Torture Should Not Work in Dungeons & Dragons

ThePlanarDM

Villager
Sorry, having serious formatting problems and unable to quote the previous post, but I agree with the idea that this relates to how information is disseminated in D&D. I would add the that the rules and norms of D&D shape the default play style in a defined way. Of course the DM should change it to suit her table, and I suggest a number of ways to do that. And probably most good DM's are already doing many of the things I suggested -- and more -- since they are not groundbreaking suggestions......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... ..................................My goal was to link these game elements with our understanding of how torture works in real life, and thereby discourage a real problem that I have seen in DND games. I seem to have distracted from my larger point about torture by saying that D&D's mechanics encourage it, which I intended to be a smaller point, but at least this seems to have raised some interesting discussion, so I'll expand upon my thoughts. Beyond what I wrote in the article, I believe that D&D's rules and norms support a style of disseminating information that often puts players in a position to consider torture for the following reasons:.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................D&D's rules encourage combat over other pillars, 5th edition encourages combat with multiple enemies and underlings (at least compared to 3rd, I never played 4th), the adventuring day encourages multiple combats to burn resources before reaching a boss, social interaction is a defined skill (the game could make remove all social skills for example), success/failure is binary, dice rolls are designed to be exciting and public (i.e., the d20 and bounded accuracy system), skills are large investments of player resources and thus there's the expectation that the DM that the DM will reward skill checks. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................The impact of all this is that adventures often involve tracking down an ultimate bad guy by first engaging in combat with a bunch of his minions, then working through binary skill checks to gain information in a game that does not give the DM a lot of tools for dispersing it. When you fail an initial binary skill check, such as persuasion, torture and more intimidation checks becomes a clear option. And hopefully this is where good DM's use a variety of tricks and tools to create more interesting choices for the players, or have avoiding the situation entirely by already having done so.
 
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ThePlanarDM

Villager
Wow, that's got to be the ugliest post ever on these forums. Really sorry about that. But couldn't fix the formatting no matter what I tried.
 

ThePlanarDM

Villager
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 is a great point. DND can be whatever you want and whatever you make it, but it was designed to be heroic fantasy. Setting genre expectations at session 0, and then reinforcing them through the setting and NPCs, is probably the best way to prevent torture from happening in the first place.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Sorry, having serious formatting problems and unable to quote the previous post, but I agree with the idea that this relates to how information is disseminated in D&D. I would add the that the rules and norms of D&D shape the default play style in a defined way. Of course the DM should change it to suit her table, and I suggest a number of ways to do that. And probably most good DM's are already doing many of the things I suggested -- and more -- since they are not groundbreaking suggestions......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... ..................................My goal was to link these game elements with our understanding of how torture works in real life, and thereby discourage a real problem that I have seen in DND games. I seem to have distracted from my larger point about torture by saying that D&D's mechanics encourage it, which I intended to be a smaller point, but at least this seems to have raised some interesting discussion, so I'll expand upon my thoughts. Beyond what I wrote in the article, I believe that D&D's rules and norms support a style of disseminating information that often puts players in a position to consider torture for the following reasons:.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................D&D's rules encourage combat over other pillars, 5th edition encourages combat with multiple enemies and underlings (at least compared to 3rd, I never played 4th), the adventuring day encourages multiple combats to burn resources before reaching a boss, social interaction is a defined skill (the game could make remove all social skills for example), success/failure is binary, dice rolls are designed to be exciting and public (i.e., the d20 and bounded accuracy system), skills are large investments of player resources and thus there's the expectation that the DM that the DM will reward skill checks. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................The impact of all this is that adventures often involve tracking down an ultimate bad guy by first engaging in combat with a bunch of his minions, then working through binary skill checks to gain information in a game that does not give the DM a lot of tools for dispersing it. When you fail an initial binary skill check, such as persuasion, torture and more intimidation checks becomes a clear option. And hopefully this is where good DM's use a variety of tricks and tools to create more interesting choices for the players, or have avoiding the situation entirely by already having done so.
"...social interaction is a defined skill (the game could make remove all social skills for example), success/failure is binary, ..."

These two points back to back point yo a misunderstanding of basic 5e rules.

Ability checks for any case are not binary. In the PHB, the are overcoming the chsllenge, failing to make progress or making some progress with setback.
The resolution of social skills process in the DMG puts a great desl of emphasis on the GM defining and charscters finding and using the bonds, ideals and flaws of the NPC to get yo a temporary change in the target's disposition and then provides DC difficulties for the ability check resolution - which still retains the three redult options and the benefits of advsantsge or disadvantsge.

If a GM decides to ignore **all** of these system defined mechanics in favor of binary skill checks, thats on the GM.

Recent (current) actual play example.

Party attacked dwarves compound- killed almost all the soldier but the Captsin and "the bsnker" surrendered. Because the GM had bothered to identify traits, these surrendered NPCs began to negotiate as prisoners as the PCs took time to talk with them.
The banker offered up wealthy family to pay his ransom, offer to hire the PCs to replace the just killed guys in exchange for shares of their ultimate goal etc.
Captain negotiated for lives of other soldiers and wockers below in the mines - worried they would be killed or left to a nearby enemy. He was also worried about his own military info and records being given to the enemy.

As these played out, no binary checks were used, several checks were made, advantage, disadvantage etc all played roles and the traits of the NPCs were central to getting them to agree to things - like the Captain leading the search of the compound, pointing out and disabling traps for them, talking with them to the remaining dwarves etc - and also manipulating things a bit due to some progress with setback.

If for some wild hair they had went with torture, the process would still be going on. The negotiation and use leverage from goals ideals etc took less time and got more than torture would- not to mention the differences that torture would have created in the other locals nearby.

*****

So, you know, I can see where we used multiple actual 5evtules to play thru these interaction. I cannot see any 5e rule we violated - even in spirit.

So, no support seen in actual play for system promoting torture instead of social as far as prisoners or the demonstrably false binary claim for ability checks.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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 think you and the OP are using different standards for “working.” When the US army manuals say torture always “works” in the long run, it’s saying that torture always eventually succeeds in getting the victim to tell the torturer whatever they want to know. When an academic paper says torture doesn’t “work,” they’re saying it isn’t a reliable means of gathering intelligence because it always eventually succeeds in getting the victim to tell the torturer whatever they want to know. Victims will tell their torturers anything they think will make the torture stop, which may include accurate information, but may also include inaccurate information. For the purposes of an army training manual though, it makes sense to treat that as “working” because any accurate information revealed is too much accurate information.
 
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WaterRabbit

Villager
I think a basic concept is being forgotten with respect to torture/magical compulsion and societal laws. Throughout most of history, the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" did not exist. It was a radical idea when the US judicial system adopted the concept. Even today it can be seen not everyone is committed to the concept.

So in most societies in history, the idea of using torture/compulsion was used to extract a confession of someone that is already presumed guilty. Torture is very effective in that regard.

I would also point out that Intimidation is based upon Charisma by default. It definitely doesn't imply torture to use this skill. Intimidation is just the act of making someone fearful. When a prosecutor piles charges upon an accused, they are trying to intimidate them into accepting a plea deal -- the prosecutor isn't actually involved in torturing the accused (unless prolonged solitary incarceration is involved). Implying that certain embarrassing information could become public is as much more inline with the skill than physical violence.

As far a players using torture to get information? In 4 decades of playing/running RPGs, I cannot recall a single instance of anything that went beyond some PCs slapping around a NPC to get some info -- even in really dark games. From a modern moral perspective, PCs are much more likely to be engaged in war crimes. It is rare to see PCs that are willing to capture and hand over their captives to law enforcement to be tried. Generally PCs act as judge, jury, and executioner as prisoner management is a PITA.

This just seems like a straw man topic to me. PCs generally don't have enough time to engage in "effective" torture. If threats are not sufficient to "break" an NPC, then 5 minutes of torture isn't going to either.

As a DM, I agree that how you hand out information and what kind of time pressures you place on the PCs generally make torture useless.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think you and the OP are using different standards for “working.”
No, I'm not. I'm not making any sort of evasive argument. The argument presented in the academic paper is fundamentally flawed. It's true that victims will tell their torturers anything they think will make the torture stop including making stuff up and that in general it is difficult to tell when someone is lying. However, that doesn't prove that torture fails to work. In fact, on the contrary, the fact that cultures with a history of torture have known for centuries that torture has this flaw, means that cultures that have practiced torture techniques over that time have developed well conceived practices for dealing with the problems discussed in the paper. All the academic paper really proves is that application of pain alone in order to obtain information results in a high rate of false positives. However, that alone doesn't prove that torture doesn't work - it just proves that it requires relatively sophisticated intelligence and interrogation techniques to be successful. Without going into the ugly details too deeply, briefly, if you want to get a particular piece of information, you avoid asking about it, especially early on before you've broken the subject. Indeed, as with torturing Han, you might just begin by not asking them anything. Once you do start asking questions, you begin with questions that, unknown to the subject you already have the answers to from other sources. Essentially, you use control questions. Once the subject begins to believe that there is no point in resisting, and that the cost of deception is unbearably high - and everyone will hit that point eventually - then you can get true answers with a very high probability of success.

If you add to this process some sort of electronic lie detection device, then it gets even more successful.

This is the reason that soldiers are told that they can't hold out. Everyone is going to break. The trick is to make the process of breaking you take so long, that your information is no longer operationally useful. Sufficiently well trained persons can defeat even sophisticated torture techniques, but not if they don't understand what is coming. If on the other hand, they've read your book on how to do it, well then you are going to have a very hard time getting in their head.

My fundamental point however is not really whether torture works or not. I won't be interested in a lengthy discussion of that. My fundamental point is that whether torture works or not is a tangential proxy discussion for what the OP really is setting out to prove. Whether torture is a moral act doesn't really need to depend on whether it works or not. I understand how if you are a pure utilitarian the argument that torture can be effective makes you uncomfortable, but most people don't base their morality on pure utilitarianism. Likewise, whether torture works or not really has no bearing on whether torture should be a centerpiece of play in an RPG.
 
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