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Character Acting

January 26, 2006

I did some mental juggling tonight about my two RPGs, Shackled City and Metahistorical Evidence. Every GM that I know does this, using spare compute cycles to just think at their campaigns. Using these spare cycles, we can get GMing homework done for the next session while doing something else. (I like to do it while I’m at the gym, while I’m not paying attention to the TV screen in front of me.) Most of the time, I’m thinking organization and plot; (“Does the mage want to fireball them as soon as he sees them, or should he gloat first?” “Will that informant die at the hands of a fire elemental or an earth elemental?”) Tonight I thought a little bit about presentation.

For the most part, I don’t do a lot of voice acting. I have a few pitches that I ease into in order to get across the general tone of my character (women are softer and higher, paladins and warriors are gruffer and louder, sneaky bastards sound like they’re in the mob), but I don’t have ‘voices’ for my NPCs. I’ve often wondered if that gets annoying for my players. I always try to make sure that they know who’s talking by other cues, but I know that on more than one occasion I’ve used a vocal tic that didn’t show up in the future when encountering that character. I figure as long as they know who I am, that’s the important part.

When I do have a ‘voice’ for a character, it’s usually over the top. That’s the funnest part of DMing for me, when a character’s personality is so strong that I just have to do a voice. The voice I used for a fat noble woman in a wilderness city in the Cormyr game, even used for a few words, is enough to set the players from that campaign on edge. That same campaign saw me use a verbal tic through an interrogation by the players, only to drop it towards the end of the encounter when they had scared the snitch enough to drop the fake accent. The change was along the lines of ‘weak/incompetent to ‘soulless/deadly’, and it set the players back on their heels quite a bit.

I also love stereotypes. While in the real world they’re annoying and should be avoided, in RPGs they’re wonderful shorthand. A quick grunt along the lines of “Whatzyouwant?” with a thick tongue is enough to establish a typical orc. My favourite characters of all time to play are (roughly tied) goblins and watcher spirits. Goblins are about medium-high-pitched, with a slight gutteral quality, and completely spineless. They’re brave, to be sure, when in groups. Playing a goblin mob is lots of fun, and allows me the chance to use interesting insults like ‘Tall Sack’ and ‘Big Nose’. Individually, a goblin is basically a skeleton trying to escape it’s meaty shell before the adventurers off it. Most of my goblins give up information willingly to the brave party members in the hopes they’ll live to see another day. Most of that information is pure fabrication, of course, but most groups I’ve run have been full of untrusting sorts. It all evens out. Watcher spirits, from Shadowrun, are basically ethereal balls of magic pulled from astral space. They’re essentially one-use spirits; You give them one task and they do it until they discorporate back into the eather. Character-wise, they’re very high pitched and (more or less) puppy dogs with learning disabilities. All of my Watcher spirits also refer to their summoner as ‘boss’, which usually leads to some eye rolling.

Ahh…to be young and have a lifespan of 1d6 hours.

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