200 Word RPG Challenge

A fun challenge that has been making the rounds recently is the 200 Word RPG Challenge. It is exactly as it sounds: write a game or game supplement in 200 words or less. Its a pretty fun mental challenge, especially when you are as wordy as me. Here's what I tossed into the ring:


You are a stranger in a strange land. Language is your only tool.

Required: Game Master, 1+ players, language tokens

Set up: Choose your setting (example: ancient Rome). Give the setting one language, plus one per player. Choose a goal achievable only through conversation (example: find and free a friend).

All players share a common language, which you speak perfectly. This is different than the setting’s languages, which you aren’t as proficient in. You get six tokens to assign to these languages. Any number of tokens may be assigned to each language.

Game Play: Others don’t understand you and you don’t understand them, but you recognize languages you know.

Players spend a language’s token to make a simple intent clear (two or three words).

The Game Master portrays the others and may counter your action with a token to complicate the understanding in some way: it’s an insult or you say one key thing wrong. You may add this token to any language you started with.

Once you communicate an intent without complication, you may do so again for the rest of the game without cost.

The game ends when you achieve your goal or give up.

My entry is based on my life experience here in the Peace Corps. Here's an "example" of play. By example, I mean this actually happened to me. 

I currently live in the Republic of Georgia (1 player). People generally speak two (1 + 1 player) languages here: Georgian and Russian. Occasionally, you'll run into folks that speak other languages (for when you have more players). My Georgian is lacking (6 tokens) and my Russian is non-existent (0 tokens). 

This past weekend I walked down to the local bazaar to acquire parts to build an evaporative cooler. Before heading out I looked up the translations for a couple of words that were pretty key.

The stores have their wares in plain sight, and many have wares displayed outside too. Some things were easy to acquire, like a bucket with a lid. That thing was just sitting in front of the store. So all I needed to ask was "how much?" (token spent to ask and another to get the answer); though, I also asked if there were other colors (one more token each for question and answer). Two other parts proved "complicated" to use Babel's terminology.

The problem with looking up translations is that many English words can have wildly different meanings. So you never know what translation you are getting until you test it. English isn't alone in this, it just happens to be the language I default to.

So it came to pass that when I spent a token to communicate "do you have a fan?", the Game Master spent a token to complicate matters. The word I used was that for a sport's fan. I only knew this because there were looks of confusion followed by the word for "sports?" framed in a question I didn't fully understand. There was a bunch of other stuff they said that I didn't grok at all. I eventually got what I needed by changing "fan" to "it makes wind" (spending another token). At this point I already understood "yes" from my color question and I could figure out price as well; these did not cost me tokens. So three tokens spent and one gained, which I put into Georgian. Leaving me with one token.

Next, I wanted to get some foam to work as insulation. I knew you could get sheets of sponge-like foam somewhere down in the bazaar, I just didn't know where. What I've seen isn't not pipe insulation quality, but would be something. Turns out the word I used was for shaving foam (the GM spent another token to complicate the intent I tried to make clear by spending a token myself). Folks were very helpful, and I had to admit that I was nearly out of shaving foam so it proved a worthwhile mistake. However, I was never able to find the foam I needed. Fortunately, the insulation was just a bonus feature for my cooler, not a requirement. This last one cost me a token to ask, gave me one with the complication, which I then spent to grok the answer. I was left with no tokens, but I could still ask about price. 

Where I didn't get the foam I wanted. I managed to get the rest of the parts and successfully constructed an evaporative cooler later that day.

The above real world example illustrates pretty well how Babel plays (and why it was originally titled Lost with Translation until a friend convinced me to change it). It also shows that it is designed for relatively short goals: You can run out of tokens pretty fast. Though you can also vary the number of tokens players get if you want. 

Anyways, I hope folks get a kick out of it, or at least got some amusement out of the story of my shopping experience. Like all contest entries, Babel is published under CC-BY 4.0 license.