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97Starvipper

How to make an interrogation interesting?

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I'm in finale of our current campaign. My 3 players just got capture by an inquisitor on Mandalore. One of the pc's characters is a mandalorian who clan's secret is that he knows how to make equipment and armor that can fully counter a lightsaber. I want to the inquisitor to interrogate them for the information. I tried doing a different interrogating scene earlier in the campaign, but it fell kinda flat. I don't want that to happen again. I would love to hear some tricks and tips on how to make that interesting as a GM? I'm planning on some allies coming in after the initial interrogation and freeing them, so I don't want it to be super long, but I want it interesting.   

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So, I'm assuming you've had a conversation with your players about boundaries and comfort levels with this sort of thing? If not, you need to have that conversation in advance.

With obvious disclaimer is obvious out of the way... here's the thing(s) about PC interrogations:

1. You can't make them talk if they don't want to, like, because of failed checks or whatever - that's depriving them of agency. (Though I could see the Sense Power, read surface thoughts upgrade potentially subverting that some.)

2. And you can't make them, the player, feel any of the physical pain or distress that their characters would feel, which is in theory what might make them want to talk.

3. So, no one talks, and you just get blank stares as you describe depraved scenes of violence. And at the end everyone is like, "Was that necessary?"

I'm guessing that's why your first attempt fell flat? 

"Talk!"

"No."

"Well, you're tortured."

"... So what?"

"..."

Well, the fact that you're posting this in the F&D forum makes me think your PCs, or at least some of them, are Force sensitive and therefore subject to the Morality system?

So lean on that for the interrogation. Can't make the players care about their own character's discomfort? No problem, because you can give the characters Conflict if they don't care about the discomfort of other innocents.

Suddenly you've made a tired cliche into a fairly straightforward rp choice. Take Conflict, or give up information (which might also warrant Conflict?).

Torturing PCs is not about torturing their characters, it's about torturing NPCs that the PCs care about.

Now, I'm not saying, "Bring in the family members of the characters." That could cross ppl's lines, and isn't necessary to use the tools you have at your disposal. Just bring in allied NPCs.

Find other choices to give them too, though. Offer them real in-game reward; creds, gear, weapon/armor upgrades, whatever. Will they trade wealth for information? If so, they also get Conflict.

You can't make PC interrogations about torture, you have to make them about choices. Real, meaningful trades of in-game stuff.

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There are a couple was to take this.

The Good Cop method is an easy one. Don't have the character in an interrogation cell, instead have them meet their interrogator in a park or some thing. Have the interrogator offer them some food and drink as they walk. Don't drug it and don't be annoyed when the Pcs say no. Let them use skill checks on the interrogator and pass. The interrogator are offering food in good faith. Then engage them in small talk. "How is your day?", "Is everything alright in your room?" After a few minutes ask something like "So what were you doing when you were caught?" Ask for the Pc's point of view and don't demand facts. At the end of the interrogation session, have the Pcs led to secure, but comfortable rooms.

The other way is to imply something horrible could happen ether to them or another person. This could be worse that describing something graphic as the PLAYER's own mind will fill in the blanks. I recommend only using this on a group that is OK with it. 

How do I set a spoiler box so I hide these from casual readers?

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You may, of course, want to actually RP the interrogation encounter, but think about how torture/interrogation is handled in the Star Wars movies: They show the torture droid or the torture-chair thingy, and then cut away (note that these were interrogations of "PCs").

To handle it similarly, roll one or two checks. Maybe a Medicine (opposed by Resilience) check to boost a Coercion (opposed by Discipline) check with torture, maybe Charm check to boost Negotiation if you're going the good cop route (unlikely in this case), or some other combination. Then figure out what the character told and gloss over the narration.

 

As for player agency, this is a sketchy issue. In the case of trying to interrogate someone, it is even more questionable. A lot of it depends on your players and how willing they are to go along with the rolls and allow their characters to be "controlled" by roll results.

I am of the opinion that players should be bound by results of those sorts of checks, but I also don't make the results of those checks particularly stringent. Coercion against an opponent in an attempt to intimidate them isn't going to make them run (except on rare occasions), but it will add a Setback to checks (or something along those lines). This makes it more easily applicable to PCs, then allowing the player to RP it out as they desire. With giving information, it is harder to achieve that same effect but you can get close.

Ask yourself what a successful interrogation gets the PCs when they have one of your NPCs under hot lights. How would you feel as a PC if that was applied to you? Then tweak as necessary to get a general idea what success would get the interrogator when questioning the PCs.

Let your players know the consequences of success/failure. "If they succeed, you will tell them this much about X, to be modified by the results."

Allow your players to request the addition of Setback and encourage them to use Destiny Points to manipulate the pool. Hear them out if they want to proactively try something. Maybe they turn the social encounter back on the interrogator, screwing up the whole thing and sending the inquisitor off in a huff. Let the PC try to lie.

 

I personally am not comfortable with actually narrating, RPing physical torture. I might allude to it, reference it, or state that it took place, but I would stay away from actually getting into the nitty-gritty there. If you and your players are up for it though, then do whatever works best.

How exactly did you handle it before? What fell flat about it?

 

It is a different facet of the issue, but here's another thread on the topic. It might have some useful insight for you: 

 

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Thank you.

 

There is implied threat, back by sensory input.

"You brought in to a room with only a counter and a rack of knives. You are pinned down on the counter by a pair of Interrogators. They flip you over so you are face down. You hear the sound of metal on wood as an interrogator gently shakes the rack of knives above your head, light glints across the counter. So will you talk? No." Another gentle shake, the sound of durasteel sliding on wood. A knife is falling. The sound of durasteel striking flesh. Second Interrogator, "That was close," the touch of durasteel on your flesh," so close."" Then you can have them put the character back in a cell for the next day.

Speak slowly, give pauses between your sentences, only let characters see at the start, then use only a character's other senses to give them information.

What really happened.

The interrogators hold you under a rack of butter knives. Damage:-1 Encumbrance:1 Crit:7 Cost:5.

The character was at no risk. Let them find this out later if you like.

Let the hear others suffer instead of them

They are brought in to a room with a desk, two chairs, and the interrogator. The desk is covered in knobs and buttons. There is a big red knob and button that the Interrogator is tinkering with. "Please, come in, have a seat." players do players things. Interrogator turns on a view screen behind him, Showing a captive, electrodes strapped to them, beaten, crying for help, they don't know any thing. "So this is how it works, I ask a question and you answer. If you don't ..." presses button. Electricity arcs across the captive body as they scream. "Each time you don't, I increase the voltage." Turns screen off, leaving audio on. "Now to business."

Each time the character refuses to answer a question describe as the captive screams in more and more pain, and each time the Interrogator turns the red knob up. after the fifth time, a scream and then silence. A stormtrooper reports "Their dead, sir" "Shame, the child next." The screen shows a young child hooked up to electrodes. If the character calls this out, The screen shows more captive hooked to electrodes. First dozens, then hundreds. "Your point?.

Again description is key. Never let the character see what happens after the first instance, and assign conflict for each failed question.

 

What really happen.

The first captive is an Imperial agent acting as a captive. There is no shock after the first that deals only one strain. The screaming is just acting. The rest of the captives are just images from medical test already recorded. no one else was hurt.

If you want to add a sense of betrayal, have captive one escort them from the room.

 

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Respectfully, I disagree with making characters talk being against player agency because it was presumably their decisions that lead to that point. If they fail a social check, their character is obligated to provide useful information as would be expected from an NPC. Don’t want to tell anyone anything? Give your character a high willpower and pressence and ranks indiscipline and cool, or have the character be an exceptional liar. Otherwise? You can either choose what your character says or the GM will. The wellspring of information must be a two way street as the player is *not* their character, just merely their actor.

 

that being said, my GM runs very few torture scenes for a couple of reasons. It’s not particularly interesting unless it’s to introduce the antagonist personally, and no one likes feeling weak at the table. Actions do have consequences but that doesn’t mean a blow by blow commentary. Sometimes a mean looking ball droid rolling in with a needle and a cutaway is tasteful enough, while building tension.

 

Re: First time we got captured by an inquisitor, they were dropped off at prison/ research facility. The droid companion was irreparably scrambled (PC retirement) the second had an eye removed, but the Gand had it the worst. You see, the Empire found Gand particularly exceptional pilots when stripped down to their bare essentials, so by the time we had fought our way into the R&D department, they had removed his arm, an eye and cut a square wedge into the back of his head to install an nurval interphase directly into his brain. He, also incidentally; had a spy cam and a bomb wired up to his brain that we only found out months later and had inadvertently acted as a spy to the Empire.
 

Not a single part of this interrogation was role played. The party was literally finding out about this as we went along, with the exception of one player who wanted a new character anyway, so the GM got to introduce this big bad antagonist, was this scientist who was physically incapable of doing anything to the PCs but was capable of inventing massive projects of genetic alteration, bio-weapons and much more. We loathed him based on what he could justify doing in the service of the Empire based on our interrogation of him, and his ultimate escape via double agent. It was awesome.

 

so a couple suggestions:

 

players don’t vibe with interrogation? Don’t do it. Give them some NPC characters and get them to rescue themselves, very exciting, but don’t tell them what has happened to their person until they find them. But do roll the interrogation anyway to determine how well they do in the hot seat offscreen; the results determine what the nemesis learnt of them. Honestly a die roll behind the GM screen should be ample to build tension and in this case, removal of player agency is thematically appropriate to build tension.

 

make it a social challenge. First to three success/fail wins. do this across the team so every character might employ their skill set across the party. If they fail? The nemesis learns everything, succeed and they keep their secrets. Dispairs meanwhile means that the nemesis might learn tadbits through inference; while they might not be able to immediately act on it, it too build dramatic tension. A race against time. 

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My way of making interrogation interesting requires a large amount of prep. 

Firstly, the NPC doing the interrogation needs to understand what motivates the PC by probing them on certain topics. If the player is sticking to their character, then as a GM you can make the conversation touch on a few points that will get them to reveal the character slightly. (e.g. how they feel about their captors, their allies, their view of the galaxy, etc.) This doesn't have to be opposed checks or anything, just conversation.

Next, you need to have a compiled list of things that the PC knows and which the NPC may value or be trying to find out (kinda like when you have a freeform investigation chart in the modules). Some of the items on the list can be information that's useless to the NPC but which sounds useful, and others can be crucial information that may endanger the party. 

e.g. The PCs are working with a rebel cell that promised them help in uncovering a Jedi artifact, in exchange for their help ins a sabotage operation against local Imperial forces. The NPC imperial officer who caught them wants to know "Who is your employer?". Options for information are:

  • The physical description of their rebel contact
  • The name of their rebel contact
  • The location of the rebel contact
  • The fact that their contact is a rebel cell leader
  • The fact they're not being paid
  • What they were promised in exchange for the job
  • The fact that they're not rebels
  • Spit on the NPC (avoids giving one answer, but increases the difficulty of the next check)

So for this phase of things, whether torture or not, they have social checks against their questioning NPC and depending on the extent of their failure, they have to divulge 'x' number of facts from that list. But they are allowed to spin the narrative of how they say it. 

You do this for each question the NPC is asking, and you have a fun interrogation, where failure means they must divulge information, but they choose what they say.

 

N.B. For maximum effect, you can have the PCs being interrogated simultaneously, and they each secretly pick what they will say in response to the questions without each-other knowing. Then, you run the roleplay and watch them squirm.

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