Interrogating Your PCs

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 29 March 2010

During my normal game brainstorming session, I had a skill challenge idea that I honestly had no idea how to implement. My players love to keep one of the NPCs alive so that they can interrogate him or her later, but what if I could turn the tables on the players? What if the players had the valuable information someone else wanted? The older mechanic of fort/reflex/will saves thematically works well with this type of tactic, whereas it feels a little less obvious in 4th edition.

Of course my brain kept going round and round the problem, trying to find that little crack that would allow me to flip it around to something more approachable. This morning my brain finally rearranged the problem into something more approachable. Stop thinking in terms of 4E vs. older editions. Skills become their defenses, just like fort/reflex/will saves, with some providing a primary defense and others bolstering it. Of course, the players are free to take proactive steps as well, trying to escape or control the conversation. While the main and secondary skills will change depending on the story line, below are some ways you could use the skills. Have your players describe what they want to do first and figure out what skill best matches it later and remember to reward creativity.

Slip out of the restraints while the guard is out of the room.
If the NPCs are of an appropriate origin, you might learn something about that race that gives you and advantage in negotiations.
You might be able to intimidate the NPCs to gain an advantage or bring certain types of restraints if you want to make a run for it.
Give the interrogators wrong info but have them believe it or catch them off-guard with a remark giving you an advantage for your next remark.
Bargain with the captors.
Aides in finding an escape route from the prison or knowledge about an NPC to aid you or your group.
Determines your ability to withstand the harsh conditions. (Thanks to @Level30yinzer and Thadeous Cooper). Failures might mean that you lose hit points or healing surges.
Some bit of knowledge about the history of the area, people, etc, gives the PC an upper hand in the interrogation.
You might be able to sense the NPC's motives or attitudes and whether or not there is an outside influence.
Could be used as proof of the ability to care out threats of physical harm to the interrogator and his/her family.
Perhaps you could use it to handle a small animal in the prison or to find out information about NPCs of a natural origin.
Maybe you notice that the interrogator cares greatly about his appearance or that one of his allies flinches every time something hits you.
You spot that the guy in the back, who also tends your wounds, wears the symbol of a god who would be against the treatment or something else that might help you negotiate with one of the NPCs. Also helps identify immortal creatures.
One of you hides when the guard comes to check on your party.
Remember a bit of gossip about the guard(s) which can help you tailor your story for what they want to hear, make them more inclined to believe you, or to go easier. (Thanks Aaron)
Escape the bonds that hold you or perhaps lift the keys from your captors.

A bit of sensitive subject, but for darker games, it might be interesting to use The Colossus of Laarn as the basis of a physical torture session. As players are harmed, they might be willing to give up a secret against their will. This is probably something that should be done with the agreement of your group as it might make some players understandably uncomfortable. Also, it might be a good idea to make it so your players can undo the damage of a loss by giving them time to do things like warning the intended target, setting a trap, etc.


Why not run the interrogation as a skill challenge being made by the NPCs? If they succeed, they've managed to get the PCs to spill some crucial piece of info.

You could also have a back-and-forth skill challenge, where the interrogators and PCs roll initiative and then take turns making checks to earn successes. Interrogators learn what they want to know if they roll X successes. PCs escape if they roll Y successes. If the interrogators win their skill challenge, PCs can continue their skill challenge to escape but now face the "Roll Z failures and you lose" condition.

Pff, why use the lesser skill challenge system when you can use the combat system. Think aboit it, you're restrained and I'm beating you til you let out the infomation I want. Basic attack vs fort or will (whichever is higher) with some pg 42 for the torturer. On sucessful hit, 1[w] damage, and you spout out a relevent fact. Miss, and you still take the damage (you're restrained and I'm beating you) but you get to lie to counter (opportunity action with p 42 high regular damage expressions representing my frustration. On your action, you can either try to escape restraints (two successful escape rolls), or taunt/mislead/beg for mercy. Intmidate, bluff, or diplomacy vs will defence, with medium regular damage expression. Upgrade damage expression to medium limited if you're willing to push a healing surge into it.

Whaddya think?

Using the combat rules only isn't necessarily wrong and, in certain scenarios, could be the right choice. However it just smacks a bit much of "if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail," at least for my taste. I'm really worried that setting it up like a combat encounter would take away from some of the excellent role playing opportunities that could come out of a scenario like this. I'm also worried that it would limit the players' creativity a bit too much. The nice thing about basing it on Colossus of Laarn is that it's possible to add some physical damage into the skill challenge, and those would be based on normal combat rules.

Ooh, I forgot to say, end the interrogation at bloodied, or when the interrogator thinks he's got enough information. Either the victim is too beaten to give more, or the interrogator gives up in anger. Either way, don't just wait a while and go into another torture. Run with whatever info gained and move on.

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