So, you’ve finally got your awesome background for your character. In addition, you’ve decked him out with the best gear a 1st level character can get, and you’re totally ready to impress your gaming buds with your new badass character. Then, when the game starts, you’re sitting there waiting for your character to get introduced, and you’re nothing but a bundle of nerves. You can’t wait! Everyone is going to remember this awesome character forever, so you think.
The time is now! The stage is set! Your character, this piece of your mind, that you gave a name and history (an essence, if you will) is about to step into a collective fantasy! He is seen by the party, he opens his lips to speak, and… he sounds exactly like you. Your character loses any sense of identity he had. Then your character quickly becomes relegated to his party role. His name forgotten, reduced simply to “mage” or “tank”. How sad. How could this have happened? Your guy was cool! He had an incredibly interesting backstory! How could the character just fail to be interesting?
All right, all right. I’ll tone down the melodrama for a moment so I can be clear about what I’m talking about. Its always fun to create interesting characters. In my view, it’s the best thing about role playing. However, sometimes it takes more than an interesting backstory to make your character come alive. What am I talking about?
I’m talking about diction.
It’s about how your character says things. It means giving him a unique voice. Now, I know we gamers love good pirate voices and other silly accents like that, and those can be a part of it. Really though, diction means so much more. Diction, in this case, refers to specific word choices your character uses when speaking. Diction can reveal a lot about a character, it can reveal his education, his nationality, his religious beliefs, and even his personal philosophies.
For example, lets look at a very simple situation that might come up in a game. Hero gets a good Spot roll and manages to see an ambush being set up in a forest. Your character tells the party of course (or perhaps not), but what does he say exactly?
Example 1: Friends, up ah-h-ead, I think those t-three guys are gonna try to kill u-s-s.
A bit over doing the stutter for sure, but this guy sounds like he could be interesting. No?
Example 2: Ahead, thirty paces, three villains, I will strike first.
This guy seems like a lot of no-nonsense paladins I’ve dealt with before.
Example 3: Three Dead Men Hiding! I see you! We’re gonna kill you for that!
Certainly a bit overly enthusiastic, but he’d be a cool barbarian!
Of course, these are a bit jokey, but hopefully you can understand the power of appropriate language choice. Now, imagine that all three of the examples were DnD 3.5 Lvl 1 fighters. Yes, they would all have similar stats. Yet they don’t seem similar at all, do they?
For instance, example 1 is a mystery, he seems strange and acts deranged. Yet you can sense a vulnerability in his voice – his stuttering adding another layer to the character. Example 2 seems confident, calm and under control, perhaps a little too confident, but certainly he has a keen military mind. Lastly, example 3 seems strong, young, and eager. Now, he could be played as a generic fighter, but doesn’t his voice suggest that he may be young, perhaps desperate to prove himself to his companions?
I know I’m overdoing it a bit, but I’m trying to prove a point about how characters, word choice , and proper voice can improve a game. Even with all the numbers and books and dice, it seems that we sometimes forget that every Tabletop Rpg really just boils down to acting. Acting is what holds our fantasy worlds together! And every actor should know about diction.