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A Changeling's shapechanger feature allows them to change their voice as an action. But unlike Kenku, the actor feat, and Rogue(Assassin)'s impostor feature, "mimicry" isn't mentioned.

Are Changelings able to innately mimic voices or is some check required when trying to imitate a voice/vocal mannerisms?

If no check is required, what is the upper limit? Could they transform into a Kenku and use their actions to replicate that race's mimicry of any sound (e.g adopting the appearance of a Kenku, then changing tiny parts of their appearance as they change their voice to a dolphin or between other humanoids)

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3 Answers 3

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The Changeling's Shapechanger trait (E:RftLW, p. 18) says, in part:

As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex.

Per Keith Baker's FAQ post on Changelings in Eberron: Rising from the Last War:

  • As a changeling it is assumed that you can perfectly replicate the appearance of a creature you’ve seen before (just like someone using disguise self). No roll is required to duplicate basic physical appearance.

  • However, this doesn’t provide you with any knowledge of that person and their quirks. It’s taken for granted that you sound like them—the voice comes with the shape—but you don’t know their mannerisms or their vocabulary.

Basically, the timbre of your voice will be the same, but that doesn't guarantee you'll match their accent, their word choices, their verbal tics, etc.

Especially with the removal of the free advantage on Deception checks (that the version from UA: Eberron Races had), this means the Actor feat and/or the Assassin rogue's Impostor feature still help.

The Actor feat (PHB, p. 165) says, in part:

  • You have advantage on Charisma (Deception) and Charisma (Performance) checks when trying to pass yourself off as a different person.

  • You can mimic the speech of another person or the sounds made by other creatures. You must have heard the person speaking, or heard the creature make the sound, for at least 1 minute. A successful Wisdom (Insight) check contested by your Charisma (Deception) check allows a listener to determine that the effect is faked.

The advantage part is straightforward enough. The other benefit is more nuanced, and would ostensibly let you match those mannerisms and word choices and such.

The Assassin rogue's Impostor feature (PHB, p. 97) is similar:

At 13th level, you gain the ability to unerringly mimic another person’s speech, writing, and behavior. You must spend at least three hours studying these three components of the person’s behavior, listening to speech, examining handwriting, and observing mannerisms.

Your ruse is indiscernible to the casual observer. If a wary creature suspects something is amiss, you have advantage on any Charisma (Deception) check you make to avoid detection.

This is very similar to the Actor feat's benefits, but you get it as an Assassin without spending a feat - and you are able to match their writing style too. The feature explicitly calls out "mannerisms" as something you "unerringly mimic" - so again, this complements the changeling's Shapechanger trait well, by letting you copy the things Shapechanger doesn't already grant you the ability to copy.


That said, this question is distinct from your other one:

If no check is required, what is the upper limit? Could they transform into a Kenku and use their actions to replicate that race's mimicry of any sound (e.g changing one's voice to sound like an animal).

No matter what form a changeling takes, its statistics and traits do not change. Per another part of the Changeling's Shapechanger trait:

You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change.

Copying a kenku's appearance doesn't grant you their Mimicry trait. I'm not sure exactly how a kenku would sound "normally", but if you took a kenku's form, you would sound like a "normal" kenku if you spoke. I assume this isn't typically a concern in the Eberron setting, because kenku don't traditionally exist in Eberron; if you were to transplant them into the Eberron setting, you could opt to ignore or modify the kenku's racial curse that took away their voice.

As Exempt-Medic's answer says, you can't only partially transform yourself into another race - you can determine the specifics of your appearance as that race (e.g. hair color, skin color, sex, etc. where relevant). I think you would be able to try to mimic other creatures' voices, to the extent that you are able to make those sounds in your new form. Essentially, you'd be using the new body to make those sounds. For instance, you might not be able to mimic a dragon's roar with the vocal cords of a humanoid - whereas an actual kenku would be able to do so, due to their Mimicry racial trait.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I had a similar question though you did give me a great way to enact my idea: A changeling actor (feat) allowing himself to be captured in Kenku form. They hear the general talk a bit then imitate him saying blasphemous things, embarrassing things about the queen's knickers, or treasonous things using their feat abilities. Given kenkus can only mimicry, the changeling becomes the perfect (false) witness. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jun 25, 2020 at 11:05
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The specifics are up to a GM, but you cannot replicate a kenku

The Changeling's Shapechanger trait states:

As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex. You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can't duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have. Your clothing and equipment aren't changed by this trait [...]

- Eberron Rising from the Last War (page 17)

Note that you determine the specifics of the change, and though you are limited in that your size cannot change, that does not affect your voice; thus the only other limitation is that you cannot change your game statistics. This would include things like learning languages. Similarly, you could not actually gain the Kenku's Mimicry trait, but how well you could mimic Mimicry would be ultimately up to your GM.

One question would be whether you can replicate their accent, mannerisms, and the like. You very likely could not because simply looking like and sounding like somebody does not include those things, your body and your voice are like theirs but how you act does not match that of who you replicate. This would be something that would require skill and planning, if not also great amounts of knowledge.

You cannot become a hybrid creature

The following part of the Shapechanger trait shows that you cannot become any sort of hybrid/chimera creature:

[...] You can't duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen [...]

Unless you have actually seen a Kenku-dolphin hybrid, you could not turn into one. You could not be one creature with the vocal chords of another.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @illustro If you would like to argue that you cannot duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen but that you can duplicate the internal anatomy and voice of one, you may do so. However, I believe my evidence is enough as is. At the very least, I can theoretically argue that vocal chords are part of your appearance, just not your physical appearance \$\endgroup\$ Jan 19, 2022 at 14:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have done so (an answer with my views), I still think your last paragraph needs more support to sustain the argument you are making. At the very least a justification of why you are including voice as a part of your "appearance", particularly in light of the first sentence of the ability itself separating the two out explicitly as distinct things in a list. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jan 19, 2022 at 20:21
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Changelings can match the sound of someone's voice (including their accent), but not their mannerisms or behavioural idosyncracies, and mimicing someone convincingly may require both

The relevant text for the ability is:

As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex. You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can't duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have. Your clothing and equipment aren't changed by this trait [...]

Additionally, using the fact that 5e is rules all the way down, we should look at the description of the changeling race and the examples given of their abilities there. I'll be using this for some of my analysis but it's worthwhile putting it front and centre.

There are a few important things to parse here:

  1. The first line separates appearance and voice into two separate things that can be changed
  2. There are some restrictions on what you can change in terms of your appearance, however due to the explicit separation between appearance and voice in the first line, these appearance restrictions don't apply to voice changes
  3. You don't change your game statistics and must keep the same basic arrangement of limbs
  4. Taking the context of the description of the race into account, helps us parse the specific restriction

    You can't duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen [...]

I'll go through each of these separately

Appearance and Voice are changeable separately and independently

The first line of the ability specifies

As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice.

This clearly and explicitly makes the changes to your appearance and to your voice two separate things. We should interpret this to mean that you can change one, or the other, using this action. Even if you were to subscribe to the view that you need to change both at the same time, you can choose to "change" your appearance to be precisely the same as it currently is, while changing the voice that comes out of it, or vice versa, resulting in functionally the same outcome.

Your appearance changes have some restrictions, but these restrictions are only to your appearance (not your voice changes)

As mentioned, the first line makes appearance and voice two separate things for the purposes of this feature.

It then goes on to say

You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can't duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have.

Your voice changes, are not mentioned anywhere in these restrictions, and as a result, changes to your voice are not covered by these restrictions (by virtue of them being clearly identified as being separate from your appearance in the first line of the ability).

You can't add limbs you don't have, or gain new abilities using the change

There are two relevant restrictions here:

You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change.

So, you can't change a size category, and you don't gain any new abilities that your assumed form would ordinarily have. So you don't gain darkvision by making yourself appear to be an Elf and you don't gain the Kenku's Mimicry trait by making yourself appear to be a Kenku.

Duplicate means just that, duplicate, it does not mean you can't invent appearances that aren't based on a real person and change into those

One potential sticking point is this restriction on appearances:

You can't duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen [...]

Using the fact that D&D 5e is all rules text (or to put it another way, 5e doesn't have flaour text in the way 4e did), we need to examine the information we are provided around the Changeling race to enable us to interpret this restriction appropriately. Specifically of interest are these two passages:

Changelings

[...]

Changelings can shift their forms with a thought. Many changelings use this gift as a form of artistic and emotional expression. [...]

[...]

Masks and Personas

In their true form, changelings are pale, with colorless eyes and silver-white hair. It is rare to see a changeling in that form, for a typical changeling changes their shape the way others might change clothes. A casual shape - one created on the spur of the moment, with no depth or history - is called a mask. A mask can be used to express a mood or to serve a specific purpose and might never be used again. However, many changelings develop identities that have more depth. They build an identity over time, crafting a persona with a history and beliefs. [...]

Adding to this, since 5e uses natural language, as opposed to strict legal text, for it's rules we need to understand what duplicate actually means. Using the Cambridge, Merriam-Webster and Collins Dictionaries we have this meaning ascribed to the word (I'm quoting the Cambridge text, but all three ascribe this meaning):

adjective: being an exact copy of something verb: to make an exact copy of something noun: something that is an exact copy of something else

So, taking all of that together, we should interpret the statement:

You can't duplicate the appearance of a creature you've never seen [...]

To be "If you want to precisely copy your appearance to be that of another creature you have to have to have actually seen them. Looking at a painting of them, or receiving a description of them is not enough."

Importantly, if you are not trying to duplicate a creature, but just looking to change your features to something you have imagined, then you no restrictions are applied by this paragraph. Nicely, this interpretation is consistent with the idea from the race's description of changing their form being an expression of artistic intent or as a result of a strong emotional response. So no, you can't make yourself look like Laeral Silverhand without seeing her, however you can make yourself look like a female human with long silver hair.

So what does this mean about my voice, and how well I can mimic someone?

When you are duplicating someone's voice, you can get the sound and specific speech defects or characteristics (like a lisp caused by a deformity, or their accent). Mimicing someone and their communication style however is a much more complicated thing that has components other than just their voice, and mimicing them convincingly involves mimicing how they communicate. For example, difficulties you might face in passing yourself off convincingly as the person, from a communication point of view: - You don't gain knowledge of phrases they would use regularly - You don't know things that might cause their speech to normally have a double meaning (like among groups of close friends the use of "swear" words can frequently be terms of endearment and familiarity as opposed to things designed to cause offense) - You don't know the way they would laugh (Think Jimmy Carr laughing on an in breath vs most people laughing on an out breath) - You don't know their mannerisms, like to they click their tongue after saying specific words, or they might nod their head or pull a face after saying specific things. - You don't gain knowledge of any previous communications they might (or might not) have have had with others, so assumed knowledge could trip you up

There are obviously more to be added to this list. The answer, therefore, is it depends on who you are trying to convince with your copied voice. If you are trying to convince their spouse, you are going to have a significantly harder time than if you were trying to convince a passing aquaintance who they haven't spoken to in a while.

As a DM, I would give you advantage on the Persuasion or Deception check you needed to make to convince someone (due to the fact that you are talking with their voice, assuming you heard it). The DC that check is competing against would also be adjusted based on what you were trying to do and the manner in which you as a player described doing it.

Conclusion

This ability gives you some pretty cool options:

  1. You can change your voice independent of your appearance
  2. When you are duplicating someone's voice, you can get the sound and specific speech defects or characteristics (like a lisp caused by a deformity, or their accent), however you can't by default duplicate (without specific study) the nuances of how they communicate. Communication involves spoken and non-spoken communication, and the voice only helps with some of the spoken part of the communication. For example:
    • You don't gain knowledge of phrases they would use regularly
    • You don't know things that might cause their speech to normally have a double meaning (like among groups of close friends the use of "swear" words can frequently be terms of endearment and familiarity as opposed to things designed to cause offense)
    • You don't know the way they would laugh (Think Jimmy Carr laughing on an in breath vs most people laughing on an out breath)
    • You don't know their mannerisms, like to they click their tongue after saying specific words, or they might nod their head or pull a face after saying specific things.
  3. If you are trying to duplicate a specific creature's appearance you have to have seen them first. So you couldn't duplicate Drizzt Do'Urden unless you had seen them, either in person or through some form of magical sight (like scrying).
  4. On the flip side, this doesn't restrict you from changing your appearance to make yourself look different, but you aren't trying to duplicate a creature. So you could choose to make your hair 2ft longer, or elongate your nose, or give yourself a cracked tooth or pointy ears, you could make yourself look like an elf, but not a specific Elf, or any combination of these or other cosmetic alterations. You can also match any voice you wish, with any appearance you wish, so you could have a slight female Baritone, or you could be an adult male Tielfling with the voice of a Kobold child.
  5. You don't change your game statistics (as opposed to your voice and appearance)

Taking all of these together, our conclusion is that Changelings can match the sound and timber of someone's voice, but not their mannerisms. While they can make up their appearance to suit their will if they aren't trying to duplicate a specific creature (just working from their imagination), they can't gain new abilities from those changes. As a result, they can give themselves a Kenku like beak and voice box that makes Dolphin noises, they don't gain the Kenku's Mimicry trait.

To answer your specific question:

Are Changelings able to innately mimic voices or is some check required when trying to imitate a voice/vocal mannerisms? A check may be required by the DM, depending on what you are trying to do, because, while you can match the sound and intonation of their voice, you can't mimic the idiosyncracies of their communication that goes with the voice.

Whether or not such a check is required by the DM, however, will depend on other factors (such as familiarity of the target of the deception with the "real" humanoid you are duplicating), but this DM would give you advantage on any such check (be it Deception or Persuasion) that you were trying to make.

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