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(I struggled to find a "decent" title that encapsulates the issue at hand, so if you have a title idea that fits the question better, I'll gladly take it over the current one)

I recently had a short campaign (3-4 sessions of a few hours each) where we had a rather peculiar group. The highlight of this group's interactions would be that one of the characters (an Ogre) didn't speak a common language with most of the group. The only character that could communicate with them was my character, which would then act as a translator whenever characters talked with each others or with them.

This lead to some interesting and fun interactions, as my character would have the ability to decide what he would translate and how. Most of the time it would be to prevent or calm down small conflicts (especially since one of the characters had the bad habit of slinging insults, which almost turned him into a snack a few times), but it could also lead to my character getting back at others who mocked him earlier. All in all, it lead to some hilarious situations and interactions (it did make us laugh a lot when the party was discussing strategy for a while and after the conversation, the ogre turned to mine and simply stated : "I understood nothing.") and everyone enjoyed it.

The issue we had with this is that handling this language barrier outside of those situations could be a bit annoying. Most basic information sharing and other basic conversations would need either to remember what the person said (out of character, I can be a bit light-headed myself, so remembering and reformulating a long sentence or speech can be difficult, and I don't want to go to the point where I need to be taking notes in order to remember all the things I need to repeat for the group/character when they make long statements or explanations) or just go for the "I translate what he said to the group/character in their/his language." approach, which most of the time ended up breaking the rhythm of the game, especially during the RP sections.

I'd love to have this kind of party interactions in future games (either as the translator or the translated) but the aforementioned issues did seem like an annoyance for everyone. Does anyone have experience with similar group setups, or has ideas on how to reduce those downsides?

Note : I'm leaving out any system or other game-specific details on purpose here, as I am not looking for mechanical solutions like translation spells or anything. I'm looking for answers that can give leads or solutions that keep those translator/translated dynamics, while reducing the aforementioned downsides as much as possible.

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1 Answer 1

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Designate a "translator"

I am playing in a long running WoD round, in the Ahadi setting. We share 2 languages on almost all characters, Kiswahili and English. But we also meet a lot of people speaking different languages because Africa is very diverse in languages, and we have been (among others) to Egypt, Somalia, South Africa, and Kenya. These languages (such as Arabic, Oromo, Zulu, and French, but also Chinese) happen to be only known by some of the characters. In that cases, we often start a scene where language becomes important somewhat akin to this:

GM: The Villager talks to the Bubasti in Arabic "Salam Alaikum"

Bubasti [in Arabic] "Alaikum Salam."

Ratkin Player [also knows Arabic] (OOC) "I will translate to/for the others present"

Assume Automatic translation as long the translator is there

Generally, we assume until the translator stops translating, that they do so for all and continuously without needing to parrot the GM or other players to the other party. This works well for speaking and bridges the language gap well enough to allow normal game participation. It's also at times resulting in more indirect talk, as this random example shows:

Bagheera Player (who speaks Kiswahili but not Arabic) "Character asks the villager [via the Ratkin], how much he wants for that gun he carries."

GM: "The Villager [Via the Ratkin] says, that the gun is not for sale."

Translator-Filtor aka Lost in Translation

The designated translator can interject and totally alter the message - which is sometimes done to hilarious effect. But in those cases, they have to actually do it, indicating that they alter the translation to some degree. At times the translator shamelessly lets insults or threats fall under the table - or injects them where they were not before. This can either spike up the scene, get rid of complications or create them - depending on the intent of the translator.

Bagheera: [in Kiswahili] "Ok, tell him that if he doesn't sell the gun, then I will take it from him, hang his entails on the lamp post and burn down his house."

Ratkin: [in Arabic] "The fine man is offended by your denial of the sale and asks you to reconsider because he offers not just a mere trinket but hard American cash, enough for two guns!"

Canadian Corax: [in English] "I find the offer to marry his daughter very charming, but I already have a partner and would like him to know that I feel very sorry. Also, please let him know that while I bet his daughter is very beautiful, but I am not interested."

Ratkin: [in Arabic] "The charming one says, that they feel offended about the low dowry that you proposed for your kin and would like to know what kind of flaw you are trying to hide from him? Do you value your child so little that a single camel would be enough? Are you thinking so lowly of them that you believe they couldn't afford this pittance? "

Though even then it can be glossed over.

Ratkin to GM (OOC) "I don't translate the insults the Bagheera used, only the core message."

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