Exploring Libreté: Lost (and Found) in Translation

As anyone following the project likely knows, Libreté was originally written in French. Vivien Féasson is a gifted translator, but RPGs often make use of made-up words in their systems and story that can be hard to find approximations for. Similarly, Vivien’s clever wordplay in French did not always translate directly into English.

This left us with some options as to how to continue. In translating and editing Libreté for an English-speaking audience, we could:

  • Use the original French terms, untranslated. Unique and evocative, but hard to remember for non-French speakers.
  • Directly translate the French terms into English. Simple. Quick. Boring.
  • Find an English term that preserves the intent of the French term. Takes more time than either of the above, but provides the benefits of both: evocative but understandable.

Clearly, no one solution would fit every problem. So, we went through each of the main gameplay terms and decided which approach we would take, one-by-one. Here’s what we came up with:

French: Aversité (averse+adversité=downpour+adversity)

English: Advercity (city+adversity). Instead of emphasizing the rain, we emphasized the weight of the City itself— a bitter adversary of its own.

French: Sirènes de L’averse (sirens of the downpour)

English: Sirains (siren+rain). Easy enough, and different enough to stand out from the rest of the text. A triumph.

French: Enfantillages (a French term for “actions of children.” Something that adults should not/would not do)

English: Childities (children+naiveties). For this, we wanted to go with something that alluded to the fact that the actions of children are not always logical or well-considered. “Child’s Play” was considered but ultimately rejected for lacking weight—fighting back against vicious monsters or attempting to rally friends for a gang war is hardly playtime. And yet, they are things that children cannot—should not—be experienced with. Childities are the only response to the harsh world of Libreté.

French: Pourriture (rot, decay)

English: Mildew. Another clever approximation, with stronger ties to the themes of water and darkness.

French: Bile Noir (black bile: one of the four proposed bodily humors, associated with melancholy)

English: Bile. Ultimately, the term “Black Bile” was dropped after a conversation on Twitter with @CDGuanzon. Historical context or no, we didn’t want to inadvertently reinforce colorism. “Bile” works just as well, because it already has an association with stress and anger.

Trnaslation is a tough gig. We were lucky that Vivien, being bilingual, was able to translate his own work for us. Our brilliant editor Fiona Geist also put in a tremendous amount of work to ensure the book was eminently readable and suitable to an English-speaking audience.

RPGs occupy a weird middleground between creative and technical writing, where clarity and vision hold equal weight. That’s difficult enough in one language, but it takes a particular kind of genius to make it work in two. GMDK is lucky to have such geniuses at hand.

Libreté returns to Kickstarter January 7, 2020. In the meantime, consider downloading the FREE Quick-Start Guide and Demokit, available at gmdk.itch.io.

Published by Dai Shugars

Publisher of fine tabletop RPGs, proudly showcasing the talent of marginalized writers, artists, and designers in tabletop gaming.

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