In any given situation, whether you are talking to a family member, or chatting with a stranger in a coffee shop line, or talking to a priest, you switch to different speaking tones to match the situation (or at least I hope you do). So it would make sense to change your tone, if you are speaking as another character, right?
Tone, in a general sense is your pitch, speed, and inflected emotion which emphasizes or supports the message you want to convey.
Whether you are speaking, writing, or narrating – we all use tones to convey our messages. Effective use of tone speaks volumes about an NPC’s narrative, or a campaign’s theme. So it is important that we learn HOW to maximize it.
Employing this consistently is bound to improve your game. This tip is for newbies and masters alike.
Ready? Lets start.
Tone of voice. When actively playing the role of an NPC, whether a country bumpkin, sophisticated socialite, or a scholar, a lot can be achieved by simply changing the tone of your voice. Changing the volume, speed of delivery, and pronunciation delineations can express and convey a lot of personality. For example, lowering your pitch, and speaking slowly gives off the impression of a ‘gentle giant’, while talking fast without waiting for an answer assists in delivering a ‘distracted and egocentric’ performance.
Your choice of words. “The lil’ chippuns went out back o’ the church, and lollygagged the whole aft’noon”. From the phrasing and choice of words alone, our internal bias screams – ‘simple-minded, uneducated, assumptive commoner’. In contrast, “The children usually play in the garden behind the Veran Chapel. They’re, more often than not, playing hide and seek for the better part of the afternoon”, gives off a motherly, knowing, and concerned feel. Bust out the high language when acting as noble, the elite, and scholarly inclined. Making the exception can also be memorable – like say roleplaying a recently knighted commoner. After describing a well dressed noble who then proceeds to talk like a seafaring deckhand can be quiet unbalancing, and should elicit more than a couple of raised eyebrows. Whatever the impact – it does drive the point home.
Tone Consistency. Nothing is more frustrating than wasted effort. Each person differ only in degrees of tolerance when player breaks out of character. Any well executed narrative, dialogue can be destabilized by one wisecrack. It is specially true if the perpetrator is the DM. I’m not saying you should NEVER break out of character, all I’m saying is – if you are striving for a specific tone in your adventures, try not to sabotage your own endeavors. Milk every dialogue, narrative, and situation for as much as they’re worth. Think back on your best campaign moments – they were most likely memorable due to good dm’ng, player participation, and tone consistency.
Bonus Tip: Body Language. If tone is the boost to your narrative, then body language is nail that drives the point home! Convey anger by snarling, banging your first on table, or sadness and frustration by talking with your fingers touching your forehead. You get the picture.
Well, that is it for now. If you have anything to add, feel free to chime in! See you on the game table!