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How do you get better at doing Voices?


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I've seen some really good GMs really do an excellent job on voices. Is there a way to get better to help with the immersion?

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Practice mostly. Play around with it in your spare time, even if people look at you weird for suddenly talking to yourself in a Russian accent.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

The trick that always worked for me was to watch movies that had actors using heavy accents, or their characters faking accents, and trying to do lines from the movies.

Some fun ones that I personally used:

"The Saint" - Val Kilmer
"Snatch" - Brad Pitt and some others
"The Jackal" - Richard Gere and some others
"Tombstone" - Whole cast.
"The Commitments" - Whole cast.

Just from those five movies (yes, I saw each one of them quite a bit each as a kid and over the years), I can now do passable Russian, Northern Irish, Cockney, Queen's English, and Western/Mountain accents.

For note - this was when I used to LARP, so being able to do accents was a major plus for roleplaying. Is this a cheesy approach? Absolutely, but for me, it worked out :)

Now, this might not work for you the exact same way, but hopefully it helps give you some ideas at least.

Grand Lodge

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Long commute in the car is a great time for practice! I usually try and think of a real-world person I'm going to base the character on. Osprey is Brad Dorff (Wormtongue from LotR), Drandle Dreng is Billy Connelly, and of course Marcus Farabellus is Mike "Azmyth" Azzolino.

Female voices (if you're male) - don't do falsetto, just speak with a soft, smooth tone, and it will be convincing.

Also, I sometimes find a minor prop or a catchphrase or something can help me focus on staying in character. A hat, a toothpick, whatever.

Finally - start in character right from the beginning. PFS starts with a Venture-Captain briefing, so be the Venture-Captain right from the start, even when asking folks to fill out the paperwork. It helps give your players permission to roleplay as well.

Liberty's Edge

While most of my customers think I'm mad, I typically practice when there is no one in the shop - or while at home.

Now days we can quickly search youtube to find the accent or voice we are looking for, and do our best to parrot it. I also tend to skim through an npc and look for qualities that would affect the accent. This will help set voices apart from each other.

Sometimes just speaking in your normal voice, but changing the volume level can make all the thematic difference you need.

Sovereign Court

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I'm one of those GMs who are excellent at voices. This isn't a boast, just a quick credibility factor to let you know where I'm coming from. I been playing the game since 1981. Here are some quick tips, but the hard work of visualizing and becomming (acting) the NPC or monster will be up to you.

1. Description, description: Set the mood, make sure you have a great storyline first, otherwise voices become annoying ways to mask shallow character depth.
2. Visualize, visualize: While speaking, remember you are the NPC/monster, so you must react to the things you see, smell, touch, hear, etc. Using "voices" well doesn't mean building a characture, it should be used in the context of the actual setting, and from this immersion comes the dialogue that makes that NPC believable. Done well, "voices" is icing on the cake.
2. Speak in 1st Person (with third person in between): During your use of voice, interject third-person descriptions. It's a GMing artform that sounds like this, ["So... you walk in here covered in blood and expect me to trust strangers that stink like the Soddenmarsh? Hurumph. Tell me why I 'autta trust ye?" He steps back a step, eyeing each of you. "Go on, 'an make it convincin' 'cus my chandlery aint' gonna run itself 'an yer testin' my patience." He turns a bit as though readying to return to his craft of candlemaking.]
3. Voice Intimation:It's not important that you get accents (the voice) perfect. It is critical that you don't "break character". To do this, try lowering your own expectations of 'immitation' and focus on 'intimation', that is a way to imply that you are that person. Coupled with some variant to your voice, you will sound way more believable than that GM who trys to 'show-off' his practiced accent. It's about suspention of disbelief - and it is NOT a talent show for the GM. In fact, a perfect 'voice immitation' can distract from the game. The players want to believe you are Carsuvar Clamendestro the Chandler and NOT Sean Connery (James Bond), Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over The Cukoos Nest), Gandolf (Lord of the Rings), nor Ivan Drego (Rocky IV).
4. Build Repertoire and Variants - Pay attention to people you meet, movies, and imagine more about them than is relevant to the game: Part of what makes voices work is to use them sparingly, and deliberately for characters you wish to bring to life. This means LIFE not just deliverers of the adventure hook. Give them idosyncracies, interests, and have them comment and include dialogue about their own interests interwoven with their dialogue. Then as you apply the 'voice', the actual believability magnifies. Paying attention to movies and people you meet builds your repertoire, so you can sling-out these voices whenever and wherever you need. One 'type' of voice will then take on 100s of variants as you immerse yourselves into the character who is actually speaking. Because, after all, if you're seeking to practice and hone that one big impersonation, that joy lasts about 10 minutes for the players, whereas if you are immersing yourself in the tone (and practicing variants) you will find the right 'voice' for your npc/monsters in-the-moment of the game. And your players will be forever entertained by believable NPCs.

Hope that helps,
Good gaming to you,
-Pax Veritas

Shadow Lodge

What Pax said in his wonderful post!

Play with voices and practice them. The more you work on voices the easier they will become.

The Exchange

I do my best Morgan Freeman when I'm reading the narrative text, and a few other voices I've picked up over the years. Usually movie characters.

My favorite secret weapon... is the southern bell voice. can't over do it, but I played one in a game a few years back, so I'm very well practiced at it.... always good for a laugh!

I have to think up an "in character" voice for my newest character... and some conversational quirks... maybe I'll be like the dog from Up "I think we are searching for - SQUIRRL! - uh what were we saying?"

I think conversation quirks, attitudes, and inflection are more important than accents.

Is the character gruff, pushy, angry, frightened, pompous, distracted, or flighty? Sure, you can think "this character is an a!&~+!!", but what KIND of a##!@~#? A pompous aristocrat and a drunken sailor make for two very different kinds of a#!~!@$s.

For me, it helps to relate characters to TV or movie characters. Like, I always picture Grandmaster Torch as the Hedonism Bot from Futurama. In my head, the Sapphire Sage is Frazier Crane.

Somewhere in my archives, I have a "faking accents" handout from a Ren Faire. When I manage to dig it up, is there a file repository I could post it to?

Liberty's Edge

While there are many times that I try specific accents, I actually find that I stay on point with an accent or voice, if I just make it up as I go.

Ways to make funny voices include doing things you normally wouldn't do when talking.

We are taught to speak English, by using our tongue, lips, and cheeks in various ways to make specific sounds. And if we use our tongue, lips and cheeks opposite that, then we get lisps, and other weird ways to enunciate a letter or syllable. If you can stay consistent with this, then your character will have a consistently funny voice.

Other languages use different ways to create different sounds. In Arabic and German, they have some sounds that sound like you are hauking a loogy. You can do this by either pushing the center of your tongue against the roof of your mouth or by pushing further back into your throat (by drawing the tip of your tongue as far back as you can without curling your tongue backwards). You can also close your throat and restrict the airflow through your vocal cords or into your mouth where other sounds get manipulated with tongue, cheek and lips. This can also create some of the gutteral and hauky sounds from some languages.

If you close your throat off in the right way, you can cause the sounds to travel more through your sinuses than your mouth. This will give you a more nasally sound to your voice.

Finally, contorting your face by pulling your chin back as far as it will go, opening your mouth ridiculously widely as you speak, scrunching your nose and/or lips, or contorting your lips into a weird position will cause a voice to come out strangely.

Practice just making weird noises, and eventually you'll find one that you think fits a particular NPC or NPC type.

But others are right. Often the type of voice or accent doesn't matter that much, if the characterization of the NPC is monotone, flat, or totally off.

I hate to say it, but Stereotypes (as long as they aren't racist) are often the best way to go until you get comfortable creating your own characterizations.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If you're not a natural at coming up with different voices, one way to make your NPCs stand out is to pick an affectation and do that whenever you're "in character."

Examples: I've chewed on my fingernails to portray a nervous type.

A mean and bitter NPC always spoke through his gritted teeth.

Think about the Chamberlain from "The Dark Crystal." He stood out because of his mewling whine. Annoying, but memorable.

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Second the idea of picking particular people or characters to model discussions on. Guaril Karela is Londo Mollari from Babylon 5, which by extension means that a Varisian accent sounds sort of Balkan/East European.

Practice by talking to yourself when you've got time - when you're taking out the garbage or cleaning the kitchen, for example.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

There's some great advice out there I'll add this.

Get to know your vocal cords, feel what each sound feels like in your throat and in your mouth. Try imitating someone, then try changing the register/pitch higher or lower. Everyone does a terrible Sean Connery, but a terrible impersonation is a great rich character voice.

Try laughing differently, Mark Hammil's Joker had a laugh for every mood.

Try imitating cartoon characters, or people with very particular timing. Shatner and Walken are unique voices more from timing and emphasis rather than accent/register.

Listen to foreign accents and replay a conversation while driving.

Take a voice you do well, add a lisp or whistle your s sound. Take your Sean Connery voice and then try making it Texan. It might sound ridiculous but you'll learn something about how your voice works.

Sing along to the music you listen to, but try imitating the singer's voice.

Finally, don't try to imitate the opposite gender if you can't. Instead change your mannerism, speak smoothly or just be descriptive.

Oh and most importantly be glad if your players laugh when you try a voice: you just entertained your audience. That means you've done your job right. Eventually the players will get used to a voice and roll with it. Pathfinder is a game after all and any space wherein you can play is a safe space to try and experiment.

Dark Archive

My voices go all over the place, but I try to get the emotional feel for the character I'm doing. To contrast Jeff's Guaril Karela, I imagined a sleezy gangster or a used-car salesman. When voicing him I try to always have a very insincere smile on my face, and the voice tends to take care of itself at that point.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

"I'm commander Shepard, and this is my favourite thread on the citadel."

Sovereign Court

Mark Hamill's "Joker" is my favorite one -- he always winds up being my Guaril Karela voice. Paul Kandel's "Clopin Trouillefou" is another go-to voice.

Pax has the best suggestions, especially about having a "variation on a theme" rather than perfect mimicry.

I honestly use animated movies more than real-life, because I can detach the face from the sound. Jim Cummings is my hero for this. He can be Winnie-the-Pooh and Cortez.. Polar opposites!

(...I made a bear joke there.)

I try to pick voices that are distinctive in my own game, and then pretend I'm that voice actor doing a particular role.

"How would Jim Cummings make a city guard sound?"
"How would Mark Hamill make a crazy hermit sound?"
"How would Paul Kandel make a village priest sound?"

I think that's a good place to start.. Pick out voice actors you like and then pretend you're them, preparing for a role in your game. ^_^

Dark Archive

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I found it really odd how some people view some stereotypes as Racist and others as not.

I once did a Vudrani accent, (right after great feedback for English, Scottish, Russian, Italian accents to represent local farmers, dwarves, Cheliaxians, and Taldans respectively), and the all the white people at my table took offence to it sounding 'Indian'.

- I am Indian by the way -

Weirdest thing ever... I mean if Jalmeray isn't analogous to Sri Lanka then Zarta Dralneen is a virgin.

Back on topic: Travelling helps (I do a dangerously accurate Hong Kong accent apparently), but assuming you can't do that - watch some international media.

Seriously, view some BBC programs, or watch some British or European films. You'd be surprised how international media sometimes actually cast the relevant ethnicity and accent into the roles...

Sometimes it just helps to set the mood. Talk like an NPC would talk, react to in-game things, and resist having them use modern colloquialisms.

I also try to mix things up. My Dwarf sounds Ukrainian.

Gwen Smith wrote:
I think conversation quirks, attitudes, and inflection are more important than accents.

Agreed, you can get away with a lot without learning a lot of voices. A simple tonal shift gets you further than any accent. Some physical gesture like pointing a pencil at your players and threatening their PCs with a wand adds quite a bit.

Don't underestimate how physical acting helps your mindset, either. A little thing like how you're moving your hands can help you stay in character.

And for the really scary bad guys, you may want to be completely deadpan and emotionless while you explain how they're all going to die horribly.

The Exchange

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I just stop taking my medication and the voices just seem to come natureally...


voices are neat ... but awfully hard to maintain on day 3 of a convention as a standard.

I try to stick more towards mannerisms .. and then play up the occassional npc... although I think a lot of my npc voices come out more like spastic gnomes... be meh .. :)

lots of really good advice in here

The Exchange

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

to get really good at voices requires a LOT of cocaine use. Just look at Robin Williams.

Seraphimpunk wrote:
to get really good at voices requires a LOT of cocaine use. Just look at Robin Williams.

That also helps in playing a gnome convincingly, because flailing your arms wildly will only get you so far.

Lantern Lodge

I watched this, several times, to work on a Russian accent.

This guy makes several videos, but there are other people and other accents out there as well.

Also, as has been said, a lot of practice.

My best advice, as someone who does audiobooks as a sideline: listen to the best voice actors, and listen to a lot of them. Steal every trick they have, the most pervasive of which is their TOTAL confidence and good cheer, no matter how wild things get.

Some helpful links to videos or podcasts of my favorites.

Peter Sellers:

John DiMaggio (and others):

Paul F. Tompkins, James Adomian, Andy Daly, and Nick Kroll, all in one show!

(Also, most of the same, plus John Hamm!:

A whole mess of people from the L.A. comedy scene, and J. K. Simmons: rshal-on-mars-the-piano-has-been-thinking/

Good luck, and good voice work!

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

I love The Thrilling Adventure Hour to bits!

What I do is find a character in a movie with the accent I wish to portray. I pick a phrase they say frequently and practice saying it over and over. For instance: Bob the Stereotypical Scottish Guy says "Oh aye! I'll 'ave a bite 'o that." I practice it over and over and over, gradually building things to say around aforementioned phrase such as "Oh aye! I'll 'ave a bite 'o that haggis an' seedcake." Keep practicing until you can say other things with the phrase, even if they aren't grammatically correct. Eventually, you'll be able to mimic the accent well enough to flavor your game. You could even try talking with the tip of your tongue pointing down below your bottom teeth. Something as simple as that would create a new 'voice'. Try talking with your breath. Say "we need to walk", but like this "wHe nHeed to wHalk". It's simple things like that. Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it. I do an impression of Gollum that would make Andy Serkis shudder. I practiced it for years until I got it right. Now, I can talk with the Gollum voice and say anything, even using his inflections and refferals of 'us' and 'we'.

There is a lot of technique and perfecting that can come with practice. You have a gold mine of great advice above. One thing I will suggest is simply whatever you commit to it! Timid and reluctant performces do not go overwell the nervousness and self consciousness come out bury the effect. Find the right mannerisms, attitude and voice and go for it. Nailing a flawless accent or perfect imitation is not what people are going to notice they will notice a memorable and compelling character.

Liberty's Edge

One of the best techniques I've found for trying to do an accent when GMing is don't. Instead, think of someone who has that accent and do an impression of them. It is a lot harder to pull and accent out of your arse than it is to mimic the speech patterns and mannerisms of someone with whom you are familiar.

portraying a character isnt just about doing the voice, often if you come up with mannerisms and common idioms that specific characters will have, the more and more you speak in that character, the easier it will be to tell them apart

'voice' doesnt necessarily include exclusively the sounds you make with your vocal chords

sometimes characters are slow, use simple words
other characters speak fast and use big words
are they smooth talkers, or are they awkward like michael cera?
how do they articulate? do they slurr their words?

before trying to imitate or fabricate an accent, coming up with some of these attributes can help you and your players know who these characters are, and the rest will come naturally as the characters develop and you start to get a feel for playing them

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A note to be careful with voices....

In a ROTRL game I was am running, I accidently slipped some racist stereotypes into sandpoint without thinking about it.

When housekeeper from the Rusty Dragon showed up with Tsuto's letter, we were a few minutes into the scene before I realized this halfling just turned into a Puerto Rican housekeeper.

So.. if you're doing voices... try to think ahead a little better than I did.

I feel that, more important than the voices that you use, is understanding the temperament and personality of the character you're trying to play. Modern psychology would have us think that all people are, fundamentally, motivated by the same things; that we all run on the same OS. This is simply not the case. Hungian psychology, further developed by Isabella Myers and David Kiersey, shows us that people are hard-wired differently; there are different and distinct "foundations" on which we build our personalities. These temperaments can be categorized by similar trends. This is an idea that existed as far back as ancient Greece, examined by Plato, among others. More important than getting the "voices" down is knowing what actually makes these characters tick. What motivates them? What do they desire? How do they make decisions? What are their base mannerisms? If you get that down, using a studied understanding of temperament-based psychology, you can develop a far more clear picture of the person you're trying to characterize. Lacking this, all your characters will, in essence, be variations on your temperament and yours alone. If you're a Rational, and you have a character who is supposed to be an Artisan, without understanding temperament, you'll always just act out a Rational character who's trying to ape being an Artisan. With a mastery of temperament-based psychology, you'll actually be acting out an Artisan character that is segregated from your own Rational temperament. Here's a brief breakdown of the types and you can do further research at sites listed at the end of this post. Using both Kiersey's naming system and the MBTI initial system, they are:

Rational (NT): These are the thinkers and the analyzers. They tend to be aloof, quirky, independent, objective, and abstract. At their worst, they can be cold, inhumane, and perverted.

Guardian (SJ): These are the traditionalists and administrators. They tend to be reliable, organized, and judicious. At their worst, they are stubborn, "old-fashioned", and prudish. They also put great stock in earned rank, social status, pedigree, and certification.

Artisan (SP): These are the movers and shakers. They tend to be spontaneous, optimistic, opportunistic, and exciting. At their worst, they are selfish, reckless, and shallow. They strongly live in the "here and now" and have little worry or care for the past or the future.

Idealist (NF): These are the sensitive ones and, for lack of a better term, idealists. They tend to be subjective, caring, imaginative, and "deep". At their worst, they can be naive, manipulative, over-zealous, and depression-prone. They're very abstract, often lacking grounding in reality but they probably understand "people-issues" better than anyone.

Do more research at the following sites. First take one of the evaluations and see exactly what temperament you are, then study the others, how they're different, how they're the same, and how you can step into their shoes to make more believable characters. Once you get good at it, you can try "type-watching", studying a random person's behavior and trying to figure out what temperament they are.

Kiersey Temperament Page
Myers and Briggs foundation
Wikipedia: MBTI
For more in-depth research, I recommend "Please Understand Me II" by David Kiersey.

For reference, I'm a Rational (NT) of the specific set INTP (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving).

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