Let’s talk about roleplaying with accents at the game table. In the real world, the way a person speaks can say a lot about them. Pronunciation, cadence, and diction can give clues as to a person's ethnic, regional, or social background. The difference between accents from region to region in the United States, for example, is profound. One can usually identify the differences between speakers from two different regions of the US, even without being able to identify precisely where a particular speaker is from. So why shouldn't this also be the case in a fantasy game world? In America, one can tell the difference between a Bostonian and a Southerner by the way they speak. Shouldn't that also be true of Chelaxians and Taldans?
I’ve heard mixed opinions about players or GMs putting on accents. On one hand, accents can be a simple but powerful way of conveying a character concept or personality. When an accent is done convincingly and well, it can greatly enhance the immersion during a session. But on the other hand, accents can be a distraction at the table, especially when done poorly, and can disrupt the suspension of disbelief for other players. To further complicate matters, if a player chooses an accent for a character and end up struggling with it, they might focus too much on perfecting the accent rather than simply roleplaying their character.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of accents in a game. As a player, almost every one of my characters has their own unique accent or dialect. At the very least I try for a different cadence or speech pattern. As a GM, I try to give unique accents to as many important, and even some seemingly unimportant, NPCs as I can. This has lead to a greater number of engaging interactions between random NPCs and the party as Randall the dockworker suddenly has a voice that's even more memorable than whatever reason the party was talking to him in the first place.
I also feel like having an accent keyed to a character’s personality helps me slip into that role more easily. In a previous OYR I used a character of mine, Riordan Soleratov Detrovsky, as an example. My trigger for getting into Riordan’s head was to repeat an English phrase while putting on a heavy Russian accent. This trigger served a dual purpose. Firstly, as I mentioned in the last article, it helped me get into character. But secondly, it helped remind me how to shape the sounds of the accent I chose to associate with Riordan.
My accents aren’t flawless and I tend towards more entertaining voices rather than accurate ones. But I do make a conscious effort to improve them. A little while ago I stumbled upon this little gem on YouTube. The company, VideoJug, basically runs an instructional video website and one of their tutorial series happens to be on developing different types of accented English. They're short videos, under 5 minutes, and highlight the basic patterns found in different accents.
So the next time you roll up a PC or stat up an NPC, consider how that character would talk to others. What do you want that to indicate about who he or she is or where they're from? How does your delivery or expression of character impact the ways that other players interact with that character? Go ahead and play with accents, and you might just find yourself just a little more immersed in your roleplaying.