Wednesday, 14 December 2011

LARP at the Gaming Table: Accents

I was a very theatrical child. Everything was an excuse to dress up and make-pretend, so when I discovered roleplay I was thrilled: gender-bending, my (limited) range of accents, the chance to glare my arch-rival in the eye and hold hands with my fictional sweetie… Then I remembered what an awkward bunch tabletop gamers can be; preferring to describe their actions and imply their character's voice and mannerisms. An absolute travesty, and a waste of a golden opportunity to improve game immersion.

So please, consider this my plea to all roleplayers to bring a loose element of larp into your games and make it more fun for everyone… Today we are looking at ACCENTS!
Ok, so not everyone (me included) can manage a convincing accent. It can make a person very self-conscious feeling that others might be laughing at them. Just remember, a little laugh is ok and your players will easily sink into it once the initial joke is had. 

Adopting an accent is a great way to get into character
With my Texan, mad scientist, Ethan I found that the second I sank into her deliciously slow, southern drawl my shoulders went back and I had the confidence to take on the world with my machine gun-rocket launcher. She spoke less words and was considerably slower, which gave me the chance to really deliberate on her responses. It also forced the rest of the PCs to listen to everything she said.
Another slow, reasoned accent was that of my Russian, City Gangrel, Isayev. His accent naturally deepened my girlish voice which made it easier for me to sink into a tough, male persona. Finally this particular vampire game was set in Italy, and the accent was a nice way to indicate how uncomfortable he was in his second language. (As a note when, later on I actually had the chance to speak Russian and not Italian I dropped the accent - go figure).

Everyone else knows exactly when you're in character
Every article needs a picture... I assure you this
 one is entirely relevant. Trust me...
Forget moose horns and crossing your fingers, this is the idiot-proof way for the GM and players to know where any comment is aimed. This is especially true of accents that wildly differ from your own. Once again with Ethan, her Texan cadence was a long way removed from my West Midlands derp and it kept everyone else in the loop. A very simple, straight-forward reason to adopt an accent.

Accents as languages!
Ok. It isn't quite tautology time, but this is a great way to keep hold of the voice of your players. I once took part in a very good, GURPS French Resistance game which spanned across three, in-character language barriers. Most of the player party were French nationals, except for the one British airman and my resistance operative. Since the characters only spoke French, they felt comfortable using their normal accents.
However, I spent much of the game flitting between French, English and German: accents were a must! Yes it did seem a little Allo Allo but as I said previously, take humour in your stride but keep things as serious as the game allows. Yes my British Airman voice was comically posh, but my French was passable and kept me in the era. The German gave me trouble… but that's a risk with accents.
Highlight of that game was a stand-up, blazing row with another character with perfect French accents. In-character and in the moment, what more could you ask for?

Accents as languages… again.
I haven't gone mental, I know what I mean. Certainly a French accent is perfect to indicate French, but what about Elvish? Or Goblin? or Celestial? Fantasy languages are a mine-field of representation. In a year-strong Pathfinder game where we rocketed from 5th level to 13th level (and still going) there were a lot of shared languages. The players started with hand shapes and gestures to indicate anything not in the common tongue, but that got old! We needed a change.
So I raided by character backstory; half-elf cleric, from northern hill village in the wild countryside. To me that said Welsh, and so my Welvish accent was born. Of course Titus is fluent in Elvish, my character sheet says so, but why shouldn't he have the accent of his homeland? Where in the rules does it say that fluent means RP? 
This idea worked so well, that it permeated into all other accents. Goblins became Cocknies. Dwarves, Scottish. Wolves, Russian… you get the idea.

Excellent Character Moments
There were many members of the party who spoke RP Elvish such as Titus' human, sorcerer boyfriend who teased him mercilessly for his country accent. Little beats of IC classism and mining of backgrounds are what these accents are all about. 
The GM required some of us to sing a little tune in Celestial - the voices of the angels; and nothing says spiritual, higher language than Latin. So a little Latin chanting, or a few hymns in the original can make any song or spell sound other-worldly. So keep an ear open for ancient languages and use them where appropriate. 
The culmination of my use of Welvish came when Titus and the human sorcerer set about teaching Elvish to the party Ranger. From one teacher he gained crisp vowels and perfect pronunciation; from the other, sentence fragments, swear words and, notes of that accent. Even now, months later this Ranger will still slip a little when he says 'Brilliant'!
Finally when you use an accent long enough as I did with Titus, the accent becomes second nature. During one particularly memorable moment, my priest became exceptionally stressed about the state of his battle clerics and went on a long rant to the poor Ranger. Totally beyond my control and notice I had slipped into Welvish mid-flow and the character was staring at me, confused… This is a situation I find myself in when talking to my bi-lingual friends; let alone the multi-lingual nature of any adventuring party.

To conclude...
Whether you want to add a little flavour to an NPC, another language, or you feel like adopting an accent-persona for an entire campaign; please do embrace what a different voice can bring to your characters.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent stuff! A really interesting and amusing read.

    Now I shall add an accent to my next character!

    ... Now I need to go find a campaign, that I may have an accented character!