This post is a creative piece offering some ideas for the Starfinder roleplaying game. Any resemblance to real life entities are purely coincidental. Please feel free to use this content in your own campaign or discuss or expand on these ideas in the comments.
The Starfinder system and setting are replete with many different species and languages. Interspecies communication is not as instant or automatic as it is in some science fiction settings such as Star Trek. Characters can learn specific alien languages but this takes time and effort. Unless your character is an experienced xenoseeker with the ability to improvise communication in unlearned languages, what can they do to smooth lost in translation difficulties?
The Tetrad certified translator is a datapad sized device that can construct a basic lexicon in a language, if given enough spoken input. It’s pretty limited compared to Star Trek’s universal translator technology as it only covers basic short phrases or commands. The Witchwyrd race behind this technology are a rather advanced species compared to most of the settings major races so this is probably the best there is in portable translation technology.
Magic is an alternative to technology for solving many issues in the Starfinder universe. Technomancers can cast the 1st level spell Comprehend Languages. Mystics meanwhile can cast the longer-duration Share Language spell. In either case the spell is infallible to a point in terms of allowing comprehension or communication, but it uses up precious magical resources and not all groups of adventurers will have either class available. A few magical items could also be used as a temporary solution to language difficulties, notably the Serum of Enhancement, Diplomat which gives for one hour the ability to speak and understand a language heard within the last ten minutes before imbibing the magical liquid.
Beyond these technological and magical solutions for specific classes or items, I present below some different services that adventurers in the Pact Worlds might contact to answer their translation needs:
Tetrad Translate, Infosphere
Within the Pact Worlds system a popular means for translating simpler texts is via the Tetrad Translate Infosphere service. Texts can be entered and documents uploaded for translation between two specified languages. This limited service is provided free of charge for all major Pact World system languages though the service does not deal well with technical vocabulary or complex language constructions. Tetrad certified translator datapads are portable and do not require an Infosphere connection to operate, hence this service does not directly compete with the sale of those hand-held devices.
Translation time varies depending on the length of the text and the service load at the time of submission. The service is operated out of an Absalom Station Infosphere address so normal transmission delays for users outside of the station’s Infosphere apply. Certain worlds block access to the service partially or in full, Eox being the most notable example. Also given the transmission time, bandwidth issues and distrust of any centralised service, few in the Diaspora would use the service if any local alternative is available.
The service is relatively new and opinions vary greatly as to why the mysterious Tetrad corporation would be offering it freely to Pact World citizens. No paid-for improved service exists as yet and Witchwyrd representatives do not discuss it with outsiders. On the message boards of Absalom Station computer experts discuss the impressive security measures of the system, it appears as unhackable as the DriftNet. A good many citizens on major Pact Worlds use the service regularly, but these same experts are now questioning the implications of handing over large quantities of data to an unknown service.
Tempered Interpreters, the Idari
Offering more than a simple translation service, this kasatha collective provide interpreting services to clients within the Pact Worlds who require interpreters or whisper translation services. One of their aesthetic kasatha employees can be hired based on the language pair or trio required by the client for a set daily fee to act as a personal interpreter for the duration of the contract. All employees of the collective are tempered pilgrims, the organisation actively recruits kasathas that have focused on learning languages and the associated cultural nuances whilst on their year-long voyage of self-discovery. The collective is famous among Pact World businesses for the discretion and professionalism of their linguists. The rather stiff fees and long list of stipulations about working conditions and safety guarantees the collective requires on behalf of its interpreters are equally well-known. Fees vary depending on the rarity of the languages involved but the basic charge for a tempered interpreter is 200 credits per day, plus agreed expenses and overtime fees. Companies that balk at paying such fees are reminded by the collective that spells and machine translation do not offer the cultural understanding that underpins their interpreters’ expertise.
AbadarCorp Linguistic Bureau, Absalom Station
Covering the middle ground between the executive service provided by the Tempered Interpreters and the rather basic translations of the Tetrad free service is the Linguistic Bureau of AbadarCorp. Based out of the corporate headquarters on Absalom Station this service provides utilitarian translations for citizens and companies alike. The company offers two major products based on the budget of the client. For the standard service tier, secular workers provide typed translations via Infosphere or DriftNet message for a fee of 2 credits per 100 words (rounded up to the nearest 100). Only major Pact World languages are available for this service and the translations are pretty literal. Delivery times vary but next day delivery is standard, with a “4 hour express service” possible for 4 credits per 100 words.
The ‘miracle’ tier service is provided by a priest who uses magic to divine the translation of the particular text. The cost is 125 credits per 1000 words of text. Negotiable bulk discounts are available on a per contract basis depending on the total length. These translations are generally considered to be reliable and rather good at delivering more nuanced meaning.
This post is based on entries in the Starfinder Core and the Pact Worlds rulebooks, please see these source for more details on specific locations or aspects of the Starfinder setting.