RPG Apps: The Mistranslator

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The Mistranslator has been updated thanks to the work of Alex Sinclair, Intwischa reader! Thanks, Alex!

Everybody had that one class they hated at academy. For Cornelius the mage, it was Ancient Languages of Savage Tribes. Sure, he could see how it might someday come into theoretical use; if he happened to find a scroll scribed by some shaman lucky enough to know how to write, and doubly lucky enough to actually know how to use magic. But the possibility had seemed remote while he was a student at Pravus’ Academy for Arcane Arts that he’d ever need to speak Wild Thracian.

Now, a living anachronism stood before him. A man with bronze skin nearly matching his bronze armor, pointing a spear made no less sharp by its bronze-ness at Cornelius’ head. These were difficult circumstances in which to conjugate. Nonetheless, Cornelius tried to wave aside the cobwebs from his memory, and recall the grammar to say, ‘We come in peace, and seek to ally with your tribe against the ruthless lizard men.’

Clearing his throat, he began. The Thracian looked uncomfortably at his friend, and the tribesmen slowly backed off, then threw down their spears and ran in abject fear of the obviously insane (and well-armed) man who had just uttered something to the effect of, <Fred, the lizard man of body style.>

Cornelius looked helplessly at his allies. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried to say ‘ruthless,’” he pondered.

Language can be a difficult thing to get right in roleplaying games–precisely because getting it right often deals with what happens when it is wrong. There are some great posts out there on improving the “you speak it or you don’t” style of gaming that D&D usually adheres to. This post doesn’t aim to be one of those.

Enter the Mistranslator

Intwischa art director Matt is currently GMing us through The Caverns of Thracia. One of our players randomly rolled to have a 70% chance of successfully speaking Wild Thracian. We wondered what happened when he failed.

The Mistranslator app seeks to let us know. Starting with a target number (in our case, 7030), a die size (again, in our case 100), and a phrase, this app rolls to see if the player succeeds in speaking or understanding. If he succeeds, he says what he wanted to say. If he fails, the Mistranslator will filter his original phrase through 1 “foreign language translator” web app (with a randomly selected language) for each 5% he failed by (rounded up.)

The Mistranslator

Target number:
Die type:
Results will appear here

Closing thoughts

The API we’re using for translation has a tendency for technical jargon, neologisms, or current people in the news (i.e.: the word “bush” became “George W. Bush” in one test). My recommendation is that you replace this with untranslatable gibberish in game use.

We hope this helps… that is to say, we hope this helps GMs abuse their players… er, put their players in more interesting gaming scenarios.

Like it? Have houserules for handling language skills in other ways? Have suggestions for improvements? Let us know in the comments!


  1. avatar Matthew

    I think my favorite is

    “Look out for the large troll hiding in the shadows”


    “The great shadow Removal Wizard”

  2. avatar BryanMD
    Posted 06/02/2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    So rolling at 70% I tried to pass on valuable information about my nautical campaign: “The will is hidden in the captain’s cabin of the sunken ship.”

    The party would hear it as:
    “Embedded in the ship Captain header cells are hidden.”

    Sounds serious, but I bet there’s a cream for it.

  3. Posted 06/03/2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    This is AWESOME! What a great use of online translation tools. I am definitely bookmarking this page.

  4. avatar Hemlock
    Posted 06/09/2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Just so you know, a target number of 70 is a 30% success chance, with a large chance of extreme mis-translation.

    If you actually used your 70% success chance (target number 30), then your translations would not be so far off. I hit the original phrase until it failed about as badly as you can (rolled a 7) and got, “Come in peace, and purpose breed against cruel Lizard Man partners.”