Speak With Animals in DnD 5e

Speaking With Animals is a magical skill that goes back much, much further than your average Disney princess.

From Merlin claiming a little bird told him about Uther’s death to Hatakachafa, the Choctaw hero, who could speak to his friend the wolf to Adam and Eve who spoke to a snake — people being able to communicate with other-than-human creatures is a magical trope that reaches back to our very first stories.

It also reaches into our current stories: the talking animals of Narnia, Binks the cat from Hocus Pocus, and even your happy hippy himbo/femmbo/thembo friend who always plays a tabaxi druid, gods bless them.

This spell is how we do that in Dungeons and Dragons 5e, and it is the subject of this post. We will look into who can cast Speak With Animals and when you should cast Speak With Animals. We will end with four common questions about this spell.

Speak With Animals

Spell Stat

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: Self
  • Duration: 10 minutes
  • School: Divination
  • Class: Bard, Druid, Ranger, Nature Domain, Oath of the Ancients
  • Level: 1
  • Damage/Effect: Communication
  • Attack/Save: None
  • Components: V, S
  • Ritual/Concentration: Ritual

Spell Description. You gain the ability to comprehend and verbally communicate with beasts for the duration. The knowledge and awareness of many beasts are limited by their intelligence, but at minimum, beasts can give you information about nearby locations and monsters, including whatever they can perceive or have perceived within the past day. You might be able to persuade a beast to perform a small favor for you at the GM’s discretion.

Who Can Cast Speak With Animals?

Speak With Animals is available for druids, rangers, clerics of the nature domain, paladins of the Ancients Oath, and warlocks as an invocation.

The common theme here is that these classes lend themselves to fey and natural magic. These classes are the most concerned with nature, which means they will most likely be organizing protests and/or quietly subverting imperial societies with their eco-anarchism.

Since this is a ritual spell, it can pretty much be cast by a druid or cleric of the nature domain at any time without really taking up one of their spells-known slots. Most DMs will let you slide on ritual spells and not require you to add them to your spells known. If not, the Ritual Caster feat will fix that.

Who Should Cast Speak With Animals?

Paladins and rangers are generally needed as combatants in the group, so most likely their spell choices will be combat motivated. That being said, just having this spell on their spell list does mean they can cast it using a scroll or other consumable one-use casting item — like an ear oil that can help you listen.

Warlocks have access to an invocation that gives them a permanent Speak With Animals effect that should only be taken if you are playing in a game where beasts and wilderness travel are the norm.

Druids and clerics should have the spell prepared during days when they aren’t expecting much combat or when they are not expected to do much of the heavy lifting during combat.

When Should You Cast Speak With Animals?

Simply put, you should cast Speak With Animals when you need information. You could get directions, or you could get information about a particular individual or about a recent event in an area.

A Story From a Black Citadel Elder

SPOILER WARNING for The Temple of Elemental Evil

The first time I ever played Temple of Elemental Evil, the other players and I rolled up characters without first discussing what we were playing. It was part of the fun and challenge! What would we come up with?

We ended up with a dragonborn barbarian, a kenku monk, a kobold artificer, and me, a shifter druid. Every single one of us had Charisma as a dump stat.

If you have ever played The Temple of Elemental Evil, you know that one of the first challenges is a charisma-based challenge wherein you have to discover that a prominent NPC is actually a doppelganger.

I had the highest charisma out of all of us: a 9. So when I told the DM I was going to ask around and see what was making everyone uneasy, the DM just looked at me and dared me to roll a charisma check.

Instead, I said, “No, you misunderstand. Why would I talk to people? I cast Speak With Animals and make Handle Animal checks to coax some info out of them.”

Suddenly my charisma of 9 was replaced with my wisdom of 17, and it only took me an hour to find the former animal companion of the druid who had been replaced by a doppelganger.

That was the one and only time I ever cast Speak With Animals in 20 years of playing D&D.

Common Questions About Speak With Animals

We field questions of all types around here at the Citadel. Most of them are trash, and we throw them away. Some of them, however, are thoughtful and necessary to have answered. We found the best questions that needed answering surrounding Speak With Animals and gathered them here.

Can Paladin Oath of the Ancients Cast This Spell as a Ritual?

A very good question! Paladins of the Oath of Ancients can speak with animals; however, paladins do not have the ability to cast ritual spells. That ability belongs to druids and clerics. Therefore, a paladin can not cast Speak With Animals as a ritual without first taking the Ritual Caster feat.

Can You Use Charisma Checks on a Beast While Speaking to One?

Sure! At our table, we actually allow the speaker to use Handle Animal checks since animals follow different social protocols than humanoids — but, as always, that is up to the DM and the size of your bribe.

Can This Spell Allow You To Understand a Druid in Wildshape?

I don’t see why not. While in beast form, a druid would pretty much have to use telepathy to get their message across, which is possible! Speak With Animals seems like a great way to get around that.

Can You Speak to Summoned Beasts?

Normally, you wouldn’t need to cast Speak With Animals for a beast you’ve summoned since it is able to obey your commands.

Yet, the spell Summon Beast does not say anything about you being able to understand it. I suppose you could cast Speak With Animals to speak to a summoned beast if you needed information about the plane from which it comes or if you wanted to send it out as a scout.

For the DMs

If you have a character who can cast Speak With Animals, you should greatly consider making the use of that spell absolutely necessary to solving one or more plot problems within your adventure.

Sure, there are the obvious methods of using an animal to scout the way forward or to point out the identity of a killer, but there are also other ways of requiring the spell. What if an animal actually holds the plot hook? Perhaps a vulture is trying to get the PCs’ attention because something they were eating stood back up! Maybe a squirrel is looking for a lost nut and asks the PCs to help, only to find it in a cache of weapons or treasure.

If you want to encourage an awareness of your setting and the landscape in your game, reward players with information every time they cast Speak With Animals for the first few times provided they roleplay the scenario with you.

When it comes to roleplaying the animal, remember that predatory animals have few social concerns besides who gets what food/sex/rest and how much. Prey animals can be concerned with other members of their community as they are collectively on the lookout for prey.

When roleplaying a predator, talk about where there is food, water, and competition. When playing prey, focus on food, water, and shelter.

Time is divided by cycles of day and night, and weather events are usually the only way to differentiate between the constant repetition. Count time in the number of full moons, in the number of sleeps since the last rainfall, or as to how soon the cold is coming. 

Animals will be motivated by food, safety, and issues of competition. Wolves may only give information if you have earned their trust and are willing to make a deal for territory rights. Crows may talk if you have nuts, seeds, or silver pieces for them.

Lastly, consider how animals talk to each other. If a player wants something from a wolf, remember that wolves are complex social creatures that respect strength, threats of violence, and submission.

The player may need to intimidate a wolf in order to get what they want. If they are dealing with an alpha wolf in front of her pack, however, it may be better for them to submit. If a player makes an alpha show weakness, then that pack will descend into chaos and bloodshed just so that player could learn where the nearest temple was.

Dolphins, however, would be more playful and may require a player to throw a ball or go swimming before they will trust them enough to give out sensitive information.

Be prepared to give the players small tasks in order to get what they want. Speak With Animals may not be enough, and the results of trying to find a particular nut for squirrels could be years of fond memories for your group.

Happy Gaming!