Sometimes you have a feat that is heavy for flavor/roleplaying, aids skill monkeys, and while useful still somehow falls into that group of being more for flavor than use despite its usefulness. Linguist is one of those feats that offers some really cool benefits, has wonderful potential for use in roleplaying or for flavor, but in the average D&D campaign it’s not likely to be too useful. Especially since there are so many workarounds.
The linguist feat sounds great at first glance but is actually one of the weaker feats in D&D 5E. It breaks my heart to say it because it looks cool, it’s a cerebral feat (and one I would LOVE for real life), but unfortunately this is one of the weaker feats in the current 5th Edition.
The 5E linguist feat is not worth taking in most campaigns. It looks great on paper but in an actual game the utility falls short. This feat provides +1 INT, 3 languages, and the ability to create ciphers. This sounds great, but is actually a weak combination in-game.
How can a feat that gives so much be worth so little in practical terms? We’ve got the answer for you right down here!
Breaking Down the Linguist Feat
The linguist feat is one of my favorites even though it is a weak one. I admit, at first it looked super strong because it does seem to give so much – the problem is what it runs into during actual gameplay.
Directly from the Player’s Handbook:
You have studied languages and codes, gaining the following benefits:
- Increase your Intelligence score by 1 to a maximum of 20.
- You learn 3 languages of your choice.
- You can ably create written ciphers. Others can’t decipher a code you create unless you teach them, they succeed on an Intelligence check (DC equal to your Intelligence score + your proficiency bonus), or they use magic to decipher it.
Player’s Handbook, p. 167
Let’s look at these benefits in more detail and break them down.
Benefit #1: You get a +1 to intelligence up to the maximum of 20.
Not bad, this helps minimize the loss of another +1 or taking +2 in an ability score. Especially good if you have an odd number in Intelligence. Getting a stat boost is always a good thing, but it does have to be measured against what was passed on to get here.
Benefit #2: You can learn three languages of your choice.
Love this benefit, and in very early game it can be useful if you have the right type of DM. Having players who understood draconic or orc did actually matter in the early game of my campaign I ran for the table, but there’s a problem with this benefit, as cool as it is: there are many, MANY ways around it.
Comprehend Languages, for example, is a 1st Level spell that allows reading and listening of ALL languages. At first level. The Helm of Comprehend Languages is one of the few magical items that does not require attunement, which does the same thing. This means even at the earliest levels it is easy to take care of any language related issue.
Which dampers down the benefit of actually knowing more languages.
Benefit #3: You can create written ciphers that require an intelligence check of Int Score + Proficiency (or magic) to crack.
First of all, this sounds cool AF. It’s like feeling like part of the Thieves’ Guild without having to be part of the Thieves’ guild. And it does scale. The ciphers you could create at high levels would be next to impossible to crack without magical assistance. And from a flavor standpoint I absolutely love this.
The problem? Calling this a niche situation doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’ve never had a campaign where a cipher came up and I’ve played or ran games that had some serious political intrigue going on.
Then there’s the message cantrip that allows some form of mental communication (though the finger point is a dead giveaway if the DM pays attention to detail) and then sending is at level three. Or sending stones.
So why do you need a cipher?
So as cool as it sounds, unfortunately this benefit falls flat, too.
5E Classes That Are Made for the Linguist Feat
The two that come up immediately are Artificer and Wizard. They are the only intelligence based classes, they fit the image of intelligent characters always learning, always studying, needing languages to grab those rare tomes or instructions not translated to their own language. Having the ability to make a cipher also kind of makes sense for a wizard.
Among the classes out there, Artificer and Wizard make the most sense for fitting in with who the linguist feat was meant for.
5th Ed Classes that should always at least consider take the Linguist Feat
5E Classes That Should Consider Taking the Linguist Feat
This is one of those “Everyone and No One” type situations where everything is so situational, especially if you’re trying to make this feat do work. This could be situationally interesting for any face character, especially one like the bard which only needs to be very strong in one ability score to function well in-game.
If he’s going to be the face, quietly knowing a bunch of languages could help him pick up on things others are talking about – especially if he has the observant feat.
I also took this with my original ranger character in the first campaign I ever played in. We had a very weird party, no helm of comprehend languages, and no wizard or sorcerer. Because of this, the ranger leading the party into the wilds knowing Orc, Goblin, and Giant actually came in useful in that very narrow circumstance.
Though that was possibly because the DM felt sorry for the noob that picked Linguistics as a feat.
5th Ed Classes that should consider taking the Linguist Feat
- A face character without a Comprehend Languages helm
5E Classes That Should NEVER Take the Linguist Feat
There’s not necessarily a class that should never take this feat, but for some it makes far less sense. And honestly, it’s a feat that is so underpowered that you could make the argument that all classes should be under this section.
Because even for those that it fits with like the wizard or artificer where it makes sense, they arguably need to max out casting stats, Constitution, and take other feats before this one would ever even make the radar. And it’s really hard to argue with that.
5th Ed classes that should never take the Linguist Feat: There’s an argument for all of them.
Final Feat Grade for 5E Linguist
Linguist Feat Grade: D+
Is the 5E Linguist Feat Worth It?
Look, personally I love this feat and it’s one of my favorite pickups, but I can’t let my personal preferences get in the way of a fair grade. Okay, okay, maybe it doesn’t deserve the “+” but it hurt me to put a feat I enjoy so low, but truth be told, it isn’t great. 99% of games won’t use ciphers, so that is fairly useless in most games as cool as that sounds.
A +1 INT is good, but you’re giving up a +2 or +1/+1 to get it. For an odd number this could be worth it if the rest is seen as a bonus worth more than a +1 to another ability score improvement to you, but that’s situational.
The three languages sound great and can be a lot of fun. But again, languages rarely play a role in most D&D campaigns. Even if they do tend to come up a lot, like at our table, there are a multitude of spells that do the same thing, not to mention one uncommon magic item that doesn’t require attunement: Helm of Comprehend Languages, which lets you understand all languages without having to use an attunement slot.
That item is a great item and deserves to be in the D&D world…and it kills this feat completely. I don’t remember a game where we didn’t have access to this before level 10, and it just undoes the feat.
In a vacuum this feat looks really good or even great. But in practice with your average and even deep intrigue campaigns, linguist just doesn’t hold up as a feat while in play.
Linguist Feat FAQ
Do you need to have heard a language in order to take it with the linguist feat?
There is no place where the linguist feat states that a player must have heard the language in order to learn it. Some DMs may home rule that you need to at least have been exposed to the language in order to pick it up but there’s nothing in book that puts that restriction on your player character.
How can I learn languages in 5E without taking the linguist feat?
You can learn any language that someone else in the party knows how to speak, as long as you let the DM know this is your intention and you are spending long rests with them learning the language. This takes 8 weeks in-game, which is reduced 1 week for every other character in the party who also speaks that language.
Is the linguist feat any good?
The linguist feat is one of the weaker feats in 5E. While it does provide a lot, there are multiple early level workarounds that provide the same (or better) benefits than linguist does. Linguist tries to be a strong feat and looks good in a vacuum but in actual gameplay, it falls badly short.
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.