discloses one's alignment when spoken, or at least one's relationship to other alignments (e.g. not-lawful).

Inferences and Practical Effects

Given these described behaviors, I think we can assume that alignment languages are gifted (and revoked) in a supernatural way by forces that are representative agents of each fundamental alignment. Reductively, we could say they are languages given by the gods. Though "the gods" could be just extra-planar beings or completely abstract forces. 

In the game, this means that the languages can serve as a kind of litmus test for alignment. "You say you are lawful; prove it by speaking Law!" Note that this could prevent characters from effectively operating in disguise (physical or illusionary), a common occurrence in D&D games.

They also serve as a kind of secondary Common. A chaotic character could speak to a minotaur in Chaotic. 

Absurdities: Neutrality and Overlap

All of this is interesting and bears a kind of strange internal logic, up to a point. I find it reaches the level of absurdity with the nine-point alignment and with the nature of neutrality in general. Here are my opinions in that regard.

Given that neutral characters are granted the Neutral language, and that it can be revoked by a change of alignment, we have to acknowledge that the Neutral force, alignment, and language is a force equal to Law and Chaos, not a position in-between them. I've found that most players enact neutral alignments as a kind of alignment agnosticism; they don't feel bound by alignment forces but rather act out of self interest. Other players treat it as a kind of religion of its own - seeking a kind of harmony or balance in the universe. It takes some mental gymnastics to imagine an intelligent force that is both selfish and seeks balance. Nature is presumably the best model - each organism pursues its own interests, but larger forces (weather, species competition, geography...) conspire to enact change (evolution). IOW, balance is achieved effortlessly over eons, but individually life is a struggle. This gives us a kind of picture of a force that is both real in-game and allows characters a range of expression from selfish or apathetic to a zealot seeking to establish balance.

That's a cool idea, but functionally, in the game, I kind of want an out. A position that is not aligned. Neutrality seems to draw people who also want characters in that space. I feel like neutrality (lowercase) should be a more agnostic state without a language. This would also create an interesting battle ground between Law and Chaos. If we treat neutrality this way, it creates a more engaging uncertainty in place of certainty. For example, if one meets a dark elf that doesn't speak Chaos, it could mean they are simply agnostic – if lowercase neutrality exists. Otherwise, the dark elf who doesn't speak Chaos must speak Law or Neutral. Having capital N Neutral means every character absolutely exists in one of three camps. Having lowercase, generic neutrality means one can be devoted to Law, or Chaos, or neither!

And what of the nine point alignment? The poles of that alignment utilize an X-Y arrangement that creates overlap. Where we had Law, Chaos, and Neutral before, we now have things like Lawful Neutral, and Neutral Evil. So, somehow, the Neutral half of LN is fundamentally different from the Neutral half of NE, otherwise the languages would overlap such that some words would be common to both. 

It just doesn't hold up. I can live with Neutral in the three-point system, but would prefer neutrality. In the nine-point system, Neutral defies logic. That's my opinion anyway. For AD&D, I would utilize a five-point alignment that is Law, Chaos, Good, Evil, and neutrality. So, Ln and nE, not LN and NE.


As a kind of wrap-up thought, I want to talk about glossolalia. This is the word for what some religions call "speaking in tongues." (Not to get pedantic about this, but there is some confusion among Christians as to whether people in the New Testament spoke in other tongues – other real languages – or in some kind of uber-angelic tongue. This debate creates actual rifts between churches and congregations.) Glossolalia is a preferable term to the phrase speaking in tongues, because it specifically means "speaking in an unknown language" (not a real world language).

Part of me was tempted to think of alignment languages as this: languages gifted by the gods that are a mark of "ownership" and for which understanding must also be gifted. If your character is lawful, they must be gifted the language of Law and others who would understand them must also be lawful and gifted the language of Law. You have to be "moved by the spirit" to "speak in tongues" and/or to be able to translate them. From the perspective of a neutral character, in a world with neutrality rather than Neutral, another character speaking in an alignment tongue might appear to be speaking gibberish. Characters without a Neutral tongue might believe that Law and Chaos speakers are simply deluding themselves. Conversely, a character that speaks Neutral would recognize an alignment tongue for what it is, an authentic god-inspired language, even if they didn't understand what was being said.

It's an interesting idea, but it presumes that the forces in question are gods, and jealous ones at that. That's not a bad assumption, but it might not fit all campaign worlds. 

It's extremely interesting to note that Gary Gygax himself was a member of a fairly extreme protestant congregation; he was a Jehovah's Witness. JWs acknowledge the reality of speaking in tongues. They believe it was a miracle of God in the first century, as recorded in the Bible. Modernly, they believe, it still happens but is caused by a demonic spirit wishing to create division in the church. So, while they don't believe people should speak in tongues, they definitely believe that people can and do speak in tongues and that it is an ability granted by an inhuman supernatural entity. It strikes me that I have never heard anyone claim that Arneson introduced the idea of alignment tongues, which makes me think it was Gygax's invention. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Common is ~800 Words

I've been thinking a lot about RPG languages recently. (This article is pretty specific to D&D and related games, but general principles apply to other games as well.) Some of the questions I've been asking myself are:

  • Why is each species language seemingly monolithic? Humans don't all speak the same language so why should goblins or lizardfolk?
  • Does it help to know a related language? If my character knows Goblin, does he have a chance to understand the gist of a conversation in Orcish?
  • What the hell are alignment languages and why is there one for "Neutral?" (BTW, my first thought is that they are bit like "speaking in tongues" or glossalalia. But I'm still mulling that over; watch for a future post.)
  • And, the topic of this article, what is Common?

What Is Common?

Let's start with how it's treated in most games. In my experience, GMs and players think of Common as fully-fleshed language that nearly every creature in a setting can learn and speak. Further, most creatures that interact with humans learn Common, and so we can generally infer that it's a language invented by humans, though that is rarely explicitly stated. 

This is pretty unrealistic. Let's start with non-human species. As variance from a human norm increases, different mouth shapes will make it very hard for, say, a lizardfolk to speak a human language. They have no lips so words with b, f, m, p, v, w, any y are pretty much impossible without "faking it" using some other contortion of the mouth. Second, let's just account for cultural drift, political borders, and other contrariness. There is likely to be some percentage of, or whole regions of humans who haven't learned (possibly refuse to learn) Common. 

The New Rules of Common

But what does "realism" have to do with fantasy anyway? Let's recognize that Common is just part of the game and tackle it as rationally as possible, in an attempt to build something that is internally consistent and feels real. Here are some conceits that I believe would make for an interesting take on Common:
  • Common is a kind of trade language that is probably closest to the language of the most dominant species in the area. Pretty much all games assume that is humans, but it wouldn't have to be. Your game; your choice. All species that commonly interact with the dominant one, learn Common growing up. 
  • Common consists of about 800 words. This number is derived from the "Basic English" work of I. A. Richards and C. K. Ogen and affirmed by this recent article on functional language learning. These words are extremely basic and un-nuanced. 
  • Having only 800ish words makes the language pretty easy to pick up, trading universality for sophistication. Meaning: a lot of people speak it, but you can only communicate really basic ideas. For most things, there is only one word: house, hut, den, burrow, nest, etc. is probably all just "home." Note that George Orwell's "Newspeak" from 1984 uses this idea of a reduced vocabulary. (It's a double plus good book!)
  • Species with mouth-shapes that significantly vary from the base-culture of Common are less likely to learn Common and, when they do, are difficult to understand. Communication takes longer (requires more patience) and is likely to include a number of misunderstandings from concept drift or simply misspeaking/mishearing.
These simple ideas keep Common powerful, but also make it a lot less useful so that knowing other languages is a huge benefit. In fact, let's add another bullet:
  • Speaking to another culture in their own language automatically gives you a +1 on reaction rolls. It probably also gives you a rudimentary understanding of their culture.

Finally, let's assume a similar rule applies to all cultural and regional differentiations in the base-language as well. IOW, if you are of the base culture and travel far from home, you are more and more likely to rely on Common and not be able to speak the local language. It probably first pops up as heavy accent or dialect issues, so that you are speaking the same language but communication is slower and gives rise to a number of sidebars (to explain unfamiliar words and figurative language). 

As a counterpoint, we might assume that long-lived cultures experience less language drift. They are slower to adopt new and variant words. 

Practical Impact on the Game

My final thought is that, while I like all of these ideas, I recognize that they require energy in-game. This is why Common in most games is treated as outlined at the start of this article. Language barriers can be fun and interesting, but they can also be tedious. So I would generally allow a lot of latitude until someone tries to express an idea in Common that just seems really technical or nuanced. At which time I would point out the other conversant is looking confused, or angry, or trying to suppress a laugh.

Treating Common in the above fashion makes learning other languages more useful and special. Thus supplying a reason for non-wizards to value a high Intelligence. 

The idea that your dialect of your own language becomes less useful the farther from home you travel is also an interesting one in game terms. It could serve as a signal that you are moving into a region where understanding local laws and cultural norms will be more difficult. You will be unable to pass as a local unless you keep your trap shut, and you may find yourself running afoul of local law or simply making embarrassing blunders. IOW, the GM could use it as a plot hook, to make an area feel more exotic, or even to encourage players to stick to the "known lands."

Also note that speaking the same language creates intra-party ties and politics. A human, an elf, and a dwarf walk into a tavern. The human speaks Common and local Human. The Elf speaks Elven, Common, and Dwarvish. The Dwarf speaks Dwarvish, Common, and Goblin. They can all order beer or wine in Common. Small talk is slow and sparse because they have to converse only about basic things, except when the Elf deigns to speak Dwarvish and the two of them can start commenting on the loutish human patrons of the bar ... and then possibly fall into an alcohol-fueled argument about the relative merits of smithing vs. woodcraft or some such.