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So my ~11th level party is going to be interrogating a prisoner (demon, if it makes any difference) to try to get them to reveal their master's evil plan. They'll be doing this in the prison where the demon is incarcerated in a big city.

Ultimately, I would like for this to be achievable, and give information if the party does well, but for it to provide a challenge.

My main problem in this is that one player is a psionic, with access to the psionic equivalent of dominate monster. I would rather this take more than a single obvious spell cast to solve. Also in the party are an alienist and a cleric (no wizard or artificer).

The master will have taken sensible precautions, including casting spells to make interrogation harder. Assume the master has access to any spell up to 9th level. The PCs are also on a bit of a clock: the longer the interrogation, the less up-to-date the information they receive is, and the further along the demon's plans will be.

Obviously, I can use a cop out answer such as "this is all the prisoner knew", but that doesn't provide a challenge or provide the PCs more information the better they handle the situation.

I'm looking either for advice of how people have handled similar situations, or spells/abilities I could employ to make the situation challenging for the PCs more than just "I cast dominate monster until he fails his save (and fails again for performing an act against his nature), then he tells us everything".

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9 Answers 9

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Magic kills your interrogation? Several solutions come to mind:

1. Fight magic with magic

If you have a problem with a dominate spell, that means your evil master has a problem with it. If it is a rather common spell he will know about it and will have certain defenses in place. Because what good is a demon, if everyone can just turn him around and against you?

He could have a domination spell of his own active on the demon, so your wizards spell would have to be more powerful to beat it, or they would both exert some control over the demon, always getting some control time after each other. This won't work with the common domination spells in DnD though, since the newest spell always overrides all previous domination spells, but maybe there are custom spells, which can make the minion domination-proof

Another way would be some safety measure. A spell which is triggered by mind probes, domination magic, or the daemon spelling the beans. It could be a self-destruct spell, or a teleport or anything. It could also be, that the demon is a magical creature just holding its physical form by sheer will, every waking moment fighting against breaking apart in this realm. So the demon would just have to stop trying to break apart and die.

It could also be a slow trigger on certain explicit questions: When the players ask him to tell them the name of his master, he will start to writhe in agony and start to fall apart, so they stop him - and they can think about some other questions. Maybe the favourite restaurant of his master? If certain commandments are in place, the players will have to try and find a way around them, without exactly knowing what they are...

2. Need to know basis

The next best approach could by what is commonly known as "need to know" - why should the demon know the name of his master, his current whereabouts, the secret location of the hideout or the big plan? The minion will know exactly what he needs to know.

He will know the voice of his master, but maybe not his face. He probably was in the secret hideout several times, but was always teleported there by the master. So he knows what the place looks like from the inside, maybe got a glimpse out of the windows, but has no idea where exactly it is. All he knows is a meeting point from where he is teleported. For low magic it could also be a carriage, which he rides blindfolded to the destination. For high magic it could also be a mind-wipe / mind-lock spell, so the memories are not accessible, the demon will just know enough to contact his master again. Maybe just a location in a forest, where he will have to wait for the master to show up. Then the players can either try to beat the poweful mind-wipe spell, or they can try to lay out an ambush, with the controlled demon as bait.

Or if the prisoner just knows some things about the hideout: Sound? Is it near a tavern, mill, river, forest? Dirt on the ground in a special color? Certain leaves, which just grow in a certain part of the forest? They could gather little hints and combine them with the knowledge of locals to gather information about the hideout and finally find it with this trail of clues!

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Thanks - I didn't know the domination spell rules in DnD. So the evil overlord has to use something else if he wants his minion domination proof ;-) –  Falco Jul 30 at 11:57
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My fault, mental control has it as an explicit exception: if the commands conflict, the casters make charisma checks to decide who wins. Disregard my previous, I say again, disregard my previous. –  Zachiel Jul 30 at 21:40
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You can use the spell Programmed Amnesia (spell compendium, complete arcane,) to erase memories temporarily and accomplish similar effects to those you described. –  Arkhaic Jul 31 at 2:33

Misdirection

Following up on Falco's "Need to Know", sometimes the simplest solution is not only provide information, but to provide lots of it, including contradictory information. Perhaps this minion has heard his master debating several alternate plans, but he doesn't know which is "the plan". You could give the interrogators all of this information, and let them mull over it.

Turnabout is fair play

Ultimately, I would not recommend something outside of the game, like a custom spell that thwarts the players, as that may smack of unfairness. Using the same rules the players have access to, like having the master scry on the players through spells placed on the minion would be a better suggestion. A bit of turnabout is fair play may allow the master to alter his plan to thwart the players' new knowledge or feed the players misinformation through a second subject, carefully put in the players' path for this purpose.

Good luck.

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I don't know how trigger happy the party might be, but if they don't immediately jump to magic, there are some fantastic anti-interrogation techniques that work in the real world.

The one that comes to mind is if the demon starts "spilling the beans" with "useful" information that all turns out to be time wasters. He could lead them into dangerous traps that don't give them what they want, but if they're perceptive, it could give some clue as to what they need to do to get the information they seek.

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One useful characteristic you might add to the demon is "Immunity to Domination Spells"---which makes sense, in my opinion: Elves cannot be magically put to sleep, if I recall (thus, immune to sleep spells) and there are immunities, such as immunity to fire, and so there is no reason that having an immunity to domination might not be feasible.

Possibilities could be endless: there could be a rune on him that could be dispelled; hey could carry in his possession a charm that makes him immune; it could also be inherent in his demonic flesh and blood.

I truly like this method the most, as it makes sense. In common folk lore, it is a demon that is doing the possessing, and so one might expect them to be able to fight back.

I hope that this helps.

Here is a Unicorn for an example regarding a resistance to charm: http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/unicorn.htm

It's no stretch that he could be immune.

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This answer addresses fundamental problems which lead to GMs having problems such as what you stated. The following is a summary:

  1. Balanced PCs make it easier to create challenges.
  2. There are a number of mechanics in the game that are rarely utilized which can make this easier for you.
  3. Time and resource management are fundamental tools of the GM to create challenges, and create dramatic tension.
  4. Consider the odds that a single Dominate power will work on an evenly balanced challenge vs a demon.
  5. Consider precisely how the various mechanics work.

I will begin the answer with a discussion on Psions vs Wizards. Why? Understanding those two classes is fundamental to creating mid to high level challenges. It also creates an appreciation for the problems that each respective class goes through.

Modifying the rule system to counter their domination is unnecessary. Why?

My first justification for this view is that the Psion (or Wizard) is using up resources in order to cast Domination. Thus, so long as time and resources matter in your campaign, then the spells/psionics are balanced against this fact.

My second justification for this view is that Psions are typically limited in the number of powers they possess. This is a signature ability of the class - i.e, the player's time to shine.

Thirdly, lets consider the differences between Psion and Wizard in this very specific regard. The Psion has the ability to Dominate Monster earlier than a Wizard (Wizard Level 18 vs Psion Level 11). But the Psion's Dominate is limited in power, and gradually grows stronger.

I highly suggest gaining a detailed understanding of the way Psionics works.

The variables of a power’s effect often depend on its manifester level, which is equal to your psionic class level. A power that can be augmented for additional effect is also limited by your manifester level (you can’t spend more power points on a power than your manifester level) - d20srd.org

What does this mean? It means that Dominating an Outsider is something that the Psion has recently achieved - since you stated that the Psion is 11th level. It is equivalent to (in terms of resource cost and limitation of access) the most intense power the character can possibly manifest.

Another consequence of this is that the Psion's duration has tactical implications.

If you spend 1 additional power point, this power’s duration is 1 hour rather than concentration. If you spend 2 additional power points, this power’s duration is 1 day rather than concentration. If you spend 4 additional power points, this power’s duration is 1 day per manifester level rather than concentration. - d20srd.org

The Psion is unable to increase the duration at Level 11 with Dominate when dominating an Outsider. So yes, the Wizard gets it later. But the Psionic version has weaknesses.

Given that he is Level 11. Let us assume he started with INT 18. Maybe +2 from Race (this information wasnt given in the question). +2 INT from Levels. Perhaps +2 INT from items. Then his INT is 24. So his PP is 106+132. (Maybe less if he has no racial bonus, in that case 106+121).

Most intelligent demons have Dispel Magic. This can tear away at the magical defences of the players - thus posing an increased resource cost on them. Indiscriminate bombardment of Dispell Magic (which many demons have free access to) can cause problems for the PCs.

The spells necessary to hold a Demon in place are another resource cost on the players.

Alot of problems with regards to creating challenges for the players, such as what you stated, stem from the fact Magic Item rules are not used properly. Remember that +4 ability score boosting items are balanced for Level 14 characters. See Magic Item Compendium Page 226.

If you tone down the items, then the encounters become more statistically challenging.

"In general, PCs should own items of their own character level or lower." - magic item compendium

The other two limitations to magic items are:

Where do you acquire it? Settlements have gp limitations which is actually a significant problem when it comes to acquiring new magical items.

Secondly, only a certain % of your wealth can be spent on a single item at character creation.

Thirdly, the chance of acquiring a vast array of ability score boosting items using the existing treasure tables is pretty low. Possible. But low. If you have been allowing the Players to treat the magic item lists as shopping lists, then creating challenges will be harder for you.

So, there are a number of mechanics in the game that tone down the PCs and are often forgotten by GMs and Players. So if you are having problems with PCs just brute forcing their way through problems, looking at the existing mechanics such as these may tone down that strategy.

“You know what the subject is experiencing, but you do not receive direct sensory input from it, nor can it communicate with you telepathically.” - d20srd

It is a demon. It chews out its own tongue. Its not really explicitly stated in the game that you need a tongue to speak. Common sense ruling allows it, however.

“They ask who it’s master is.” - problem with Domination

The demon only knows the subordinate master that communicates to it.

If the demon is of any importance, higher up demons might have tampered with its memory, or flat out bluffed the crap out of it.

“full sensory input as interpreted by the mind of the subject” - d20srd.org

Point 1 - Ad hoc: Even comprehending the mind of the demon could be subject the caster to madness checks.

Point 2 - The demon’s mind is insane. He interprets in messed up ways. He sees conspiracies where there are none, insults where none exist, paranoid of being betrayed by higher ups. All the speculations could throw the players in a loop. Effectively, the demon is not human, so dont answer questions from a human perspective. Answer them from a more eternal, infernal, perspective.

“Subjects resist this control, and any subject forced to take actions against its nature receives a new saving throw with a +2 bonus.” - d20srd.org

Speaking honestly could be argued to be against its nature. In fact, there are so many ways one could infer this for a demon. Thus, this could chunk a good amount of resources from the Psion, depending on dice rolls.

“Once control is established, the range at which it can be exercised is unlimited, as long as you and the subject are on the same plane.” - d20srd.org

If the demon is important, it could be watched by Clairvoyance. Such a caster/demon might interfere - perhaps send reinforcements, or teleport the demon to a different plane (if possible).

Depending on how you interpret Intelligence ability score in D&D (there are many schools of thought on this topic, which I will not go into), you could argue that its superiors simply don’t give it sophisticated information related to their strategy.

Genius demons will create genius tier plans. It is not within its ability of the lowly demon to grasp plans of machiavellian complexity which is dependent on an understanding of fuzzy logic or chaos theory, and the psychology of individual humans and large groups. The motto: Plans within plans, applies here.

The typical Balor is smarter than almost every Human (other than the most experienced Wizards and a select few other peoples).

If you wish further inspiration with these ideas, I suggest looking into Frank Herbert's Dune. Remember, the very nature of the plot and conspiracy can be the challenge. It does not necessarily need to be a challenge that can be solved with dice rolls.

Another source of influence is Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss. There are a ton of ideas there.

The Nightmare spell (see d20srd.org). By the book it applies to arcane spell casters. So, if you are using the standard rule that "psionics is NOT different", then it could apply. It is reasonable to think so. Why should nightmares affect a Wizard but not a Psion?

Let us assume the Demon is a Hezrou (with CR 11, so a fair challenge for the party). Its base Will Save is +9. If you believe that being honest about anything is against its nature, then its will save is +11. If you restricted magic items, then the DC of the dominate will be:

A saving throw against your power has a DC 10 + the level of the power + your key ability modifier (Intelligence for a psion, Wisdom for a psychic warrior, or Charisma for a wilder). A power’s level can vary depending on your class.

In addition, for every 2 additional power points you spend to achieve any of these effects, this power’s save DC increases by 1.

So DC 21 (10 base, +7 from INT, +2 from augment, +2 from psionic focus and greater psionic focus).

So, Dominate has a roughly 50:50 shot of working on it. However...

If your power is being resisted by a creature with power resistance, you must make a manifester level check (d20 + manifester level) at least equal to the creature’s power resistance for the power to affect that creature.

The Hezrou has a SR of 19. So typically this means there is a 30-40% chance of failure due to this. Alot of GMs forget to use Spell Resistance / Power Resistance.

Also... this does not take into account the number of ways in which a Hezrou can force Concentration checks.

So, the chance of a single Domination working to solve the challenge is low! Very very low considering the potential forced re-rolls!

A possible challenge: Understanding its true nature, and carefully constructing commands so as to not go against its nature adds to the challenge (and provides a mechanical reward in the form of spells succeeding more and with less forced re-rolls)

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"RAI" is a really problematic term that we try to avoid here; if you are going to use it, you really have to present specific evidence (author commentary, which is rare, or literary analysis of the text to back up the claim of authorial intent, which is usually off-topic). Using it to just mean "not-RAW" is frowned upon because there is ambiguity and because "not-RAW" is the default here. And in any case, the suggestion you make labeled "RAI" is arguably valid by RAW anyway. –  KRyan Jul 31 at 14:03
    
That said, welcome to the site! If you haven't, you should check out the Tour; it doesn't get into RAI specifically, but the feelings about RAI are an extension of our Back It Up! principle and come from our goals outlined in the tour. And when you get 20 rep, feel free to join us in the Role-playing Games Chat! –  KRyan Jul 31 at 14:04
    
Thanks. I will edit my post accordingly. –  Bertrand Jul 31 at 14:09
    
Very good, +1 for you! –  KRyan Jul 31 at 14:21
    
+1. But your most important sentence is "This is ... the player's time to shine." - These are all great ways of making sure there is a challenge. But be really wary of completely nerfing the Psion player who built his character so it could do exactly this sort of thing. –  perfectionist Aug 4 at 16:33

Layer your minds

3.5 has such a multitude of spells and abilities that almost anything goes; what you could use is a multi layer mind.

Demons are complex beings and you can happily rule (in your universe) that dominating the demon controls only the physical form the daemon has and as such that form is utterly controlled by the character, the inner otherworldly essence of the demon is still hostile.

Eh?

So the players dominate the demon; turn this into a roleplaying scene where there are two parts of the demon, the part that's trying to help them (and is dominated) and the part that is trying to resist them, use a very slightly different voice for the demon that's resisting so the players can tell them apart and this becomes a diplomacy/roleplaying scene rather than a cast spell/done scene.

Think maybe a good demon/bad demon routine.

Unfortunately with many games that have magic/supernatural abilities as the players reach higher levels of power many things that are difficult become trivial.

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While I think that it's a great idea, I'd like to add that this is clearly houserule territory and as far as I know there are no actual rules supporting it. –  Andy Jul 30 at 11:39

So clearly the demon will have mind blank cast upon it, with whatever amount of extension cheese you're comfortable with. (Mainly, if your players have used divine metamagic - persist spell, so can you). With Craft Contingent spell with feeblemind on it (obviously this is framed as a "it will allow you revenge on your enemies") with the trigger being "when mind blank expires and the demon is not "home"). There is likely another trigger for the Banishment spell, which, cutely, is not teleportation, though it does take some effort to set up for the plane desired.

Therefore, the party will have to figure out how to suppress mind blank and the demon's natural summoning capabilities without triggering feeblemind. Worst case is an anti-magic field where the demon uses its natural deceit to spin a farrago of lies. Best case, if the party triggers feeblemind, a day likely has to pass before the demon can be healed.

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I'm not familiar with D&D spells and items so I don't have a specific advice, but you could cast a spell or add an item to the prison, so that no one other could cast a spell. Like a magical or physical barrier.

It would also absolutely make sense that one cannot use magic in a prison - especially if a DEMON is inside.

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Perhaps the prisoner has been hypnotised in some fashion. If they believe what they are saying is the truth then no amount of domination or detecting of lies will reveal the falsehood. In this case, maybe the questioners notice logical inconsistencies in the story they are hearing, which indicates something is not right.

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