Vo the Voice Snatcher, from the Bard College of Silence
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Kai Linder: A droplet lands in a puddle and its tiny echo thunders through the warehouse rafters. Every shuffle of the adventurer’s feet makes them wince. The rogue’s voice comes from the shadows above: “Ah, friends, you’ve come back to Vo?” The others look at the rogue,, stood beside them with a face white as parchment, lips clamped shut.
“We’ve come to-”
The cleric holds up the hand for the fighter to stop speaking. Her words echo many times longer than they should. Another sound of skittering and a large form spirals down a wooden pillar, its mottled lizard, body carried by 11 spindly legs, a human face drawn and unconcerned looking extends away from the body on a worm-like neck until its inches from the fighter’s nose.
The air stands still full of the scent of flaking skin and dry costs. You’ve come to talk. Of course. Surely your friend’s new found silence is an improvement over their life tongue. You can be honest with fo you can’t really want it back.
Lucas: Hello, and welcome to Making a Monster, the bite-size podcast where game designers show you their favorite monster and we discover how it works, why it works and what it means. I’m Lucas Zellers. The human voice is the most influential sound in the world. Your voice is made not just by your throat, but also by your lungs, the resonating spaces in your skull, your tongue, even the shape of your teeth. And it’s very sensitive to the way you treat all of those things.
It changes over time, just as you do. In short, it’s a reflection of who you are, as unique as a fingerprint. As a podcaster I am more familiar with the sound of my own voice than most. So a monster that threatens to take it is a monster that haunts my dreams. And who do I have to blame for that?
Kai Linder: My name is Kai Linder. I am a writer and editor on the DM’s Guild and working on other TTRPGs as well. I’d always really liked the idea of bringing music into D and D a lot more. Originally the idea for musical subclasses started with the thought of, I want to actually make just some fun little songs that people can insert.
Here’s a song that mercenaries like to sing. And if you sing it around mercenaries or you have advantage or other bonus on negotiating with them. But if you play it around Nobles then Nobles and get pissed off and they won’t like you as much. I’m just making up little things like that, that weren’t necessarily meant to be magical, but maybe someone like a Bard could cast a spell using it because Bards are the instrumentalists.
And I was thinking, Oh, what else can I put in this book? Ooh, subclasses and just toying around with it. I ended up thinking actually let’s do subclasses first because this is the, the most player facing thing that I think people would like and decided to just do it as a series that lets me release it regularly, constantly draw attention to them.
And it’s been really, really, well-received very, very pleasantly pleasantly surprised about that and have enjoyed having that kind of start to become associated with my brand.
Lucas: I have the Path of the War Drummer for Barbarian, Pact of the Bell for Warlock, Whistler, which is for Rangers – that make sense – the Dancer for Rogue, the School of Incantation, the Way of Harmony for monk. What’s the next subclass coming up?
Kai Linder: So the next one that’s coming out on January 4th is the Oath of Hymns Paladin. So that one will be all about chanting hymns and incantations to create musical or as around yourself, give the pallet and even more, or as to.
To power up their friends that are nearby because you know, everyone looks at Paladins and says, not enough, auras – needs more auras, so more auras.
Lucas: Among that whole list, the College of Silence for Bards is a bit of a sore thumb. Why this sudden reversal?
Kai Linder: Part of it was just, it tickled me a bit that everyone gets musical subclass and we get to Bard and we go, you know what? You’ve got enough musical stuff. Let’s have someone who’s just quiet and counters all of that stuff. And if, if someone’s going to do it, I want it to be the Bard for fun, for the sake of fun. It’s. I mean, everyone knows the stereotypical Bard is loud and boisterous. So let’s subvert that and have a bar who’s quiet and contemplated in each of these individuals classes.
I have a little like a sidebar at the very end. That says okay, Oh, here’s three samples of this kind of music. So here’s an African war drum, here’s an American drum beat. Here’s what handbells sound like. For college of silence John Cage’s 4:33 is the first example. I think that I used as a soundbite for silence.
Lucas: The College of Silence comes with a creature you’ve named Vo the Voice Snatcher. Why is this the monster you wanted to talk about?
Kai Linder: So I have designed a few other different monsters, but I feel like this one in particular, it’s, it’s linking, as we have touched on a little bit to the current brand of musical subclasses, but B because I think of all the monsters I’ve designed at best expresses my design philosophies and the kind of things I like to play with when I design monsters.
Lucas: I know, of course the reference that this immediately calls to my mind because I was of a certain age at a certain time in history. But before I bring it into the conversation I wanted to ask, what were your influences for Vo the Voice Snatcher?
Kai Linder: Unfortunately, I I’d say that it’s a little bit less interesting than you might expect in that. I think there’s not really. Other than the obvious one that meant that you were many people might think of, which is a Koh the Face Stealer from Avatar: the Last Airbender. I don’t really have any specific conscious influences or inspirations for this. There’s just like general feelings.
As someone who’s moved a lot and lived in a lot of different places I don’t really have my own specific culture to draw on for this. So it’s not taken from any specific culture. Chinese mythology, for example, loves using human faces on creatures. There’s just loads of other ones like to pull on these little different threads of, of taking away people’s expressions and such.
But I couldn’t remember ever having seen anything or read anything that, that does it specifically to voices. If someone knows if one feel free to, feel free to let me know, I would love to learn about it. But for the most part, it was just a, one of those strokes of inspiration where it’s like, Oh, I want to do this.
Oh, this reminds me a little bit of Koh okay. So we got to avoid copying him, but I definitely loved the imagery of COE, where you go to a place, you speak to a creepy thing who is willing to deal with you. But you really, really don’t want to be there and you want to leave as soon as you can. So I definitely wanted to draw on that emotion of, of how Koh the Face Stealer made me feel in a certain way, and see if I could twist it a little bit, even more.
Lucas: Do you think this is more impactful? The voice than, than the stealing of a face would be? And why?
Kai Linder: Good question. I think the gut reflex is that having your face stolen as much creepier. Because a lot of people also tend to think very, very visually about this sort of thing. What does it look like for you to not have a face anymore?
I personally do think the voice is very creepy, possibly more so, because I think voices are very under appreciated, which might sound silly at first because we use them every day. People, people sing and talk to each other a lot, but I think that’s why it’s under appreciated the loss of that. Yeah. I think the average person probably takes their voice for granted and would feel.
Very alienated and losing that method of self-expression, which kind of is shared with your face giving actual expressions. So I think because it is much more a precise communication tool for, I guess, who and what you are. I think it can have a deeper impact than losing your expression.
Lucas: I want to talk about mechanics. How has this ability to snatch a voice encoded into Vo’s stat block?
Kai Linder: He has a few unique voice oriented mechanics to help him work, but the, he has a snatch voice reaction that recharges each turn on a five or six, so he can potentially use it multiple times in a, in a combat or in a day. He can target any creature within 30 feet that he’s heard speak, and he can force them to make a charisma saving throw.
If Vo has caught the person lying or telling any untruths in the last minute, they have disadvantage on this. So telling the truth makes you a lot less susceptible to Vo. If you fail the save, he just straight up rips your voice away. You take a bunch of psychic damage. He gains 10 current and maximum hit points as he steals your voice, which means the more voices he steals, the more powerful he gets, and he can just stack up and get tougher and tougher as he goes. The creature loses the ability to use their voice in any way whatsoever.
And Vo becomes able to use that creature’s voice at will. This only ends and the creature only regains their voice when Vo dies or willingly returns the voice. There’s no duration on this. It’s indefinite. You don’t get your voice back after an hour. If he steals your voice, you either need to, to kill him or you need to trade him something for it, which is nice and nice sort of rough, but he’s, I’ve put him at a challenge level, level 11.
So. Most adventures will be pretty tough if they come up against him, but he’s a pretty strong problem or a pretty strong creature that demands to be dealt with.
Lucas: Have you assigned Vo to a particular environment or a place in the game? Where does he usually hang out?
Kai Linder: Yeah, so I’ve, I’ve given him a lair in the product, no lair actions, but he does have lairs.
He prefers to lair underground or in large buildings because he likes places that can preferably be nice and echoey. He likes lots of open space and darkness so that he can move around in there and hide in the shadow while still being able to hear what’s going on. So, so caves and abandoned warehouses are perfect for him.
And he tries to find any of those that are near either well-traveled roads or population centers, because Vo needs to be near people. So it’s finding these big abandoned, dark, empty plate echo-y places that can potentially lure where people in.
Lucas: If you have a group of players who have encountered Vo, who have gone through this visceral creepy experience, the way you intended it to be had, what are the things you want them to remember? Or is there anything that you feel this creature would help them understand after having encountered it?
Kai Linder: Uh, good question. Um, I think one of the things is, as I touched on earlier is the power of expression and how people under appreciate their voice. Because if, if put playing D and D everyone wants to express their character, they want to be cool.
They want to save. This is what my character is about and vote. It’ll significant way takes that away. And players will very much want to get that back. I can’t, I can’t imagine any player that I’ve ever had. Having that happen to them and going, eh, well, let’s, let’s go find some gold somewhere else. I would hope that it would make them look at how potentially as well they communicate within the party, both in and out of character.
Because I think one of the things that I, that I like about this about Vo is it is one of the actual other mechanics I gave him. He has an ability called life from sound where whenever he hears a creature within 30 feet use their voice. He regains a little bit of hit points. So the more you talk, the more he heals and the harder he is to defeat.
And I liked the idea of that, pushing your players to try and in character, they need to communicate without speaking, they need to have an idea of what the others are going to do. You kind of have to have to trust that, okay. We know that our barbarian’s probably going to run in, we know that our, our wizard actually really doesn’t like damage spells so he’ll try and buff someone. Our cleric, did our cleric bring, bring healing spells today? I, I, I would like for this kind of thing too, to evoke that, that feeling of disrupted communication, that means you appreciate the communication you do have afterwards. If that makes sense.
Lucas: It absolutely does. I think one of the core principles of playing a character in a D and D game is predictability. People tend to use the adjective predictable, like it’s a bad thing. And I think it’s a synonym for reliable. And in that case, it’s really powerful.
Kai Linder: Yeah. And I like that by potentially taking this away, obviously out of character, people can still share tactics, but it’s the kind of thing where you, as the DM using Volvo one player might say, Oh, I’m going to.
Oh, Oh, wizard. I’m going to go get next to him. Can you cast haste on the next turn and then I’ll do this? And then you, as the DM can say, okay, how are you communicating that in character? Are you going, would you like to speak and tell them that, are you going to give them a knowing look?
Is your relationship in character good enough that you can trust each other to do this? And I, I just re I just really liked how that works in throwing that reliability of it’s easy for us to just say tactics at each other and kind of disrupts that as you say, I feel like I’ve put some of my own kind of design. Uh, preferences into vote.
And I think another way I’ve done that, that I haven’t mentioned yet is his damage vulnerability. Normally obviously damaged vulnerabilities in D and D are just cold fire, slashing, whatever. And then you take your, and you take your damage from that. But I had fun introducing a different, yeah. A different way of doing that, this more specific with him.
And I gave him a damage vulnerability to any damage that’s dealt while he’s in the area of a zone of truth spell embracing this whole notion that magically compelled truth is the best way to defeat him, which gives, gives a nice way for players if they want to, to try and figure out a way to help defeat and flow much more easily. That also has a little bit of a message to it.
Lucas: What are some of those design principles that you tend to rely on when you make your games?
Kai Linder: In terms of monsters specifically? I do try to give them more things to do than just an action on their turn. Vo has legendary reactions, so he can move around bite and do like a paralyzing shriek, but he also has abilities like that life from sound one I mentioned where you always have to be thinking about this monster, even on your turn, because he can do things outside of his turn.
I like trying to find ways to make creatures break reliability. I think your point about real reliability earlier was just a really good one and perfect for expressing one of the things that I like doing, which is finding a way to make a monster very memorable by breaking what’s reliable, but also finding a way to.
To do that by staying within the mechanical bounds, instead of just, you know, shattering the whole game and saying this monster gets five turns, it’s parting away to disrupt reliability while also using mechanics that are, that are basically first and foremost, also very flavorful. So I try my best whenever I design something to make the mechanics be entirely in support of, of a flavor concept, which.
Uh, it’s probably obvious from the, from the musical subclasses and the silence.
Lucas: The other question that this brings up is by tying Vo so strongly to lies and deceit, you’ve opened him up to, to a whole -nother area of lore and folklore and mythology. And that’s the way that we approach truth as an ideal as something that we, that we have to work with or pursue, especially in the genre of heroic fantasy. Why was it important to you that truth be so mechanically involved in what Vo does and is?
Kai Linder: I don’t want it to be something where he shows up and he just takes it and runs away. You need to have a way to fight back. That’s not combat. And in this case, if someone’s stealing your voice, I figured either, either something about, Oh, if he’s heard your voice or if he’s heard you lie.
And I think given, given the kind of modus operandi of most adventuring parties, Trying to find a strong way to make them tell the truth is a pretty, it’s a pretty deadly tool for a monster to have because everyone loves to lie and outwit the monsters. And this is one that kind of sit around and at the same time, as you mentioned, there’s a lot of different kinds of cultural interpretations and way of discussing truth and lies.
Typically the bad guy is the one who lies and enforces other people’s lies. Vo is honest. Vo does not lie. Vo hates lying. And he punishes other people who lie. And I think that’s more interesting because it’s more interesting for people to start fearing the truth. And I think it’s something a bit more complex to explore then fearing lies because everyone sees that crop up in media all the time, but what you have to fear and a double-edged sword of truth is a very, it’s a very kind of different beasts that is explored a lot less especially in like the traditional D and D monster sense.
Lucas: Thank you for listening to Making a Monster. If you like what you’ve heard and you want to support the show, please share it with the people you play games with. Your recommendation will go a long way toward helping people trust me with their time and attention.
If you want to explore the relationship of truth, identity, and heroism by putting Vo the Voice Snatcher in your game, you can follow the link in the show notes to get the Bard college of silence for D and D fifth edition for 50 cents. A full 75% off that discount is only available to the first 50 people who clicked the link so don’t wait.
Kai’s latest musical subclass, the Music Domain for clerics releases today on the DMS Guild. To learn more follow Kai on Twitter,
This Monday I’m releasing my Music Domain cleric subclass on #dmsguild!
— Kai ~ Creating Musical Subclasses! (@Paradoliak) March 6, 2021
Lucas: you can also support the show on Patreon at patreon.com/scintilla studio. Patrons get early access to episodes as well as a whole bunch of other monstrous perks, including stickers and special events. That’s patreon.com/s C I N T I L L a studio. Next time on Making a Monster.
Connor Alexander: But night’s falling and it’s getting dark and the characters are starting to worry that well, maybe whatever it is that did, this might be coming back.
And then the healer notices something as night goes down, the shadows don’t quite line up in the room, right? The light is not reacting the way it should. The soft lights that are lighting up the computer gear in the room. And yet there are shadows there where there shouldn’t be. A shadow in the corner towering about six feet tall, hunched over and flowing like a cloud of smoke off of his shoulders.
His long black shimmering feathers, like a massive Raven’s wing, all laid out like a blanket and attached to its hands are six inch long bony fingertips that have old dried flesh on the tips. Let’s do an initiative.