My experiences with – and some advice on – playing a mute character in Dungeons and Dragons.
While working on a post about content inspirations (one that I eventually finished), I got distracted. I spent time going through some of the characters, NPCs, and villains I’ve created over the years. Each of these creations holds a special place in my heart. For each, I pour everything I can into their creation and role playing them. Some have only ever shown up in a short campaign or a couple of sessions, others have been reoccurring for years.
So I’ve decided to start a new type of post that I hope to make ongoing: Character Spotlight! Here I will describe a character, some of their creation process, and how they interact with players/the game world. Characters that are actively in campaigns (such as this first one) will be a little limited so that nothing is spoiled for the players. To get us started, let’s talk about Slight.
Who is Slight?
Slight lives in a town called Shanom located in the Anaurach desert. They are a member of an underground resistance group who oppose the rule of the deity-sphinx that lords over the town. Slight was introduced as little more than a bundle of dark clothing; a hooded cloak, scraps of hanging dark cloth, and wraps covering their arms, hands, and face. From between bits of cloth there are hints of tanned, rust-coloured skin and green eyes. They appear to be lean in stature (though it is hard to be certain given their attire) and stand somewhere just under five feet tall. Due to their garb, Slight’s race and gender are unknown. Slight is not known to ever speak, but seems to communicate entirely through body language and some sort of hand signs.
Genderless, raceless, lump of black cloth, spikey lump of black cloth (WEAPONS) – SlightA description of Slight, stolen from my players’ notes.
Slight has proven themselves to be a capable assassin and a courageous ally. Within the many folds and scraps of fabric are hidden a dizzying array of daggers, both magical and mundane. The group, known as The Collected, invited Slight on a “murder party” and they have travelled with the party periodically ever since. Slight has helped in combat, protected the fallen, provided potions, and stood in the face of danger to aid their new friends.
Creating a mute assassin
For some time, I had toyed with the idea of making a mute character to play. My original plan was for a strong female character, a battle master fighter with an no holds barred attitude. However I decided to do some research and according to the internet, this is one of those things that many people think sounds like a cool idea and then it really doesn’t work in practice. If you look up a list about characters you should not play in D&D, most of the time a mute is on there. So I decided to shelve the character for a while. I wouldn’t want to commit a character to a long campaign just to find out that the concept doesn’t work, or is frustrating to the other players.
As a DM, I find that I have a lot more room to experiment. A player character can be a long term commitment, but an NPC? They can come and go on a whim. While fleshing out the concepts and characters that would populate the desert oasis town of Shanom, I decided to test the mute concept out. The female warrior I envisioned didn’t really fit in this setting (plus I already had a strong female character that I didn’t want fighting for the spotlight), I decided it made more sense to go in another direction entirely.
Inspired by the layered, flowing clothing I found in my research of desert attire, I opted to take it to the extreme. This character became an embodiment of layered, flowing clothing. Slight was not only going to be enigmatic in their silence, but it would permeate their entire concept. They were mute in voice, and in appearance. This vision of Slight coalesced into a silent master of sneaking and striking from the shadows.
Beyond this I had to develop some history and backstory for Slight, as well as personality and motivations. Were they born mute? Did something happen to cause it? Why are they in the desert? Why do they conceal themselves entirely? Where did they learn their craft? What is important to them? I cannot answer these questions here (because my players do not know the answers), but these are the kinds of questions I ask myself when I am fleshing out a character. I like to lay out the character concept first, then use questions like these to develop the character’s history and personality.
Slight In Game
Many of my players were intrigued from the first moment that Slight was described. They were fascinated by Slight’s enigmatic appearance and delighted by attempts to communicate with them (the orc barbarian made some successful rolls at understanding the hand signals, followed by a massive failure, he is certain he understands it perfectly). Being a mute has never really hindered the group’s attempts to communicate with them. The players speak with Slight and I describe Slight’s interactions. Players themselves will either interpret my description of Slight’s actions, or they can roll to see how well the characters understand. To date it has either been highly successful, humourous, or both. The characters have invited Slight to travel with them on several occasions and frequently seeks them out for company.
Slight is not defined by being mute, it is simply one facet of the character and an interesting challenge for communication. I periodically give my players homework, one such homework was to describe their allies in three words each. At the time Slight was travelling with them and they all chose to include Slight. The players described Slight with words like: interesting, delightful, mysterious, competent, affection, skillful, sneaky, and dangerous. Not a single one of them made any mention of the fact that Slight is mute.
Playing a Mute Character in Dungeons and Dragons
Slight has been present in game for around 20 sessions now, and has been a huge success. My apprehension around playing a mute character in Dungeons and Dragons turned out to be unfounded, however it’s a style that may not work for everyone. It requires a significant amount of improvised non-verbal communication, and (as with all things D&D) the support of the other players at the table. If you choose to play a mute character here are a few suggestions from my experience:
- Don’t let the muteness be the core of the character. It is obviously going to be a factor, but you don’t want it to be the only thing they are known for.
- Define their personality clearly and keep it in mind as you act. Since you cannot speak, all of your personality and intentions are going to come through in your actions.
- Be very descriptive in your movements and actions. Think very hard about how you would communicate if you could not speak with those around you.
- Unless being shy and meek is a part of your character, don’t let them fall into the background.
- Work with the other players and your DM to make it work. RPGs are at their best when everyone is having fun!
Have you or anyone at your table played as a mute character? Leave a comment about your experiences!