In my games, I don’t allow torture. This is a weird thing to have to write, but role-playing creates a strange environment, in which even mild-mannered players find themselves advocating for “let’s keep pricking her until she talks”, and you know what, unless we agree to put that sort of thing beyond a line or a veil, I have no ethical problem with it. In fantasy we should be allowed to explore, wicked as well as noble.

No, the reason I don’t allow torture is that it doesn’t work, and allowing it to work also allows this wrong notion to remain part of the real-world discourse. Stabbing someone slowly is not a way to make them reveal true information; actually, it’s a sure way to make them confess whatever you want, just to make this stop, which is a strange form of confirmation bias that could really hurt your investigation.

But the threat of stabbing, that’s something else. Because you know what does work? Interrogation.

And while it’s true that interrogation can include some promise of, or actual, harm – whether physical or emotional – it is rarely the case that such actions are needed. Psychological manipulation is key in interrogation, as are criminal investigations (uncovering and comparing evidence). I can recommend Criminal on Netflix (the French and German ones are best), as well as the episode The Box from Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

So in my games, if the captured foe knows something, they’ll simply tell it, after a short explanation by the players of what they ask. In most RPG scenes key information should flow, to keep the game moving. If there’s something special or interesting about the information – or the foe – then we can focus on this interaction, and then I’ll have my players come up with an interrogation technique. But if the only thing at stake is the location of the goblin’s lair, which is where the party’s gonna go anyway, then a simple Intimidation check is enough, and even on failure the goblin will reveal where it is (always fail forward) – he just won’t tell them about the ambush, because he’s not convinced the party is as strong as they claim to be, and therefore hopes that his friends will be able to take them down.

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