So u/vagabondvivant posted a thread here about how you don’t need to do accents to differentiate characters, and some people seemed really interested in a list of vocal things you can do instead of doing accents!
To clarify also, this isn’t to say don’t do accents! If you want to, all power to ya, but for those of you (like me) who genuinely feel uncomfortable doing accents/aren’t good at them/don’t want to risk breaking the immersion, but also need to differentiate between NPCs when there are like 3 in a room together, I hope this helps!
Also, please add to this list if you have suggestions! (I’m numbering it so that you can even roll a die to determine your next voice! fun shit pals, let’s do this)
Speaks their entire stream of consciousness aloud (i.e. “You want a healing potion? I have healing potions… they were quite expensive when I went to acquire them, but I thought it would be an absolutely a worthwhile investment, and I suppose I was right, but where did I put them? Not by the trail rations, no…)
Drawls the endings of words out (good for evil or suspicious characters), a la Smaug in The Hobbit series.
A good mix with #2 is tonal shifting. Starting your voice off higher and deepening it as the sentence progresses. Kind of hard to describe in writing, but it has a way of making sentences sound very final and decisive. Most of Benny C’s sentences in the previously linked clip do kind of what I’m talking about.
Vocal fry. It’s not just a teen phenomenon! Obviously it can be, and it might be a fun voice for a bored shopkeeper(‘s child who has to man the store for a day), but if done with a bit of a drawl, it can make a very fun villain voice.
Building on #4, someone who draws out their syllables. Vocal fry helps enunciate this, but it can come off as a bit evil, a bit sexy, a bit dramatic if you do it right. Maybe even a little British, idk. Lends itself well to people who speak slowly.
Just swear a bunch. Punctuate every sentence with a swear, or even toss them in between words for emphasis. Pepper them about where they barely make sense. Make the NPC a really sweet, loveable child with a filthy mouth.
Speak… very… slowly. Or… have long pauses throughout your… speech. I like this for characters who are very thoughtful or, better yet, ones who have no fucking clue what they’re doing. Got a newly appointed captain of the guard? Well, she has no idea what her actual job entails, so she spends a lot of time listening and ESPECIALLY thinking hard about what she says. She has to pick her words carefully, lest they be her last.
Doesn’t think before they speak. This is a bit more of an improv-based “voice”, but it can be fun to have someone, especially a high-ranking official, who says the first thing that comes to mind and either everyone is tired of their shit, or they all are smart enough to hold their tongues (or both). Pepper this with a bit of a raised voice/someone who yells a little bit, and either charges ahead with what they say, or is forced to renege every few sentences because they fucked up.
Never makes eye contact. This is a little harder via video or even, god forbid, just voice chat, so I’m sorry for that! But this is a good one for either anti-social characters, brusque characters, annoyed guards, or just people who are a little more flighty and not good at paying attention to the here and now. Lean more into the brusque, short sentences for an annoyed/anti-social vibe, or a slow, dreamy voice if you’re looking for that. Have fun with it! Make a show of not looking your players in the eye!
Rambling. Not to be confused with stream of consciousness, rambling can be trailing off into anything at all, as opposed to a personal narration. Maybe they go off on how they feel about something, or into a story that they were reminded of, or even a prophetic dream they had. Ramblers may need to be shut up, lest they just keep talking, so maybe cut yourself off unless you have a party who will do it for you.
This is more a subsection of #10, but someone who goes off-tangent into storytelling. Be they an adventurer who has lived a long and storied life, or a kooky librarian who’s been reading too much lately, going into storytelling is a nice way to maybe do a bit of soft worldbuilding, or just annoy your players a little, but in a charming way. Also, this can be a fun elderly character, if done right!
Speaking in tandem/cutting each other off. This is a bit tougher, but can be done well if you get cadence down. Maybe you have close twins, or even a long-time married couple! They finish each other’s sentences, though one tends to speak slowly and deliberately, while the other can barely contain their words, and often ends up spilling over before their other half has finished their sentence! Pitch might help here, giving one character a bit of a higher voice and the other a little deeper one. That, or making one person the cheery labrador retriever (excitable, happy, game for anything) while the other is the dour housecat (grouchy, talks slower, has a tendency to mumble).
Lisp! An easy voice to do. (Edit: Thanks to u/Kittens-and-Vinyl for adding that this also should be done respectfully! As with all things, assume that someone at your table has gone through shit you don’t know about and just be kind in the way you RP. Don’t make a mockery of a lisping character, just make them fun or make the lisp incidental to their way of speaking! Make them eloquent and exciting, or make them a child who is working hard to get rid of a lisp, and slips up when they get excited! There are fun and good ways to play characters with speech impediments, so do a bit of research first!)
Stutter! Don’t do this in a mocking way. It doesn’t have to be unintelligible, as many stutterers don’t stutter in the way many people understand them to (repeating one syllable a few times etc.). Some more serious stutters involve simply trying to shape your mouth to make the right sound, so there can be a lot of pauses in your sentences as you try to form the word. Be nice if doing this voice! Stutterers go through a lot of shit in this big wide world, so don’t make a mockery of it.
Huge grin, big jovial attitude all the time, regardless of the situation. This one is less a voice than an attitude, but I think always smiling can be a kind of voice/tone. Especially for an evil character, approaching every conversation with a bright smile that refuses to crack can be as sinister as spinning around in a chair and stroking a cat.
Speaks as if trying to spit the words out. Sentences should be short and punctuated in a way that’s as if they’re being hurled at your players. Not the kind of person to hold a conversation with for very long.
Overly loud. Maybe they’re drunk! Maybe they’re hard of hearing! Maybe they’re both, because they’re in a loud tavern! Either way, come at your players fast by yelling at them through a microphone, and watch them all jump in their seats as you holler at them! Fun for the whole family.
Swap pronounciations of letters. This is a little weird and may require finegaling, and also comes dangerously close (to me) to an accent, but try swapping some sounds with each other. For instance, swap all ‘S’ sounds with ‘Z’ to make a strange, unplaceable accent. It might even go undetected for a bit, but you can spice it up by making the character struggle with Common a bit. And on that note:
Have someone who doesn’t know Common as a ‘first language’. Ask for definitions of words, or pause while trying to remember words. Talk around a word (instead of house, for an aarakocra, say ‘Large covered nest’, or something similar). Pause a lot!
Interrupt sentences in your gusto to speak! This one may get annoying if done too much, so pair it with a lot of excited head nods or quiet exclamations. Trip over your own words or skip over words entirely and go back for them two sentences later. This can also be done in a serious conversation, potentially by a character who knows a lot about what’s being discussed. Think of those movie scenes where people begin to throw ideas back and forth, and finally culminate in saying one thing in unison, or whatever. That idea, but in a dialogue with your players.
Randomly repeat words throughout your sentences. There might be room for accidental misinterpretation (saying ‘not’ twice in a row, for example), but there probably shouldn’t be any rhyme or reason to the words you repeat. Or you can disregard that and decide that you only repeat the words at the beginning or end of your sentences. This one isn’t a stutter, but more of a vocal tic. You could even mutter the second word, softly, but that also plays on some weird stereotypes around depictions of schizophrenia, so I’d recommend just having the doubling of words be something that’s woven into sentences. That also makes it a little more weird and interesting.
Building off #21, randomly repeat your players’ words. This can either be like a shopkeeper deep in thought, trying to recall something and using your players’ words to stimulate their memory, or maybe it’s more sinister… or maybe it’s just a vocal tic! Up to you.
Slur your words a bit. I don’t mean like in a drunk way (though that’s fun too!), but more like making every possible word a contraction, and then making your sentence one long word. Kinda hard to describe in writing, but it can be done better by stressing the first word and then just blending the rest into one kind of rushed sentence.
Cut off your own sentences part way through. Maybe your character forgot the rest of their sentence? Maybe they pick it up from where they left off three seconds ago. Maybe they start a fully new sentence! Who knows! Be prepared for a bit of frustration from your players. Also a fun voice tic for elderly people!
Make other sounds with your mouth. Click your tongue while thinking, whistle to get others’ attention, smack your lips a bit. If you’re a bird-humanoid, click your mouth a few times. I like this for a bard (have them whistle a bit while your players are talking, if you can whistle!), or someone who is physically incapable of being quiet. Don’t bring this NPC on a heist!
Speak softly. Another one that translates badly over video/voice call, but if you speak in a bit of a whisper, you’ll definitely catch your players’ attention, if only because they have to lean in real close to hear you. For added fun, if they ask you to speak up, just raise your voice a teeny tiny bit and tell them you’re now shouting.
Throw in a lot of filler words, like ‘um’ or ‘uh’, and maybe another nervous tic, like snapping your fingers of tapping your thigh. That, or your character isn’t nervous at all, they just need time to think of what they’re gonna say, and those filler words are how they fill space when they need to think.
Draw out your ‘S’ sounds. Good for lizardfolk, dragons, kobolds, or maybe even dragonborn! Sorry if that’s stereotyping lmao
Constant scowl on their face. This also doesn’t translate well to voice calls, but if you keep your face in a scowl, it does kinda change your voice, so it might work. Mumbling works here.
Just woke up. Maybe today is a slow day at the shop! Maybe your party burst into their home at 3 AM! Either way, you’re grouchy and you’re yawning a lot. You’re also irritable and unable/unlikely to take any bullshit, and that includes haggling. Better for a one-off character, or I guess someone with narcolepsy.
Speak in rhymes! This might be a tough one, so maybe keep it a short NPC (tho undoubtedly your players will want to make them talk as much as possible) but could be very fun (inspired by u/godminnette2’s comment!)
Making way too much eye contact. Best if in person, but can also be done by eerily staring into the camera on video and not blinking a lot. From u/LionRaider13!
Tack on some extra syllables to words! To make it easier, tack on syllables to specific sounds, so for example, every time you say the ‘oo’ sound, add an ‘S’. That would make: “Youse never know what to dooz!” as opposed to, “You never know what to do!” Might take a bit of work to get down, but very distinct! From u/LionRaider13 again!
Speaks in gibberish or quickly, with a bit of a slur and some unfamiliar phrasing. This one comes from u/zenith_industries’s comment and even adding in some unfamiliar sayings or phraseology is enough to set a character apart! Also u/SiloPeon’s note on dropping certain parts of sentences like pronouns, or swapping them with alien words like ‘mortals’ or other creepy ways of referring to people.
Enunciates specific letters/enunciate every word extremely clearly. For example, making the ‘bedder’ actually pronounced with the double ‘T’ sound. Or, a way to emphasize this would be to make all ‘S’ sounds the same. For example, instead of ‘should’, make it a flat ‘S’ sound, like in snake (Sood). An example sentence would become: “That snake sood be killed before it iss joined by another.” Drop the ‘Z’ sound and the ‘Sh’ sound. Might take a while to practice, but could be neat! Thanks to u/KestrelLowing
Makes every sentence into a question? Credit to u/Yeah-But-Ironically? I guess? Might be hard to hold a long conversation in this tone? Okay, I’ll stop now?
Only speaks while breathing in. This is a tough one to say long sentences on, unless you take a while to pause a lot in your sentences. Could be a good voice for answering those pesky ‘Speak With Dead’ spells that your cleric is always running around and doing. Credit to u/PM_MeYourDataScience
Sighs a lot throughout sentences. Maybe they’re lovelorn! Maybe they’re just like that! Maybe you’re playing a gritty Winnie the Pooh campaign and you’re Eeyore! The possibilities abound! Thanks u/PM_MeYourDataScience again!
Drops article adjectives (a, an, the). (Taken exactly from u/bonethugznhominy bc they explain it better than I ever could) This is in line with making it sound like a character is foreign or doesn’t speak Common natively. It’s actually a pretty common stumbling block for Russian speakers learning English. Especially effective if you do it inconsistently. (Instead of “I went to the store and saw a cat,” try “I went to store and saw cat.”)
Uses prepositions incorrectly. (Again, u/bonethugznhominy!) Also would be a key for a non-native speaker. Once again, common real world hurdle for people learning a new language because every language uses these differently and kind of arbitrarily. As an aside, prepositions are words that were introduced to me as your relation to a box (i.e. over, under, through, around, on etc.) An example would be: “I went to the post office,” becoming “I went on the post office.”
Speaking in third person (or even second person? i.e. Speaking about themselves, “You need to get more ingredients for your potions. Would the kind adventurers help you find some goodberries for a healing potion? You would perhaps give them a good discount.”). From u/TrumpetSamurai !
V proud that I made this an even 30 (edit, now a D40!), so I hope if you’re rolling on this, you own a d30 (if that even exists). If not, sorry! I hope this helps still! Stay safe, all!
EDIT: holy shit thank you for gold and platinum???? This is amazing! I’m so glad this list has helped all of u!
EDIT 2: u/QuothTheLurker added a link for this video on Voice Acting techniques by Lunch Break Heroes that I think would really benefit people! It helped me too!