Aquelarre: Bona Fides, Modus Operandi, & Mea Culpa


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

3 thoughts on “Aquelarre: Bona Fides, Modus Operandi, & Mea Culpa

  • November 16, 2015 at 6:28 am

    Yes! This is also true in spain, where “habilidades” has been most commonly the “bottom section of the sheet” as you well said. In Aquelarre, he named the section “competencias” (Proficiencies). “Competencias” is a word that I only seem in two manuals of the time: Aquelarre and AD&D 2nd edition.

    Forge ahead, brave scholar! And keep the good work!

  • November 12, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Thanks for the comment, and the interest in this translation! As you note, picking the best word isn’t always easy—especially for core terms like these. My concern with using “skill” in this case, of course, is what heading to use for the many knowledges on the bottom half of the character sheet. In English RPGs, those are most commonly considered skills. Solving linguistic puzzles like this is part of the joy of translating (not unlike game design itself)!

  • November 12, 2015 at 5:16 am

    Regarding “Habilidad” -> “Ability”: Yes, the description fits more with the definition of dexterity but if you want to keep the flavor, the literal translation should be “skill” (as in trade skills). The definitive hint should be the latin PC sheet that comes with the manual. It uses “callidus”, which has the same meaning: “skillful, crafty”.

    Dexterity (as in physical dexterity) is covered by the previous ability (Agility: represents both dexterity and reflexes of the character).

    I’m joyous that the kickstarter is going ok and I can’t wait to see how the final product will be!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.