Monday, June 20, 2011

Why do You Think I Have This Outrageous Accent?


A question for you GMs out there: How much do you “play” NPCs in your game?

I (mostly) tend to play NPCs as characters. They get their own manner of speech and verbal idiosyncrasies. A pirate captain might get a vaguely piratical patter, a wealthy, double-dealing merchant might sound like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon, or a supercilious shopowner a bit like Jonathan Harris' Dr. Smith in Lost in Space (I should add all these voices most only be considered approximate). I tend to keep the use of accents to a minimum, as I’m not particularly good at them, but sometimes I hint at them with stereotypical vocabulary.

Now that’s what I try to do. Sometimes I lose track of who I gave what voice to. Other times it just gets tedious dropping in and out of character, so I mostly abandon it once the player’s have “got it.”

I’ve played in games where GMs did similarly, but also games where the GMs went light on differentiating NPCs, often just telling the players what they said in the third person. I have no idea which approach is must common, though.

(The title of this post also represents my first Monty Python reference in a year and a half of rpg-blogging. I feel like I’ve crossed some sort of Rubicon.)

15 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

It adds to the experience of the game and raise a chuckle or two.

The Happy Whisk said...

I think it's fun when reading even just a book to someone, or being read too, and hearing an accent. So fun.

Ka-Blog! said...

My current GM does the voices and accents and speech patterns thing an account of his theater background.

I used to do that for Call of Cthulhu, but not really for any other RPG.

EvilDM said...

Seriously a must, so long as you don't become suddenly self-conscious about the fact you're doing it, but then, that can add to the fun aspect of it - for the players, that is.

bliss_infinte said...

I try to add 'voice' to my NPCs but after a couple of interactions the accent changes or it turns southern or something weird. We all have a good laugh about that and in the end my NPCs end up sounding the same. I try my best though! About half of my players use voices for the PCs. It all adds quite a laugh at the table.

Risus Monkey said...

I'm terrible at voices but I do try to "get into character" with thought-out motivations and at least one idiosyncrasy that I can roleplay.

Tim Shorts said...

When I GM I try to do voices and do a approximation of someone or some type I know. I have a system know where I put a sounds like section on my NPCs so I can remember what they are supposed to sound like when I made them. Otherwise they may have sounded like Popeye one session and all of a sudden he sound like a old man on a respirator.

Probably my most famous was a slaver captain in the voice of John Cleese. That was fun.

Trey said...

So seems like I'm in the mainstream on this one. :)

@EvilDM - I think you're right. Not getting to self-conscious is the key.

@Tim - I could see John Cleese as a slaver captain. ;)

Martin R. Thomas said...

I'm with @Risus. I'm terrible at voices and when I have tried them, eventually they all end up sounding the same. I particular hate trying to do womens' voices because they all sound like horrible cartoon caricatures.

But, I do try to think of a particular idiosyncrasy I can role-play regarding their motivation, and also some kind of physical thing they act out, like continually brushing hair out of ones' eyes, stroking a beard, picking at a hangnail, etc. - something that the NPC does each time so the players are aware of who it is they're talking with.

sirlarkins said...

Other times it just gets tedious dropping in and out of character, so I mostly abandon it once the player’s have “got it.”

This about sums up my approach. Accents or heavy in-character dialogue to "set" an NPC in the party's mind, then slipping into third-person narration as time goes on. I also try to avoid the trap of only giving personality or noticeable quirks to Major NPCs.

I'm pretty good with accents, so I can roll them out when I really need; like the other commenter said, I tend to go heavier with this sort of thing when I'm running Call of Cthulhu.

@Martin: I've gotten a lot out of listening to audio books. Pay attention to how the narrator reads the dialogue of characters of the other gender. It doesn't take much--just a slight difference in pitch, perhaps, or varying cadence (slower for men, faster for women or somesuch).

Gavin said...

I never make any notes on it or plan anything in advance (actually I write virtually nothing at all about NPCs!), it's just improvised as it comes along, but I usually do at least a slight accent or voice for characters (both NPCs as a DM and PC as a player), and sometimes quite an extreme one, as it helps me get into the mood of that particular character.

I am however in the unusual situation at the moment that all the players in my game are non-native English speakers, so I don't think they even notice half the time! :)

seaofstarsrpg said...

Yes, I use them fairly often but lightly. It is good way, as has been said, to help establish a character.

Trey said...

One thing I've found interesting here: What is it with people and accents only in CoC? What is it about people in a 1920s horror setting that gives them stronger accents as opposed to Medieval fantasy or modern settings?

@Sirlarkins - I was just about to say that same thing to Martin. Audio books are absolutely great for that. There also great for vocal patterns period. I had a wizard in a game once that sounded like Matt Dillon doing Dean Moriarty from On the Road.

@Gavin - Hmmm...I don't know if having non-native English speakers would make it harder or easier. They wouldn't know when you got it wrong, but they wouldn't appreciate when you got it right. ;)

Meowlissa said...

I think its a total must have. Some are better than others but it always adds an extra something :)

Pierce said...

good question. the short answer is that we don't really roleplay characters too intensely, and we have been staying away from accents. I'm doing a post on the longer answer if you are interested.