The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘untested’

Untested D&D – Interrogation

November 26th, 2014

Jack Bauer from 24

Interrogation checks are made to resolve the controlled questioning of prisoners or suspects: People who have (or who you believe might have) a reason to withhold information from you.  Obtaining information through other forms of social interaction (questioning witnesses or chatting someone up at a social soiree, for example) is certainly possible, but may not be the right fit for these mechanics.

When interrogating a subject, the questioner can choose one of two approaches:

DIPLOMACY: These are “soft” methods of interrogation. Manipulation, seduction, a building of trust, a promise of quid pro quo.

INTIMIDATE: These are “hard” methods of interrogation. This doesn’t cover actual torture, but it does include aggressive techniques, threats of violence, and the like.

The appropriate interrogation skill is used to make a check against DC 10 + the subject’s HD + the subject’s Wisdom modifier. On a success, the interrogator gains one piece of information. Additional interrogation checks can be attempted, but each additional check applies a cumulative +2 modifier to the DC of the check.

After two failures, the interrogation will provide no more useful information. (The subject has broken down or their lawyer has shown up or they simple have no more useful information to share.)


Each interrogation technique can be escalated to the next level:

BRIBERY: Diplomacy-based interrogations can be enhanced with bribery. If a sufficiently large bribe is offered, the interrogator gains a +10 circumstance bonus to their interrogation checks for the rest of the interrogation. (Alternatively, you could use these advanced guidelines for determining the efficacy of a specific bribe.)

TORTURE: Intimidation-based interrogations can be escalated to actual torture. This involves inflicting actual physical damage and pain. (Or possibly inflicting the same on comrades or loved ones.) The target must make a Will save at DC 10 + the damage dealt by the torturer. If the subject fails the Will save, the interrogator gains a +10 circumstance bonus on their next interrogation check. (Of course, they can continue torturing the subject in order to gain the same bonus again.)

Both of these techniques, however, represent a gamble: Under the temptation of bribery or the desperation of torture subjects may invent information or say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear. There’s a flat 25% chance of false information when giving a bribe. There’s a cumulative 10% chance of false information when using torture. (So after torturing a subject for the third time, there will be a 30% chance of false information.)


A couple of other skills can be useful in interrogations.

BLUFF: Subjects can attempt to provide false information with a Bluff check. If the check fails, however, the interrogator has seen through their lie and can immediately attempt another interrogation check with a +2 circumstance bonus to get the truth out of them. (All of the modifiers from their previous test still apply.)

SENSE MOTIVE: Sense Motive can, obviously, be used to opposed a subject’s Bluff checks. It might also be useful for determining what threats or promises would make for the most effective intimidation or bribery (offering a circumstance bonus in accordance with the guidelines for aiding another, but perhaps inflicting penalties if the check goes awry).

OTHER SKILLS: Other skills can also be used situationally to aid the interrogation check. For example, demonstrating a bit of legerdemain with Sleight of Hand might impress a social contact. Or a Knowledge check might produce information that would endear an expert. Use the guidelines for aiding another to resolve these checks.


An interrogation team can play good cop / bad cop by switching their interrogation technique (from Diplomacy to Intimidation or vice versa). If their first interrogation check after the swap is successful, they can negate a previous failure. (This will allow them to prolong the interrogation.)

It’s exceptionally difficult to play good cop to your own bad cop: Apply a -10 circumstance penalty to the first check of an individual interrogator after the switch in approach.


Kenneth Hite has a technique he uses in investigation games: When the characters have gained all the information they’re going to get from a scene, he holds up a sign that says “SCENE OVER” or “DONE”. The statement cues the players to let them know that there’s no reward to be gained by continuing to ransack the apartment, while using a sign is less intrusive on the natural flow of the scene (so if there’s something they still want to accomplish in this scene of a non-investigative nature, the scene can continue without the GM unduly harshing the vibe).

The core of this interrogation mechanic is designed to do something similar: It’s sending a clear and specific “we’re done here” message to the players, allowing you to perform a clean cut that keeps the pacing tight.

It also has the added benefit of answering for the GM, “How much information does this guy really know?” in situations where that isn’t immediately clear. (This is a question I frequently struggle with when some random mook gets interrogated.)

Collectively, that’s why the difficulty cranks up after each question: I want the mechanic to terminate the interrogation for me.

You might also want to check out my Advanced Rules for Diplomacy. And my thoughts on Social Skills and PCs might also be of interest.

Untested Numenera: NPC Allies

November 19th, 2014

Numenera - Monte Cook GamesNumenera features player-facing mechanics: Whenever an action requires diced resolution, it’s always the player who rolls the dice. If a PC is being attacked, the player rolls to dodge. If the PC is attacking, the player rolls to hit. There are a lot of advantages to this system, particularly in the ways that it seamlessly interacts with the pool-spend, GM intrusion, and difficulty adjustment mechanics.

But the drawback of player-faced mechanics is that they can’t be used to resolve contests between NPCs. Numenera opts for one of two relatively straightforward work-arounds (to be used at the GM’s discretion):

(1) In keeping with other mechanics in the system, the NPC with the highest level automatically succeeds.

(2) If that’s undesirable for some reason, “the GM should designate a player to roll for one of the NPCs. Often, the choice is obvious. For example, a character who has a trained attack animal should roll when her pet attacks enemies.”

The problem with this method is that, because of the way NPC stat blocks and pools work in Numenera, the result doesn’t factor in the NPC’s skill whatsoever: There is no modifier applied to the roll, so an NPC that’s level 2 at attacking has the exact same chance of hitting an NPC opponent as an NPC that has a level 7 attack.

What makes the problem even more vexing is that a large number of character options feature allied NPCs (like the aforementioned trained attack animal).


NPC allies have an effort pool equal to level x 3 per day.

NPC allies also gain one recovery roll per day. This recovery roll can be used as an action at any time, restoring 1d6 + level points to their effort pool.

When rolling for an NPC, adjust the die roll by +1 or -1 per difference in level. For example, a level 5 NPC attempting a level 3 task would gain a +2 bonus to their die roll. The same NPC attempting a level 7 task would suffer a -2 penalty to their die roll.


These rules are short, simple, and to the point. They present a minor disruption to the purely player-faced mechanics, but without bulking out an NPC to have the same complexity as a PC. (In terms of utility, it’s particularly important that the mechanics don’t actually require a specialized NPC stat block: The effort pool can be easily derived from any existing NPC or creature.)

In actual play, the addition of the effort pool provides just enough interest to make running an NPC ally interesting while the level adjustment to the die roll for NPC vs. NPC actions provides enough distinction between characters that their interactions don’t feel flat or artificial.

These rules can be found in the “House Rules” section of my Numenera system cheat sheet.

Eternal Lies - Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, and Jeremy KellerThe effect of prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures in Trail of Cthulhu is very straight-forward: Investigators are considered to be hurt, resulting in them suffering a +1 difficulty on all tests.

The designers of Eternal Lies had a desire to make exposure to extreme heat more mechanically interesting and they introduced a rudimentary heat track. I found their treatment interesting, but wanted something a little more robust (particularly when it came to treatment and recovery). These mechanics are specifically designed for desert travel.

(They’re also not exactly “untested”, but I don’t have a series of posts called “minimally tested”, so here we go.)


0. Not suffering heat.

1. Can only make spends after first resting for 10 minutes (to gather their thoughts and spirits).

2. Difficulty of contests +1 (including hit thresholds).

3. Difficulty of tests at +1.

4. Can only make 1 spend per day and must make it in the morning after a good night’s sleep, before the day’s temperatures begin to rise.

5. Cannot make any spends.

6. Can only refresh 1 Health per day. If Heat Track would advance, it remains at 6 but character suffers 1 damage.


Desert Travel: +1 Heat track per day. Characters who traveled during the day are considered to be under extreme heat conditions for the purposes of treating heat.

Camping: Characters who take a rest from traveling by camping for one full day are considered to be in favorable conditions for the purposes of treating heat.

Oasis: An oasis or similar place of significant respite may be considered “controlled conditions” for the purposes of treating heat.


A given character can be treated for heat once per day.

First Aid/Medicine in favorable conditions to prevent advancement or reduce position on the heat track by 1.

First Aid/Medicine (difficulty 3 + heat track) in extreme heat conditions to prevent advancement or reduce position on the heat track.

First Aid 1 / Medicine 1 in controlled conditions to bring an investigator back to 0.

Eclipse Phase - Posthuman StudiosA quick review for those unfamiliar with the Eclipse Phase system: It’s a percentile system where you need to roll equal to or under your skill level in order to succeed. If your roll a success, your margin of success is equal to the number you rolled on the dice. If you roll a failure, your margin of failure is equal to the number you rolled minus your skill level.

(So if your Fray skill is 45 and you roll 27, your margin of success is 27. If you roll 89, your margin of failure is 89 – 45 = 44.)

Playing Eclipse Phase at Gencon this year, I noticed once again the difficulty some people have grokking this method of “calculating” margin of success. Part of the problem is that it’s discordant with how venerable percentile systems like Call of Cthulhu calculate margin of success (by subtracting the number you rolled from your skill rating). And part of the problem is that Eclipse Phase actually swapped methods between subtracting numbers and reading the die roll between printings. (The post-Catalyst Labs versions of the game should really have been clearly labeled a Revised Edition, frankly.)

But laying all of that aside, the huge advantage of the “read the die” method of calculating margin of success is that it completely eliminates calculation at the table when calculating margin of success: All you have to do is look at the dice. When you can get everyone to grok that (and to report their rolls as “XX out of YY” instead of just “succcess”) it makes the game run with incredible smoothness. (Margins of failure still require calculation, but the system doesn’t use them nearly as often.)

Having concluded that there’s a huge upside to calculating margin of success like this, without further ado I present several different conceptual frameworks that can help you (or someone else) grok the concept:

  • Success starts at 00 and grows from there, so the higher you roll the better your success (assuming that you succeed).
  • It’s like blackjack: You want to get as close to your target number as possible without going over.
  • It’s like The Price is Right: The dice are naming a price and you want that price to be as close to the actual price (i.e., your skill rating) as possible.
  • Your skill rating is like a gravity well: Successes start far away at 00, but the closer they get to your gravity well the faster they go and the bigger the explosion when you punch that guy in the face.

(For some reason face punching always features heavily whenever I’m teaching a new system to people.)


Okay, now that you’ve grokked how Eclipse Phase does margins of succcess, let me strain your credibility by proposing a similar method for handling margin of failure in the system. (This is really just a random thought that occurred to me as I was writing out the above.)

The key point here is that the system (a) rarely cares about margin of failure and (b) when it does, it only cares if you missed by either 30 points or 60 points. (The former are referred to as “severe failures” and in my system cheat sheet I refer to the latter as “horrific failures”, although I don’t believe the rulebook ever gives a formal term for them.)

So the method here is really simple:

  • A roll of 70 or less is a severe failure
  • A roll of 40 or less is a horrific failure.

The system also has a handful of effects which are determined “per 10 margin of failure”. (For example, shock damage can knock you unconscious for 1 round per 10 MoF.) To calculate that, simply subtract the tens digit of your result from 9. (So if you roll 77, you would be shocked for 9 – 7 = 2 rounds.)

If you’re looking for a conceptual framework, think of failure as emanating from 99 and growing in magnitude. Note, too, that higher is always better with this system: A higher success is a better success; a higher failure is a better failure. What my mind initially tries to interpret as a discontinuity actually makes sense if you just imagine success and failure emanating from opposite ends of the spectrum while the outcome is a linear comparison to your skill rating.

Well, in this case, mostly untested. Here’s a mechanic I improvised while running Trail of Cthulhu last night:

Mitigation Test:When making a mitigation test, instead of setting a difficulty number the Keeper sets a “worst case quantity”. The Investigator then resolves the test normally (spending points, adding them to their roll, and so forth), but the result of the test is subtracted from the worst case quantity to determine the actual outcome. (In some situations, you might choose to use multiples of the test of the result.)

Example: One of the investigators has been bitten by a Mythos creature and the creature’s poison is turning their flesh to stone. The team’s doctor decides the only way to save their life is to cut away the “infection”. The Keeper calls for a mitigation test using Medicine to determine how much damage the doctor deals to the victim/patient and sets the “worst case quantity” to 12 points of damage. The doctor’s player spends two points, rolls a 4, and manages to perform the procedure while only inflicting 6 points of Health damage (12 – 4 – 2 = 6).

Example: An orphanage is beginning to collapse. An Investigator is trying to rescue as many kids as possible before the building comes down completely. The Keeper calls for an Athletics mitigation test to determine how many kids survive and sets the “worst case quantity” to 6 dead kids. The player asks if he can spend Architecture points to assist (by judging which sections of the building are in most jeopardy) and the Keeper agrees. He spends 3 points and rolls a 2… He’s just not able to find Timmy before it’s too late.

Example: The player is trying to carve a forged copy of a stone tablet, but is under something of a time crunch to get it done. The Keeper sets a “worst case quantity” of 48 hours and calls for a Craft test. The Investigator gets a result of 6, which the Keeper multiplies by 5: It’ll take 48 – 30 = 18 hours to complete the duplicate tablet.

Thanks to Colleen Riley, Phil Henry, Tess Keen, and Sarah Holmberg for being my guinea pigs.



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