Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Alignment Languages

Nostalgia was the driving force behind me cracking open the old AD&D reference manuals a few days ago. Amidst Gary's loquacious prose, I saw something that I did not remember from 30 years ago in the Player's Handbook:

" . . . all intelligent creatures able to converse in speech use special languages particular to their alignment."

Back then, I think I paid that as much attention as I paid the rules for encumbrance and morale.  But the concept of alignment languages is very interesting.  Like-minded people can communicate better, and in the fantasy word of AD&D, even have their own languages.  But Gary goes on:

"If a character changes alignment, the previously known language is no longer able to be spoken by him or her."

I was always fascinated about how AD&D's Outer Planes were based on alignments, but looking at this effect on the creatures in the Prime Material Plane puts a different spin on things.  If I change my alignment from True Neutral to Neutral Good (in essence caring a bit more about other people,) I either have a chemical and biological change in my brain that allows me to speak a new language and forget the other, or I am suddenly in tune with some frequency of a universal harmonic that gives me the power of a new type of speech and understaning.

Now that is very odd and very hard to explain.  It's probably one of the reasons whey I tended to ignore the alignment system in my campaigns as well.  My view of the universe, even made up ones, never included such things.  But it is interesting to ponder now.

- Ark


  1. Actually, the way you present it here (as an interplanar harmonic) makes more sense to me than any other way of working out how alignment languages would work as "secret." You could even ascribe "frequencies" that other alignments simply can't decode, although that's getting rather technical.

    I've abandoned alignment languages in my campaign, though I'm inclined with this post to reapply them on the Outer Planes.

  2. @Jayson

    Thanks for the response. That idea of using the alignment languages in the Outer Planes has a lot of merit. Having this batch of nine languages on the Prime Material Plane doesn't seem 'normal' at all, but once you are past the Inner Planes of 'materiality,' then perhaps ideas and concepts of ethics might more naturally manifest themselves in languages, and more concrete things like angels and demons and the like the closer you get to the 'home plane' of those ideas.

    Or something like that. Wrapping my head around Gygaxian cosmology can be an athletic workout. Perhaps his only reason for alignment languages was to make sure creatures on the same teams could recognize each other and communicate in a battle and that he never pondered it beyond that. (Though there are probably Dragon Magazine articles addressing it - it's just been so long I don't remember.)

    But I like your idea. Once you get your characters to the Astral Plane, sure, why not, have people suddenly sprout new languages. They are in the friggin ASTRAL PLANE after all - it should be a vastly different experience that you'd find at your local supermarket.

    - Ark

  3. I like that--it helps make the transition to the Astral immediately bizarre.

  4. @Jayson - hmm, yanno, with my recent allegiance change to OSR, I might use the astral alignment language as well! :)

    - Ark