RPT#80 – Creating Npc Voices: 6 Techniques & Tips From Subscribers
- Use TV & Movies For Inspiration
- Focus On The Physical Way You Say Words
- Use Language Tapes
- Use Letter Substitution
- Extend Letters
- NPC Voice Examples From Readers
Readers’ Tips Summarized
- Create Opposite Personalities To Help You Roleplay Better
- Use Fonts To Get Players Roleplaying
- More Cheap Miniatures
- Homemade GM Screen Idea
- Reader Request: Tips For Disabled Players?
A Brief Word From Johnn
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Johnn Four [email protected]
Johnn Four [email protected]
Roleplaying Games @ About.com
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Creating Npc Voices: 6 Techniques
& Tips From Subscribers
Use TV & Movies For Inspiration
A great way to increase your repertoire of NPC voices is to study interesting characters from movies and TV shows. Your group’s style will determine whether you can get away with mimicking famous characters or not as those voices might prove to be too distracting to your players.If this is the case, then focus entirely upon the supporting cast. In fact, secondary characters are often the most interesting to model.
They usually need a strong, simple character hook so that the audience immediately identifies them and understands their role in the story. And, quite often, these hooks involve voice and speaking mannerisms– perfect fodder for your NPCs.Another source for NPC voices would be computer games. Shawn F. wrote in that he mimics “Garrett” from the Thief and Thief II computer games for a whispery rogue in his campaign.Try renting a movie and watch/listen for the character you want to mimic.
Then pause the movie and parrot that character’s lines out loud. Rewind and repeat until you feel comfortable with it. Do this throughout the movie with that same character so that you build up a larger vocabulary of words done in that voice.Do the same with books: focus on a few characters and say their lines out loud to practice their speaking mannerisms.
Here’s a great example from ShadowJack’s Earthdawn campaign:
“It was a mystery, and the man behind it was this reclusive wizard living in a nicely-appointed cave near the village. A nice old gent, really – it wasn’t his fault his pets were poisoning the water supply. The PCs made their way through the cave, found the door to the guy’s apartment. The door swings open and they see him in an armchair facing the fire. He stands, turns, faces them, and…
It’s Vincent Price.
In six words, we all knew EXACTLY what this guy looked like and acted like.”
Here’s another example from Miguel V:
“One voice tip I have comes from listening to Agent Smith in the movie the Matrix. Agent smith spoke in a monotone the whole way through. He rarely varied his voice pitch, but he did not become boring because he varied the speed of his speech. This is one that would take some practice, but the result is a voice that sounds a little unnatural without most people catching on immediately.”
Here are a few shows/people to watch, as suggested by subscribers:
- Anything by Jim Henson (Sesame Street, Muppets)
- Saturday Night Live
- Monty Python
- Robin Williams
- Bill Cosby
Focus On The Physical Way You Say Words
Excalibur wrote in with some great tips about creating different voices by focusing on the actual way you say the words:”I can create many different types of voices, from hick to Southern, Australian, Scottish, English, and several cartoon character voices. I guess the main trick to creating a new voice is to find one to model after.I do this by listening to the way someone speaks over and over again.
Then I attempt to find the mouthing patterns which might produce the sounds and the way the person talks.Lastly, by positioning your tongue in different positions as well as ‘tightening your vocal chords’ (I can’t really describe it in any other words) you can produce the ‘pitch and roll’ of the voice.After you start to hear the voice you want coming out of you, spend time while driving looking at signs and objects and try to pronounce them in that voice. I once spent a 2 hour trip speaking like an Australian.
It was rather difficult to kick back out to American English after that ;)”
Use Language Tapes
Another trick is to borrow some language tapes from your local library, or find some in a discount bin at a book store. Listen to the tapes, follow the lessons if you wish, and repeat out loud the voices you hear as much as possible.You will not only learn accents this way, but you will learn different voices and completely different ways of speaking (such as different pacing and rhythm).
Once you’ve mastered a new language style (not necessarily the vocabulary though–just how the language sounds), you can borrow elements to change your regular words (such as pronouncing normal words with foreign vowels or using other unique language sounds).Here’s an example from The Rooster:”If every ‘A’ sounds like the a in ‘rain’ with an ‘ay’ sound, “cat” becomes “cayt”, “backwards” becomes “bayckwayrds”. Or, if you flatten all ‘A’s to sound like an ‘o’, then ‘pat’ becomes ‘pot’, ‘thanks’ becomes ‘thonks’.”
Use Letter Substitution
To create a new voice for an NPC, select one or more letters and substitute it with one or more different letters. For example, say all ‘th’s as ‘sh’s. Like shis.Another version of this tip is to avoid pronouncing a particular letter. For example, try speaking without saying the letter “T”.
Pick a letter that, whenever the NPC says it at the beginning or end of a word, you extend it for a half-second or so.”Rrrright you arrrre good sirrrr.””Wwwhat wwwwould you wwwant wwwith that?”This is different than stammering. Here you’re smoothly pronouncing the letter the whole time.
NPC Voice Examples From Readers
- The Stutter: The patron of my current group is, rather than being a high level wizard, a high level NPC mundane sage with a problem with personal confrontation. Therefore, when he met the party face to face, he broke out in, “E-e-e-e-x- c-c-c-usssse m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-e, m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-mi-m-m-my n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-nam-mm-e is-s-s-s…” It instantly created an impression on everybody that they’ll never forget.
- The Lisp: This voice, like the stutter, needs to be used fairly sparingly, as both are fairly annoying. However, I’ve used the Lisp to great effect for evil henchmen (combined with the Snivel, see below.), puppet kings, and anyone who needs to seem not-so-bright.
- The Snivel: For henchmen, lackeys, and subordinates, nothing beats the snivel, especially as it can easily be combined with any other voice for it’s own brand of uniqueness. The Snivel is created by adding a low pitched nasal whine to your voice and thinking about avoiding being beaten soundly about the head again…
- The Gravel: Speaking with a low, raspy voice immediately tells someone you’re down on your luck, either physically, mentally, or both.
- The Hiss: Prolong the time when you say all ‘S’s.
- The Snob: Nose in the air, and high pitched nasal tones.
- The Hippie: Speak like your mind’s somewhere else, in a happy place.
- The Scatterbrain: Hem and haw, mumble, and pause halfway through an important thought, then finish sentences with complete non sequiturs.
- The Angry Monotone: Grit your teeth while talking and try not to use any inflection whatsoever.
- The Hysteric: Over dramatize. Think classic Shakespearian.
- The Kirk (from Star Trek): Work, truly work, to make, every word, a discourse in, the emotion, of the moment.
- Third Person: Refer to everyone and everything in the 3rd person. “Sam doesn’t like it when Jimmy hits Sam!”
- Lip Smacker: Smack, smack, just like this, smack.
- Wire Jaw: Pretend your jaw is wired shut and speak between clenched teeth.
- The Phlegmer: Have you got any phlegm? Use it.
- The Water Breather: Speak while you have water in your mouth.
- The Paper Trick: Speak through a sheet of paper, and try different thicknesses (such as tissue and 20lb)
- The Toothless Hag: Stick a couple of fingers in your mouth or pull on the side(s) of your mouth.
- Deep Voice: It’s a common trick, but for a particular fully- armored knight NPC I always kept a large plastic mug or glass at hand. Speaking into such a vessel makes a voice deeper and fuller and it sounds somewhat like Darth Vader.
Tips Request: “Running Cities”
An upcoming issue will be dealing with running city campaigns or adventures, based on a number of tips requests from the Topics contest and a recent reader’s regular tip request. This is a big topic though, so I need help from you in narrowing it down.
What kind of city tips would you like to see? What problems/difficulties do you run into while GMing a city adventure (regardless of genre or game system) that we could all gang up on and help you with?
Also, if you have any city tips, generic or specific, please send them on in.
Send your tips to: [email protected]
Readers’ Tips Of The Week:
Create Opposite Personalities To Help You Roleplay Better
From: Telquenariel[Johnn: I thought this tip, aimed at players who play two or more characters, would also apply to the NPCs you play.]
I’ve been reading your roleplaying tips for a while now, and they always get me thinking. So, I thought I’d give back that which has given me so much.I once played in an adventure where there were so few players that each of us ended up playing two characters each. To make the experience memorable I decided to play completely opposing characters. One was a female Elven Shaman, and the other a female human barbarian.
Anyway, needless to say the characters did not have similar views.In each situation I would try to figure out how each of them would react – and often, they would piss each other off. When they would discuss ideas they would misunderstand things – or rather – selectively understand things to enhance their character differences.Playing such opposite characters helped me [and the others] not confuse the two of them. Switching characters was easy because they were so different, acted different and believed in different things.
Sometimes, I would point to the figurines as I spoke to reinforce who was speaking… That helped. Sometimes I would hold the two handed bastard sword in my hands, twitch it or whatever, as the barbarian would do. Or sing as the shaman would.. It was obvious who was talking.
Use Fonts To Get Players Roleplaying
From: Allyson Y.
I’ve found that the best way to get people roleplaying is also the easiest, as long as you have a computer, the internet, and a printer.Getting interesting fonts at www.themeworld.com is a big help. I like to send my characters letters from NPCs, let them intercept enemy code, get hold of government documents, etc. Microsoft Word is great, especially c2000. You can insert clip art, and download more straight from their website. We play Vampire, and having a font like arial just doesn’t suit an elder. I always search for old fancy calligraphy types, and let it go from there. :o)
More Cheap Miniatures
Another place for cheap miniatures is somewhere like e-bay ( http://www.ebay.com ). I have found many miniatures for around $1.00 each, with minimal shipping and handling. Some are painted, many are not. This has become my location for buying miniatures, as opposed to just using pictures and such.The easiest way to locate such items on e-bay is to do a search by company (ie, Grenadier, Reaper, or Ral Partha). I have seen prices ranging from $.01 (that’s right, one cent) all the way up to $78 or more.
Most are still in blister packs, and often from failed hobby stores.E-bay is also a good place to find dice, companies/stores that sell hobby supplies (one that I found was http://www.discounthobby.com ), and also that quite- expensive Dwarven Forge molded miniature dungeon (also quite inexpensive on e-bay, doing a search on Dwarven Forge).
Homemade GM Screen Idea
From: Petter S.
I’ve found that all GM screens are just too big, hide too much, contain too much and cost too much. After playing without a screen for a while, I decided to make my own on which I could put just the information I needed.I took a plastic page protector sheet and glued it on a somewhat bigger piece of cardboard. I actually found a crack in our gaming table that I could stick it in, but I also made feet from two rectangular pieces of cardboard with scores in the middle.
Before a game I write down the essential rules I want on it and maybe the names of the characters or some other handy information.I’ve also glued another page protector on the front and use it to put up theme related art made by my players and player handouts that need a good place where everyone can read them.
Reader Request: Tips For Disabled Players?
From: Jarrett D.
I have a question that might make for a good future issue. How do GM’s deal with disabled individuals who play in their games?As an example, one of our players is blind, which causes a lot of changes to be made as they cannot read the books (it costs $300 just to have the D&D PHB brailled), cannot see the miniatures, or the maps.
So how do others suggest modifying the way that games are generally run in order to handle those with disabilities and keep the game flowing smoothly, while at the same time giving everyone a fulfilling time?Just a thought that I think would bring even more players into the fold. Thanks for a GREAT newsletter.