Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shifting Stereotypes in GM Voices

Any GM worth his or her salt has done impressions. You may eschew or find them childish now, but at some game session you used a voice that wasn't your own, for good or ill, for once or forever.

Make no wonder. The players hunch around the table, waiting for you to bring the gameworld to life. You dive into onomatopoeia for the clang of swords or crash of dragon scales. You're improvising like mad, flailing your arms and chewing the scenery. It is only natural that you use different voices to differentiate NPCs, and only natural that these are based on your limited repertoire of experiences. So you steal a Scottish brogue for a dwarf here, or do your best Hugo Weaving for an elven king.

The problem isn't (mostly) that these impersonations are racist. Most are about as mildly offensive as Mike Myer's Shrek, and the rare racist, mean-spirited impression should rightly be condemned.

The problem is that most impressions are hackneyed, repetitive, and done to death. Scottish dwarven brogues, lisping posh elves, North Country hobbits, and piratey orcs are all dull, dull, dull.

It's past time to shake up these stereotypes, to shift to different voices if you like vocal improvisation. Shifting voices will refresh NPC interaction for you and your players, challenge your assumptions, and push your play into new directions.

Here are my suggestions for some new voices to shake up your game:

Dwarves - Serene Zen Japanese gardener craftsmen. Love jewels as art, not wealth. Berserker rage replaced by stoic banzai charge.

"Ah! See this slope? A work of art! That cornice - I am speechless! Truly it is worth death to see the precious beauty of this forgotten tomb! How dare these uncouth gaki befoul this sanctum! BANZAI!!"

Hobbits - Lector style cannibals. Consideration of food trumps any alignment or moral compass.

"Hmmmmm, rations running low. Lucky so many tall sources of meat walking around. All it needs is some fava beans and a glass of Chianti. Then fly fly, little halfling, back to home."

Humans - Loudmouth hucksters, always spouting the Domain Game as needed progress.

"Well sirree, this is the wasteland, but it has potential! I can see it now, after we clear out the temple, we move in a drygoods and an inn. Get captured goblins to build a stable and dig a well, but we get the xp. We get minstrels to spread word of the spot where Evil fell, charge admission, sell gnomish souvenirs, and plots of swampland! I tell you, human ingenuity will turn this ruin into a goldmine!"

Elves - Burt Reynolds' Gator inspired, bacco spitting,  moonshine-swigging rednecks. Fall of the elves remembered like the fall of Dixie.

"Shoot, I seen this a million times. You uppity new races comin' round where you ain't wanted. But I ain't no racist. (swigs moonwine). Double negative? That's a positive in High Elf, boy. I'd speak it 'cept y'alls too dumb to unnerstand it. (swigs again). Boy, you bet not be lookin' at my sister Laurie-Lie. Don't want no mixed blood half-elves kickin' round."

Half orcs - Pessimistic, fatalistic French Resistence fighters.

"My mother, she full orc, she hate me. My father he abandon me. Merde! Life, she is shit. But still I fight, to drink and, mais oui, to forget in the little death of inebriation."

Got any suggestions? Leave a comment.

This post is inspired by THIS post.


  1. I've certainly been trying to move away from the stereotypical voices. For a while, I worked on a completely new accent for a more alien race, but I realize that it requires every word to be worked out in advance.

    Your idea of using a French accent for orcs made me chuckle, since I thought that the stereotypical French traits - snobbishness, sarcasm, disdain for "uncultured" people - fit high elves rather well. I also thought of using samurai-esque mannerisms (but not accents) for orcs.

    1. I think changing up your impersonations like this might seem like a simple reskinning, but the emergent play would add so much to a game. French orcs following their warchief but griping and grumbling all the way. Elves spitting tobacco at a fancy banquet. Dwarves taking time to shape bonsai-fungi as it grows in the underdark. Sounds good to me.