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General Extract information from hostile NPCs - DM tips?

Hey all,

tl;dr
How do you guys deal with a situation where you think that the rather intelligent BBEG (Int >16, Wis >16) would think "Screw those adversaries [the PCs], I am NOT gonna tell them anything, even as I am bleeding out, defeated and dying", and you still want to have your PCs find some important information?

Slightly longer version

As campaigns develop, players need to come across bits of information (plot hooks, or explanations for things that happened to link them to the storyline). I try to create NPCs that are friendly, that volunteer information because they are on the same side as the PCs, but sometimes it is unavoidable that the PCs need to learn some secret from the enemy that is not known to any other allies.

If I don't set up anything, we usually end up with Ye Olde Interrogation, where the slain enemies somehow find motivation to offer secret information. I can see that the PCs can intimidate some minion into giving up some secrets, but why would a BBEG first risk everything to slay the PCs, and then give up all his secrets when he is defeated? Surely not ALL BBEGs think "Oh well, I lost the fight and my life, might as well spew all my secrets to my victors / adversaries." And BBEGs shouldn't all be so stupid to write down all their secrets into some convenient scrolls which are always kept in a chest in a hidden spot with Ye Olde Optional Trap to protect it (as if the trap helps once the BBEG is already dead).

In short, I am looking for creative ways to get information from the enemy into the hands of my PCs.

Thanks, hive mind!
 

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How do you guys deal with a situation where you think that the rather intelligent BBEG (Int >16, Wis >16) would think "Screw those adversaries [the PCs], I am NOT gonna tell them anything, even as I am bleeding out, defeated and dying", and you still want to have your PCs find some important information?

Is it important to the story? A diary lying around somewhere works.

Or just have him monologue first.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
How do you guys deal with a situation where you think that the rather intelligent BBEG (Int >16, Wis >16) would think "Screw those adversaries [the PCs], I am NOT gonna tell them anything, even as I am bleeding out, defeated and dying", and you still want to have your PCs find some important information?
Definitely diary, mad scheme drawn in riddle form, or some conscripts that lead the way.

On a more imaginative side:
  • a servant or lover or partner of the bad guy knows the plan
  • the ghost of the bad guy rises, and in an effort to redeem his soul explains the plot (maybe he can only do it in riddle form)
  • a tattoo on the man's body reveals the plan
 

Dragonsbane777

Explorer
You could be dastardly, perhaps the BBG tells the players where the hidden lair they have been searching for is, only to find he sent them to a deathtrap on his last breath (and perhaps they can somehow find the real place from a clue in the deathtrap).

Also, players can always us something like Detect Thoughts or other interrogation magic, it doesn't always need to be the NPC caves in.
 

Spohedus

Explorer
The true advantage of the written scheme (other than who knows what the murderhobo's will do..) is that you can create a hand out, which allows the PCs to read it three weeks later and remember key pieces of the plot. Oftentimes as DM, you're thinking about these details daily, but PCs only heard it over 30 seconds three weeks ago, and forgot. If it is actionable to the main plot, definitely create a hand out!
 

The notebook is excellent. Speak with dead is also useful to pump info from a slain opponent.
Interrogating a minion will work too. Especially if the BBEG died. Not getting killed is a powerful motivator and when the big boss is dead, the minion will/should have no reasons to withhold information.
 

Old school style, but exchange the information for their freedom. Only the fanatical are willing to die to achieve their goals, so the bad guys should be more than willing to make this exchange. The location of a cache of treasure can be used as a sweetener if the party is hesitant. The only downside to this is if the players are actually willing to honor the deal, as many players are more than willing to kill them after getting the information.
 

  • Speak with Dead combined with a clever disguise so the animated spirit thinks you're one of its minions.
  • Head of the Thieves' Guild keeps tabs on everyone. You'll need to make contact, get them what they want, and hope they have what you want, all without getting your throat slit.
  • The Oracle of Missing Answers can supply you with what you need, but it's a dangerous trek, and there's always a cost.
  • Good ole magic. There's a ton of spells that get little use because they're not combat-based, such as Divination or Contact Other Plane. And, if you can't cast it yourself, maybe someone will do it for you (for a quest, of course).

It's one example of many how the BBEG giving you the middle finger as he dies can lead to a new mission and adventure. In modules, to move the narrative along, the BBEG always conveniently has a journal with the map you need, or the password hidden in a book that you're going to find. But, take that away, and you can push players to be creative.
 
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jgsugden

Legend
Lots of ways:

1.) They left notes or research.
2.) Divinations.
3.) Someone else was investigating the BBEG and collected information. The PCs can find them.
4.) They drop traps into the data download - 90% true, 10% trap to get their vengeance.
5.) Give them some satisfaction for spewing - "I tell you this because I want to see the pain on your face when you realize there is nothing you can do to stop this... you may kill me, but I am victorious in the end!"
6.) Negotiation - "If you let me live, I can tell you what you need to know... but only if I walk out of here, alive, with my gear. Deal?"
7.) Minions - "He beat me. I owe him nothing now that he is dead. In fact, seeing you spoil his plans would bring me much satisfaction. Here is what you need to know."
 

Mannahnin

Explorer
In addition to the above- how about other bargaining if they believe the PCs to be honorable? "You have defeated me; I will tell you what you need to know, if you give me your sacred oath to do [x task] when I am gone." This could be carrying a message or heirloom to a family member or friend, defeating another (also evil) enemy of the bad guy, making a funerary offering for them, throwing their (perhaps cursed) magical sword into the sea...
 

aco175

Legend
One of my players recently (5e) started bribing more people and throwing around gold. The lack of things to purchase with tons of gold makes him use it like water. This works for minions and such, but not as much on the big guys. Another thing the group does is let people go with their lives if the prisoner is helpful. Maybe he is tied up to a tree or something that may take a few hours to escape from, but he is alive with a few provisions.

Being helpful to prisoners is also a mind trick on the DM who will most likely be helpful back instead of everyone fighting to the death.

BBEGs can also die cursing something or crying out to something.
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Campbell

Legend
What I try to do is build NPCs like they are real people. They should want things, have relationships that can be leveraged, and have genuine emotional responses. When you do that it becomes a lot easier to have conversations where stuff can come out. If you always have NPCs act rationally generally you are not going to have a very interesting story.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Read this article: Interrogation: How about we don’t make a game of torture?

Then consider that the only thing that really keeps information out of the hands of the PCs is the DM. Once that is internalized, you can start from the position of "The villain is going to tell them this..." then the only thing you have to think of is why and how. And even that isn't all that important if the alternative is the players have no information on which to move forward.
 

Stormonu

Legend
This is something I find myself struggling with in many games (probably THE thing I have the most issues with) - how to balance charismatic PCs vs. captured enemies with possible secrets. I want the players who invested in Intimidate, Persuasion, Sense Motive and other such skills to feel like the effort was worthwhile, but not let it break the game either. Where do you draw the line? In your games, how much onus do you put on the Players, and how much do you let the Character's skill come into play? And in the latter, what's some good DC's, tricks and whatnot you use to handle things?
 

Dausuul

Legend
I am a huge fan of using letters for this; messages received from other NPCs, or prepared to send to such NPCs. There are several advantages:
  • It's Plausible. Almost all BBEGs have to communicate with distant minions and allies, and many don't have access to sending. You don't have to rely on convenient-but-silly tropes like the Villain Monologue or the Diary of Insanity.
  • It's Pre-Written. You won't inadvertently give away more information than you need to during an interrogation scene, and you can take time to think through the details.
  • It's Short. You don't have to write a whole diary, and you also don't have to convince the players to quit asking about the parts of the diary you didn't bother to write. Here's the whole entire letter, guys; what you see is what you get.
  • It Survives the BBEG. If the BBEG gets killed earlier than expected, the letter survives.
  • Built-In Plot Hooks. Not only does the content of the letter provide useful clues, but the sender or addressee is now a connection that the PCs can follow up on. The messenger who delivers the letter could also be useful info.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Whenever I have information that needs to be revealed I have a sliding scale. Highest level of success gives you a direct easy to follow answer that let's the PCs know one or more route to success along with relative risks and rewards. Lowest level of success may give a clue to where to look for further information or a high risk low reward option depending on the situation.

The highest level of planning is generally due to careful planning, potentially along with luck (although I try to avoid a single die roll). Some examples of what I might try
  • Try to infiltrate the BBEG's organization. This might involve a lot of work and planning, and my not suit the group.
  • Find an ex member of the BBEG's organization and convince them to cooperate.
  • Through research or rumors, they find out info about one of the lieutenants. Maybe they have a bad drug habit and sneak out to get their supply, maybe they're unhappy with the BBEG. That opens up a couple other possibilities
    • Trick them Mission Impossible style. Make them believe something is true at isn't using disguises, illusion and other magic. Maybe lead them to think the group will help them overthrow the BBEG and put this guy at the top.​
    • Kidnap them and try to get them to talk. I don't allow torture, so there still has to be motivation for the lieutenant to give info. Withhold the drugs, threaten to expose them and so on.​
  • Have an informant that may or may not be totally on the up-and-up
Anyway, so those are some of my ideas to get info to PCs.

But that doesn't answer your question directly, just other avenues for thought. So there's always the ubiquitous diary which admittedly I do use sometimes. But there are other options as well.

The eavesdropping servant. Too often the only denizens of the BBEG's lair are the level appropriate warriors. Sometimes that make sense, but frequently I have to ask - who cooks the food? Is Brog the Destroyer going to do his own dishes? Maybe, maybe not. So instead of getting info from the BBEG, get it from his steward who is always within earshot just in case his master calls.

The evil guy monologue. Also a cliche', but bad guys like to taunt their enemies, before during and even after the fight. The bad guy may be bleeding out, but still believes in the cause and gloats, letting something slip unintentionally.

Paperwork. Not nearly as exciting as the diary, but even evil organizations need the proper forms filled out. Maybe researching the billing paperwork leads to a supplier who could give leads.

The message. Big bad just died? Well the carrier pigeon flies in, the courier knocks on the door or the sending stone pings with details that leads to the next clue. Includes correspondences that were previously received but not destroyed.

Of course there's always the diary or logs, and there's nothing wrong with that. Can make for some nice handouts.

So those are my 2 coppers in addition some other good ideas.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This is something I find myself struggling with in many games (probably THE thing I have the most issues with) - how to balance charismatic PCs vs. captured enemies with possible secrets. I want the players who invested in Intimidate, Persuasion, Sense Motive and other such skills to feel like the effort was worthwhile, but not let it break the game either. Where do you draw the line? In your games, how much onus do you put on the Players, and how much do you let the Character's skill come into play? And in the latter, what's some good DC's, tricks and whatnot you use to handle things?

What skill proficiencies the players have chosen isn't really my concern as DM. What matters to me is what they describe their PCs as doing. If what they say they want to do has an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure, their skill proficiencies may come into play when I ask for an ability check. For DCs, the DMG says the game runs fine if you never choose anything other than 10, 15, or 20.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
This is something I find myself struggling with in many games (probably THE thing I have the most issues with) - how to balance charismatic PCs vs. captured enemies with possible secrets. I want the players who invested in Intimidate, Persuasion, Sense Motive and other such skills to feel like the effort was worthwhile, but not let it break the game either. Where do you draw the line? In your games, how much onus do you put on the Players, and how much do you let the Character's skill come into play? And in the latter, what's some good DC's, tricks and whatnot you use to handle things?
The question always seems to be: does this information move the story forward? If the answer is yes, then you give it to the players. If it not that important, then their skills could come in handy. If the answer is no, then you never hint at it in the first place. This (imo) holds true for all skills. Do they need to open the door? Then why am I having them roll a skill check? (Unless of course it is trapped.) Do they need to scale the cliff? Will the adventure end and the characters die if they don't? If the answer is yes, then they scale the cliff. I can find middle ground in them taking damage or suffering exhaustion from poor skill challenge rolls.
 

EpicureanDM

Explorer
Read this article: Interrogation: How about we don’t make a game of torture?

Then consider that the only thing that really keeps information out of the hands of the PCs is the DM. Once that is internalized, you can start from the position of "The villain is going to tell them this..." then the only thing you have to think of is why and how. And even that isn't all that important if the alternative is the players have no information on which to move forward.

This is exactly right. The OP's starting position, that there's information that the BBEG would never reveal, needs to be retired. If there's information that will help move your game and story forward, it's the DM's job to think of multiple ways that it can get into the players hands.
 

Quartz

Adventurer
The true advantage of the written scheme (other than who knows what the murderhobo's will do..) is that you can create a hand out, which allows the PCs to read it three weeks later and remember key pieces of the plot. Oftentimes as DM, you're thinking about these details daily, but PCs only heard it over 30 seconds three weeks ago, and forgot. If it is actionable to the main plot, definitely create a hand out!

Then consider that the only thing that really keeps information out of the hands of the PCs is the DM.

The question always seems to be: does this information move the story forward?

it's the DM's job to think of multiple ways that it can get into the players hands.

Key points all.
 

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