The Abyssal Language in Dungeons and Dragons 5e

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abyssal language

The worlds that we create when we play Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) are bounded only by our imagination. They are places of high fantasy, where glittering cities and dark dungeons are found, where epic quests and endless wars occur and where myriad races are found side-by-side. And this mix of empires and races, nations and religions means that there are also many languages spoken throughout the land. And these languages aren’t only limited to the more obvious, the races of men, the Elven sub-groups, the secret language of Thieves and the many monsters who roam the wilds. One of the first languages created happened a long time before the mortal world existed, the language spoken by the denizens of The Abyss, the language of Demons.

The Abyssal Language

The Abyssal language is often harsh and chaotic, often described as like the barking of dogs or the sound of glass being crushed underfoot. But that is not always the case, some Demons, usually higher ranking ones, have a voice which sounds like the droning winds or the lashing of storm drive waves. But Abyssal is a chaotic language, so even these rules can’t always be relied on.

Almost every demon capable of speech can speak The Abyssal Language. This includes the main demon sub-races of Obyrith, Tanar’ri, and Loumara plus some minority groups such as Ghour, Kazrith, Quasit, Shadow Demon, Shoosuva, Skulvyn, and Yochlol. Other demon groups like Bebilith, Maw Demon, and Retriever only understand abyssal but cannot speak.

Learning the Abyssal Language

Abyssal is a language rarely heard in the mortal world. In fact, most people will spend their whole lives and never hear it uttered. But like any language, it can be learned if a character dedicates enough time to it. Although most people have little to gain through learning it, adventurers, especially those of a religious or magical nature, might wish to add such knowledge to their skills. When researching ancient texts, deciphering eldrich runes or conversing with or summoning demons, abyssal may prove a useful skill to have in your arsenal.

Learning the language might be tough. It is listed in the Exotic Languages table, alongside the languages used by Dragons, Angels, Creatures of the Deep and the languages of ancient monsters. Learning such languages comes through increasing your level or choosing the Speak Languages Skill. Whilst learning the language might be relatively straight forward, finding someone to teach you might be difficult. Anyone asking their Dungeon Master about how they might go about this will probably find themselves with a long and arduous quest, something which could even be woven into the campaign itself as a sub-plot or side-quest.

Abyssal vs Infernal

If Abyssal is the language of the Demonic Abyss, Infernal is the language of the underworld where Devils reside, The Nine Hells. Whilst the two languages are not the same, knowledge of one does not automatically give fluency in the other, they are both written using the same script, The Infernal Alphabet also known as the Barazhad Alphabet

Think of it as being the difference between English and French, they both use the same alphabet but knowledge of one doesn’t confer knowledge of the other.

Writing in the Abyssal Language

Abyssal is rarely seen written down. Demons have little use for writing and, like all oral traditions, writing it down can only lead to non-demons learning the language. This in turn could only undermine their power or unlock their secrets. 

But somewhere over the millennia, Abyssal did fall into the hands of non-demons and find its way into the mortal world. Occasionally you will find a Sorcerer or Necromancer or someone who trained at a similar School of Magic, or a Paladin or Cleric, who knows the language and even more rarely a book or scroll containing this script.

If a Dungeon master wishes to create a written script for themselves, then the following letters are to be used.

 u r l w x p f t Xy h e q k s i j m y z d o b n c g n

Remember, the harsher the sound the better, especially for the minor demons that you are likely to meet in the course of their adventures. Major Demons are immortal, their language tends to be unhurried and primordial, like black tides turning on a shore. Their minions are things of chaos, their voices ranging from barks and chirps to bellows and drones. 

A quick search online will turn up any number of Abyssal Language generators to help you form scripts and scrolls for your DnD world.

DMing The Abyssal Script

Whilst players creating a character for 5e might find themselves able to chose exotic languages such as Abyssal, the DM might want to make some rulings on which ones they can choose. After all Abyssal as a language option will be useless for most people most of the time. Unless you opt for a character background of someone who is going to pursue Demon Lore and darker magic, then perhaps they should say that the option is unavailable to them. After all, where are you going to find someone to teach you even the basics of such a language on a farm, far from any major cities? 

Such skills are perhaps better acquired through adventure and quests. Perhaps a series of sessions could see a party find information of a suitable teacher. The next session has the party travel to a distant location where they reside. A further session sees the candidate and their fellow adventurers prove their worth… and so on.

Final Thoughts

Languages such as Abyssal will allow characters to unlock some of the darkest secrets of the world you have created. Don’t give those secrets away too soon, or too easily. Just because it says in the rules that a player can learn a language, does not mean that you have to allow them such power. Better to make them earn it as part of the playing experience.

Remember, DnD is about creating worlds, your world and if something isn’t right for your world…change the rules. They are guidelines at best. And, as we all know, rules are there to be broken.

Have fun and happy adventuring!