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Torture Should Not Work in Dungeons & Dragons

Torture doesn't work in real life.
I would dispute this claim.

The US army field manuals and instructions issued to captured prisoners suggest that prisoners should expect that in the long run torture always works, and that they should not expect to hold out against prolonged torture by strength of will. There is abundant evidence of torture 'working', especially against prisoners who have not been trained in techniques of deception.

I will in fact also dispute the claim that torture is a common practice in D&D, because generally there is no mechanism in D&D for using torture to compel anyone - PC or NPC - to cooperate. I've rarely seen PC's attempt torture, and those that do pretty much abandon it quickly when they realize that the rules give no practical benefit to torture. And likewise, NPC's torturing PC's is pointless, since by the rules the PC's never have to 'break' and I've never really felt a need to make up rules about torture since I don't really want it to be a focus of play.

I think that ultimately there is a proxy argument going on here. I think the real point of the argument is, "Torture shouldn't be a focus of play." And that is a much less controversial statement that doesn't need any sort of claims about the effectiveness of torture in reality or in play.
 
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5ekyu

Explorer
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.
To me, these things are part of the keys to building robust and resilient scenes - once which can take a lot of slamming and surprises and not only survive but thrive. Establish a lot (or even a little) *about* who you are opposed by and see how much freedom that gives both sides of the table. Do so consistently and you move away from always fight to the death, lose = tpk and further cases where it seems it's all about hotter dice throws.

It's rare that in my games you meet totally unified lock step enemies. Is the number two or three guy looking to move up? Is the number five guy in debt to number 9? Is the boos a skinflint and so his minions are strapped and his locks cheap with fewer sentries than he needs?

"Be generous with your employees, or someone else will be."

"Evil tends to not play well with others."

"I'm not stupid. I'm not expendable. I'm not [fill in the blank]"


Etc etc etc...
 

ART!

Explorer
Thankfully, it's been decades maybe since I was in a game where the PCs used torture.

I think the last time it happened I was GMing a MERP game. Elrond's two sons were NPCs travelling a leg of a journey with the PCs, they fought some orcs, and the PCs grabbed the last two and started trying squeeze info out of them. Elladan and Elrohir put up with it - mostly out of confusion - for about a minute and then each of them just stepped forward and killed the orcs. I figured elves' attitude would be "you don't talk to orcs, you kill them".
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Torture is out-of-genre for the heroic-cinematic-fantasy sort of adventure stories that D&D is meant to tell.

In those stories, the hero grabs the fallen mook by the lapels, and demands to know "Who hired you!" The mook either spills the beans and begs for his life, or responds with "I'm more afraid of them than I am of you!" before being punched out cold. Occasionally the protagonist will offer a more intense threat in response, like waving a red-hot poker next to the mook's face. Again, either the mook folds, or else the hero was bluffing and won't actually go through with the threat. That's why she's the hero.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
Most of the time its better to imply it or have it in the back ground. Its a classic villain thing along with a torture chamber. The key is not to over do it. or do it off camera. Han Solo ESB for example "They didn't even ask me anything".

I very rarely ever use it (almost never), its usually fairly obvious what organisations or whatever do it. One place has an inquisition.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
To me, these things are part of the keys to building robust and resilient scenes - once which can take a lot of slamming and surprises and not only survive but thrive. Establish a lot (or even a little) *about* who you are opposed by and see how much freedom that gives both sides of the table. Do so consistently and you move away from always fight to the death, lose = tpk and further cases where it seems it's all about hotter dice throws.

It's rare that in my games you meet totally unified lock step enemies. Is the number two or three guy looking to move up? Is the number five guy in debt to number 9? Is the boos a skinflint and so his minions are strapped and his locks cheap with fewer sentries than he needs?

"Be generous with your employees, or someone else will be."

"Evil tends to not play well with others."

"I'm not stupid. I'm not expendable. I'm not [fill in the blank]"


Etc etc etc...
This is why I use my favorite houserules in all my games now: Damage is always non-lethal unless the players specifies otherwise. An enemy dropped to 0 is ''defeated'' instead of dead; it wont fight again against he party, even at a later moment, it is ''dead'' to the story but can be interacted with again should the PC wish to.

It force my players to interact more with the NPCs, even the generic unnamed ones, which in return force the generic NPC to become more than a bag of hit points who oppose the party in direct response to the PC non-attack actions.
 

Gradine

Archivist
Torture is out-of-genre for the heroic-cinematic-fantasy sort of adventure stories that D&D is meant to tell.

In those stories, the hero grabs the fallen mook by the lapels, and demands to know "Who hired you!" The mook either spills the beans and begs for his life, or responds with "I'm more afraid of them than I am of you!" before being punched out cold. Occasionally the protagonist will offer a more intense threat in response, like waving a red-hot poker next to the mook's face. Again, either the mook folds, or else the hero was bluffing and won't actually go through with the threat. That's why she's the hero.
This.

I suppose it depends on the nature and tone of the game, but D&D (at least 5th edition) is generally geared to be more reminiscent of, say, Iron Man 3 ("You breathe fire? Okay.") than 24 ("Tell me where the <insert macguffin, probably a bomb, here> is!").

I mean, whether torture is actually useful or not in real life is besides the point (it isn't, generally if not universally speaking); the truth is that it's abhorrent and evil (occasional pop cultural glorification aside) and heroes shouldn't be engaging in it.

I personally have a strict "no flagrant human rights violations" rule at my table; works pretty well (it helps that I play with friends and not strangers).
 

HJFudge

Villager
To me, the question isn't about torture really. Its about 'how do you, as a DM, disseminate information that is important to the PCs?'

If it is almost always in the hands of enemies that are captured, and must be pried from their hands, then torture is much more likely to be a thing the PCs try.

If you avoid that manner of giving out of important information, the PCs may try it once or twice but will quickly realize thats a dead end for useful info.

So in my opinion, 5E (any edition really) CAN encourage torture IF the DM places all the info in the hands of defeated monsters. Now, is that really 5e encouraging it? Nah, its the DM encouraging that kind of behavior (intentionally or not) that leads the PCs to take the actions they do. In fact, the DM through his game and table style will often encourage a lot of/most player behaviors...and a change in style and technique can really curb a lot of problems a DM has. This is simply one example.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
This is why I use my favorite houserules in all my games now: Damage is always non-lethal unless the players specifies otherwise. An enemy dropped to 0 is ''defeated'' instead of dead; it wont fight again against he party, even at a later moment, it is ''dead'' to the story but can be interacted with again should the PC wish to.

It force my players to interact more with the NPCs, even the generic unnamed ones, which in return force the generic NPC to become more than a bag of hit points who oppose the party in direct response to the PC non-attack actions.
For unnamed npc I use the one turn rule. If someone on the PC side takes an action of some sort yo save a downed foe before its next turn, it is ok. That adds a bit of time drama to it.

Obviously deliberate non-leyhal works too.

But to me default ko would lead to too many discussions about helpless prisoners etc.
 

ad_hoc

Explorer
This.

I suppose it depends on the nature and tone of the game, but D&D (at least 5th edition) is generally geared to be more reminiscent of, say, Iron Man 3 ("You breathe fire? Okay.") than 24 ("Tell me where the <insert macguffin, probably a bomb, here> is!").

I mean, whether torture is actually useful or not in real life is besides the point (it isn't, generally if not universally speaking); the truth is that it's abhorrent and evil (occasional pop cultural glorification aside) and heroes shouldn't be engaging in it.

I personally have a strict "no flagrant human rights violations" rule at my table; works pretty well (it helps that I play with friends and not strangers).
Torture by the baddies might be okay if it was fantastical enough.

The Princess Bride comes to mind here.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Would liberal use of Dominate Person or Geas for the purposes of interrogation count as torture?
I would say so, yes. There's some magic that are less invasive, requires a lower spellcasting level and are more efficient than dominating a person or using a geas.

Like -
Command: Answer or Reveal (after asking a question)
Detect Thought
Calm Emotion + Friend
Zone of Truth
Hex -> Charisma

All non-lethal, if still a little unethical from my point of view.
 
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To me, the question isn't about torture really. Its about 'how do you, as a DM, disseminate information that is important to the PCs?
I concur.

Advice like "Underlings aren't given important information or have incorrect or incomplete information" is advice that is utterly agnostic on the question of whether torture is effective, and indeed is going to be especially true in a game where some sort of ruling exists that makes torture effective.

After reading the OP's article, even leading aside whether he's misconstrued the evidence regarding torture's effectiveness (or purpose for that matter), I think the fundamental misconception is that Intimidate as a skill is primarily a 'torture skill' or that the rules some how give a great advantage to Intimidate if it is accompanied with torture. Neither is so far as I know true (certainly wasn't true in 3.X), and only in a campaign where the DM had issued a ruling like, "You can't successfully intimidate someone unless you torture them." or "If you torture someone, you gain advantage on Intimidate checks" would I expect to see torture in any way common in D&D.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
To me, the question isn't about torture really. Its about 'how do you, as a DM, disseminate information that is important to the PCs?'

If it is almost always in the hands of enemies that are captured, and must be pried from their hands, then torture is much more likely to be a thing the PCs try.

If you avoid that manner of giving out of important information, the PCs may try it once or twice but will quickly realize thats a dead end for useful info.

So in my opinion, 5E (any edition really) CAN encourage torture IF the DM places all the info in the hands of defeated monsters. Now, is that really 5e encouraging it? Nah, its the DM encouraging that kind of behavior (intentionally or not) that leads the PCs to take the actions they do. In fact, the DM through his game and table style will often encourage a lot of/most player behaviors...and a change in style and technique can really curb a lot of problems a DM has. This is simply one example.
"how do you, as a DM, disseminate information that is important to the PCs?'

Some would definitely see that as the problem - and some have exposed z very fast paced pretty free hand out of info yo get the pics to the scenes quickly.

But, often this gets into non-trivial differences.

Often in my games, info on "right here, right now" is likely to be in the hands of captured foes who are "right here, right now." Ofren that info can **help** the party to achieve its task. Is it needed? Likely not - doubtful they rushed in hoping for key info. Ut thst captured soldier or flunkies might well know stuff the other investigations did not.

To me, it's less about the meta-scale of design clue trees and dispensing info and more about the value of living intel.
 
Would liberal use of Dominate Person or Geas for the purposes of interrogation count as torture?
I can only answer how my campaign works.

In general, mind control spells in my campaign world are treated legally as equivalent in distaste to rape (one violates the body, the other the mind). So if anything, most people would find them more distasteful than physical torture, and would certainly consider them equally violent. (We don't consider violation of the body less violent if it was done by drugging someone insensible to the act.) Societies that respected individual liberty would probably be more tolerant of torture than the use of mind controlling magic, and more collectivist societies that employed them would strongly tend toward evil. I can imagine a non-evil society or character employing them in a 'Dirty Harry' type situation in an attempt to save a life, but it would likely be in a situation where the character would be, "The life of someone else is more important than my honor", and with the expectation by the PC that they'd suffer for violating social norms even with good motives.

Use of mind effecting spells to cause pain and suffering would be considered to aggravate the crime, and would be considered torture additionally. Whether they found torture evil or just distasteful (or held it in high esteem) would depend on the culture.

Most persons from my campaign world would be appalled by stories where nominal heroes used 'Jedi Mind Tricks' or mind control or probes in a casual manner. Many would find it unforgivable and even those that didn't would only find it justifiable if used in self-defense. There would be nigh universal agreement among 'the good' that Obi Wan's "You don't want to use death sticks" or Qui-Gon Jinn's attempt to Jedi Mind trick a merchant into giving him a deal would be beyond the pale, and death sentence worthy abuse of their abilities.

Beyond that, character's capable of something like 'Dominate Person' or 'Geas' are so extraordinarily rare in my game world, that no judicial system would ever evolve to treat such tools as the norm. Only the most powerful groups or individuals could employ such tools in the first place, and they'd probably want to keep it quiet for a variety of reasons. There are entire nations where no one can employ either 'Dominate Person' or 'Geas'.

Additionally, in most societies (except a few theocracies and hard autocracies) testimony which is gained solely through any sort of magic is inadmissible as evidence. The reason is pretty obvious, as there is no way to collaborate the testimony. If the person can be compelled to talk, then they can be compelled to lie. If a wizard claims that his spell detects or prevents lies, then the testimony is only as trustworthy as the wizard. This would put the judge or jury in a situation where they would be utterly subordinate to the judgment of that spellcaster. Likewise, spells aren't foolproof. Whatever one magic can assert, another sort of magic can deceive. So really, only in societies where a particular temple is explicitly trusted to render judgment that you see even divinations used as anything but an investigative technique. A society might use 'Speak with the Dead' together clues, but with a few exceptions they'd never pass judgment based solely on the testimony of a dead guy or a spirit or a spellcaster, unless they were also the sort of society that made testimony gained through torture admissible.
 

Shiroiken

Explorer
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.
1) If the PCs need to torture enemies to gain information, perhaps you should consider your DMing style to have enemies react more realistically. Surrender, offering information in exchange for life and freedom would be a fairly common tactic for losers, except for the most loyal of soldiers (or cultists).

2)If your players automatically jump to torture as a primary method of gaining information, perhaps you should consider the quality of gamers you play with. I played with a group where I was CN, leaning towards evil, wanting the party to help redeem me from my evil ways (a redemption story), but they instead found letting me do the dirty work was perfectly acceptable to their morality. I no longer associate with these people.
 

Draegn

Explorer
Torture is out-of-genre for the heroic-cinematic-fantasy sort of adventure stories that D&D is meant to tell.

In those stories, the hero grabs the fallen mook by the lapels, and demands to know "Who hired you!" The mook either spills the beans and begs for his life, or responds with "I'm more afraid of them than I am of you!" before being punched out cold. Occasionally the protagonist will offer a more intense threat in response, like waving a red-hot poker next to the mook's face. Again, either the mook folds, or else the hero was bluffing and won't actually go through with the threat. That's why she's the hero.
When we started our game I told my players that anything they do to a npc will eventually be done to them in return. It is fair. Most of my players do what you described with some embellishment. In additional to threats they also offer bribes and attempt to turn their prisoners.
 

ThePlanarDM

Villager
To me, the question isn't about torture really. Its about 'how do you, as a DM, disseminate information that is important to the PCs?'If it is almost always in the hands of enemies that are captured, and must be pried from their hands, then torture is much more likely to be a thing the PCs try.If you avoid that manner of giving out of important information, the PCs may try it once or twice but will quickly realize thats a dead end for useful info.So in my opinion, 5E (any edition really) CAN encourage torture IF the DM places all the info in the hands of defeated monsters. Now, is that really 5e encouraging it? Nah, its the DM encouraging that kind of behavior (intentionally or not) that leads the PCs to take the actions they do. In fact, the DM through his game and table style will often encourage a lot of/most player behaviors...and a change in style and technique can really curb a lot of problems a DM has. This is simply one example.
I very much agree with this, and this was more or less the conclusion that I came to. (Because of Formatting problems, continued in next post).
 
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