On Voice-Acting your NPCs
Voice-Acting your NPCs
By Jameson Knopp
It may just be that my formative years as a DM coincided with some of my first forays into theater and improvisation, but I cannot imagine trying to run a game without using character voices. Sure, I’ve seen it done, with the DM using the same voice as they do for describing the shape of a cliff as a merchant trying to sell you goods, but something about that not only feels incomplete to me but truly wrong.
I think it’s a combination of human psychology and the artform we’re trying to portray here. People naturally try to conceive of things in categories, organizing them by the characteristics they bear that we can perceive. This is hardly surprising; it's the reason you can tell the difference between a number and a letter, or a shape and a color. We do the same thing for people, taking in information about them and organizing them into categories and attaching preconceived notions to those categories.
Now while this is the origin of much prejudice in the world, not all of this kind of thinking is bad, and in fact a careful use of this way we think about the world can save DMs a lot of time and ad an extra dimension to their games. For example, with the right tone and inflection I can give you an image of an old man simply by the way he speaks. How old is he? Late middle aged or ancient? Is he decrepit? Is he shivering? Does he have a disease that affects his speech pattern? Does it hurt for him to move?
Putting these hints in how this NPC speaks can save me a lot of time of having to describe how he looks, and I can simply give you an image of an older human man with white priestly vestments and cataract-filled grey eyes, letting your imagination fill in the rest by taking hints from him as he talks. You can accent this by giving hints in subtle movements as well, and I’ll often adopt a hunched posture for older NPCs as I described above.
At the end of the day, putting more acting and verve behind your NPCs really saves on time and creates a richer D&D experience. I’d encourage all DMs to try to act out their NPCs, even if they don’t think they’re good with accents or inflections or what have you. It’s part of the artform, and if you want to take your roleplay to the next level practicing your character voices can bring you to the next tier of gaming. Otherwise, how are you going to be able to rub in your players face that the old priest and the lich sounded reeeeally similar all along?