I'm the DM of the group.

This is more of an acting question rather than one about mechanics.

As my group and I have progressed through our game I've introduced several recurring characters to it. After the latest game I asked my players how they felt about the NPCs’ acting. In summary they said that while every character does have its own thing going, they do show similar qualities between them, especially when showing similar emotions.

For example, there is a group of characters that are wary/angry of a particular PC. They (the players) say that while each one has its own reason to be that way, how I portray it through them is way to similar to each other.

I believe it is a problem of delivery rather than writing and while it won't affect the game mechanics I feel it does affect in the overall enjoyment of the game.

How can I show emotions differently in different characters?

We are playing using voice chat but without any video. The only visual aid I have is the virtual tabletop from the site I'm using.


6 Answers 6


Try this one weird trick that will improve your GMing skills!

But seriously, as you go through your life, when you see a character on a TV show or movie or podcast or video game that seems interesting and notable, write them down (or take a note in your phone, whatever).

At the game, have that list available. When you need an NPC, look at your list, and mentally cast that character in the role. Cast Captain Picard as the captain of the guard. A bumbling thief is played by Shia LaBeouf. The mad ghost is played by Scrooge McDuck. The shopkeeper is the SlapChop guy. Whatever -- just keep that character in mind as you play out the scenario and let that character inform what kinds of things will influence them or what emotions they'll display. An artificer noble played by Tony Stark will be a very different person from an artificer noble played by Emmett Brown, Otacon, or Victor Frankenstein.

It doesn't even have to be a proper reproduction of the character in question, as long as it gives you a touchstone to start from. You can even use somebody's imitation of a celebrity rather than the real thing -- I once had a starship mechanic who was based entirely on the SNL "Celebrity Jeopardy" version of Burt Reynolds (and yes -- his name was Ferguson). The players don't need to know who they're talking to, just as long as it helps you get into a different mindset.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Billy Mays here for the magic item vendor in Waterdeep! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I played the town master in Phandalon as Trump. Good times. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kieveli
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 14:29

Tips from the LARP

In the LARP I play in, it's very common on cast to have to cycle between different characters. First scene, scared commoner; second scene, territorial wolf; third scene, orc on patrol; fourth scene, bored fisherman.

Each of the scenes and accompanying characters has a motive for how it's acting at any point in time. You need to convey that emotion when you speak as that character. You could narratively state, "The commoner approaches you and says, 'I'm so scared because of the macguffin!'" but it's not very interesting.

It's far better for you to act out the action a bit, shudder as you speak, "You aren't from the macguffin, are you!" Raise your hands up defensively, "Please, my family cannot pay this season, we swear we tried!"

For the record, it's weird. You're acting to a room that's not acting back. However, I think you'll find over time that if you play your characters wholly in-character yourself, you may find that your players start playing theirs back at you.

One last thing: be aware of each character's personality. The manner in which a commoner reflects fear is not going to be the same as a knight. The knight might be terrified, but could be more likely to simply show stoicism instead.


While I fully agree with the other answers, I wanted to also add a different take. You said:

We are playing using voice chat but without any video. The only visual aid I have is the virtual tabletop from the site I'm using.

That's fine, but you should still physically act out what you are trying to convey. There is a lot of research that people can hear you smile when talking on the phone. And a lot of voice actors, or screen actors doing re-dubs, will still act out the scene because the motion and position of your body is translated into how you sound.

Try this experiment:

  1. Stand up straight and tall, chest out, and yell as if in anger.
  2. Lay down in a fetal position and try doing the same yell.

You will most likely feel a difference when doing it, but if you record the two yells you will definitely hear the difference.

So don't discount the fact you're alone in a room. If your mic is any good, your players will still hear you hunched over, standing proud (or at least sitting up straight), and crunched up small and meek.


You mentioned that it's delivery more than writing, but I've found that sometimes the right words can drive the right delivery.

I often write down three or four phrases for each important NPC. These are phrases likely to be uttered by that NPC, so they're manifestations of both the NPC's emotional state and method of expression. This serves as a guideline for patterns of speech. I then associate the tone of voice from a specific TV or movie character.

For example, the phrases for the rugged veteran Captain of the Guard, who has never been anywhere and is used to being a big fish in a small pond, are crude and direct. Imagine them being delivered by Paulie from the movie Rocky:

  • "Why should I believe you, damned slinking foreigner? You're just like all the other worms!" (mistrustful, bigoted)
  • "Five silver? Five?! You worms think I can be bribed with five silvers? Give me ten and we'll talk." (reckless, self-assured)
  • "I've been captain of this town's guard for ten years, worm. You think you're better than me with your fancy foreigner garb and slick talk?" (unsophisticated, insecure)

The polished and erudite leader of the assassin's guild, on the other hand, takes time to get to the point and uses more ornate words. Imagine the delivery as if voiced by Loki from the Thor movies:

  • "Your suggestion is intriguing, but I also wonder how the priests of your cult would react to it. Does your god not frown upon... extralegal... activities?" (learned, teasing)
  • "It seems my reputation precedes me. Undoubtedly you have heard that a silver here or a silver there can turn my attention. While it is true that like anyone I appreciate the security that cold hard coin provides, unfortunately my eye cannot be turned by such a limited sum." (self-aware, smooth)
  • "Persistence, as I believe your god tells it, is the highest of human traits. And you do her proud in your efforts. We have jousted with words for near an hour, and yet we stand no closer to agreement. And now unfortunately my duties force me to curtail our discussion. You must understand this is merely because there are only so many hours in the day, and my responsibilities are myriad. I have indulged you, and I do not in any way condemn you for your aforementioned perseverance. But understand that perseverance taken too far could be regarded as dangerous folly. I therefore ask that for your own safety you refrain from... persisting... any further. Good day to you." (dramatic, subtly intimidating)

I've got a copper to spare.

If voice acting doesn't come naturally, it'll take a little extra work. My idea is to have an dialogue note card for key NPCs used. These note cards will have a description of the NPC with info regarding race .. profession .. backstory as well as voice descriptors. You can look up words to describe someones voice.

Check out fantasy movies, they will have typical elf, dwarf styles and other creatures. It doesn't have to earn you an academy, but to differentiate between races is good, same race but different regions is better.

Main goal is to have fun!


Personally, I plan out all important NPCs and their personalities; this includes how they express their emotions as well. Try using different tones and use hand motions. I also add a description to their actions and facile expressions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "I also add a description to what they do as well."? Your answer is a good start, but it would be improved by elaborating on your suggestions and how they have worked in your own game experiences. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 2:18

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