A Gary Con Aquelarre

As you may know, I’m currently translating the Spanish role-playing game Aquelarre to English for Stewart Wieck’s Nocturnal Media. (You can preorder here.) The Spanish word aquelarre means “a meeting of witches and warlocks.”

I met with some players at Gary Con this year to try out “The Tale of Shadows” adventure from the Aquelarre game book. This particular adventure was written by the game’s designer, Ricard Ibáñez, and it’s prepared as an introduction for an inexperienced Game Director (Director de Juegos).

As a first-time adventure, this one is very nicely crafted. Ibáñez does a great job of providing everything a new Game Director needs for running a session, while at the same time encouraging improvisation. I won’t reveal any spoilers here, but I’d like to share a few takeaways from the Gary Con event:

  • Any type or mix of characters can work for this adventure. No need to assemble the classic “fighter/thief/wizard/cleric” party mix of some other games. For the Gary Con session, for example, none of my players chose magic or miracles. (Though they did try to pass themselves off as “miracle workers”!)
  • The adventure locale is a historic area bordering Moorish lands, which provides all sorts of reasons for player characters to be there. And the opening premise—a local wine merchant invites you to his home outside the town of Bullas for a private tasting, and to propose some business—gives a natural reason to draw strangers together.
  • Speaking of wine, as the “Final Note” reveals, Bullas is an actual municipality in Spain, with a famous wine festival every October.
  • The writing presents the main NPCs as distinctive personalities—not just stage dressing. It’s very easy to get the PCs involved with their machinations.
  • Like any great adventure, it combines elements of mystery and the possibility (though not inevitability) of combat.
  • The threat itself is “self-leveling,” adjusting to the number of players, which is great for a new Game Director.
  • Ibáñez’s wry sense of humor shines through. (I really hope to meet this guy in person some day. He seems to be a hoot to game with.)
  • Besides the historicity, players are exposed to a few “old sayings” from Spanish; you can’t help but learn something along the way. (Even native Spanish-speakers may learn something from that “Final Note” section.)

My own players sort of trampled the story, taking it unintended directions, and it held up just fine. By the end, they had unknowingly created a dangerous lifelong enemy, which left me wanting to continue with a full campaign! And through it all, they obviously had a great time.

In short, I came away from the experience more convinced than ever that English speakers will love this game setting. As I mentioned in an earlier post, now is a propitious time for an English edition. I’m thoroughly thrilled to be involved. (Thanks, Stewart!)

Going Like Sixty

The Sixties
So I should be catching 40 winks. Which apparently is the old number for “a lot”: 40 days and 40 nights; 40 years in the desert; Ali Baba and the 40 thieves—though only 30 pieces of silver (Judas got cheated).

Instead, I woke at about 40 minutes past one, and now again at about 6:40, recognizing that today I turn 60. My brain has been “going like 60” (which apparently is the new number for “a lot”) about what this new year holds—this new decade—a new age.

Next door stands my new home, waiting power and water lines, and a bit of interior finish, and a storage unit full of stuff to be moved in.

Upstairs my granddaughter sleeps, waiting for another day of love and attention, and of new words learned—and a future full of Spanish lessons from her grandpa (and maybe some Japanese, and French, and even some Czech exploration together, given that’s part of her own heritage).

Yesterday, in preparation for a rare day off today, I marched through to the end of another chapter of translating Aquelarre. That project will take up much of this year; I’m loving it; and I’m looking forward to seeing what other doors it opens.

I’m at a new point in my publishing career: self-publishing and freelance now. In part it’s a natural unfolding of publishing I’ve been doing for a decade as Popcorn Press. In part, it’s my family saying, “Go ahead and create full-time; you’ve earned the chance.” In part, it’s friends and fans making the D6xD6 RPG a growing success, and backing my novel in sonnets: The Pastime Machine. In part, it’s shifting from promoting poetry as former president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and focusing more on promoting through publication.

To be frank, my plate is overfull right now. Besides the sheer production work, I’ve some overdue emails to answer, and a few royalty payments to send, and tax season to prepare for, etc., etc.

But today I’m taking off work. I’m celebrating with my family a measure of six decades lived: spanning from the first satellite launch, to satellite smartphone service. Some of those years have been tough. But overall they’ve been joyous. And I’m truly looking forward to the future.



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

Keep Me Off the Streets!

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 www.d6xd6.com. 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!