I'm DMing a game in Cantonese for some people from Hong Kong. For those who don't know, Cantonese is a spoken language similar to Mandarin Chinese, used by Hongkongers, and is dissimilar to English. I am running Pathfinder 2e.

While I am decently confident regarding my abilities in English, my players have varying levels of English capabilities. This makes explaining some abilities and spells and objects a challenge, since many of these objects are quite specific in their wording. Google translating the Archives of Nethys is proving more challenging than expected. It does not help that there is some cultural context for some of the spells and objects that my players simply lack.

What are some tips for running a non-English game in a situation where a translated rulebook is not available? Please let me know if more information is needed.


1 Answer 1


Tell the story in Cantonese but use the technical terms in their English version

I have lived and worked in an English-speaking country for some time now but English isn’t my native language. I was in the same situation you are in when I wanted to run a game for some of my friends from my home country, not all of them had good command of English and none used it on a daily basis so they wouldn’t have been comfortable with a game ran entirely in English. I also didn’t have translated rulebooks.

What I did was run the most of it in our native language, only keeping the English versions for mechanical terms that could not be easily translated, like “saving throw”, “skill check”, “armour class”, names of spells, monsters and so on. All the narrative, descriptions of places and role-playing was done in our native language, with occasional English terms sprinkled in when the game mechanics came into play. The character sheet templates were in English too.

It worked quite well, there was just a small handful of terms the players had to learn, sometimes I had to explain more closely what I mean but only during the first couple of sessions and I found it much more convenient than looking up translations for game terms that I had already known in English for some years and the boxed text from the campaign book was easy enough to paraphrase and translate before the sessions.

I think this is a good approach because it is a compromise of sorts - about 90% of all the talking you do will be in a your native language and game terms like HP, DC, hit dice etc. don’t really have a meaning outside of the game and can be learnt easily enough in any language.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is actually a practice in any technical field, where there are many terms that are simply imported directly as loan words, but the definitions of them exist in the minds of the participants in their native language. We talk a lot on this site about how 5e is written in natural language, but game terms themselves can just be left as game terms, because they have a very mechanical meaning. If the OP's Cantonese speakers understand "advantage" to mean specifically taking the better or two die rolls, they don't need to understand all the nuances of the word advantage in English or... \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jul 13, 2022 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...have an internal translation for it that includes these nuances. It can simply exist as the concept 'advantage' divorced from any other meaning. Listening to the native conversations of my own Chinese students (most of whom speak Mandarin, but some Cantonese), this is something they do anyway - large amounts of the conversation are in their native language, but it is still sprinkled with obvious words in English that the speaker and listener have tacitly agreed are simpler to use without translating because the words reference aspects of their shared experience in the US at our school. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jul 13, 2022 at 19:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ We often do like this on my table. I DM in portuguese, but we use the names of the things in english quite often. We don't cast "Bola de Fogo" or "Dissipar Magia", we cast Fireball and Dispel Magic. The use of non-native words for game keywords actually ends up making the game way cooler and smoother. "Agarrar" is then just a narrative word. Grapple is a keyword for a specific type of action. This makes the cognitive context so much smoother. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Jul 14, 2022 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ (For added fun, you can use spell names in other languages as their verbal components. A sorcerer screaming Vuurbal to blast their enemies with searing fire makes it more "magical" than having them scream the same word they use to refer to the spell as a "rule object".) \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Jul 14, 2022 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2617804 And they don’t have to do it, they explain everything in their native language, just use the word itself in English. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jul 14, 2022 at 23:26

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