Posted in: Doctor Who, Role Playing Games, Science Fiction, Star Trek

#RPGaDay2021 Day 24: Translate

Day 24: Translate

There are a lot of languages that can be used within different role playing games. Spies in a modern day espionage game may have to deal with the dialect of different nations. Races in both fantasy and science fiction genres have their own language. In some fantasy games, certain classes/occupations have their own languages such as Thieves’ Cant.

Most games state that there is a common language that everyone speaks as a first or second language. According to StatisticsAndData.org the number of people on Earth that speak English is 1.2 billion. The population of the planet is 7.8 billion. It would make sense that there would be different dialects even in a fantasy world or science fiction universe.

So how do Game Masters handle a language barrier? There are two different ways. Keep the difference in languages there as a possible role playing opportunity or introduce a translator option.

The language barrier can make for some interesting drama. Can you get American secret agent the message over to the Italian police officer that there really is a bomb in the van he’s been chasing? Some RPGs have language skill ratings, this could be a time to use it. If PCs and NPCs are talking in a language that other PCs don’t know, I’d recommend using notes to pass between the players that understand the language (as well as the GM). I understand one of the online virtual table top systems will allow you to type a message in English and have it translated into the language selected. Only those who have that language listed as a skill can read the text. There are different ways that this can be incorporated.

The automatic translator is also another option. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has the Babel Fish. The Farscape TV series uses translator microbes that are injected into the body which conducts the translations. While Star Trek introduced the translator as a piece of equipment in the 1960’s, a modern day version has already been developed. In Doctor Who, the TARDIS translates for the occupants. In one of the early episodes of season eleven, the Human companions were placed in medical pods. When the pod discovered that the occupants didn’t have a translator circuit installed, one was inserted into them. Several fantasy games have the equivalent of a “translate languages” spell, or one could be created very easily. Plus a translator could be hired by the party when entering a foreign land. This also creates another role playing opportunity.

Even if direct translations could be provided, there is still the issue with slang and metaphors. The Next Generation fifth season episode, Darmok, highlighted this challenge very well.

Just as the weather will always be spring like and sunny, different languages can be used to spice up a role playing game.

Final Thoughts:

Not really a bad crop of suggestions for the day. However I didn’t decide upon a topic until just before I started creating the blog post. “Ancient” could have talked about ancient civilizations in an exploring game. “Solve” could talk about different types of puzzles. I had nothing for “Share”.

RPGaDay 2021 chart
The RPGaDay 2021 chart