Monday, May 21, 2012

T is for Torture

I've read some blog posts in the last couple months that brought up the topic of torture in roleplaying. Erik over at Tenkar's Tavern posted about it, and it got me wondering about how often this really gets used in campaigns.

My steady gaming group is not really given to torture per se, but they have definitely gotten into a good number of interrogation situations. Mostly they handle the roleplaying of said questioning very well, and I've ruled that they eventually get the information they seek through intimidation rather than having to resort to inflicting torture. Not necessarily because I want to avoid a torture situation (well actually I do like to avoid it if possible because, well, it's sort of disturbing), but because the players were doing so well using threats instead of hurting captives.

There was one session during my C&C campaign, however, where a captive was ALMOST tortured (a particularly strong-willed chaotic wood elf, if I recall). A rogue character was driving climbing pitons through the elf's boot, narrowly missing toes. But the player decided to break off the threat of spiked toes in favor of challenging the recalcitrant elf to a duel of fisticuffs. I don't recall things being too traumatic for the group, although the players of the more good-aligned characters acted out their characters' objection to the tactics of the rogue.

My group, therefore, doesn't seem very sadistic. But they do make liberal use of fire during in the old "lamp oil as molotov cocktail" tactic that's probably as old as the game itself! So they're upholding a grand tradition of burning foes alive ;-)

Anyway, what place has torture had in your gaming experiences?


  1. My players always play AD&D with good or neutral characters, so it's happened just once in 20 years of gaming - one PC twisted the arm of a goblin prisioner the group was interrogating, but the ranger intervened and the other PCs conducted the interrogation without torture (but with a few threats).

    However, in my player's defense I must say that his character was being influenced by an evil magic dagger his rogue/mage was carrying at the time.

  2. The main error I think people make is in treating torture as a straightforward, effective means of extracting information. IRL, one of the main reasons most civilised nations stopped using it was that it was extremely ineffective. Torture produces confabulated, vague descriptions that are of low value. As soon as my PCs got the idea that most of what they got while torturing someone is bullshit, they stopped doing it and started doing interrogations.