Doing different accents for NPCs can be one of the hardest things for a DM. It's also one of the biggest parts of the "Matt Mercer effect": most DMs can't keep up with a literal professional voice actor, so then many feel worse about themselves.
But, consider the people you live near, and interact with on a daily basis. Most likely, they all have pretty similar accents. Despite that, you can tell them apart. Why? Because of their voice. All accents have common traits (Southerners speak more slowly and with a twang, Germans enunciate, etc.). However, each individual person has their own speech patterns as well. Maybe someone speaks quickly, or slowly. Maybe they pronounce vowels differently, or emphasize certain letters more.
Whatever it is, you can use that to help you. Your NPC's can all use a pretty similar accent to you, but with shifts in tone that make them unique and recognizable. (Side note: Body language is also super useful. Waving your hands around while talking or keeping them folded neatly on the table produce two very different impressions).
If you want to see examples of this to help you practice, look at a TV show (we can use Parks and Rec for an example). The town blacksmith speaks like Ron Swanson (more slowly, occasionally emphasizing a word at the end of a sentence during strong emotions). The halfling store clerk speaks like Leslie Knope (talks faster, more obviously excited, with a happier tone). The half orc inkeeper speaks like Chris Traeger (very upbeat, always calls everyone by their full name). Again, don't try to copy their exact way of speaking, just stick with general traits.
Here's a quick table to help. Pick one trait from the right side, then one from the left, and voila, you've got yourself a brand new NPC voice:
|Speaks very quickly||Speaks without any rhythm (flat)|
|Speaks slowly||Constantly sounds frazzled|
|Speaks only in short, concise sentences||Their inflection makes it always sound like they're asking a question?|
|Speaks haltingly (stops and starts sentences abruptly)||Always emphasizes the words at the end of a sentence|
|Enunciates each word carefully||Adds in a lot of filler words (um, uh, er)|
|Speaks in long, runon sentences||Uses lots of inflections (changes in their tone)|
|Always talks just above a whisper||Talks with an upbeat, chipper tone|
|Always is very loud||Turns every sentence into an exclamation!|
These are obviously just a few examples, and you can add or change whatever you want. A surprisingly good resource for this is different guides for writers that focus on dialogue. Creating a unique voice on the page is often similar to creating one for your NPCs.
Finally, the most important thing to remember is this: Any good group of players will be supportive of you as you try to learn how to do different accents and voices. Either they have no clue how to change their own voice, and are impressed that you're trying, or they've learned how to do it successfully, and can understand the challenges you're facing.
No matter what the quality, they'll appreciate both the voices, and the effort you're putting in. If you've ever heard a recording of yourself, and thought it sounded weird, doing different voices for D&D actually seems to function as an opposite of that: No matter how awful it sounds in your head, it always sounds amazing to your players.
- I’m making a free “virtual dialect coach” for RPGs! As a DM, what’s the trickiest part about doing NPC voices?
- A List of Vocal Tics/Tonal Changes etc. You Can Do Instead of an Accent! (I also suck at accents)
- The Truth about Accents
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Don’t focus on doing accents for your characters, focus on doing VOICES" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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