2017/08/29

Useful Silly Voices

There's more to a silly voice than you might expect.

GMing is hard. In order to maintain your invisible cast of thousands, you need to be ready to improvise characters at a moment's notice. Tables and online generators can help you with names, appearances, and motivations, but that's often not enough.

To play an NPC convincingly you need to get into a different mindset. It's all well and good to speak in a squeaky kobold voice, but if you're saying words that Joe the Accountant and Fran the Barbarian and Louis the Gate Guard would all say - if you haven't really changed characters - it's just a silly voice.

I call this "Rational Kobold Syndrome." The GM is a sensible person with a good vocabulary, and therefore all NPCs are sensible people with good vocabularies. Rationalism is a very modern invention, but it's so prevalent that it can be difficult to escape. But if every NPC behaves as sensibly and clearly as someone with knowledge of the subconscious, the nature of emotions, the rule of law, and the consequences of their actions, games can get pretty boring. All NPCs become one guy wearing different hats.

I've got a few articles drafted on "how to think like a medieval person". In the meantime:
Jeff Hong
This art has nothing to do with the article, but I've got nowhere else to put it.


Thinking Like A Different Person

Sometimes you need an NPC now. No time to plan.

Steal a page from improv shows. Actors in a two-person Harold will work together will build a shared cast of characters. One day, the character might be a carpenter. At the next show, they might be an elderly mer-person. The next, a talking tree. But the voice stays the same, the gestures stay the same, and - more importantly - the patterns of thought and action stay the same. One actor can build off the other's solid foundation. They might not know exactly what their partner is going to do or say next, but it helps limit the options and allows for synchronized improv.

By building a few characters and practicing their voice and gestures, you can easily step into their thought patterns. You will slowly build a library of templates. Bookmark this post and try one example per day. I've tried to include non-obvious choices.


10 Voices That Are Also Roles

1. 1930s Radio Announcer

Voice: fast, clipped, flat, nasal
Gestures: grip table, violent gesticulation, lean forward
Mindset: in a hurry. Misunderstands foreign or complicated ideas. Appreciates simple truths but willing to lie or scheme. Thinks they are very clever and can't resit a joke.
NPCs: Out-of-character announcements, used car salesmen, peppy reporter, new deputy, the king's jester.

More full of idioms than the butcher's cat on a Tuesday, see? It's the Radio Voice - the voice of official announcements, heralds, voiceovers, auctioneers, dungeoneers, and not enough beers. Gnomes too - gotta have them gnomes. And watch out for that Hitler, I hear he's a real bad egg!



2. Bored Socialite

Voice: drawling, slow, and vague
Gestures: stroking an arm, leaning over or back, eyes half closed, supremely relaxed
Examples: Edna Mode, Cruella Deville
Mindset: relaxed. Wants to look at beautiful things, listen to interesting stories that do not challenge their worldview, and be complimented (but not flattered - they're not blind). A poetic soul.
NPCs: art dealer, costume designer, expert wizard, noble, royalty, demonic patron.

Daaahling, it's wonderful to see you again. How aaaaare you? Oh, and me? Well, I'm just a whaaanderful, you know? I could be anyone - your lover, your contact, your friend from the otha side. Daaaahling, daaahling, you worry too much.


3. The Paragon

Voice: clear, from the chest, incredibly friendly
Gestures: back-slaps, thumbs up,
Examples: the Tick, Benton Fraser
Mindset: very firm on capital-G-Good and capital-E-Evil. Likes dogs, distrusts goats, helps old ladies cross the street. A pillar of the community, so can be close-minded and easily tricked.
NPCs: inbkeeper, paladin, park ranger, head of the mutant extermination committee

Protecting this land isn't just a job. It's a duty, and a solemn obligation. You should be proud of who you are. A watched pot never boils, and other bits of wisdom. And remember; don't litter in national parks. Ha ha! Patriotism.
Jeff Hong


4. Brian Blessed

Voice: Shouting in an indoor voice or just shouting. Enunciates everything, drags "o"s when not shouting. Shakespearean.
Gestures: constant activity, clutching or shaking fists. Leans head back to roar in laughter.
Examples: Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, Brian Blessed as King Richard IV, Brian Blessed as Brian Blessed.
Mindset: decisive, not clever, but irrepressibly enthusiastic. Chews scenery.
NPCs: baron, pirate captain, king, auditor, alien overlord

WEARERUNNINGOUTOF TIME, Gordon! You FOOL! Have you no sense of URGENCY? Do you not see that the PLANET is going to CRASH INTO THE SUN?!? Launch the rocket-balloon! LET SLIP THE HAMS OF WAR!


5. The Nervous Talker

Voice: fast whine, punctuated by little rises for emphasis. Stutters sometimes. Talks to self. Changes topic mid-sentence.
Gestures: pacing, wringing hands, shaking head, nervously tugging/scratching ears or beard, fidgeting.
Examples: Jerry
Mindset: panic. Looking for the fastest way out. Willing to seize onto any saviour, but will hesitate just before taking any risk.
NPCs: shipwreck survivor, random civilian, incompetent thief, new hireling

Oh jeeze guys, I'm kind of worried about this plan. If f f we don't get out, I mean, and the dragon. Did we plan for the dragon? Coming down here was a stupid idea. Come on, pull yourself together. You're better than this. Oh who am I kidding, I'm not. I'm going to die down here and it'll all be your fault!


6. The Smuggest Guy Ever

Voice: clipped, spoken through a grin without moving the jaw, with eyes half closed. Short sentences, usually in response. Rarely initiates conversation.
Gestures: still, leaning back, tilting head from side to side
Examples: (I don't have any good examples of this voice. Just making the face should be enough.)
Mindset: just so fucking smug. Eminently hateable.
NPCs: waiter, receptionist, rival party leader, banker, diplomat

Yeah man. Not a problem at all man. Good for you. Good.
Jeff Hong

7. The Languid Professor

Voice: butter smooth, drawn, considered. Tutting kind of laughter.
Gestures: steeples fingers, adjusts glasses, drinks carefully, looks around slowly.
Examples: (still looking)
Mindset: critical, cautious, but capable of devastating opinions. Difficult to ruffle. Wants to determine the truth, but is not a fanatical seeker.
NPCs: critic, expert, assayer, plot-point-deliver-er.

Weeeell, that is a very interesting point to consider. Yes. I can see how you might attempt that approach, but I think you will find that if you consult Lomsky and Hoyle on the matter - that is, in chapter 6 - you will find quite a different method. A different method indeed, oh ho ho ho. Yes, I think it will suit you nicely.

8. The Goblin

Voice: squeaky, mouth-breathing, short words, lots of spittle. Has to pause to try and remember what it was doing a lot.
Gestures: twitchy, wide eyes, scuttles from side to side
Examples: (still looking)
Mindset: driven by needs (food, smells, fear) and not much else. Anything too complicated is either a threat or a god. In either case, poke it with a stick and run. In time of great confusion, run around and make as much noise as possible and hope something turns up to make the confusion go away.
NPCs: goblins, kobolds, peasants who don't speak your language, animals


Wha? Oh ya. No. No fud here. Onle goblans. I... I am goblan. Yes. Inna cave. Inna woods. Rabbat? No rabbat. Bleeeeeh. What do?


9. Radical Firebrand

Voice: intense, low, or soars into oration. Intense. Loves phrases that start with capital letters. This is not so much a voice as a look and a way of emphasizing words.
Gestures: lots of eye contact.
Examples: Enjolras, Flammen
Mindset: devoted to the cause. Consumed by ideology, but focused like a laser.
NPCs: assassin, mob leader, politician, revolutionary, inventor

Don't you see? This is the dawn of a new era. A new chapter in the book of life. You can turn away now, but then you'll be no better than the others. Or you can come with us and help build a better world.

Jeff Hong


10. The Royal

Voice: some ridiculously precise accent. Faintly hissing, as if teeth are stuck to lips. Repetitive, genial.
Gestures: hands together, leaning in to listen, staring at something else and thinking very hard.
Examples: King Charles I, Eddie Izzard (both in general in in this bit
Mindset: distracted, as if they are trying to solve a difficult problem while not letting anyone know. Intensely loyal and patriotic. Bemused by new things.

A wizard, you say? Fascinating. What on earth is that? Make things fly and so on? Well how about fixing this weather - it's been raining for a bloody fortnight. No. Well, not to worry, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it soon. Oh hello! And who are you?
Jeff Hong
Side Note: You can practice your "silly voices" with writing as well. If you need to get inside an author's mind, try writing like them. If you aren't sure what their writing "sounds" like, study it. Write bad Lovecraftian fiction and lousy poems and paragraphs about horrible hateful things that live in caves. This might not be fun, but it wouldn't be called exercise if it was fun all the time.



5 comments:

  1. I think this one of my favorite article that you've written. I don't think I can emphasize the importance of the the last bit you wrote. To anyone reading this article please do write as they would speak. I urge you to try this out.

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  2. I read Brian Blessed in a voice that was a mix of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny from the Room.

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    Replies
    1. That kind of works. It's not about the accent, really. It's about the intent.

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  3. This is very useful. I've always struggled with character voices but practicing and using them like this sounds like a great idea. I'll have to try it out soon.

    ReplyDelete