One thing I am really known for amongst my group of friends, or if you are familiar with my other podcast appearances, is my knack and propensity for different voices and impressions. It is how I bring characters to life. Personally, a big lure of roleplaying games is the ability to become someone else; to play a character completely different from yourself. For a lot of people that might mean adopting the outlook of their character to better inform their decisions, or changing the inflection of their voice to suit their characters disposition, and there is nothing wrong with that! That’s the play style most people I have played with have, but for me it is not enough. I need to become my character or the NPC I am portraying. Right down to their posture, inflection, and tone of voice.
The problem here is that this it is sometimes pretty difficult to do on the fly. I don’t like to prepare for games. Some people run their games like well crafted stories, some run their games like well scripted train-routes, I run my games like some sort of Zen, live-in-the-moment Night at the Improv. It has its short-comings to be sure, but it’s what works for me. But playing in that Zen, live-in-the-moment style doesn’t always leave you with all the info for Glornamax Destroyer of Kingdoms the high level Ogre Magi you just plopped into the game as part of some wild-hair big reveal you didn’t plan. You don’t know what Glornamax Destroyer of Kingdoms is supposed to sound like because you literally just made Glornamax Destroyer of Kingdoms up and the only thing you’ve decided thus far is that 1) he destroys kingdoms and 2) he is always referred to by his full name and title. That’s not really a great informer of how you should play Glornamax Destroyer of Kingdoms, and I am often left taken aback for a few moments before going forth with Glornamax Destroyer of Kingdom’s motives of kingdom destruction. This is valuable game time I could be spending destroying kingdoms.
I read an article once that a friend had written for his local news papers op-ed section that basically says charts are a DM’s best friend. I’ve been trying to do more of this in my own games as a way to focus my creativity and to help build a toolbox to better facilitate on-the-fly play. Charts like “Dwarf Names by Syllable” or more classic charts like “100 Random Human Names (male)” or “Personality Quirks” have helped me a lot when arbitrating games over the years, but they don’t quite encompass every aspect of my play style. For me, an NPC isn’t “real” until I have a voice for them. So, why not make a chart of different voices I am good (or passable) at, and use that anytime a new NPC comes into play that I haven’t prepped for?
I was reminded of a comic a guy named Ashton Sperry made a few years ago about a gladiator who called himself “The Wizard” who would call out different spell names as he brutally murdered his opponents in melee combat.
It’s a really silly idea, but it got me thinking about the types of voices characters usually have. Wizards and elves are usually british, dwarves have a Scottish brogue, and barbarians sound like they gargle with asphalt. I find that I stick to certain voices and archetypes for certain characters, and I think that may limit creativity to some extent. What if you had a wizard that sounds like Macho Man Randy Savage. It’d be really easy to make a table full of different voices and try to create characters based off of those voices instead of trying to find a voice that fits a character archetype? So I did just that!
This idea is great because, much like the old Dungeon Furnishing charts or Random Monster tables from AD&D, you end up with some sort of silly results. What if Macho Man Randy Savage was a wizened old sage with all the idiosyncrasies Randy Savage possesses (“ARE YOU brave enough to enter the MOUTH OF MADNESS, brother? Can YOU test you mettle against THE CHIMERA and retrieve its UNTOLD TREASURES?”)? What if Mickey Mouse was a blood thirsty dwarf barbarian (Oh boy! I can’t wait to maim and kill you in single combat A-ha!”)? Of course, these two ideas are EXTREMELY silly, but I think rectifying those character’s quirks would ultimately make your NPCs more interesting.
This chart is specific to my particular talents. The idea is to use this as a jumping-off point and create similar charts for your games. You could have a chart full of different accents or dialects, or a chart filled with just impressions.
(Header photo by Bill Selak)