DM Roleplaying Characters - Doing Voices

22 posts / 0 new
Last post
Any advice on roleplaying characters and varying the voices? 

For example, I'm looking through the Red Box DM's book right now -  Encounter 2 - and thinking about roleplaying the white fledgling dragon.

I've got some idea of i will play goblins - basically a Tolkienesque rip-off of a working-class London accent - I've even got some idea of how i could do an evil wizard, or a hulking zombie.

 But a dragon?  I've got no idea!  I guess they are kind of upper class English?  This one is not too bright, either.  So that would fit.  He's posh but dim, perhaps.

Advice would be appreciated.  ^^
Long s sounds.  "Yess, we wantsss you"

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/20.jpg)


 A great deal of how to play a memorable character isn't so much in the voice you use as what you say and how you say it. (A character can become a caricature if you give them some sort of accent or voice that doesn't fit the tone of the conversation or the mood of the scene.)
 Most people aren't great voice actors, and eventually all their characters start to blend together as they can't keep all their different voices and accents straight - either they just don't have a great variation in the range of voices they can do, they're just not good enough to say everything the character would say in the right accent and thus end up dropping out of character, or they eventually "slide" from their original intended voice into something closer to their own or that they're more familiar with.
 I'm a trained actor, and I still have trouble with accents because I eventually start slipping between various UK, Irish and Aussie accents if I don't concentrate on what I'm saying.

As the previous poster said, try choosing a particular way of speaking (the long hissing sounds he mentioned, speaking very fast or very slow and measured, or Darth Vader's occasional breathing pauses) or a particular quirk of grammar (Yoda's backwards sentence structure an example is...) or a particular phrase or set of phrases they use regularly (Gollum's "My Preciousss", a typical teenager's "like, um, y'know..." or a Limey's "Cor"...) to set up what you might call "memory points" for your players - Give the players a couple of key characteristics about the sound of the character's voice or their manner of speaking and let their imagination fill in the exact sound of the voice. Your idea of what sounds like a menacing or sinister voice might sound to them like the person has something stuck in their throat...
Also, come up with a few topics of conversation that the person in question tends to bring up regularly - an inkeeper who almost unconsciously asks the party if he can get them something or if there's anything they need after every four or five sentences, or the guard at the gate who constantly gripes about his superiors or the weather.

Show

I am the Magic Man.

(Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

 

I am the Lawnmower Man.

(I AM GOD HERE!)

 

I am the Skull God.

(Koo Koo Ka Choo)

 

There are reasons they call me Mad...

I like everything Mad Jack said.  On a related note, I also like doing things with my hands. For example, with a barkeep I often mime washing a glass.  If I'm voicing a sneaky enemy, I might rub my hands together.  If I'm voicing a gallant knight, I'll puff out my chest a bit.  Visual cues can be as helpful as auditory ones.

For a dragon, I might put my hands up like claws and let them hang there.  But then again, I might not, that feels a bit silly. 
Another thing I've seen that helps is to not worry about ripping off pieces of characters you see in pop culture.  It's almost like doing impressions in stand up comedy, they can be a hit.

If I'm doing a one-off characters that's a buffoon, I'll sometimes do a sort of Borat type of character.  That can usually get a few laughs due to the voice and the incompetence.

I find that using some distinct voices like that can build up a play session.  I've also had some voices miss (don't try to do a Don Knotts type voice, apparently no one will get it
I'm a half-decent Voice Actor, but *not* on the fly.  If I can't do a character justice with my voicework, I'll fall back on describing their lines

"He tells you, between his stammering and stuttering, that the thost ignored him, wailing the name 'Sarah' over and over again"

for instance.  I might prepare one or two good lines (an intro and such) that I can say in voice, but the rest of the conversation will be handled as such.  A number of other posters have made good points about body language and speech patterns over raw tone of voice.

For a dragon, I would go with a low and rumbling tone if it's at least huge, a sibilant ssssnake ssssspeak strategy if it's large or smaller.

When in doubt, I'd go for less theatrics and a better overall experience over (potentially/probably) botched theatrics.

Over time, you'll find a balance that works for maintaining flow at the table while spicing things up over just narrating.

"Enjoy your screams, Sarpadia - they will soon be muffled beneath snow and ice."

 

Follow me to No Goblins Allowed

A M:tG/D&D message board with a good community and usable software

 


THE COALITION WAR GAME -Phyrexian Chief Praetor
Round 1: (4-1-2, 1 kill)
Round 2: (16-8-2, 4 kills)
Round 3: (18-9-2, 1 kill)
Round 4: (22-10-0, 2 kills)
Round 5: (56-16-3, 9 kills)
Round 6: (8-7-1)

Last Edited by Ralph on blank, 1920


  I might prepare one or two good lines (an intro and such) that I can say in voice, but the rest of the conversation will be handled as such.


 This is generally what I do - anything that can't be summed up by a sentence or two in character voice (complex quest instructions, plot-related history lessons, major exposition about current events or enemy strategies, etc.) I generally just explain it to the players in my own voice and personality.
Long, in-depth coversations are best summarized by a third-person description of what both sides said. I will, however, flow smoothly back and forth between the two styles as much as possible when I can - if someone in the party does ask a question for which the answer is going to be very memorable if spoken in character, I will definitely do it.

 I actually have a small stable of stock npc characters (such as Ali Al-Ras'ghul the sleazy salesman and his Planes-wandering tent full of wonders the Bazaar of the Bizarre, Barroom Toughs 1 & 2, Tavern Drunks 1-4, Snarky Prostitute Who's Actually A Guild Thief, etc...) that generally find their way into most of my campaigns sooner or later simply because I've developed them to the point of usually being able to interact with the party on the fly while remaining in character.

Over time, you'll find a balance that works for maintaining flow at the table while spicing things up over just narrating.


 Agreed. Over time you develop a feel for when to cut to the chase and when to whip out the theatrics. Fine-tuning it takes time and practice, but if you consciously pay attention to how your players react to your narration and dialogue, you'll pick it up.


Show

I am the Magic Man.

(Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

 

I am the Lawnmower Man.

(I AM GOD HERE!)

 

I am the Skull God.

(Koo Koo Ka Choo)

 

There are reasons they call me Mad...

Any advice on roleplaying characters and varying the voices? 

For example, I'm looking through the Red Box DM's book right now -  Encounter 2 - and thinking about roleplaying the white fledgling dragon.

I've got some idea of i will play goblins - basically a Tolkienesque rip-off of a working-class London accent - I've even got some idea of how i could do an evil wizard, or a hulking zombie.

 But a dragon?  I've got no idea!  I guess they are kind of upper class English?  This one is not too bright, either.  So that would fit.  He's posh but dim, perhaps.

Advice would be appreciated.  ^^

Without knowing the encounter in particular, white dragons have historically been near beast like in their intelligence. Its about the size of a couch, and roughly as bright, but incredibly full of itself. I'd be inclinced to go dumb jock, or a bro whose dad owns a dealership.

If you're going to be doing the voice long term, you might want to pick a couple of "accent anchors", phrases you can consistently hit with the desired tone/affect/inflection, which will bring you back to the core of the NPC's voice.
Learn to speak through your nose. This is a good one for small, squeaky voiced humanoids like Goblins, Gnomes and the like.

Aside from that it's all just practice. You don't need to get better at doing voices for D&D, but if you want to, just watch TV shows, play video games, and try to imitate the voices of characters as best you can. Eventually you'll come up with some of your own variations even if you don't get it 100% right.

Happy Gaming

 A great deal of how to play a memorable character isn't so much in the voice you use as what you say and how you say it. (A character can become a caricature if you give them some sort of accent or voice that doesn't fit the tone of the conversation or the mood of the scene.) 
 Most people aren't great voice actors, and eventually all their characters start to blend together as they can't keep all their different voices and accents straight - either they just don't have a great variation in the range of voices they can do, they're just not good enough to say everything the character would say in the right accent and thus end up dropping out of character, or they eventually "slide" from their original intended voice into something closer to their own or that they're more familiar with.
 I'm a trained actor, and I still have trouble with accents because I eventually start slipping between various UK, Irish and Aussie accents if I don't concentrate on what I'm saying.

As the previous poster said, try choosing a particular way of speaking (the long hissing sounds he mentioned, speaking very fast or very slow and measured, or Darth Vader's occasional breathing pauses) or a particular quirk of grammar (Yoda's backwards sentence structure an example is...) or a particular phrase or set of phrases they use regularly (Gollum's "My Preciousss", a typical teenager's "like, um, y'know..." or a Limey's "Cor"...) to set up what you might call "memory points" for your players - Give the players a couple of key characteristics about the sound of the character's voice or their manner of speaking and let their imagination fill in the exact sound of the voice. Your idea of what sounds like a menacing or sinister voice might sound to them like the person has something stuck in their throat...
Also, come up with a few topics of conversation that the person in question tends to bring up regularly - an inkeeper who almost unconsciously asks the party if he can get them something or if there's anything they need after every four or five sentences, or the guard at the gate who constantly gripes about his superiors or the weather.




This is about as solid advice as you can get on voices. Speach patterns > accents. Repeated phrases, speak fast, speak slow, speak sleepy, be animated, be docile . . . Those kinds of things are way more important than accents. If you're talented at accents, then take advantage of it. If not, attempting to use accents is more likely to sound comic - which can be fun too
Another thing I've seen that helps is to not worry about ripping off pieces of characters you see in pop culture.  It's almost like doing impressions in stand up comedy, they can be a hit.

This is key. I'm frequently having to think fast for NPC personalities and I will sometimes hit on a movie or TV character who reminds me of the NPC. This makes the voice easier to emulate (in terms of speech patterns, as well as accent), but it also comes with a built-in personality. If the players recognize the voice, it becomes an instant shorthand for that character.

Don't worry about having to use European accents. There's no Europe in your game, I'm guessing, so its accents are not inherently more appropriate than any other, and the characters aren't actually speaking English anyway.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Make notes on who sounds like what?  I have used the mad wizard villian (use Jack Nicholson voice).  A sentenient sword with Jimmy Stewart voice.  I really had some fun with a hidden mic and amp one night doing the evil dragon voice (moniter your volume though if you try this because feedback and blowing the players out aint cool).  An amp with an echo works good for a Lich's cackle and taunts.  You should make note of who sounds like what and if it is important.  If you try an amp do some test first and don't forget to turn this off when not using it for the voice.  Too much of somethings can loose it's value if every foe has an amplified voice the players will get tired of it and you will too..
I rip off characters from TV shows, movies, books, video games, and even stolen the voices that radio DJ's do for their comedy sketches.  Mad Jack's advice is terrific.  Just do what he said and you'll go far.  Two things I've learned that haven't been mentioned though:

First, don't feel like EVERY NPC, every villain has to have a distinct voice or personality or behavioral quirk.  When you try to make everyone special and memorable you only achieve the opposite result desired - nobody is.

Second, don't be surprised when your players latch onto unlikely efforts.  The single most memorable character voice I ever did was a demon trapped behind a magically sealed door who had been there for centuries and desperately wanted out.  The PC's were able to talk to it through the door and they could detect evil behind the door.  The demon was described as willing to give up all kinds of secrets in exchange for freedom (and indeed that was his real purpose in being in the adventure at all - providing information to the players.  But I knew my players would never let him free if they even suspected he was actually a demon.  They'd just kill it.  So I decided he'd simply try to trick them into letting him out and THEN provide the information before leaving.  I gave him a cartoonish, over-the-top Italian accent:

Demon:  "Allo?  Allo?  I a-do not-a suppose-a you could-a let-a me out-a?  Eh?"
Players:  "Who are you?"
Demon:  "Oh, I am-a Luigi!"
Players:  "Is there anyone ELSE in there with you?" [wondering why they detect evil]
Demon:  "Oh no, its-a just-a me.  I a-been in here-a for a long-a time-a you know..."
Players:  [whispering/consulting] "I don't get it.  Should we open the door?  Maybe there's an evil artifact in there we should wipe out.  Maybe it's HIM we should wipe out.  How could that be - LISTEN to his voice!"

This went on for quite some time with the demon skillfully dodging questions and just begging to be let out.  I don't even remember if they ever did or if I just told them what was behind the door at a later time - I'll have to ask them if they remember.  But that voice that I just grabbed out of thin air in a desperate attempt to throw the players off the scent, it worked SO WELL that they laugh and talk about that demon to this day.  It was one of my most memorable, if marginally silly moments in D&D.

Old School: It ain't what you play - it's how you play it.

My 1E Project: http://home.earthlink.net/~duanevp/dnd/Building%20D&D/buildingdnd.htm

"Who says I can't?" "The man in the funny hat..."

Anybody ever do a Gilbert Gottfried voice?  
I'm terrible at voices. The women all sound like grumpy dwarves and the barbarians like Englishmen if I go on long enough. Consistency is key, I think, if you're going to give this a go.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

I'm Recruiting Players for a D&D 5e Game: Interested?  |  Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Some of my favorites are:

- Scottish (i.e. suitable for all dwarves and inn-keepers): imitate groundskeeper Willy (Simpson’s) or Fatbastard (Austin Powers). Add phrases like “wee lass” and “wha are ye doin noo”

- Pirate: imitate Jack Sparrow. Use phrases like “Arrr”, “Aye, matey” and “Avast me hearty”.

- Viking: imitate Arnold Schwarzenegger. Use phrases like “Loh”, “ze” und “vas ist zis?”

I have to admit, I "do all the voices."


That having been said, I absolutely hate most of the standard fantasy accent tropes. Scottish dwarves? Wtf? Warcraft much? No thank you. I always preferred Germanic(-root) accents for dwarves, but I hit upon something in a previous campaign that I now use a lot. 


Throw an accent at your players that they aren't expecting. 


In my last 4e game, I had a dwarven blacksmith who spoke with a Slavic accent. The players heard this and got super-excited. "These dwarves are RUSSIAN!?!?!? NEAT!"


In my current game, I drew on Noir films like The Third Man to turn my hometown gang-boss into a sly German-accented "legitimate businessman." Peter Lorre would be proud. 


If I decide that I want a specific race or culture or even person to be linguistically memorable, I try to think of an accent I haven't used yet (or in awhile) and see if that will tie in. Now, if only I can figure out how to do an Afrikaans accent correctly... 

If I can do an accent or vocal inflection, I will. I was also doing Red Box Encounter 2 recently and I happened to have a cold which deepened my voice, so I just went for a really deep bass, like a rumble with importance kind of thing. The trick for me is to do something that doesn't make me feel foolish or self-conscious while I do it, otherwise I'll withdraw or start to laugh and everyone gets thrown off. The only time I really hesitate to go for it is doing a girl's voice since I'm male. Some folks can do it, I can't.
I absolutely hate most of the standard fantasy accent tropes. Scottish dwarves? Wtf? Warcraft much?

That seemed rather hostile. fwiw: standardized fantasy tropes are a 'good thing': they help DM's and players, and also make it easier for you to "throw an accent at your players that they aren't expecting".

Sure, I too think it's odd that dwarves are portrayed with Scottish accents and Germanic cultural artifacts. Still, the Scottish accent facilitates vigorous, gregarious interactions... whereas German accents are often associated with stoicism and intellectual severeness. The latter may well be appropriate for dwarves (and I've done so), but it's less fun.


Update - I did a quick google on this: LOTR might've helped make Scottish-accented dwarves a more widespread trope, but it seems to have started (especially for D&D) with Three Hearts and Three Lions.
I absolutely hate most of the standard fantasy accent tropes. Scottish dwarves? Wtf? Warcraft much?

That seemed rather hostile. fwiw: standardized fantasy tropes are a 'good thing': they help DM's and players, and also make it easier for you to "throw an accent at your players that they aren't expecting".

...



Update - I did a quick google on this: LOTR might've helped make Scottish-accented dwarves a more widespread trope, but it seems to have started (especially for D&D) with Three Hearts and Three Lions.




Yeah, using a word like "hate" probably comes off a bit hostile. I, by and large, actively dislike modern fantasy tropes because of the the inherent Anglocentrism we find throughout them. I'm not about to try to turn this into a discussion about the ethics of these tropes, just stating that I find them ethnocentric and that's why I don't like them. And yes, you're right, without those tropes, players & DMs can't have expectations and one can't throw something out that isn't expected. 


I've got to thank you, however, for that info on Three Hearts and Three Lions, even just the knowledge that it exists. I just spent way too much time looking into that book, how D&D references it and information about its author. I've never felt that Tolkein's dwarves were terribly Scottish  (aside from saying "lad," which can be read with or without a Scots accent; I never read it that way) and have always connected the Scottishness of modern dwarves with the (god awful voicing of dwarves in the) Warcraft franchise. 

I'm not too fond of fantasy clichés either. Instead of solely using accents (which I think is too-limited a solution), I put more stock on (linguistic) register: a scholar doesen't speak in the same manner as a rogue, nor does a barkeep or the town's warden, regardless of race. This is a matter of sociolinguistics rather than dialectal phonology. Also, spitting a couple phrases in the NPC's mother tongue has been very useful for me (but this approach demands more preparation, as you need to figure some way to construct phrases in what you think would be the NPC's language, be it Goblin, Draconic, Abyssal, etc.).

In matter of tones and the like, liking both Death Metal and Black Metal has been very useful for me: I can speak in a guttural voice for quite a long time, as well as shout and scream gutturally (low grunts and sharp grunts). This helps in the heat of battle, when an angry demon can sound actually angry.

Something I find really important in this regard of the DM roleplaying NPC is non-verbal language. I've been in the presence of some very good voice actors playing as well as DMing, but they just stood still while talking, and because of the lack of gestures and movement there's a feeling of incompleteness. My players once had to question an insane NPC who had lost his mind because of the attack of an undead creature. The mood of the scene was supposed to be one of horror. When the PCs got the NPC's attention I let myself go: I stood up and went around the playing table, shaking my arms, playing nervously with my hands, and biting my nails while vaguely answering the PCs' questions on an erratic voice: sometimes screeching, sometimes whispering, sometimes angrily grunting... My players actually got frightened. I guess the music also helped -it was Sunn O)))'s "Cursed realms (of the winterdemons)"-, but they still remember that NPC today in an uneasy way.

I'm convinced that, as Mad Jack already said, creating memorable NPC (when they're needed, as the Man in the Funny Hat also said) is a question of matter and form: content (for the undead-induced crazyness I ripped off some Lovecraftian flavor sources) and the way it's presented, but this doesn't mean just the tone or accent in which you plesent it, but also moving (and I don't mean standing up and jumping as the character would do it, I mean gestures, non-verbal language).

I've seen otherwise awesome DM and players sort of fail because they didn't play the character... They just talked like the character would have.
"And the zombies! Where the [hell] are all the zombies? That's the problem with zombies: they're unreliable." -George Carlin


D&D Home Page - What Class Are You? - Build A Character - D&D Compendium

I'm not too fond of fantasy clichés either. Instead of solely using accents (which I think is too-limited a solution), I put more stock on (linguistic) register: a scholar doesen't speak in the same manner as a rogue, nor does a barkeep or the town's warden, regardless of race. This is a matter of sociolinguistics rather than dialectal phonology. Also, spitting a couple phrases in the NPC's mother tongue has been very useful for me (but this approach demands more preparation, as you need to figure some way to construct phrases in what you think would be the NPC's language, be it Goblin, Draconic, Abyssal, etc.).



^This. 


Accents are just one tool in a huge linguistic toolbox that DMs have and, as I think Forfex points out here, not even the most flexible one. Nonverbal communication adds tremendously. Simply changing your posture when you voice a particular NPC often lets your PCs know that the NPC is the one speaking and how you hold yourself can tell them a lot about who that person is. 


I do also like to add a few verbal cues, as well. Phrases they're likely to repeat or words that they're likely to substitute for more common ones as a matter of perspective or cultural idiom, much like how good writers of fantasy or sci-fi invent new (or reinterpret old) phrases to substitute for something we'd more commonly hear (examples include China Mieville's New Crobuzon series and nearly every other line of dialog in Firefly). 

Sign In to post comments