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Torture Should Not Work in Dungeons & Dragons

muppetmuppet

Explorer
Let us assume hand waving torture is a possible thing in a game of d&d.

Given that, what PC's would be allowed to do it without consequence? Is it by definition an evil act? Can even super zealous good paladin use it for the greater good? Does it depend on the God the paladin worships? are there some good gods that think torture is ok in exceptional circumstances?
If you think good PC's and gods wld disallow it the next question is will they allow other PC's to do it? and will they use information they think has been gained by it ?

Once good is sorted out what about neutral?

does it matter who we are torturing, is it ok to torture an orc, a devil, a human, an innocent human etc?

These questions seem more useful to d&d than any real world examples.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
http://theplanardm.com/torture-should-not-work-in-dungeons-dragons/

Torture doesn't work in real life. But in #DND games, the PCs' primary means of gathering information often is leaving one enemy alive and then torturing them.

In this article, I explain why torture why it shouldn't work in Dungeons & Dragons, and how we can discourage PCs from torturing prisoners.

Here's the summary:


  • People say whatever they think will help end their torture.
  • People are terrible at detecting lies, so torturers don't can't effectively separate truth from lies.
  • Even in a game with magic and superhuman abilities, torture shouldn't work, because bosses would know this and stop sharing information with underlings.
  • Unfortunately, the rules of 5th edition D&D encourage keeping a bad guy alive and then torturing him for information.
  • I suggest several ways the DM can discourage torture by adjusting gameplay mechanics and how their world reacts to the PCs.
ok I can solve your problem.
ThePlanarDM," I torture the orc for information. Nat 20".
Jasper dming, "No".
Theplanardm, "But it is rpg I can do what I want."
Jasper, "Close you book, get your dice, and get the beep away from my Table."
ThePlanarDM, 'But it is my house."
Jasper packs his stuff up leaves.
Problem solved.
 

muppetmuppet

Explorer
I'm fine with you butchering all the orcs and the women and children and baby orcs though provided you promise to make it a quick death
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
The only time I can remember seeing torture used by a PC in-game was at an AL game at a con that I was playing in, by a paladin that essentially waterboarded a defeated foe. I know paladins don’t have to be LG anymore, but it still felt wrong to me.

As a DM, at my table torture counts as evil, and anyone that makes use of it, CN murderhobo or not, is probably getting shifted to an evil alignment. And getting a reputation that will have repercussions.

I do dig the idea of just giving them bad information for their efforts. Hopefully I don’t have cause anytime soon to make use of that advice…
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Just because it doesn't happen at your table, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I've seen it in the past.
Yes but... there is a huge gulf between "I've seen it in the past" and "But in #DND games, the PCs' primary means of gathering information often is leaving one enemy alive and then torturing them. " or commenting that the system mechanics encourage it.

When I look at the social check system in DnD, the actual mechanics in the DMG, I dont see anything that say mechanically torture is superior to other forms of persuasion.

Why wouldn't persuasion or intimidate be the mechanics system used, not torture?

Part of this, I suspect, might come from a lack of C in some GMs NPC. Do their minions surrender whrn things go bad, turn and tun, bargain? Do they show the goblins adversaries as unified, perhaps surorisinglupy so, chaotic mobs willing to die for their cause?

One of the things I try to show in my games are these kinds of traits. If the enemies are fanatically loyal disciples - that is shown and stands out. If they are craven lots kept in line by force and fear, then, hey, when that new big thing is "your party" guess what happens to that loyalty to the others? If they are greedy cusses, if they are doing this for their clan or family, ambition, or a belief in conquest by the strongest, etc etc etc - these all provide hooks that cover not only actions in combat but possible openings for PCs to use.

Those mechanics fsll under the traits, flaws, etc...

And they dont dtibpve on to torture as the number one or " primary" means of getting info from dnrmies.

To me, this premise is as accurate as the similar viewpoint that " losing a fight means tpk" and for the same reasond.

It can be true in some campaigns but it's not due to the mechanics.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Except that according to the player's handbook "the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer if you are hostile to it or it recognizes you as an enemy".
Well then. We've just found a justification for this:

Unfortunately, the rules of 5th edition D&D encourage keeping a bad guy alive and then torturing him for information.
As far as this goes,

I suggest several ways the DM can discourage torture by adjusting gameplay mechanics and how their world reacts to the PCs.
This is pretty easy. Since NPCs suffer no handicaps until they reach zero hit points, the tortured balks at all attempts prior to running out of hit points. "'Tis but a fleshwound!" Then, the poor soul conveniently fails every death save.

Torture: useless.
 

jayoungr

Explorer
Just because it doesn't happen at your table, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I've seen it in the past.
The corollary to that is "Just because it happens at your table, that doesn't mean it's a widespread problem." And I still don't know where the OP gets the idea that it's actually encouraged by the rules of 5E.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Yes but... there is a huge gulf between "I've seen it in the past" and "But in #DND games, the PCs' primary means of gathering information often is leaving one enemy alive and then torturing them. " or commenting that the system mechanics encourage it.

When I look at the social check system in DnD, the actual mechanics in the DMG, I dont see anything that say mechanically torture is superior to other forms of persuasion.

Why wouldn't persuasion or intimidate be the mechanics system used, not torture?

Part of this, I suspect, might come from a lack of C in some GMs NPC. Do their minions surrender whrn things go bad, turn and tun, bargain? Do they show the goblins adversaries as unified, perhaps surorisinglupy so, chaotic mobs willing to die for their cause?

One of the things I try to show in my games are these kinds of traits. If the enemies are fanatically loyal disciples - that is shown and stands out. If they are craven lots kept in line by force and fear, then, hey, when that new big thing is "your party" guess what happens to that loyalty to the others? If they are greedy cusses, if they are doing this for their clan or family, ambition, or a belief in conquest by the strongest, etc etc etc - these all provide hooks that cover not only actions in combat but possible openings for PCs to use.

Those mechanics fsll under the traits, flaws, etc...

And they dont dtibpve on to torture as the number one or " primary" means of getting info from dnrmies.

To me, this premise is as accurate as the similar viewpoint that " losing a fight means tpk" and for the same reasond.

It can be true in some campaigns but it's not due to the mechanics.
You know, this make me think that the various NPCs in the MM could benefit from a small (say 1d4) table for trait/flaw/ideal to help the DM should the player decide to interact with a generic guard/veteran/mage etc, just like the named NPC have in the more recent APs.

I tend to use the tables in Xanathar p.91 to quickly decide the personality of a specific unnamed NPC, you know, for the times your players wish to become friend with Generic Cultist no.412 they captured.

In the specific case of torture, I ask my players to go easy on the gore fantasy. I once had to warn a group that their long sessions of detailed torture was kinda disturbing, but I think that players who use torture as a go-to requires a conversion out of game.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My simple answer has always been that I consider torture evil and I don't allow evil characters. Whether it should work in real life or the game (people will eventually tell you what they think you want to hear) is not relevant.

There are plenty of ways to intimidate someone without resorting to evil acts.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
To be fair: Torture does not work great s a tool to verify the accuracy of information. It does, however, work to obtain information that can then be verified for accuracy.

Regardless of the efficacy, there are plenty of reasons why a PC or NPC might torture someone within a game. However, before that is introduced into the game, there should be some discussion between the players and DM about the topic, as there would be around any other topic that offends many people. Even if nobody objects, it should only exist in the story if there is a strong reason for it to exist.

I've used it. Demons and devils torture as they enjoy seeing others suffer. I've had evil organizations torture to get information to be provided - which they then went to verify. I had a bad guy torture someone to get them to say something untrue to "prove" to someone else that it was true - something that doesn't really work, but the NPCs involved were not that smart.

They all served a function in the story. All of the people in the game knew that it was a topic that was on the board. Nobody objected. It did not glorify the activity, and it did not endorse the activity. I'd use torture within my games in much the same way in the future - should a story call for it, should it be important to the story, and should it be something that I have prior consent of the players to include.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
Whether or not it works (reality OR otherwise) is mostly irrelevant - just WAY too much contradictory evidence to give any one side merit.

If the setting lends itself to the mentality of torture working, that's what counts. Thus, if we're in a setting where one (or sometimes an entire party) of my players believes torturing will resolve the information-solving dilemma, more power to them. More often than not, however, a much more 'goodly' member of the party will persuade the would-be torturer into a different method, and that's all fine too. No point in putting on blinders or directing people away from what they feel their character would do in that setting. Benefits of having a 20+ year group I suppose.

Public play? I try to never create a situation in which anything even remotely 'non-PC' would come into play - that includes players needing information from bad guys. I'll just make them stupid with a note in their pocket or something.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
On another note: Magic. If someone has access to magic, torture becomes irrelevant as an information device pretty quickly. First and second level spells (enchantments, illusions, divinations) can get you the information you want.

I'll also note that a WotC module from the last year uses torture as a storytelling element in which an NPC attempts to gather information from another NPC, but is really doing it to show off for someone else. That is a villain in the story. It has a place as part of the story.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Whether or not it works (reality OR otherwise) is mostly irrelevant - just WAY too much contradictory evidence to give any one side merit.
Right. It works if the DM says it works. Full stop. Arguments from reality are perhaps the weakest arguments one can make about a fantasy world controlled by someone who gets to say how things operate.

The more productive way to examine this situation in my view is: Why is this happening and what can I do as DM to take away the impetus to do it? Because it's almost certainly the DM's fault due to presenting meaningless fights and going overboard with hiding plot-relevant information.
 

MarkB

Hero
In my experience, interrogations in D&D are far more likely to involve mind-influencing spells than torture. Forcing someone to want to tell you their secrets is more effective than forcing them to tell you their secrets unwillingly.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
The OP missed one other thing that makes torture highly effective in D&D: The zone of truth spell. Unless the enemy has access to extremely high-level spells (glibness), zone of truth is an infallible lie detector. Even if the target makes their saving throw, you know they made the saving throw, and you can cast the spell again until they fail. Their only defense is refusing to talk*, and torture is real good at breaking that defense down.

I ban zone of truth anyway due to its capacity to wreck intrigue plots (along with its little brother detect thoughts), and I encourage my players to run heroes instead of vicious murderhobos, so I don't run into this issue; but if playing by the book, it is the torturer's best friend.

[size=-2]*Giving evasive answers is equivalent to refusing to talk. Unless the DM is extraordinarily skilled at dancing around the truth, it's really, really obvious when someone is trying to dodge a question. The PCs will just demand a straight answer and tighten the thumbscrews until they get one.[/size]
My players haven't used the spells in past campaigns, so banning it hasn't come up.

I think I will confront it head on as my current group (currently 4th level) gets more access to these types of spells.

By head on - with an eye toward how organizations, in a world where the type of magic that can detect lies and even thoughts exists, would react.

Namely (to steal from a meme I saw recently): When the enemy has telepaths every plan becomes need to know!
 

MarkB

Hero
Except that according to the player's handbook "the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer if you are hostile to it or it recognizes you as an enemy".
There are ways to handle that. The players in Critical Role did so quite neatly in a recent episode, by using Disguise Self to take on the guise of the corpse's former allies before casting the spell. One useful thing about corpses is that they don't do well at Insight checks.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
For me, torture has no place in D&D.

It's a light hearted game, torture in game would really bother me.

I can see it having a place in a game like Vampire: The Masquerade. Even then, it might only really have a place in a Sabbat game.
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
I find it quite easy to avoid this problem.

First, let me say that as a DM I despise the notion that I am some sort of all powerful god at the table. All authority in a voluntary group activity rests with the group as a whole. Period. If the group vests one person with authority, that authority still exists at the pleasure of the group, and disappears if the group decides that it does. So, if I say that I disallow something without any room for debate, I am saying that if the group doesn't like it, we can simply play something else. We all have things we won't budge on, and we respect that.

All that said, I don't allow torture from the PCs, ever. Period.

I also make it clear that when I am a player, since i play Good characters, torture is usually one of my characters' immutable lines, along with senseless murder (ganking sentries doesn't count, usually, we're talking needlessly murdering innocent townsfolk) and any form of sexual violence.

We have, on rare occassions, made exceptions, like when interrogating a slaving collaborating mind-control focused wizard who was using basilisks to turn people to stone to ship them across the sea and sell them to necromancers.
My character's whole ship's crew, including an uncle, a few cousins, and his best friends, was murdered by a necromancer whose cult is connected to all this, and lost himself a bit, stabbed the guy when he wouldn't talk, and then finally killed him in an extremely violent manner when he expressed confusion as to why anyone would care about some peasants being taken away to serve the ends of a great sorcerer. More than the battle violence of the previous sessions, this got under his skin, and he spent several days sick to his stomach.

But casual use of torture as if it's some sort of normal behavior? Hell no. Not at my table.
 

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