Running Interrogations in RuneQuest

When I first went over the list of Professional Skills in RuneQuest, I was happy to see how manageable the list is. Games with long and specific skills lists can be daunting to get used to, and bog down simple things like character generation. While the list in RQ6 is easy to get a grip on, at first glance it looks like it could or should be expanded. Once you get it in use, however, it soon proves to covers an awful lot of ground. One of the things I had noticed as being ‘missing’ in an early read-through was a skill for Interrogation. As this is a common entry on such skill lists I considered just adding it for convenience, but then I remembered having a similar reaction when I was getting into Ubiquity. In that case I had wanted to create a new skill for Disguise. A little more time with that system showed me why that simply was not necessary. Experience has taught me to not mess with a system before I have internalized its intended use, and this was yet another case where I was glad I investigated rather than just made adjustments before play.

With that experience in mind, I decided to think about what existing skills an interrogator would need, and also how common I thought trained interrogators would be in this fantasy setting (ie, folks taught specifically to use a single developed interrogation skill). The answers led me to rule on interrogation in terms of it being better for me to express as an aptitude and the result of a collection of varied proficiencies rather than the result of specific training.

In keeping with my past thoughts on skill checks, I want something as significant as interrogation to feel like it has weight and depth behind it dramatically and mechanically. As RuneQuest has the capacity mechanically to deliver realistic and compelling surrenders or defeats from both opponents and characters in combats, as well having a good array of social traits, the options available for this kind of scene have both a great deal of variety, and can be completely free of any narrative intervention on the part of the GM or the players. The system can actually handle defeating and  capturing an enemy, and then cowing them into spilling their secrets.

Interrogation in play

In any scene involving the act of interrogation, there is an interplay between the questioner and their target. These can be represented simply, or in greater detail through the use of different types of contested roll, while employing the rules of capping and augmenting skills [RQ6 p76-77].

 

Resisting Interrogation

Given the chance, the target of an interrogation has some opportunities to use their social capabilities to good use. They might resist with Deceit or Acting of their own. They might try to sway the interrogator to their side via Influence, or rebuff threats of force with their own mighty Brawn. Being the target of interrogation, however, they might not always have the best of opportunities to try these tactics.

In any case, they will be under constant pressure to reveal what they know, and most rolls to resist doing so will either involve Willpower directly, or be capped by it. In some cases, it might make sense to allow it to augment a resistance tactic, but I leave those up to you to determine.

Two primary skills that will be called upon for the target in this sort of scene are Endurance and Willpower. Endurance would be called for under physical duress and deprivation. Willpower makes a good cap for this skill when the target knows what is going on, and realizes the realities of their situation. They might have the physical capacity to withstand some beatings, but they might not have the mental fortitude to put up with the threat of it, especially not over the spread of days, or weeks.

Other allies in the resistance of interrogation are Language and Culture. Not all cultures react to threats the same way, and not all word choices are as clear as the speaker might think. Many an expat linguist has been embarrassed by uttering what they thought was a foul curse word in a heated argument, only to have listeners erupt in laughter at their mistaken use of playground euphemism. (You smelly poo-poo head!). If the interrogator is doing their work in a foreign language then this should cap all of their rolls to pry information from their captive. Likewise, if the target is being interrogated in a foreign language, their ability to  understand should serve as a cap on the interrogator’s ability to get them to talk without the threat of violence.

Making Sense of Interrogation

While not necessary for every scene of interrogation or each Differential Roll, it can add depth and interest to proceedings to have the characters’ senses come into play to give the players more to go on when interpreting what they’ve learned.

Using Perception during a tense bit of persuasion might reveal the tiny beads of sweat on the otherwise cool-seeming interrogator’s lip, or the quaver in the target’s voice. These small clues give a hint about the state of mind and bring the scene and the characters’ abilities more into focus.

Using Insight to help clarify the characters’ capacity to sort through the lies and manipulation of the process contributes to the player’s sense of progress, their sense of who their character is, and helps separate the truth and the falsehoods a bit. Rolled at specific stages and/or the end of a series of Differential Rolls for Interrogation can put a recap of what was learned into perspective and allow the players to see that information as their character might.

Opposed Rolls

In some cases this will be of minor importance to the players and can be abstracted with a single Opposed Roll [RQ6 p77]. Such a case might reflect a search for a ‘yes or no’ response confirming if the target knows something, or determining if the target is lying. The target in these cases is someone the  interrogator has control and clear dominance over.  The interrogator will need a clearly defined goal for the interrogation and a specific method in mind of how that goal is to be obtained. The target will need a method of resistance. A single roll will be made and the victor of that contest will achieve their ends according to the methods employed to attain it.

Example: The Threat of Force

The interrogator needs an answer quickly and cannot afford to spend time confusing and disorienting the target before getting down to seeking specific answers. As a result, they decide to threaten the use of force in order to scare the target into compliance. The target needs to be convinced that they will suffer great pain and personal injury. The roll for the interrogator could therefore be something like Acting capped by Brawn if no force is actually used, and the reverse if force is used, but death is not on the menu.

The target, on the other hand, just needs to hold out until enough time has passed that it’s too late for the interrogator to use their information. Seeing the physical threat, they have to be able to resist the fear of injury long enough to convince the interrogator to give up. This is not a situation of complex deceits, it is high-pressure, time-sensitive, brutal interrogation. The roll for the target could probably best be represented by Willpower.

 

Differential Rolls

In other cases, the use of a Differential Roll [RQ6 p78] will more appropriately resolve the give and take of information as each question has a chance to shake loose responses from the target, but also reveal secrets about the interrogator that can be used against them in the ongoing interplay. For skilled people-readers and deceivers, such a battle of wits can be as complex and deadly as any fought with blades and bows.

For the interrogator, more options are open in terms of how they set up their approach to learning what they want to know. They have the choice of using clever verbal tactics [Influence], using lies [Deceit], or setting up some sort of performance [Acting] which persuades the target to talk. In many cases, the chosen approach might be capped or augmented by the interrogator’s ability in a related skill.

Example:  A fake prisoner seeks to gain the real prisoner’s trust

The fake prisoner will be acting during the course of their efforts, but unlike performing on the stage, their will need to do more than entertain and allow the ‘audience’ to suspend disbelief, they will have to become the role. This could be represented by using Acting as the rolled skill, but capped by the Deceit skill.

The target will resist the efforts of the interrogator by using their Insight. In cases where the scene being orchestrated by the interrogator involves physical punishment or mental stress, this Insight roll might be capped by Willpower or Endurance.

Example: The Team Interrogation

A good cop/bad cop approach could be undertaken by a team. The friendly member of the team has to portray reluctant acceptance of what the target will bring down on his head by refusing to cooperate, and a willingness to end the suffering quickly if that cooperation can be obtained. This can be set up through using Influence, perhaps capped by Deceit if this is too far from the character’s own perspective.

The unfriendly member of the team needs to portray the sincere willingness to break whatever rules of proper treatment might exist, and to beat answers out of the target at a moment’s notice. As in the example above about the threat of force, this can be done by the use of the Brawn skill (or some other skill which can inflict pain and injury if the circumstances warrant it) capped by a skill which helps the interrogator sell their role. They might be able to go with straight Brawn if they really are willing to pulp the target to get what they want.

The target for their part would resist this tag team interrogation through the use of Insight to see through the deception (if any) to enable them to hold out longer in a Willpower roll versus the pressure or to realize they need to spill the beans before they get their teeth kicked in. They might also try playing a more complex game of lies and disinformation using Influence, limited by their Deceit, to play the team against each other.

 

Cap or Augment?

In most cases, it might be most appropriate to cap a roll if its relevant partner skill is lower. In some cases, it might make sense to cap if it is lower and let the skill percentage remain unchanged if it is higher. In others, it might make sense to augment the skill if its partner is higher.

Examples

Using the implied threat of force as an example, we could have the interrogator rolling Deceit capped by Brawn. This represents the intention to deceive being the primary aspect of the roll being framed, and limits its effectiveness by the perceived threat of the amount of force that can be unleashed.

By comparison, if Brawn exceeds Deceit and is by itself quite impressive, it might make sense to augment the Deceit roll as the implied threat is overt, tangible, and something the target might fear in unrelated circumstances.

If force is used, not implied, and Brawn exceeds Acting it might not make sense to cap or augment as from the target’s point of view they are still getting beaten, even if there is no intent to beat them to death.

Interpreting the Rolls

For Opposed Rolls, the winner accomplishes their goal. The interrogator gets the simple item of information they needed, or the target resists giving anything away. An example of this might be the interrogator confirms their suspicions that there are troops hiding in the village with hostages. For the target, this might be leaving the interrogator with doubt about the village and possible hostages. Nothing complex, just simple goals, simply dealt with in an opposed roll of a specific skill from the interrogator (Influence, Deceit, Acting, Brawn, etc) and a Willpower roll from the target.

For Differential Rolls, the margin of success is all-important. Is it a stalemate, or does one side have an edge? What can they do with that edge? Can they keep it? Each roll represents a specific amount of time, and a specific amount of information.

 

Information can be thought of as (1) items of relevance (clues, hints, puzzle pieces for the player to work with), (2) items of importance (whole ideas), or (3) falsehoods.

Depending on the scene, a roll might represent several hours of ‘conversation,’ or it might represent days. It might never go beyond a mildly threatening discussion, or it could include meat hooks. Regardless, once the roll is made, the balance has shifted between them in some way and that needs to reflect progress toward the goal of one of the two sides, and it needs to be reflected in an effect on subsequent rolls.

If the level of success from each is a tie then no lasting advantage is gained for either side (both fumble, both fail, both succeed, or both score critical successes) This does not mean no results are gained, but it does mean that the balance of power between the parties is unchanged:

  • If the interrogator fumbles, then they have made an obvious misstep in their approach and all subsequent rolls will be one or more difficulty grades [RQ6 p57] higher, depending on the target’s level of success.
  • If the target fumbles, then they have fallen for the tactics of the interrogator and have made resistance unlikely. Further rolls will be one or more difficulty grades higher depending on the interrogator’s level of success.
  • If the interrogator fails, then they do not gain information that they were looking for. If the target also fails to resist, then they give up potentially useful information unrelated to the interrogation at this stage, or unrecognized by the interrogator as being important.
  • If the target fails then they reveal something of importance to the interrogator. If the interrogator also fails, then this revelation will not be recognized as such, or will have no immediate impact on this stage of the investigation.
  • If the interrogator gains a success then they have two options. The first is a choice of learning one item of information of relevance to them. Depending on the length of the interrogation this might be a part of a clue, or a whole clue. The second is to disorient the target in some way which might make it easier for them to gain the information they seek later in the interrogation. This could be represented in a small bonus to a later roll.
  • If the target gains a success then they have similar options. They can resist giving up information (or real information). Alternately, they could learn something about their interrogator which might help them mislead or disrupt them later in the process.
  • If the interrogator gains a critical success then they have found a way to get inside the head of the target and make them talk. This could be represented as a decrease in the difficulty grade to get the target to talk.
  • If the target gains a critical success then they have found a way to deflect the tactics of the interrogator. This could be represented as a decrease in the difficulty grade to resist.
  • If one side rolls a better level of success than the other, then they have the choice to receive a bonus to their roll later in the interrogation, or to change the difficulty grade of their rolls in the interrogation in their favor by the difference between the level of results. (ie: If the interrogator rolls a success and the target rolls a critical, the target might take a bonus to their next roll, or instead opt to make the interrogator’s next roll one difficulty grade higher.)

Final Thoughts

While this all might look daunting on the screen, it amounts to letting the participants assess the situation and deciding how they will try to overcome the other, and what their actual goals are. For the GM it is then simply a matter of framing the roll to express what the methods are for achieving the participants’ goals, and having them roll. Interpreting an Opposed Roll is nothing more than knowing who rolled the best, and therefore whose goal was reached. Interpreting a Differential Roll is more a matter of judging the ebb and flow of the contest and assigning perks and penalties to reflect that along the way.

Have fun storming the castle and getting the truth out of the villains you capture!

 

 

Comments
4 Responses to “Running Interrogations in RuneQuest”
  1. Murderbunny says:

    “Experience has taught me to not mess with a system before I have internalized its intended use”. Indeed, that’s the conclusion that I have come to as well. I am in general fairly shy of house-rules anyway, but I like to learn a system completely before I start tweaking it.

    You interrogation examples above make a lot of sense. The methodology is basically to pick one or more interrogation techniques, and roll skills that apply to those techniques. I suppose games with an “Interrogation” skill abstract-out this process: a skillful interrogator discerns which technique would be most effective on a target, and applies it.

    • Runeslinger says:

      Yes, and it’s funny what a deleterious effect that can have on a game. Not all the time, of course, but I find it peculiar how a group will be perfectly willing to roll the same combat skill over and over again during a violent encounter, then turn around and expect to earn a massive information dump with cheat sheet to interpret it from a single social skill roll. This way, we can explore different options, different moralities for obtaining the information wanted, and so on – plus get the same sort of tension which we are used to combat bringing to the table. I am not averse to having a consolidated interrogation skill, and my post on running interrogations in Mechwarrior comes from the same sort of impulse as this one. Social skills get treated with widely divergent levels of respect, and I think for groups that want to approach the game from the PoV of representing the character (not the player) that using a method like this is a way to explore that.

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