Now, all the RPGs that are brought in to Malaysia are English-language, so most gaming here tends to be in English anyway, although some GOKL gaming groups mix it up a bit (I recently sat in on an Ironclaw game where the GM and one of the players played out a conversation in Chinese to simulate two characters conversing in the Jadeclaw language, which was pretty cool). I like to think that our group’s multi-lingual nature gives us a broader appreciation of how different languages affect the way you look at the world and how they create bridges and barriers between people.
Which brings me to how languages are treated in Night’s Black Agents. This is a game about pursuing international vampire conspiracies, focused mainly on Europe. If you want a true James Bond experience, you need to visit exotic cities, mingle with beautiful people of various races and nationalities, and order vodka martinis in several different languages.
In other games, there are different ways of handling this. In D&D 3rd edition, you need a high Intelligence. In D&D 4th edition, you need to spend valuable feat slots. Of course, in both games, a little bit of magic solves the language problem. In Robin D. Laws’ classic Feng Shui, which emulates Hong Kong action movies, everyone speaks Cantonese*, no matter which country or time juncture they come from. In many other games, you need to spend valuable skill points. In Trail of Cthulhu, another GUMSHOE game, you gain one language for every point you put into the Languages ability.
In Night’s Black Agents, the author wants all your spies to be absolutely brilliant with languages. Everyone gets to be a hyper-linguist: you get two languages for free (English and one other). For the first point you put into the Languages ability, you get two more languages. After that, the game follows a law of growing returns. For the second point you put in, you get three more languages. Every point above that is worth four languages.
I think that this is terrific. It encourages our agents to run around Europe haggling with smugglers, seducing diplomats and cussing at vampires in all kinds of languages. Our current cast of Agents speaks English, Finnish, Swedish, Russian, Japanese, Romanian, Dutch, German, Serbo-Croat and Bosnian. They’ve bounced from England to Denmark to Sweden to Denmark to Sweden to Denmark to Sweden to Denmark again in the course of just the last three sessions, with a couple of team members making a little detour through France and Germany. And because of the game’s extremely liberal language allowance, most of the players probably have one or two unassigned languages to help the team handle the next country their conspiracy hunt will take them to.
This might not be such a big deal for some gamers. For others, it just means that your players will start posting random Google Translate queries for the location of the restroom on your Facebook page (I’m still not sure what all that Finnish and Swedish word salad is supposed to mean, guys). But I for one appreciate that this little piece of design makes our player characters that much more competent. It ties into the theme of GUMSHOE RPGs being about smart, capable and intelligent investigators who always have at least some useful skills, no matter what the situation. Even the toughest bruiser has as many Investigative Ability points as someone who’s meant to be an academic sort.
And it’s always fun to play an agent who can be suave in English, French, Russian and Arabic, all in one session.
- the Director
* with English subtitles.