A pair of old six-sided diceIn the fall of 1984, during a layoff from General Electric, I sold a “capsule review” to Steve Jackson’s Space Gamer magazine. A month later they accepted my “Mind Duel” board game. Within a year, I was working full-time as a designer and editor for GDW, then TSR, with a bit of freelance for FASA, West End, Flying Buffalo, and others. Nowadays (after an interlude spent in educational publishing) I’m publishing myself—and other people—via Popcorn Press.
Photo by sean_hicken

Aquelarre: Bona Fides, Modus Operandi, & Mea Culpa

Lester : November 8, 2015 1:38 pm : Announcements, Game Design, Spanish


One benefit of having been around awhile is having met some people. Game publishing has given me some European connections, and when one of them mentioned last year that Nocturnal Media had licensed Aquelarre for English translation, I said, “Wow. I’d love to somehow be involved!”

Shortly thereafter, Stewart Wieck contacted me on Facebook. I gushed about the game, translated some pages as a sort of job interview, and began looking at where to fit it in the schedule. (At the time, I had a day job occupying most of my hours. In June of 2015, I resigned to move to Nebraska for family, and to focus on projects like this one.)

For what it’s worth, I met Stewart ages ago at Gen Con, shortly after he and his brother Steve launched White Wolf magazine. Their quiet confidence (all chutzpah; no braggadocio) impressed me then, expressed in an illustration of a wolf holding a dragon by the throat. (I was working for TSR at the time, and the symbolism was not lost.) I met the two again later when they partnered with Mark Rein-Hagen for the launch of Vampire: The Masquerade.

Since then, I’ve come to know Stewart’s brother via DriveThruCards and DriveThruRPG. This Aquelarre translation is my first opportunity to work with Stewart himself, and I’m thoroughly enjoying our communications.

Spanish Bona Fides

I love languages. (Besides Spanish, I speak some French and German, and have been studying Japanese for the past few years.) Spanish hooked me in fifth grade, and I’ve pursued it ever since, through middle school, into high school, and then college, where I earned a Spanish minor. I’ve worked persistently to keep it up, carrying a Spanish bible, reading Spanish games, and surviving on Spanish once during a visit to Barcelona.

While I’m no U.N.-level Spanish interpreter, my reading comprehension is solid, and I’m a meticulous sort by nature. Given the time requested (a main purpose of the Aquelarre Kickstarter), I’ll be able to devote heart and soul to the project and turn out a faithful, loving translation.

Game Publishing Bona Fides

Besides a love of Spanish, part of what I bring to the task is a respectable history of game publication. I’ve designed and edited products for GDW, TSR, FASA, WEG, FBI, and others, as well as reviewing professionally. Projects I’ve worked on maintain fans, licenses, and new editions to this day. Which is to say, I’m passionate about games and good game design.

Aquelarre as history and legend fascinates me, and I’m enjoying digging deeply into it for this translation. The game system itself has stood the test of time, so I have no intention of revising it. My task is translation, pure and simple.

Modus Operandi

In translating the game text, I open a PDF of Aquelarre, copy a section into a Word document, and then begin reading and interpreting a sentence at a time—from the top of my head. If I encounter an unfamiliar word or phrase, I then turn to a Spanish dictionary. If that doesn’t suit, I turn to a Web search for instances of the term in use elsewhere. As much as possible, I preserve Aquelarre‘s original Spanish sentence structure, to maintain the setting’s unique tone and character.

After making a complete pass through one section, I then reread and revise the English version for smoothness. Sometimes at this point I break very long sentences into shorter ones for clarity. And I may reconsider a phrase, to see if there’s a common English expression to suit. As any translator can tell you, and Google translate demonstrates, languages don’t match up word for word. Sometimes, especially in narrative sections, interpretations must be made.

Once I’ve finished a chapter, I pass it along to Stewart for review and commentary. While prepping the Kickstarter, for example, we had a lengthy discussion about what Spanish game terms to keep and what English ones to adopt. At first, my intent was to retain all the PC characteristics as Spanish, with English in parentheses—e.g. “Fuerza (Strength).” That came to seem impractical, but I’m sure more such conversations lie ahead.

When I finally translate the last page of the game in the coming months, I plan to read back through the entire manuscript again for unity before handing it all over for proofreading. (Did I mention being meticulous by nature.)

Mea Culpa

One thing I’ve learned in three decades of publishing is that the human brain cannot actually multitask. You can easily find studies online to prove we process linearly, and that “multi-tasking” is actually hopping from subject to subject, which disrupts concentration. Even college English professors show a marked decline in spelling, grammar, and punctuation when processing new information—especially in a rush.

That’s my only excuse for the transcription error on the example English PC sheet. Habilidad (literally “Ability”) should clearly be “Dexterity” (or even “Adroitness”) on that sheet. Resistencia could be interpreted as “Stamina,” but before committing to that over “Resistance,” I’d like a chance to translate the whole book.

Which brings me back to the Aquelarre Kickstarter project. You’ve seen what a gorgeous book the original Spanish edition is. You”ve learned something of the history and mythology it presents. You’ve seen a few sections translated to English from our sheer love of the game. Your backing will allow us to finish and polish that translation. I offer my sincere thanks for that support.


—Lester Smith


Keep Me Off the Streets!

Lester : November 3, 2015 1:27 pm : Announcements, Fiction, Game Design, Miscellany, Popcorn Press, Spanish

homeless Seriously, do you want something like this running around loose?

You may have noticed more social media from me lately. I’ve gone through a major life change: I left my old job, moved my household to Loma, Nebraska, and am again working full-time in hobby games & related entertainment—this time freelance.

If you’re a fan of my work—old or new—you can help decide if the world sees more of it.

Word of mouth—and maybe a buck—is all I ask.

Here’s a quick overview of projects a single buck can help:

  1. Aquelarre: Perhaps the best RPG not available in English. I’m doing the translation to English for Stewart Wieck of World of Darkness fame. Your dollar can help make this the best edition possible.
  2. The Pastime Machine: I’m writing an irreverent novel in sonnets, one sonnet a week. A buck a month gets you the whole thing, plus influence on its direction. More backers means you get additional novels for that same buck!
  3. D6xD6 RPG: The free rules of my multi-genre role-playing game are online at For just a buck, you can pick up your choice of settings at DriveThruRPG and help support further expansion of the line.
  4. Popcorn Press: My small-press publishing house produces poetry and fiction by a range of authors. Ebook versions are under a buck on Amazon and DriveThruFiction. You can also find our print-and-play card games for under a buck on DriveThruCards.

More things are in the works: A supers dice game, a few board games, the D13 RPG. Join the Popcorn Press mailing list to stay abreast.

So how about it? If any of these things strikes your fancy, or if I’ve given you a moment of joy in the past, consider dropping a buck on one of these projects—and tell somebody else about them.

Help keep me off the streets, and working away at something fun for both of us!



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About My Old Aquelarre Review

Lester : October 22, 2015 1:52 pm : Announcements, Game Design, Review, Spanish

Horror Reviews

Back in 1992, in DRAGON magazine #186, I wrote a review of several horror games that intrigued me—including Aquelarre (the first edition). I believe the game’s allure is evident in that old review, but I concluded that the American public probably wasn’t ready for it. Today, 23 years later, I’m working on an English translation. So what changed?

Wow. So much. Where should I begin?


Two decades ago, there was pretty much only one path for getting a game to the public: distributor to retailer to gamer. The only way to build awareness was by advertising. And printing options were few. Sure, some small-press hobbyists sold a few copies of innovative titles in plastic bags by mail or at conventions (see Pentacle in that same review). Or they printed a few copies at Kinkos (see Lost Souls in that review). But the major publishers had to commit considerable money, time, and resources for a title to stand a chance. And even then, it was a gamble.

Today, the Internet makes it possible for publishers to directly contact the public, including retailers, to find people interested in a particular title. Crowdfunding allows those people to champion things they like. Printing options are many, and they reach around the globe. Even publishing resources are easier to manage: Consider that while TSR had to maintain a building full of people and equipment to get anything to print, Stewart and the rest of Nocturnal Media and I are now able to work from home offices.


Notice that my old review said the “American public.” Today we’re speaking instead of an English-language edition. As mentioned above, publishers are now able to reach a world-wide audience. That’s hugely significant.

But over the past two decades, even the “American public” has changed. In 1992, TSR and other publishers were still worried about public backlash over the “Satanic” influence of role-playing. Gaming was fairly insular. It had not yet spread far from its white, male, wargaming roots. Even D&D still reflected its origins in tabletop miniatures combat.

Today, nerd culture is actually celebrated. Fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films abound. Movie and TV stars (Vin Diesel and Wil Wheaton, for example) publicly share their hobby. Eurogames are prominently displayed in mall toy stores, with multilingual text on their covers. Game conventions are now no longer merely wargaming and tabletop role-playing, but just as much about computer gaming, card gaming, comics, and cosplay, with a diversity of races, genders, and cultures represented.

At the same time, Latino culture in the US has become ever more evident. My childhood love of Spanish is finding welcome in “Para español, oprima el dos” phone messages, bilingual medical fliers, and bilingual signs at my local Home Depot.


In 1992, Aquelarre was in its first edition. It is now in its third. During the past two decades, it has gained polish while remaining true to its original historical and mythological origins, and it has built not only a devoted following in Europe, but also a considerable interest among English speakers everywhere. People want an English edition as never before.


In 1992, I was still not far from my childhood religious origins. TSR’s concerns about a public backlash resonated with my own residual evangelical Christianity. I was still coming to embrace a career in entertainment—for the joy I saw it provide people—despite a former pastor Puritanically chiding it as “America’s sinful preoccupation with fun.” (Obviously, he never read C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.)

Today I’m over that. Life can be hard, and having some game time with friends is invaluable. Plus, role-playing fosters all sorts of social skills. Aquelarre is about heroes facing deadly evils and difficult moral choices. And even if you play a truly evil character for a few hours, that can be enlightening.


All things considered, I still believe 1992 was not a propitious time to publish an English version of the game.

Ah, but 2016—that’s a different story. The time is perfect to join us in an Aquelarre!

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