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I was curious how to voice my male NPCs. I don't want to fill my world with female NPCs just because I can't voice male characters. I want to get more into the roleplay aspect of the game, but my friends laugh anytime I try to do a guys voice. I want to make my characters unique as well, not just using the same tone and what not for everyone.

How can I better handle voicing male characters?

The greatest part of this for me is just voicing males in general. This would include core races like Humans, Dwarves, elves, and also "extra" races, like goblins and Aarakocra, etc. I don't think lowering my voice is a choice here, so I was just wondering what people had to say to help! It's difficult for me to get the "gruff and brute" voices of some of the tougher male races, so I also want to hear about how I might be able to roleplay these voices properly.

(I didn't expect this to get so much attention! So, I hope whoever reads these answers gets as much help from them as I am!)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related, ish, though it doesn’t seem any of the answers touch on voice: As a girl how can I roleplay a male character better? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 26 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking precisely for ways to imitate a male voice or for ways to convey what the voice sounds like to your players? If it is the later, I guess, I have a good answer for you, but the policy here is to answer exactly the question that is asked. Thus I need a clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – Ols Sep 26 at 22:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ols I'm looking for ways to imitate a male voice! I can't drop my voice very low, but any suggestions are nice! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 26 at 22:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I just want to say welcome to any visitors that might have seen this in the HNQ from across the Network. Just a couple of notes: we expect answers to be backed up here, which means that if you suggest something please back it up with evidence or experience about how it worked for you. Also, please make sure your answer is not simply repeating something other answers have already covered. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Sep 27 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Avilyn: That sounds like it would be the good basis for an answer; you should post it as an answer instead of a comment. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 28 at 21:11

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As a DM, I've found that trying to distinguish characters solely by changing my voice doesn't work very well. It's not especially scalable, for one - if you have a full cast of NPCs, you're likely to run out of voices you're physically capable of doing long before you run out of NPCs who need voices. Plus, depending on the voices you have to do and the length of your sessions, you can actually hurt yourself sustaining difficult voices for a long time. (And it's not just doing loud voices; one professional VA injured herself whispering.)

So what's a roleplaying DM to do?

Use Body Language

In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum/Smeagol swaps back and forth between two personalities. While some of the change is in the voice, the vast majority of it is in his body language - the way he holds himself, the way he moves. You can tell which one is in control even with the sound off.

When you get your body into your roleplaying, your voice will naturally follow in ways that don't require you to make a huge effort to "Do A Voice". If you're playing a timid character, shrink down and into yourself. Hunch your shoulders, duck your head. You'll find your voice is naturally softer and likely a bit higher-pitched just due to the shape of your body.

Likewise, if you want to portray a brash, bold warrior, thrust out your chest, lift your chin, and speak from your stomach. This naturally deepens and loudens your voice, and especially if you're a woman, makes you sound more "masculine".

If you're a king, command attention by speaking levelly and not especially loudly: a king knows he is so important that everyone else will fall silent to listen to him. If you're a peasant, slouch your shoulders and slap on your favorite country bumpkin drawl.

Your voice is shaped by your body. Shape your body in the form of the character you're roleplaying, and your voice will follow.

Know Your NPCs' Mannerisms and Speaking Habits

Using body language to shift your voice and roleplay characters requires that you know what body language to use in the first place. This means knowing your characters - their backgrounds, their personalities, the kinds of language they use, etc. This helps them stand out from one another even when you aren't using any special voices.

For example, I had an NPC who could see all of time at once. This meant she often jumped three or four steps ahead in conversation, answering not the question the PCs had just asked, but the one that would logically follow. She was also very distracted all the time, and would sometimes need to be snapped back to the conversation.

In a different campaign, I had an NPC whom the players adopted after he failed his villainous plot against them. He was an intelligent and haughty high elf, so when I played him, I would lean my head back to look down my nose, and speak with Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.

Using these mannerisms helped me both visually and aurally distinguish between my various NPCs, and made it more fun for the players to interact with them.

General Tips for Speaking in a Deep Voice

I said above to speak from your stomach. I tend to use this trick when I want to be louder, as it's the basis for stage projection, but it has the side effect of making my voice deeper. On average, women tend to speak through our noses and at the front of our mouths. Pay attention to where you feel the vibrations and the movement of air when you're talking; you'll likely find them at the front of your tongue and up in the soft palate under your nose.

Men, on the other hand, tend to speak from deeper in the chest/stomach, at the back of their mouths. Try to let your voice sit at the very back of your tongue, at the top of your throat. Instead of pushing air through your nose to talk, push it all the way up from your stomach. You'll feel your voice resonating in your throat, which has the effect of making it deeper and more masculine.

Yes, You'll Be Laughed At (At First)

Your players will likely laugh at first, as you find your way. We laughed at each other a lot back in theatre class. Just like anything new, it takes practice, and you'll sound (and look) a bit silly until you get the hang of it. Practice in front of a mirror, or in the car or shower, or even with a trusted friend or two.

The main thing to remember is to commit. Don't half-ass your body language; it muddies the message and doesn't help your voice cooperate. Just go all-in, and you'll be doing awesome voices in no time - and maybe encouraging your friends to join you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! I'm sure I'll feel a little silly at first, but I will definitely take your suggestions to heart and start practicing the body techniques of it all! I don't mind making a fool of myself in front of friends, so I'll use a lot more body language in my next session! I've never taken any sort of theater class or voice acting lessons, so I appreciate the advice! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 26 at 22:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ As someone with a deep voice who often has to do high pitched voices I can agree you will look silly at first but as you get better at getting into character your friends will see the character though posture and mannerism and the actual pitch of you voice less and less. I once talked into a tin can for multiple session to give voice to a skeletal paladin in full plate. People laughed when I started, (stopping myself from laughing was the hardest) but latter told me it was perfect to make the NPC feel unique. \$\endgroup\$ – John Sep 26 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought I'd add a comment regarding a Mat Colville video he did recently about role playing and how most people fall into the trap of doing a voice and thinking that is role playing. It isn't, RP is so much more: mannerisms, ways of speaking, tone, what the character would ACTUALLY say. Voices are fun and to some degree important but they aren't the only thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Sep 26 at 23:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @John I love the tin can thing! I think if my current DM pulled that out on our group I wouldn't be able to take any situation seriously, but even without doing some voice, once you pull out the can everyones gonna know what's up, and so far that's one of my favorite things about the game! Just making laughable memories with the people at the table, so I'll start looking into some props I might use to alter my voice or make a distinguishable character as well! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 27 at 1:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you haven't been laughed at for your portrayal of a character, you haven't GMed. \$\endgroup\$ – called2voyage Sep 27 at 17:06
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Don't start with sounding like a gender. Focus on distinctive attributes of the characters and try to express those with your voice.

I have the same problem in reverse. It's hard for me to do "feminine" voices due to my vocal register alone. When I've tried to do a specifically feminine voice (the precise definition of what feminine meant for voices shifted from instance to instance), my results have been unimpressive. The voices are sometimes OK, or even better than OK, but I still didn't feel like I was getting what I wanted.

My big revelation was that trying to directly portray gender, in itself, was not very helpful in accomplishing my goals. What I really wanted was a memorable, engaging character, and what really delivers that is making the voice distinctive.

Something like half of my NPCs that I would consider voicing are female. That suggests that female is not a very distinctive trait to express. I end up with better voices when I think about traits they have, especially when those traits make them different from other NPCs, and then think of vocal details that I feel fit those traits.

In a current game I'm running, there is a female gnome NPC that my players interact with sometimes. She's not particularly feminine, is a very talented engineer, often loses herself in her work, and is quick to see the humor in things but doesn't fixate on it. The vocal details that I chose to apply to her were:

  • A husky voice (in my mind, it's a consequence of her work with machines exposing her to fumes and gases over years)
  • A rushed meter (her mind races ahead of her mouth, and she can barely state a full idea before thinking of a couple of new ones)
  • Less-than-great enunciation (she's used to holding tools in her mouth while shouting things at apprentices, and is in the habit of speaking without moving her lips much)
  • She frequently bellows out "har!" when she perceives something funny, but may not acknowledge the humor beyond that

These don't really describe a woman's voice in particular. But they are different from my normal voice, and from the voices I use for other NPCs. It is distinctive and memorable, and attached to a character that is a woman. They accept it not as a woman's voice, but as this woman's voice.


Suggestions for developing specifically male voices

The above isn't meant to discourage you from trying to create voices that sound like the people you want to portray, just to emphasize that a "gendered" voice far from the only detail to focus on.

To develop more masculine vocal traits, my advice is to identify a celebrity (in a specific role or not) and then practice delivering dialogue they've recorded that has the feel you want. Pay attention to the tone, pitch, volume, and so on, but also think about word choice, meter, and body language. Think about which elements convey maleness, specifically, to you rather than other characteristics.

When you practice delivering the dialogue yourself, it's helpful to record it and then listen back. Voices sound very different to the person speaking than to people listening, so hearing it as others will is helpful. It's also helpful to have different attempts that you can review and compare-- you might find a trick that delivers the effect that you want but that you would not have identified clearly in the original dialogue you are imitating.

And, when actually deploying your voices during game sessions, really commit to sticking with your planned voices throughout. For some NPCs I write out brief reference cards that help me remember vocal details and other character traits, and pull them out when I'm portraying that character so that they're fresh in my mind.

It's easy to fall back to a compromise between your real voice and your character voice, but doing so will wipe out a lot of the subtleties that made the voice appealing and distinctive in the first place.

It will be awkward at first, but will only get better with practice.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like the reference cards to keep around for if I forget! Also, developing NPCs traits is something that I've really wanted to work on for a while! It's a matter of practicing the traits that I give them. I have never acted in my life, so this is sorta my gateway into getting better at roleplaying any character. I appreciate your advice and I love the female character you explained! It's nice to hear both sides of this problem. It's nice to hear about guys trying to and finding ways to voice female characters. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 26 at 22:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ This was the answer I was coming here to write but, like, with better wording. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Aidley Sep 27 at 10:31
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First off, welcome.

There isn't really an easy solution, and optimal tactics will depend on your abilities for modulating voices, your knowledge of different dialects and modes of speech, how good an ear you have for different vocabulary choices, and how your group receives what you do.

Modulating Voice

Fundamentally men have deeper voices than women with rare exceptions. I'm guessing you've already tried deepening your voice, so I'll assume there's a limit to what you can do with that. I have a relatively high male voice and I still struggle with female voices so I understand that this can be difficult, and cross-gender often sounds ridiculous even when you do have a good range because there are simply other qualities to the sounds of voices.

Dialects

If you are any good with dialects that can help considerably, because you are burying the oddness in a manner of speech less familiar to your group. About a third to half of my female characters have some sort of accent, be it real, made up, or real but so butchered that it seems made up. Of course this can easily make things even sillier, so there's that.

Another aspect of dialects is that, returning to vocal pitch, both men and women speak a bit higher or lower in some cultures (and sub-cultures) than others. The majority of other English speaking countries predominantly speak in a higher register than most North Americans, in part because of variations in how various vowels are pronounced (some New Zealanders tend to turn a lot of vowel sounds into a high "i", Rhys Darby on Flight of the Conchords is an extreme example). A higher register male speech pattern is presumably easier for most women to get close to.

A major issue with accents, however, is that if it is not one with which you can speak (even wildly inaccurately) without thinking too much about it, then you're really just adding one more challenge to characterization.

Personally I usually come up with an accent or other verbal mannerism for my characters as a player (mostly because it makes it easier to distinguish my personality from the characters) and for cross-gender characters it seems to make it a little easier for most other players to accept the gender mismatch. I do it for some NPC's when I DM, but only when I think they are likely to become important.

Vocabulary

Men and women typically have a few variations in typical vocabulary and idiom. An American male person is radically more likely to greet a male friend with "hey man" then an American female person is. The troubles with this are that it tends to be a fairly limited number of words, requires a good sense of what those words are, and gets pretty far into problematic stereotypes if beyond super common things.

Work with Your Group

At the end of the day, if your group is going to laugh at you for doing male voices then doing more accurate ones is not going to help very much. If you had a voice absolutely perfect the oddness of this coming from you would strike some people as funny. Fundamentally you need to get them to accept that you are doing your best. Even if they don't care about having distinct NPC's on an immersion and narrative level, they probably would like them to be distinctive so that they can tell them apart and remember which was which for pure game reasons. "I'm doing my best so cut me some slack", is basically a silver bullet in terms of making requests from most players. And once they stop laughing at you it will be easier to practice and get better.

This last suggestion is the only one I would say is generally useful; the others are ones that require abilities that come very naturally to a few people, can be learned fairly easily by others, but which are way more trouble than they are worth for some people, in some instances most people.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much for the advice, not only with voices, but how to confront my group about it as well :) I have to say that even if I asked them to cut me some slack, they'd still tear into me, but that's just how my friends are haha. So! I will focus a lot on the vocabulary of my characters especially, as I think that's a huge characteristic for any NPC. I shouldn't be giving a "less intelligent" NPC a broad vocabulary! And the accents are something I can work on as well.. at the moment I butcher any accent I try. I appreciate your answer! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 27 at 1:03
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I tend to have the inverse problem-- depending on the state of my acid reflux, my (male) voice is very deep and trying to truly emulate most female voices would be some combination of ineffective, cartoonish, or unintentionally offensive.

What I as a male do to signify a female voice is to speak in a slightly higher pitch than I normally do. I do emphasize: slightly. I don't mean a full falsetto or head voice or anything of the sort. I also don't try to come up with unique (slight) higher pitches for different female NPCs-- just the one, which is a global signifier. The players' imaginations do the rest of the work for me.

The inverse of this, for a female signifying a male voice, is to just drop the vocal pitch slightly.

The physical mechanism for this, if it is not instinctive, is to raise or lower the laryngeal cartilage, which will raise or lower the pitch of your voice, respectively.

But I will note (I have some formal expertise here) that your natural speaking voice is what it is largely due to factors beyond your control-- length of vocal tract, shape of oral and sinus cavities, stiffness of vocal cords-- as well as a series of subconscious trade-offs that minimize your effort while maximizing your clarity. Deviating from that trade-off point is easy in the short term, but can become tiring over the period of (say) a conversation. You will almost certainly feel the stress accumulate if you pay attention to it. Don't overdo it.

Aside from that, I use all of the tricks in this excellent answer with a conscious mentality of creating a repertoire of signifiers for various characters-- catch-phrases, verbal tics, accents, signature gestures, body language, etc.

The slight change of pitch is just one more signifier.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have so many options to work with here, and I'm not going to give up trying to lower my voice for characters, but I am going to try everything recommended to me here! I have tried to lower my voice some, but it sounds very ineffective on my end... Just sounds a little silly, but I'll keep working at it! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 27 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sadcardboardcat Something important: your voice sounds different to you than it does to everyone else. Like all of us, you hear it partly through your skull bones. Also, what you intend to say interacts with your perception of hearing it. To get a better idea of what you sound like to others, record your speech and listen to it. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dallman Sep 28 at 10:36
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If you want to make your NPCs unique by making them speak in a unique way, you have several options other than actually making voices.

1. Describe the voice.

A description can work as good as an imitation. When you read a book, for example, you don’t hear anything. Still at times we can almost literally ‘hear’ characters speaking, especially if the author is good enough at describing the voice.

Think of something that is peculiar about the character's voice. Is it deep, or loud, or thick. Maybe the character is coughing, or mispronounces some letters, or has an accent.

A good thing to do is to compare the voice of an NPC to a voice familiar to your players. Maybe the NPC speaks like one of your friends or like a celebrity.

You can even use third person every time you describe what the NPCs do or say. I often use this kind of narrative myself and my players are quite happy with that.

2. Use a sample.

Find a record of a voice. You can use a character from a film or a TV show. Select several phrases that are characteristic to your NPC and play the record to your players so that they get the idea.

3. Use style, not voice.

Sometimes it is not the voice that makes a speech unique. It can be word usage like a specific filler word or saying that the NPC uses often. It can also be the word order like in Master Yoda's speech.

Remember that there are different styles of DMing. You can chose the style that fits you better. The immersion of your players depends more on how well you use the style than on what style you choose.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think at times it would be a lot easier to describe voices! I would just want to find a good balance between using third person to describe a characters actions, and actually roleplaying the character. I'm not too sure what my style as a DM is, but I have plenty of time to figure it out with my friends :) I also really like your idea of trying to use voices that sound like my friends, I think it could make for funny situations. Thank you! I'll definitely check out some celebrities and recordings of people to practice with! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 27 at 1:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sadcardboardcat I'm glad to be a bit helpful :) You definitely can combine any of the described methods until you figure out which of them works better for you and your group. Or just continue using a mixture if it works best :) \$\endgroup\$ – Ols Sep 27 at 8:09
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Very great answers here! I would like to throw this in as a suggestion, though you'd do well to take advice from all the answers.

Pre-Record The Dialog

If you're able, grab a mic, grab some voice modulation software, and record what static dialog you can, especially some introductory stuff. Then, play it when it's time :) This will allow your players to have an immediate impression of what you want the character to sound like. Ad-libbing will be an issue, but by then you'll have built an understanding of what they sound like.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes there are some amazing answers here, and I've got a lot of practice ahead of me! Also I do like the voice modifications through pre recorded dialogue! I have some software to do it so I think it could make for some interesting moments when I have important narrative! Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Sadcardboardcat Sep 27 at 3:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good suggestion, and the OP could have other people record some things too. I've seen this in games where I was a player, and the DM got friends of ours to record dialogue that was not meant to be interactive for us. It added more to the immersion of the game than I would have thought. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Sep 27 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or use voice synthesis software instead of voice modulation. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Sep 27 at 16:04
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Don't worry about it!

Use a slightly lower / deeper / harsher version of your normal voice, i.e. a subtle change - not enough to be trying to actually sound like a man, which as you've found, comes off as comical. Just enough to be an indicator of the manliness (change back to your normal tone for narration).

Both as a GM and a player, I've found that this gets the idea across pretty quickly. As a male GM I would normally voice a female character with a slightly gentler, lighter tone.

Male GMs have female NPCs as well, but they don't put on a Monty Python-esque high-pitched falsetto (unless of course, the humour is what they're going for)

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

We have plenty of examples of professional voice acting women role playing men -- audio books. A recent example is Brandon Sanderson's Skyward:

Brandon Sanderson's Skyward audio book

Aside from being a great read, it is voiced by a woman who also has to voice act a number of male roles.

You will note that she employs much of the advice already given here (and as a written novel, the words used also convey much of the advice given here) so I won't belabor those points, but actually listening to the strategies put into action is, IMO, irreplaceable if you want to do your best.

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I've played in a number of groups with female DMs and female players playing male characters (including two of the groups I play in right now). I agree with the comments that suggest you needn't try to have an especially male voice and that things like manner and ways of expressing yourself will be more important. To me their male characters are just male for me without worrying about the pitch of the voice.

However I do have one suggestion for deeper-voiced male characters that may help with sounding more masculine without straining anything.

Speak a little more slowly than you normally would, like what you're saying is important - as if each of your words deserve time to be fully recognized, allowing them a teeny moment to resonate. This will help drop the pitch of your voice without you straining, and it emulates something many men do when speaking (say less, but take the time to say it). It will tend to make your voice more throaty than nasal/front-palate without requiring you to specifically seek to achieve that.

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Who said anything about making your voice lower?

In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, certain male characters - usually Narancia and Doppio, but sometimes also Giorno (especially when he's screaming MUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDAMUDA) - talk with a voice that usually should be easily within a typical vocal range. There's nothing unusual about this. Focus on making the character's voice sound unique, not on dropping your voice by a perfect fifth.

If you do want to voice someone specifically with a harsh/rough voice go in steps (e.g. Narancia → Giorno → Josuke → Okuyasu → Jotaro → Diavolo; the way you've described your voice, you probably want to stop at Jotaro). Don't immediately make your voice as harsh as it can get, gradually introduce the harshness.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 28 at 9:37
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(Sorry for bad English; it is my 4th language and I make a lot of mistakes in it.)

I had similar problem from the other side - as an older man, with a beard, some fat, and a small voice range, I have a lot of PCs and NPCs in my game (both male and female) that should be somehow believable. (I am unable to realistically make sounds like a young girl (not even a typical woman) and I would not dress as one, even if I am playing a female character - but it is not really needed to play one such way, that others accept her as what she should be like). Here are some tricks which I use.

1. I always describe the character first

And not only what PCs can see, but also how they are perceiving it. And it also takes a bit of voice modulation:

He sounds like a trader, even when he tries to hide that. His voice is impressive, deep and full; you feel he could convince normal people to believe him nearly anything. Make a Perception check.

  • [if good] Wow, you can even bet that he worked in a bank or something like that. He must have studied at a private college, probably [this specific one], and trained his voice actively.
  • [if bad] Not much, must be some banker or what. His voice was probably trained, as nobody speaks that way normally - just people from some special colleges, but you cannot tell which one.

(Yes, basically the same, but they discovered it and will see him this way.)

He greets you all formally, enjoying the convincing, deep sound of his own voice, and says something like: [so far the GM was talking, but now the GM is roleplaying the NPC's monologue; I take my voice down like one tone or two, and speak a little more slowly] "Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to meet you in person."

Then he looks at each of you, nods just for himself, and continues: [and now I speak like the NPC - even more slowly, another tone down and with all his personal traits] "I was told that you could use some money and would not mind solving a little problem we've been having lately. Some people need to be taken care of..."

Now, even when I speak only like three tones down (which is nothing difficult), my players perceive it as a much deeper and serious tone. And if I go back to normal, it is clear that it is the GM describing something, not the NPC speaking.

She is a teenage girl, with only a small bag, short leather skirt, and a t-shirt with burning skull on it. She wears high heavy leather boots with tons of spikes on them, and she has shaved her head to leave just a high purple mohawk. While she tries to be seen as independent and mature, her voice betrays her and you know that she must be even younger than she pretends. She speaks really fast and enthusiastically, and sometimes she needs to take a breath in the middle of her talking, but she does not care and continues right away. [I start to speak a little faster already, and I increase tempo on the way.]

Skipping greetings, she tries to get to the point as fast as she can, and says something like [tone up and even faster]: "WoW! You really came and it is just wonderful and I hoped you would come and I was worried, since you don't know me and Mike told me you would come and Mike knows it as we work for the maf... uhm, some people, and I should not talk about that and there is some bastard and he must be punished and Mike told me to call you and that you could do it and I don't have money, but I know something and you'd really like to know it and I will tell you if you help me and that bastard...

[Finally out of breath, I gasp a few times and continue even one more tone up] ...that bastard would be dead and mutilated and burned and done forever and that thing is about something you asked about lately underground and Mike told me about that and I looked into it and..."

[and you should have noticed long ago that she uses "and" instead of any punctuation and especially at the end of sentences and starts new ones and she quickly jumps from idea to idea and did I mention her favorite word is "and" and she overuses it and does not stop talking at all and ...]

So while I was going only two small steps up or down in my tone, I made two characters that speak in totally different ways. Players usually hear them talking in a much wider range of tones, that I could even try to make, not to mention use effectively.

2. I set expectations for what players should hear

If I describe the voice in a certain way, they expect the NPC to speak the same way; they expect it to sound like the dialogue does in their head while reading a book. So I do not need to talk in a high/low pitch really, if I state the pitch and style before.

3. I usually introduce the character in 3 steps

First, I describe in my normal tone of voice what the characters see and hear. I might make players make some Perception checks (so they "reveal something" and take it as given as an important fact - if it is about the voice, they will be more inclined to actually hear it in the text).1

Then I summarise part of the speech of the given character (formally in my own words and voice, but I start to play the character already at lower force), and I alternate my speech tone and style a little towards the character's. (For instance, if I say, "She speaks about one or two octaves higher than usual, and talks about XXX," and I raise my tone just 1/12 octave higher for XXX, then it means I am talking about her style to distinguish it from my own style, but not that I am talking like her - I'm just summarising/hinting at her style of speech, after all.)

(And yes, it is cheating - I am really playing the NPC, while I deny it verbally. But it works, as it shifts the "mood" in the right direction. While I say, "No, it is not exactly what was said", so there is no expectation that I sound exactly like the character, players can get a "preview" of what was said about that character and how he talks.)

And then I make some break in my normal tone or describe something, so there is a visible/audible change, and then go to that character's direct speech with a slightly bigger change of tone/style. As players already expect her to talk two octaves higher, as I'd already hinted by describing her speech in a higher tone of voice, this is "official substitution" for what she really talks like. And If I use this tone (and style), their characters are supposed to hear "a tone of voice two octaves higher" even if I am speaking just two tones higher. (It's totally comfortable in my voice range to go two little steps up or down from my normal voice.)

(Also cheating - now I pretend that the previous talking about the voice was sufficient for anybody to hear that voice and that their characters were already hearing the right voice talking in the right style and tone as what I "summarised", so I now just establish an "official replacement" for what they already know, and both characters and players already totally understand what that replacement exactly stands for.)

1 A lot of my friends like to roll dice (as many as possible, and announce high scores as often as possible). Part of the rolls are "real" in a way that may or not reveal some useful hidden info; part of them are "just so" and they get some "hidden info" anyway, just served by different words, if it is good to have during the scene; and some are "just for fun" to reveal details that are just interesting, not useful (like finding out that some random spikes on her boots forms a particular star constellation (say, Pisces)) - this also many times turns to "conspiracy theories", which can make an interesting arc in the story themselves or give me some ideas that will interest my friends just now, and I could incorporate something like that (or subvert it).

4. I characterise more by the style of talking than by the tone

As you could see, the two characters want the same things, but they are totally different.

The businessman speaks slowly and in elaborated sentences and euphemisms; the teenager speaks as fast as she can in really short "sentences" and mixes everything together. They use different phrases ("Ladies and gentlemen" vs. "You"), and even different language ("Some people should be taken care of" vs. "that bastard would be dead and mutilated and burned and done forever"). Even if players just saw a sentence of dialogue written, they would be able to tell who said what and in which voice.

The businessman is always wearing a perfect suit, moves slowly, looks the same solid way, and has his two bodyguards with him. Every word of his is well-placed and premeditated. Everything he says sounds reliable, decent, and formal. These traits are exaggerated even more when he is actually wrong, lies, does not know, or a suggestion is plain stupid.

Lili just runs around, jumps, eats everything given to her, changes mood every day, and while she is intelligent and competent and has a lot of knowledge, she presents her options and recommendations in a totally careless style, and what she says sounds more childish or rebellious than it really is. These traits are exaggerated even more when she is right.

5. Repetition is the mother of wisdom

For a few following scenes/sessions, I would repeat the voice characterisation before actually using it, just in a shorter way:

You hear Lili's high and young voice at her typical unbelievable rate from around the corner as she says: [at a higher tone and speed] "...And you are ugly and I will not help you and I will kick your ass and stomp on your corpse if you ask again and it serves you right to get that and..." (At which time usually somebody's character screams, "Not her again!" - so the player remembered who is speaking, and his character recognized that already and remembered all her manners and the problems with her.)

6. Trademarks are important

It is good to have some trademarks (or quirks or so) for each important NPC, so that just a few words is enough to recognize them and are somehow characteristic for them.

Lili talks fast and abuses "and" to no end.

Cat is a young woman who is a cat shaman. She talks like a cat as much as possible. She does not say "Hi" or "Hello", but sings "Ci~a~o~o" in a way that sounds like "Miaow" and instead of "OK" she says "Fi~i~ine" (again like Miaaw - well, it is a bad translation, as we play in Czech language, where it sounds even much more like a cat speaking; I am not exactly sure how cats speak in English) - especially with her imitating it by tone too and using many words that can be pronounced as cats do.

A troll warrior uses preferably one-syllable words (or even sentences) "I. Hit. Him. He. Dead." (Rarely using words with more than two syllables, even.)

Genja - an orc from Russia - constantly puts the phonetic stress in the wrong part of a word. He talks slowly and like it is hard for him.

7. Gender stereotypes

Until totally formal, girls and boys talk and think a lot differently. It is cultural and all, but it can be used for characterisation too. (Well, we are playing archetypes after all.) On the other hand, if it is used the wrong way (accidentally using a female stereotype on a male or otherwise), it stands out a lot and either breaks the illusion or suggests strange things about such a character.

It is much easier to disrupt the picture of a character of the other gender by using your stereotype, instead of his, than to disrupt it by overdoing the stereotype or talking in a bad tone.

"What about the bar?" - "Hell yeah!" / "Hell no!"

"What about the bar?" - "It would be really pleasant, if you do not mind." / "I do not feel like that just now, but it may be just me."

If playing a tough male NPC, throw in some convenient phrase(s) that he would use a lot.

If each of his lines starts with "Damned, ..." (at a place where he is suppose to take a breath and imagine what he wants to say), it is usually believable and it does not mean anything for the rest of his speech. Or any other curse/profanity/word parasite ("By the horned devil,... ", "Raxos' cursed eyes, ...", "Rusted crowbar, ..." or anything like that). Like "Ehm, ..." or "Sorry, ..." would work for a shy character as the normal start of a sentence. Or all those, "Eeee, well, I think, I would say..."

The talk can then go in any direction; it is just a way to collect one's thoughts. It can also be good if he is stuck in the middle of a sentence, or surprised, or so.

Also, a friend of mine was just here and told that when playing a male warrior, the NPC should not talk about his feelings, or talk just to keep talking, or to make others feel good (does not count on showing sympathy by cursing - "Yes, that sucks" and such) - it would sound wrong nearly every time. (It did not even come to mind that I would do that, but when I play a female NPC, I take care to make her talk a lot about how she feels; while playing a male NPC, I do not even think about doing something like that - the male NPC just talks about what they did, or what they will do.)

Also, female NPCs usually take much more care about how they look, what they wear (for beauty), and how they are viewed by others. Male NPCs tend to talk about technical stats, what they would take on (for best bonuses), and easy make mistakes like "I cut its head with axe, take it both hands up and go show around the city - But the head is big and the blood runs over your hair, face and all your clothes - Oh well, it does not matter - Citizens are running from you, screaming - Why? I saved them!" (This really happened.)

They offer you new high heavy black boots, yellow overalls, and a green hat, but you do not want to take it at all; what do you say?

  • "No, thanks - black, yellow and green does not go together!"

  • "You are insane - yellow doesn't provide any camo in the jungle!"

Even if my female NPC wants to look hard (or rebellious) and curses, they use much softer words than my male NPCs. Not only because it is "feminine" (I know girls who normally use language that I would not use), but because I am creating an illusion and so I am bound to "stick with the rules" to not break the illusion of a female NPC, even if a female player could do it anytime. On the other hand, I can play male NPC as I want, while a female GM should "stick to the rules" to not break the illusion of a male NPC.

This does not prevent them from being really cruel or brutal (if they are); I have just use other wording when they speak.

I was hungry and there was a boar, so I snuck there and cut its head off with an axe. Then I skinned it and roasted it on the fire. Then we all ate it.

vs.

I had seen a wild piggie and it was so dirty and there was a nice clean river and so I used some spell and levitated it there and washed it im the water and it made a lot of funny bubbles and tried to swim or whatever and the water washed it really well and it then stopped making the bubbles and I took it out and it did not move and I did not want to put it in the dirt again and so I took it inside and it still did not move and it would rot anyway in such a hot jungle and so we somehow preserved it and so I made a nice fire and we had a great picnic and I made a hole in the ground and we properly disposed of all the remains there and so the place looked the same and there was no harm to nature at all...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi, I did some major copyediting for spelling, grammar, and readability. Please look over it to make sure I didn't change the meaning. (I did remove an unnecessary offensive example under #6.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 29 at 3:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, thanks, you did really improved it and did a lot of good work :) (The removed example was not suppose to be offensive, but as it was translated from Czech and also our setting was changed to one more generic, I may made in sound wrong way. So it is better without offending anyone. ) \$\endgroup\$ – gilhad Sep 29 at 7:50

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