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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Victims of Torture (Gaming Edition)...

Ok, so death happens in games.  That's a given.  But maybe there are fates worse than death, at least while it's happening.  And maybe instead of death, your character is tortured, whether at the hands of their enemies or even the long arm of the law...  

Torture.  The very word conjures up horrific images of racks, thumbscrews, and the iron maiden (not the band, we're good with that).  Humans are very good at hurting one another, that's for sure.  But as bad as we are, most fantasy worlds are inhabited by creatures that personify evil itself.  Think orcs and giants driven by cruelty and the love of violence.  Short of that, there's plenty of human villains who delight in the suffering of others, especially when they hold a grudge and a hated nemesis falls into their hands.

But it wasn't just the bad guys.  In a medieval society, torture was a tool of local law enforcement, and those caught stealing or instigating a barroom brawl might end up in the stocks (if they're lucky) or maybe receive lashes (not so lucky) in the town square. 

Which is to say, unlucky characters just might find themselves tortured... 

Torture could break the body,
badly, but also the spirit and will to fight...

So first off, let's be clear that many tortures were really executions designed to prolong the suffering, although ultimately ending in death.  Here, the goal was to kill, and the best a victim could hope for was to die quickly or somehow be rescued.  And we'd be remiss in our duties if we didn't list a few here (not a complete one for sure, but a decent survey):

RAT TORTURES (gasp!) involved tying the victim flat on their back and placing an iron basket full of live rats on their chest.  Delightful, but we're not done.  Next, the basket was heated, causing the confused and panicked vermin to tunnel through the softest, most yielding surface (i.e., the victim).  Not a good way to die.  And it's easy to imagine sadistic GMs having a captured character subjected to this.  Maybe 1-2 damage per round until dead or rescued?  The thought of playing this out might seem unnecessarily cruel, but if the possibility of imminent rescue exists, why not pull out all the stops?

And there's the additional challenge that if the victim is recovered, they'll be injured and probably too weak to  walk (or maybe reduced to 10'-20' per round with help).  For the victim, troubles don't end with mere rescue.  And assisting an almost helpless friend through an enemy fortress teeming with alerted guards can be a challenging experience.  All of this is gaming fodder on steroids.  And the stuff of Game of Thrones and actual history...

SAW TORTURES were just awful.  Really.  The victim was hung upside down and sawed from the groin downward in hopes that blood going to their head would keep them from losing consciousness.  Ouch.  And while a daring rescue was theoretically possible, once the saw hits the pelvis, the victim is off their feet for weeks and, barring  magic, slowed (again, 10'-20' per round) and permanently out of the adventuring business more likely than not.  Just for fun, let's say 1d6 per round, with the pelvis breached after 1d6 minutes of work, which means it's definitely not for the squeamish or the faint of heart.  Or anyone, really...

The lash was a terrible punishment,
but one that could be survived, albeit with scarring...

Of course, other tortures were meant to extract intelligence, although the victim was often put to death once the desired information was obtained.  Standouts here include:

THUMB SCREWS were vices tightened around the thumbs (or other appendages) and gradually tightened until the subject spilled the beans.  Deliver 1-2 damage per turn of the vice (once per round as the interrogator plies their trade), with saving dice (vs. poison or maybe a wisdom/willpower save, where applicable) each round after the third to avoid saying too much.  And assuming the character is eventually released or somehow rescued, fine manipulation is out of the question for 2d6 days (+1 per turn of the screw).

Finally, and perhaps most relevantly, other tortures were designed to keep the victim alive and deter future indiscretions.  This was often the case with law enforcement or in the military, especially, and most infamously, the navy.  And the big winner here is:

FLOGGING (feared by all) was administered by having the victim's hands tied to a post, baring their back, and then having at it with a whip!  Typically, it was something like 20 lashes.  Enough to get the point across, but not enough to kill, although it probably did feel quite a bit like death.  Assume here 1 damage per blow, and if the victim gets to zero hit points, they fall unconscious.  Barring magic, a flailed victim cannot easily walk without some assistance, per the above, or perform any feats (fighting, stealth, or spell casting) for 2d6 weeks, pretty much putting them out of commission.  Oh, and they cannot heal more than 1 point per full day of rest.  Period.  Gives a person time to think, doesn't it?     

Now imagine a band of marauding orcs attacking a party, triumphing, and robbing them blind.  But instead of killing them, they string up one unlucky character, administering the lash before departing with their possessions.  Now this really is the stuff of nightmares...

Of course, all of this is just a survey.  There were many methods of torture.  Too many, unfortunately.  But the important takeaway here is that (1) torture happened, (2) it had lasting physical impacts, and (3) it was clearly traumatic.  And if your game seems right for this, torture is an alternative to death, albeit a terrible one, and a source of gameplay challenge!

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