You don't need to adopt an accent to find your character's voice in Dungeons & Dragons. Welcome to D&D 101, a column that answers reader questions about Dungeons & Dragons (and other tabletop games.) We'll cover everything from game management skills, character builds, and creating memorable campaigns to some of the trickier "social" aspects of the game. If you have a question that you'd like to see answered in a future column, leave us a comment or find me on Twitter at @CHofferCbus and ask me on there!
This week's topic actually comes from one of my co-workers, who only understands the basics about Dungeons & Dragons and probably doesn't even know that I write about it multiple times a week on the Internet. While talking with her about my weekend plans, my co-worker asked me a simple, but surprisingly relevant to today question: "Do you do voices when you're playing the game?" This isn't the first time I've been asked that question, both by curious outsiders and by people interested in playing D&D or another tabletop RPG. I've even heard a few people say that they were apprehensive about playing specifically because they can't mimic the slightly British accents every actor in every fantasy movie seems to adopt.
First and foremost, Dungeons & Dragons DOES NOT require adopting an accent for your character. That seems like an obvious answer, of course, but there are more than a few tales of (usually new) players that feel that they're not getting a true immersive D&D experience unless everyone at the table is adopting an accent like in Critical Role or one of the other more polished D&D programs that air on the Internet. Of course, Critical Role's cast is made up of professional voice actors who have adopted the voices of hundreds of characters over their professional careers. Unless you have the voice acting resume of Laura Bailey or Matthew Mercer, I don't think any D&D player expects you to suddenly adopt a Victorian English accent when playing as a paladin.
However, there are certain roleplaying benefits to "speaking" in character, even if you don't change the cadence or tone of your voice. If you're struggling to separate yourself from your character - meaning that you want to react as your character within the story rather than react as a player in the game - you may want to work on speaking in character to better think how that character would react in certain situations.
As a DM, I'm always looking for ways to give my NPCs unique voices....despite the fact that I'm terrible at accents. With the exception of my famed hag accent (which basically channels an old Craig Ferguson sketch where he plays Angela Lansbury from Murder She Wrote), I have trouble holding an accent for very long and bounce between different Western European accents. Even my nebulous English accent will suddenly become French, and then English, and then Cajun, and finally back to English over the course of a single session. While I take plenty of ribbing from players for my inability to keep an accent, I take it in stride and look for other ways to give my NPCs a different tone.
If you want to try to have your character speak differently than yourself, think about the character's personality and how you can reflect that in their manner of speech. An educated wizard might use long, loquacious sentences while a seasoned fighter might be sullen or speak in short, simple phrases. Think about where the character comes from - maybe a character came from the sea and uses seafaring terms or is a hermit druid and makes metaphors to plants constantly. There are plenty of ways of reflecting your character's personality without resorting to actually using an accent.
If you do want to try your hand at accents, remember that you don't need to default to a nebulous British accent for your fantasy character. Ease into things by working on the cadence of your character's voice instead of adopting a full-blown accent. An excitable character might talk fast, while a pensive character (or a Tortle) might talk slower than average. If you're playing as a tiny pixie or gnome, you may want to give your voice a higher pitch, and if you're playing as a goliath, a giant, or a dragonborn, try adopting a deeper pitch. Yuan-ti may hold their s's (to mimic a snake's hiss), Tabaxi might roll their r's and purr when they speak, and aarakocra might squawk to accentuate the end of a sentence. There are tons of different ways to build your character's voice that don't involve foreign accents at all.
If you do want to try your hand at a full accent of some kind, remember to be cognizant of racial stereotypes and how others may react to your accents. If you're going to adapt the accent of someone from another country, be respectful and avoid mocking how other people talk. You may think that using an over-the-top accent is funny, but keep in mind that many people have faced mockery and discrimination over how they talk. Giving your character an accent shouldn't make anyone feel sad or disrespected, no matter what the intent.0comments
When it comes to finding your character's voice, the easiest place to start is to simply think about how your character sounds. Once you spend enough time thinking about a character's background, history, and mannerisms, you should be able to find a way to communicate as that character...even if doesn't involve an accent at all. The most important part about D&D is having fun, and no one will judge you if you want to try your hand at an accent or just want to use your normal voice.
If you have a question for D&D 101, leave it in the comment section or find me on Twitter at @CHofferCbus to tell me what you want to see in a future column!