Raise Your Voice

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I was reading through apotheon’s post about NPC Character Traits, and I got to thinking about what steps to take after that. You’ve come up with a great concept, given the NPCs some memorable traits, but now you have to make that character come to life. It might be the hardest job that a GM has. It takes a good character bas like apotheon showed, it takes Mike’s improvisational skills, and it takes you, opening your mouth to actually give that NPC a voice. It’s tough. If you don’t vary things enough, then all of your NPCs sound the same, and if you’re not convincing, then your NPCs lose their depth.

I’ve been involved in community theater for even longer than I’ve been gaming. I will never say that I’m a great actor, but I get by. As I looked at both my time on stage, and my GMing, I realized that my best acting moments in both areas have come from me finding someone to imitate as a starting point for my characterizations. For me, it takes a lot of exposure to a type of accent, or a way of voicing a character for me to try and get it right. Since I’m working and in school, I don’t have a lot of time to watch movies for character inspiration, I have turned to gaming podcasts that feature actual play sessions. After all, other GMs and players often do things that I would have never thought of, and have directly inspired some of my best NPCs. The two podcasts that I have listened to the most are those from The Gamer’s Haven, and Role-Playing Public Radio. I have no shame at all about blatantly ripping them off, not only for the voicing of characters, but also for gameplay ideas.  There are two examples of this that stand out in my mind.

Enter, The Grippli

The New World setting is one that focuses a lot (as I read it) on the myriad of NPCs that make up the initial colonial expedition to the New World. Additionally, there is an indigenous race of frog people in the New World, known as the Grippli. I listened to the entire series of the New World Campaign gaming sessions that RPPR put out, and even though I lifted characterizations for a lot of the NPCs, the one that I imitated most directly was the character of the Grippli King, Seamoss. Ross (the GM of the sessions) had a very specific way of voicing Seamoss that I found both endearing and unique. His super-optomistic attitude, and his innate sense of Grippli superiority, combined with the rising-falling intonation pattern that Ross gave him made him stand out. I tried to be as true to Ross’s voicing of Seamoss as I could, and Seamoss (and the Grippli as an entire race) quickly became either loved or hated by my players; that’s the sign of a memorable NPC.

Inspiration from the British Isles

In the Deadlands: Enough Room to Die campaign from The Gamer’s Haven, there was a character recently added to the lineup: Liam (Michael), the Irish Mad Scientist. The player voicing Liam does (in my mind) a really good Irish accent. I listened to that voice for hours as I was going through the episodes of that podcast, and it got to the point where I found my own pronunciations in real life changing slightly, due to my having heard this accent so much. When it came time in my D&D campaign to introduce a new, flamboyant NPC, it wasn’t much of a stretch at all for me to try and give that character a similar accent. What ended up coming out of my mouth was something much closer to Desmond, from Lost, the accent served its purpose well, and even drew compliments from my players (most of whom are family, and would call me out right away if I were screwing to up horribly).

If you have a chance, check out the podcasts I mentioned, or any good actual play podcast that you come across. The other players and GMs that you hear are a wellspring of inspiration, and hearing a character voiced can help you a lot to improve the way that your own characters and NPCs sound.

[tags]rpg, npcs, gaming[/tags]

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