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Voices in My Head

It’s Friday night. My Enoach group is searching for information about the Aphid Alliance, a region-wide thieves’ guild of thri-kreen. To do so, they’re scouring the desert town of Asudem for clues and talking to everyone they can. They speak to Iviriel Alorro, a locally despised elf wizard and their patron. When Iviriel departs for an important and secret journey south, they quickly converse with Iviriel’s only apprentice, a shy and greasy human wizard named Fazil Sanmis. Soon after, they travel across town and pass by the recently vacated Storm Temple of Talos and make words with the captain of the town watch, Zir Carver. Pleased with the conversation, they walk toward the Shrine of Zet and encounter Glo Imixson, fire genasi wizard and member of the Black Zar Cabal. Not long after that, they meet Rev Sandriven, a halfling cleric and high priest of Zet and catch him up on the latest happenings with the corrupted clergy of the Storm Temple.

From the shrine, they shamble to one of the beggar alleys in Asudem to bargain with orphans, drunks, and beggars for information, and end up speaking to a crazed human called Khanhar. The bumbling discussion gives them only four, distinct words to go on, so they head to their final destination: The abode of The Whisperer, located in a strangely empty corner near the beggar alleys. Advised to meet with this master of secrets by their patron, but strongly recommended to not mention Iviriel’s name, they met with this yuan-ti sweet-talker in a dry basement slathered in snakes. By the end of the night, they had learned much, taken on a new side-quest, and were excited to have so many new interesting NPCs to interact with. As the Dungeon Master, my mission was accomplished.

In early June of 2018, I decided to go wild with voices in Dungeons and Dragons.

As a shy and somewhat timid person, I’d known I wasn’t the best at changing my voice, nowhere near the heights of Matthew Mercer, Mark Hamill, or even that girl who does voices on the radio. Then, as I was listening to Critical Role one day, my brain snapped. No, I didn’t have an aneurysm or some sort of epiphany, I simply realized that doing voices makes the entire D&D experience much more exciting, entertaining, and freeing.

The session I described above is the first where I set out to do a different voice for every main NPC I portrayed. The entire session was fantastic, and every time I was playing a different NPC, everyone had a blast listening to the character speak, talking to the character, and laughing at my voices (both with me and at me, I admit). The Whisperer’s voice was enticing yet hissing, Khanhar’s was bumbling and difficult to explain, and Glo Imixson’s was nasally and arrogant.

In this week’s Legendary Lesson, we’re discussing why you should use a unique voice for all of your characters, how easy it is, and how it helps staying in character.

Let’s roll!

Don’t Be Scared

Performing as someone different than yourself is inherently weird. That’s splendid, we've accepted that. Your eloquence doesn’t matter; your pitch doesn’t matter; all that matters is the enjoyment level at the table. If you’re playing D&D with your friends - or good people - you should never be scared to use voices. Using voices, in fact, makes the game much more enjoyable. There’s a boon of benefits!
  1. If every character has a unique voice (no matter how similar to your own), it’s much easier to stay in character for you (the dungeon master or player). Something clicks in your mind when you’re using a voice other than your own. Over time, you’ll even create a certain demeanor for the character.
  2. Players/characters will instantly recognize a character that’s appearing in the world if you use their voice. There’s no need to say, “A muscular minotaur armored only in the fur of a lion enters the chamber; it’s Baphoro.” if you have a specific voice for Baphoro!
  3. It clarifies when you are speaking as an omniscient narrator and when you are portraying a person in the world that’s alongside the characters.
In addition, doing a voice is easy! Don’t be scared to mess up or sound silly; sometimes, that’s the point! You’d be surprised how drastically you can change your own voice using a few, simple tactics. Try lowering or heightening your pitch, talking quicker or slower, or even plugging your nose. All those are effortless ways to alter your voice. 

Here's a few harder ones: Attempt speaking out of the side of your mouth by closing half or three quarters of it, or try wheezing your voice out of your throat for raspy, haunting speech (great for mind flayers, ghosts, or spectres) If you’re not a huge fan of changing your voice constantly, you can alter your speech patterns instead. Use words alien to you, repeat a specific phrase often, or add a slight slur or lisp to your voice.

Those are all the strategies you can use without even attempting an accent! Accents are also great because you already have a basis for what they sound like. British accents are highly variable; African accents are fantastic; German accents are enticing. And once you’ve mastered one accent, you can use all the aspects outlined above to manipulate that accent, creating a plethora of new voices for you to use.

Here’s another tip: Try mimicking your favorite character for a specific NPC. Perhaps the innkeep sounds like Jack Sparrow. Maybe the elf queen speaks similar to Queen Elizabeth II from the Crown. I tend to base barbarians on Minsc from Baldur’s Gate. This can quickly kickstart your mind to talk like a specific character, a thought that will eventually evolve into a specific personality and character for your campaign.

After doing this for awhile, you’ll have voices in your head begging you to resurface during D&D. Apologies, friends.

Staying in Character

Once you’ve given a character a voice, staying in character is far easier. In a way, it separates your mind from the mind of the character. And if you use a voice, you’ll develop a specific character’s personality quicker than using your regular voice. This goes for both players and dungeon masters, of course.

If you have a short memory, I’d recommend noting what each character sounds like next to their description. Two simple words will do, like raspy voice, Southern accent, or snakey voice. Or, if you want to be thorough, write a sentence out that describes exactly how they speak. Accompanying this sentence should be a memorable quote from this character that can immediately get you in character. For example:
  • The Woodsmaster: Fallen celestial with a stoic, deep voice. He makes broad, dramatic statements to get his point across. “The sheer might of Yeenoghu's claws shall crush this world and all worlds the Gnoll Father comes across. Face me. Face it. Face the beast.”
For other characters, I include a few notes about their speech patterns with no quotes, especially if I already understand how to portray the character. Here’s a sampling of characters I have distinct voices for:
  1. The Whisperer: Sly yuan-ti master of secrets. I heighten my pitch for his voice and speak like a snake, emphasizing my S’s and speaking with a slight lisp.
  2. Glo GlothanderfellImixson: Proud fire genasi sorcerer. For his voice, I simply speak in a nasally tone with an arrogant speech pattern.
  3. Lara Helvien: Powerful human merchant from the coast. For her, I heighten my pitch and dramatically speak in short sentences, as if every word carried the weight of a thousand.
  4. Meeko Azura: Respectful kobold monk. For him, my only PC right now, I speak in long, serpentine sentences, with a slight rasp to my voice. If we play for five hours, my throat ends up hurting a bit, but the sacrifice is worth the pleasure of playing Meeko!
Here’s the rundown: Create a character, give them a voice, develop a personality, and be sure to take notes! There’s nothing worse than using the incorrect voice for a character and being corrected by a player. If that does happen, brush it off; everyone makes mistakes.

In Summary

Giving each and every nonplayer character in your D&D campaign is one of the most impactful things you can do as a DM. Players, giving your characters a voice will help as well! Remember:
  1. Don’t be scared to sound silly, weird, or stupid when doing a voice during D&D. Giving a character a voice helps you get into character and develop an interesting personality for that character. Altering your voice isn’t too difficult; everyone can do it!
  2. Staying in character is easier than you might think, and it’s made even simpler while using a unique voice. Be sure to make notes on a character’s voice if necessary; you don’t want to lose it in the depths of your head.
Next week, we’re returning to Musing Over Monsters for a deadly deep sea horror. Prepare for the abominations of the ocean to be unleashed!

Until next time, fare thee well!

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