Comprehend Languages

Comprehend Languages is an spell. It is part of the divination school and is often a first circle spell.


Casting Time 6 seconds as a spell, longer as a ritual.
Range is Self
Components, V S M (Soot, salt)
Duration, 1 hour


For the duration, you understand the literal meaning of any spoken language that you hear. You also understand any written language that you see, but you must be touching the surface on which the words are written. It takes about 1 minute to read one page of text.

This spell doesn't decode secret messages in a text or a glyph that isn't part of a written language.

You can understand the spoken words of creatures or read otherwise incomprehensible written messages. In either case, you must touch the creature or the writing. The ability to read does not necessarily impart insight into the material, merely its literal meaning. The spell enables you to understand or read an unknown language, not speak or write it.

Written material can be read at the rate of one page (250 words) per minute. Magical writing cannot be read, though the spell reveals that it is magical. This spell can be foiled by certain warding magic (such as the secret page and illusory script spells). It does not decipher codes or reveal messages concealed in otherwise normal text.

Comprehend languages can be made permanent with a permanency spell.

Arcane Material Component

A pinch of soot and a few grains of salt.


The use of "literal meaning" in the description of Comprehend Languages opens up some possibilities for interesting results with the judicious use of idioms, euphemisms, and dysphemisms. Of course, that would be applicable to all languages being interpreted through Comprehend Languages, not just Druidic.

The spell understand magical gibberish of glyphs that are not languages.

hieroglyphics are a language, but the symbols used by the homeless to mark safe places to stay are not a language

Nearly all languages use different euphemisms, slang, or figures of speech. So while the McGuffin may be a tablet describing the grand works of and ancient king who brought peace and prosperity to his land, the story your PCs read from it may involve a horse melting into the earth and turning into flowers.

it can read languages but not codes, even though a code and a language of identical form are functionally the same.

The only difference is intent. A language is intended to be understood, a code is not. Well, a language is intended to be understood only by those fluent, and a code is intended to be understood only by those who know the code, or in other words, fluent. So, no, there isn't even a difference in intent.

Comprehend language does not decipher codes, nor does it even tell the caster that a message is, in fact, coded.

if in fact the magic of the multiverse did change/evolve over the ages, or that the language was so ancient that magic was unable to recognize it fully/at all, why not explain that after casting the spell I am not able to understand all of the passage but jumbled concepts and vague meanings?

If it can't be touched, comprehend languages won't work - fine for 'we need to take a scribe to xyz to see the runes carved in the other side of the gorge' but not for general purposes.

The best thing would be to have something where comprehend languages gives an accurate translation of the words but does not necessarily convey the meaning behind the words, either due to changes in linguistic usage which certain scribes have studied or because the writing was not just another language but deliberatly coded and you need scribes as educated codebreakers.

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