They have the information you need!

The other day when I opened up my twitter browser I had this waiting for me: “any tips on running interrogation-type encounters? Like when the party of mostly good characters captures a loyal henchman.”  I sent a few reply’s back, one of them linking to Sarah Darkmagic’s post about interrogating players. I don’t really think I did the question justice though I don’t think 140 characters could ever answer that question. I’ll take a crack at this one though.

In this post I’m not going to get into the mechanics of a interrogation skill challenge. If the mechanics are too mapped out DMs might be inclined to follow them too rigidly. For a skill challenge to flow the DM must have a solid idea of where the challenge ends, either in success or failure, but should allow the rest of the challenge to flow more organically. There are a few ways to prepare as a DM to allow this to happen.

No road blocks: Right out of the gate a DM must remember that a skill challenge should not end in a road block. No matter what happens the story must continue. To this effect some information in an interrogation skill challenge should always be passed on, success or no. Plan this information out first, that way you know what details to work into the role play of the challenge even when the players fail a roll. Doing this might also lead players to believe they are succeeding and not be expecting the failure outcome which can be fun.

See the end first: If you as the DM know what the end result of a skill challenge is, chances are the challenge will flow more organically. Why? If the DM does not know where you are going with a skill challenge theywon’t be able to moderate a players attempt to overcome the challenge. If players think out side of the box and use a ritual or just a great idea instead of using a skill check the DM won’t really know if their idea would actually lead them closer to success or defeat. Ruling on out side of the box thinking often becomes a series of ideas and rejections when a DM does not have a solid grasp on the effect of the outcome. So in a skill challenge based on interrogation setting up your possible outcomes is key.  To illustrate this I will show you four outcomes I might use.

  1. Success – the players gain the information they need and are able to move forward with a notable    advantage.
  2. Success and help – The players are not only able to get useful information but convince the NPC being interrogated to help them further. Either by giving them a key item or by personally leading the group to an advantageous location.
  3. Failure – The players are not able to gain any new useful information and must proceed with only the very basic information they need to move the story. This will most likely put the party at a disadvantage, as whom ever the players are trying to gain information about will be expecting them.
  4. Failure and a trap – In a case of extreme failure I like to have a back up plan. In an interrogation I would have the target of the interrogation begin acting as if he wanted to help the players. If the players fall for it the NPC would offer up information or even offer to guide the players to a very advantageous location, only to find that they have been lead right into a very brutal trap.

Once you have a clearly defined endpoint for your challenge you can move on to filling in some gaps. I would start with

Information: Like knowing where you challenge is going, knowing what your challenge is offering the players is also helpful. If the point of the challenge is to gain information making it up on the fly can be rough. You can always run the risk of giving away too much information or information that is not valuable at all, thus invalidating the players hard won success. I would also throw in some information the players already know but the NPC might not be privy to the players knowledge of. Tricky I know, but it is purely for RP value. Only in a perfect world would a henchman only give you information you don’t already have. By throwing in a bit of information the players have you will flavor the challenge and add a bit of reality to it. I would build three categories of information to use or not use.

  1. What the players know: Have a solid grasp of what the players already know. This will allow you to decided what information they can use to their advantage, and what to throw in as flavor.
  2. What the players what to know: This can be a hard category to determine as players can often be hard to predict. Some of this information will have to be gained on the fly and some of it will be determined by you as the DM as to what information will give them the most advantage.
  3. What information the NPC actually knows: A DM must be at least some what realistic about the information the NPC actually has about the subjects the players might question them on. If the players capture a high ranking official in an opposing army the amount of information held by the NPC would be rich and abundant. If, how ever, the players capture a lowly guard or henchman the information might not be in such great supply. This does not mean they won’t have useful knowledge to give, just less specific.
  4. What the NPC is willing to give: Even if faced with nothing but successful DC checks there should still be some information the NPC is not willing to give up. This is information I would hold onto in cause I need to use it to further the plot or if I want to bring this NPC back at a later time. An NPC who still holds useful information can always be used at a later time.


From here the DM should be able to make a map of which skills can be used to gain information. If the DM decided to go with multiple outcomes deciding which skill leads to which outcome is also helpful. I usually make a list. In this list I also try to think of any other actions which might sway the outcome.

  1. Success #1 / Fail #2 :  Primary – bluff, diplomacy, insight, intimidation, streetwise. Secondary – history, athletics, heal, arcana, nature. Actions – Any threats, harm, or rituals which might force the NPC to give up information.
  2. Success #2 /Fail #1 : Primary – Diplomacy, insight, heal, nature. Secondary – History, streetwise, bluff. Actions – anything which might help the NPC, i.e. getting them water, untying them, or any rituals which might make the NPC more comfortable.

As I look at this I realize it might be a bit confusing. But it really is simple. As the players choose their actions which outcome they are headed towards is based on what they do. If they decide to bully the NPC they lose the option to have the NPC side with them and help the party out. They also set them selves up for a much worse outcome for failure. Miss treatment of the NPC leads to the NPC looking for revenge which results in the NPC leading the party into a trap. On the other hand using less malicious actions and tones when dealing with the NPC will lead the party to a much more fruitful ending both in success or failure. Though some DMs might revers these as a show of strength might be what it takes to make the NPC follow the party. Either way it is up to the DM to decide.

So with out going into too much detail this is the basic information I would use to approach an interrogation style skill challenge. If you run into a situation where in the party wants to set up an interrogation on the fly it shouldn’t be too hard to take a five minute break and set one up using this information.

What do you think?

T.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.


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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can’t think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.

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2 Responses

  1. This is dead on. Any interest in running something like this over Skype?

    It’s great general advice for skill challenges. As long as you know what the possible outcomes are for the skill challenge and they’re all interesting, you’re well on your way to being able to describe how the NPCs and the environment react to the actions of your PCs. And as long as you’ve planned for all of your outcomes to drive the game forward, the pressure comes off exactly what skills, DCs, and complexity you pick.

    • Yeah I think it would be fun to try this with some other DMs. I would have to write some back story to tie it all together.

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