Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
D&D, Roll20, and Parlez-vous Francais?

I used to run two D&D groups in parallel. One with mostly people of my age, over 50, and another with a younger generation. The younger group is still very active, we play about twice per month on Roll20, and will start a new campaign this weekend (Curse of Strahd). The older group hasn't played for nearly a year now. Why the difference?

Mostly it is a problem of language. Both of my D&D groups play in French. That isn't always easy for me, as French is only my third language, but I manage. But a bigger problem is the lack of availability of D&D material in French, and the complete absence of different language materials on Roll20. The translations of D&D books into French are handled via Gale Force 9 by Black Book Editions. Apparently WotC wasn't happy with those translations, refused to allow further books, and got sued by Gale Force 9. As a result only some of the older rulebooks, and only a few of the older adventure modules exist in French. But only in printed form, not on Roll20.

So when I proposed to my older group to move our D&D game to Roll20, they refused. Some of them aren't very good at English, nor very good with unfamiliar software, and playing on Roll20 with an English language interface and English language materials and handouts did not appeal to them. And as the ongoing lockdown rules prevent us from assembling around a table, we simply can't play at all anymore.

The younger group was more flexible with both language and software, and so we could move to Roll20. We still play in French, and I am using the printed French version of the adventure module to help me with the descriptions. But the interface and the game elements on Roll20 are in English, and that is okay for everybody.

I still think that Wizards of the Coast botched their foreign language version approach for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Yes, a lot of people speak English these days. But not everybody. It makes D&D less attractive for some people for who English isn't the native language, and especially limits the access of kids, who don't learn sufficient English before a certain age at school.


Just out of curiosity, is a software package like Roll20 even necessary? With everyone so familiar with Zoom and similar video conferencing these days, couldn't your older group all just use something like that? It would only need you as DM to have the modules and manual, in whatever language you usually use, and the players to have their player manuals and dice. You could just watch them roll their dice on camera the same as if you were in a room together. Other than that, D&D's just talking, isn't it?

Or maybe not. I only see video of people doing stuff like this - I've not had any need to try it myself. Perhaps it doesn't work that way.
There are basically two ways to play D&D: One is called "theater of the mind", and you can play that just using Zoom. However, both of my groups prefer the other way, which is a bit more tactical, and which involves having a battle map and tokens/miniatures on the map to show exactly where everybody is in a combat. Roll20 provides that, and even includes dynamic lighting, where in a dark dungeon the players only see what their characters see.

I am currently watching the Dice, Camera, Action season 1 in which Chris Perkins as DM and a very good group plays Curse of Strahd in "theater of the mind" style. And I noticed that they are doing their dice rolls off camera. I am somewhat suspicious of one guy, who either has exceptional good luck with dice rolls, or he is cheating. Roll20 is also providing dice rolls visible to everybody, so that is an advantage too. :)
Naive statement here - but I wish the majority of the world could come together and develop a world language that most (every?) country would recognize. Each country could still maintain it's own language but would at least teach both languages. I think a new language would need to be created since it seems like such a charged issue.

I realize that would be a big endeavor and not likely, but I think it would be amazing to be able to communicate with people no matter where you are in the world.
DCA was so good until it blew up. Perkins is terrific because he's so low key, letting the players have the spotlight then adapting effortlessly.

That one you are suspicious of gets better. Also the facial expression of fudging a die roll is pretty similar to someone who is new to d&d and are hoping they added the right modifiers. It can also take awhile to trust that failing at something can lead to as interesting a game as a success.
My 1st language is French, i learned english in school. I'm by no mean bilingual but i can understand english, be it reading or listening to it.

We play in French 3 games each month, 2 on Roll20 and 1 on Foundry. Foundry isnt better in term of language package as far as i know. We're all in the 40s and what prompted us to play online was that we couldnt see ourselves not playing at all for a few months or more... (already almost a year damn it!)

I also teached 12 years old to play DND and even if they didnt understand english, they did understand my explanation and took notes on their character sheet. They had a blast playing and promptly bought their own (english) books to play their own adventures :) They wanted to learn english to better understand the game!

Language is a barrier (and so is new software) but its always possible if your players want to play :)

I also heard their is a new publisher coming for the french translation of the DND books. Hope they do better :)
If playing online = Roll20/Foundry etc. my group would probably died already (and not because of technical reasons, half of them are software engineers, with PhDs and stuff). Instead we use Zoom for video/audio, Rolz for dice and Theatre of the Mind combat - BUT it doesn't work so well with D&D, so we just took opportunity to play other games. However, lo and behold, where is demand, there will be supply, lately we noticed new "superlight" map solutions to appear (Rolz Table and Owlbear Rodeo to name two).
So you can play in French, without need to learn any complicated client like Roll20, switching between faces of your players and map with tokens and such. Very much like during normal D&D session.
Translations of roleplaying material are different topic. Very little money to make from it, because a lot of players would rather buy english rulebooks, which means that translations are made as cheaply as possible. In effect you usually get your material much later, worse quality (often) and more expensive. Being able to use english rulebooks is colossal advantage when you are rpg enthusiast.
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