Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 28, 2014
13th Age in Belgium

Ravious is writing about D&D successors, and mentions 13th Age as his favorite. I actually bought 13th Age as hardcover by mail-order directly from Pelgrane Press, and it is a very interesting roleplaying rules system. But other than stealing ideas from it for my 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, like the escalation dice I might want to use, I will not have any use for 13th Age. Because while pen & paper roleplaying in my opinion has huge advantages over massively multiplayer online roleplaying games, it also comes with one huge drawback: You need to physically gather a group of players speaking the same language around a table.

I added the language part to that phrase because for me living in Belgium that is a particular problem. If you live in the middle of the United States you probably assume that everybody around you speaks English, but over here that is not the case. In my 4E campaign only half the players speak some English, and the only reason I can play 4th edition at all is that there was a short-lived collaboration between Wizards of the Coast and a French company to translate some of the 4E books into French. Playing 4E in French isn't easy for me, as it is my third language, and I'm far from perfect in it. But it is the only possibility with the players I have, and an English-only rules system like 13th Age would be out of the question.

Language is a big problem in Belgium, as it is a small country with two main languages. I'm not sure how the northern, Flemish-speaking part of the country does role-playing games. I guess there aren't all that many translations. Do they play in Dutch using English rule-books? Or do they play all in English? Because then maybe I could find a group playing 13th Age or Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder in English. I just have no idea how.

Playing online, whether it is in the context of a MMORPG or some play-by-forum version of a pen & paper system, is not the same as sitting around a table. You lose a lot of options if you are online compared to face-to-face. But the advantage is that you can play with anybody around the world. In the case of MMORPGs you can even sometimes play with people who don't even speak a common language with you. I remember Final Fantasy XI had a chat system where you selected phrases with a menu, and the English and Japanese players each saw that chat message in their language.

I'd love to play more pen & paper role-playing games, especially in English, but here in Belgium I don't see how.

Is it really a big problem for the rules to be English? I've played many times English RPGs with non-English speakers, you just explain the rules and answer questions when they appear. The general rules are never that complicated, and for all the character development stuff you can always go the route of "tell me what you want your character to be, I tell you which talents/feats/skills you should get".

Purposefully not learning English is similar to purposefully cutting off your leg. There is no excuse for that. If you live in very small country with 100 main languages and do not learn English, it's your fault.

Give your players advance warning that you switch to English in, say, 1 year (use a set date). Before the date comes, finish the campaign. Kick out those who didn't bother to learn, find new playes. Problem solved. ;-)
They JUST released it in French. 13eme Age.
They JUST released it in French. 13eme Age.
There is a difference between "there aren't all that many translations" and "there are none". People from smaller countries who do not speak (or want to play in) any of the big languages (often if not always) have pen&paper RPGs available in their languages. Of course, the choice is smaller than what English players have but that doesn't mean there isn't any.
Just out of interest what language do Belgians speak in work? Is there and agreed common denominator language?
I'm currently in a campaign, and we roleplay in Dutch, while using the English rules. Spells, skills and other feats are still used in English though.
I think that's how most Dutch-speaking Belgians rolepay. I don't think I've ever seen a translation to Dutch of any rpg rulebook.

Work : depends on your working environment; I'm now working at the Flemish government, so we speak Dutch.
At my 2nd job, where there were both French and Dutch speaking colleagues, so I tried to talk to every person in his own language (to practice my French), and meetings were in English :)
Have you ever considered using something like Fantasy Grounds to play? Yeah, it's not exactly like gathering people around the kitchen table to play, but it comes pretty darn close, especially if you use some kind of voice chat like Skype or Ventrilo.
Thanks for the link! Also I would say Google Hangouts might be a great way to do it.
I'm thinking along the same lines as Helistar. Unless you have a rules lawyer with severe trust issues at the table, it's always possible to translate the essentials.

Personally, I've played games at board game cafes where I never looked at a rule book once, just let the host explain the basics to me and we just got on with the game.

It might even help to keep more of a sense of mystery, rather than encourage players to read the rulebook from cover to cover to know exactly what kind of monster you're using when, or point out all the mistakes you're making in order to garner some kind of advantage.
Another thing you could do is get the .pdf from like DTRPG or Pelgrane, etc. and just copypasta the stuff through Google Translate and print out the necessary stuff for personal use.

I usually do this anyway for my English speaking players to let them access the "rulebook" at any time.
As Tanek mentions above, there are virtual tabletop systems. I'm playing a 20th anniversary Werewolf: the Apocalypse game with some of my old university friends via It seems to work fairly well. I'm also scheduled to play a one-off tabletop game via Google Hangouts next Friday.

Of course, time zone coordination can still be a pain. :)
I suppose it's a common situation in non-English-speaking countries. Here in Russia most players interested in RPGs eventually just learn to understand written English (not as hard as actually speak English anyway) and mostly don't care about official localizations, which are published from time to time.
As a dutch speaking belgian, my group uses english online documentation (char builder etc), and our sessions are 90-100% english (the offtopic banter sometimes is dutch, but everything game related is english)
I've played and DM'ed plenty of DnD and the old Star Wars RPG in Flanders. It was indeed all, English books, play in Dutch.

Boogie: Het Oog des Meesters.

It was my very first table top RPG and was fully, and well, translated from the original German into Dutch.

I had the original first edition of "Das Schwarze Auge", including a black plastic mask for the DM with a big black eye on it. Apparently later editions got better, but the first edition was only unintentionally funny.
Coming from a non-English speaking country myself, the language problem was never an issue for any of the people that played RPGs.

Mainly because everyone here starts learning English at a young age so at least we all know the basics (literally, everyone below the age of 40 will have some knowledge of English).

But even then, not everyone read the rules either. Usually 1 or 2 players would thoroughly read through them and explain everything else as things came up. Obviously the DM had to read the manuals (at least) through.
Tobold: I don't actually know what edition of it I played, but it was fun then. Of course as soon as later discovered ADnD when I got into college, I switched immediately.

But still, it being in Dutch is probably one of the big reasons why I got into PnP in the first place as I was still very much learning English then.

So for the nostalgia factor, it will always be cool ;)

If you can get a French translation you absolutely need to introduce it to your group. 13th Age has climbed up on a pedestal for me and is starting to look like a game I want to play a lot more of. It's got that extra something I liked about 4E, but with additional options that really make it an engaging and fast experience. Also, despite being designed for abstract ToTM combat it still works great with minis.
we play from time to time in Brussels, in English.
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