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So, this is my first time DMing a continuous campaign. I'm finally (after five or so sessions) getting good grips on a lot of the stuff, but I'm very much still struggling with the role-playing element of it all.

I'm a female, and I find it very hard to do any sort of male voice, as well as accents that differ from my own. The module I'm running is Curse of Strahd, and with next session being their first proper encounter with the big guy himself, I'm terrified I will mess everything up by just failing to deliver anything but my own (arguably dull) voice. I am pretty shy about doing this sort of stuff, so any tips to help me git gud at accents, or even just to get out of my shell & do something would be so greatly appreciated.

:)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Kudos to you for adding that spice. I gave up voices long, long ago... got lazy. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 21 '18 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sdjz I think that's only part of it. I think it's more like "How can I deliver a better persona for characters in game when DMing." I think the problem transcends gender, just happening to be a female with concerns about a male character in this case. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Mar 21 '18 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ The title might better reflect the actual problem. Roleplaying does not require speaking in a particular voice, only representing a character in some way. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Mar 21 '18 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] As a girl how can I roleplay a male character better? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 21 '18 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems way to broad and/or opinion-based to me right now. I can't figure out how we can make this a stack-answerable question as is. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 21 '18 at 19:00
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There is a heavy emphasis these days, thanks to the rise of "RPGs as entertainment" on Twitch and Youtube, for the DM (and to a lesser extent, the players) to be performers.

Although some groups really enjoy the dramatic aspect of voice and mannerism, this is not the only way to play. Early editions had examples of play wherein no one was speaking in character, and in fact some large groups even had a caller, who conferred with the players and acted as a third person liaison to the DM. Many groups contain at least one player who insists on using the third person to describe their character's actions and dialog.

So instead of trying to use a voice you are uncomfortable on unconfident with, narrate dramatically. Where you might be tempted to say, "Strahd says, 'Enter freely and of your own will'" using a creepy or "Shakespearean" voice, say, "Strahd stands at the door, confident and slightly mocking, and beckons you in a warm voice that somehow echoes slightly, to enter freely and of your own will". Let language do what voice cannot.

I play with a group that has four rotating DMs. Everyone in that has different levels of comfort, and different approaches. As a matter of fact, we just met Strahd last weekend, and the DM never once used anything but his own voice. Yet by controlling mood and setting through descriptive language, managed to thoroughly creep us out.

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Practice in front of a mirror.

I am not kidding; this is one of the best ways to learn delivery. Look your reflection in the eye, summon up the character and attitude of the character you speak as, and speak. Don't worry about trying to make your voice deep -- make it resonant instead. Speak from the diaphragm. Know what you're going to say before you open your mouth. Know what the character has to say, and say it.

Then do it again.

Use your phone or some other device to record yourself while you're practicing. You'll get a better idea what you sound like. Then practice some more.

I did this kind of thing a lot as a kid, pretending to be someone I'd seen on TV, so when I started role playing it came naturally. At present, one of my bi-weekly game sessions has me playing a London cab driver (long story) -- who sounds just like Michael Caine, because that was an English accent I was confident I could manage. Even so, I practiced it, in my car on the way to and from work, for a couple weeks before the first session. I was born in Washington state, but when I'm in character for that game, I sound like Michael Caine.

The practice won't just help with the voice -- it'll help with your confidence, as well. Good luck -- your players are lucky, in that you actually care about this aspect. Many GM's make no effort to add this to the game, and it's still fun, but it's better when a character talks like that character talks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, if you have a commute where you are alone in the car for a while, this is an excellent place to experiment. No one but no one can hear you and you are free to try anything as loud or as many times as you want. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Mar 21 '18 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis That's almost a stand alone answer right there. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 '18 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Almost. I was intending it as a suggestion for improving Zeiss' answer. But I now see that car is in there, even if only incidentally. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Mar 22 '18 at 0:35
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First off, keep this in mind...

Most DMs aren't voice actors

And most players are fine with that. Most of us aren't Matt Mercer or his players.

Most DMs aren't experts or even accomplished at accents and voices and everything else. Most players are perfectly capable of maintaining immersion while their DM just talks in their own natural voice, perhaps adding descriptive flare to describe how they are talking, rather than trying to mimic it.

But, if you want to branch into this direction....

Practice Accents

You're going to look like a crazy person if you do this in public, but the only way to 'git gud' at accents is to practice them. Go on Youtube and search for people speaking English with different accents. Pay attention to how they pronounce different sounds. You can sometimes even find guides that will walk you through the nuances of a particular accent.

And once you have that, practice. Walk around and talk to yourself (or someone you're very comfortable with) in a funny accent and keep messing with it until it sounds a way you like.

Practice Altered Diction

Part of a character's voice is the specific way they talk. Listen to other people talk. Notice how they hold different letters for different lengths of time. Notice how they pause in different places than you do. Note how sharply they say consonants, or if they mispronounce common sounds. Notice how quickly or slowly they talk, how much they vary the pitch of their voice as they do so. Do they actually finish saying all their words down to the last consonant, or do they just let them trail off?

Then, as before, practice mimicking it.

Practice Different Speech Patterns

Again, listen to people. Listen to their verbal tics and the ways they say things. Do they use complicated words? Do they have a tendency to preface sentences with a particular word or sound? Pick important NPCs and figure out how they talk.

Does this person frequently use contractions, or do they say the full words? Do they lop off parts of words, like saying 'em instead of them or 'ey instead of hey, or perhaps they would say the word perhaps as "per'aps."

Practice messing with the shape of your mouth

The expression you are making with your mouth when you talk can warp the sound of your voice. A voice spoken through a sneer actually sounds different than a voice spoken through a neutral mouth...which sounds different from a voice spoken through a smile. Mess with the shape you hold your mouth in while you talk and listen to what that does to your voice.

Curl a lip up, smile, frown, narrow your mouth, smile with only half your mouth, talk through gritted teeth, try talking without putting your teeth together at all.

Once you know what these facial positions do to your voice, you can use them when you want to. A lot of people can actually hear the expression you're making when you talk, and that can help convey mood and temperament.

Summary

There's only so much you can do about the way your voice sounds. It is very difficult to sound dramatically different, but you can create convincing voices despite that.

Play more with different ways of talking, rather than just trying to pitch your voice around. I have characters in games I run that my players can identify by voice, even though I'm using my natural pitch and (lack of) accent--simply because the character has a distinct diction.

So, in your case, perhaps Strahd doesn't have a big booming scary voice. He is corruptive, seductive in his own creepy way. Perhaps he has a voice like silk that slightly draws out his softer consonants. Perhaps, given how old he is, he speaks with an older style dialect, using older terms and forms of address. He is a nobleman, to boot, so he likely speaks in a refined manner...but with just a touch of a sneer. And, perhaps in reference to his undeath, perhaps his voice varies in pitch only slightly while he talks.

Speaking plainly, I'm a guy. I can't mimic a girl's voice very well. I mostly just end up sounding like a guy talking in a higher-pitched voice. But I definitely have voices I use that are sufficiently 'feminine' that my players can recognize them as 'female' by sound--and are consistent enough that my players can identify the specific character they belong to.

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Step 1. Relax.

Practice out loud and look up tutorials.

Here is a great video on voices and accents. Basically, most voices consist of a combination of only 2-3 traits. Pitch, Speed, and Quirks (the last being things like lisps, stutter, southern drawl, etc). Pick a couple lines. Speak them out lout. Slow it down. Speed it up. Make your voice higher and lower. Immediately, that's nine voices (high-fast through low-slow, with your voice being in the middle).

Presumably, these people are your friends and don't expect you to be a professional voice actress.

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You don't need to impersonate your settings. You narrate them.

A roommate of mine constantly is hearing narrated Agatha Christie novels, and each of them is invariably told by a single person. The speakers (either male or female) tend to adjust their voice for narrating individual parts, but a female voice does not become staggeringly male or vice versa: there is just some consistency and a recognizable intent and character. And inflection and loudness does not sway wildly either. It's an auditory sketch, that's all.

If you feel unsure about, get any old audio book and listen to it. Speakers stay within their comfort zone while indicating their intent. That's all.

It's important that you as a DM stay within your comfort zone.

You are the one holding the threads of the game in your hand and that's what you need to maintain. The terror of the final encounter with the foe is not in your voice, but in your narration and his stats and his effects. Refrain from anything that might make you lose your cool or feel weak: you are the universe.

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