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I am going to be a first-time DM for my group. While I was planning the first session, I just thought about my players interrogating (torturing) a creature.

If a character tries an Intimidation (or Persuasion) check, do they know if they succeeded in intimidating (or persuading) their target? Could the captive enemy act convinced and lie to them?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "do they know if they succeed?" — succeed with what? what did they try to achieve? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jan 4 '19 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: "What rolls should the players get to see?" Not a direct duplicate, but related. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/102063/… \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 5 '19 at 3:29
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In my experience, the players should know the result of their roll. You don't need to tell them bluntly yes you succeeded or no, you can add flavour to it - say they rolled a 10 on intimidation and if it's not enough to get the prisoner to spill everything to the PCs, you can comment 'he twitches at you, eyes dancing between you, but his lips are sealed'

Alternatively if you want the prisoner to try and defend against an intimidation/persuasion, you can have him make a roll against the PCs roll.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would argue completely the opposite to your first part, but then agree with the latter. The players shouldn't be told about the result of their roll at all; Not only will they get an idea of the attributes of the thing they're dealing with, but it takes all the role playing out of it. They should just be told what the reaction of the NPC is to them. \$\endgroup\$ – UKMonkey Jan 4 '19 at 16:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @UKMonkey perhaps I'm wrong but the answer seems to say the flavor/reaction /IS/ what tells them whether they succeeded, not an absolute yes/no answer \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 4 '19 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 reread the first sentence. "In my experience, the players should know the result of their roll." This is not the same as knowing the reaction to what they attempted. \$\endgroup\$ – UKMonkey Jan 4 '19 at 16:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @UKMonkey That is also how I would interpret it, so I understand where you're coming from, but we have to remember meaning relativity: the precise meaning of the word "result" is fairly relative to the frame of mind while reading the sentence, since the word "result" can in practice refer to not only things that are immediately caused by the thing, but also things that are indirectly or partially caused by it. The difference between "result of a result of" and "partially the result of" and just "result of" is almost always just a difference in what details or abstractions we're thinking of. \$\endgroup\$ – mtraceur Jan 4 '19 at 19:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mtraceur Given that the follow up is a solid example of "you don't need to tell them bluntly yes or no" I would say that frame of mind doesn't matter. In either case - if I agree with you that frame of mind matters, it makes the answer unclear, which STILL makes it a bad answer. \$\endgroup\$ – UKMonkey Jan 7 '19 at 10:21
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They know it worked, but they can't know the consequences

Let's say the PC is scaring a poor goblin. You, the DM, ask the player to roll a Charisma (Intimidation) check. The player rolls 18, 22 total — a pretty high result, so the player can guess he succeeded. You, the DM, describe the goblin being trembling with fear.

From the game perspective, the character can say the goblin is definitely scared. So yes, he knows his intimidation worked. But does this mean the goblin cannot lie?

Being good at intimidation does not turn you into a lie detector. Moreover, a scared person probably will lie, because of the fear. They won't tell you the truth, they will tell you they think you want to hear.

For example, Horde of the Dragon Queen adventure describes this kind of reaction:

Captured kobolds are terrified: they say whatever they think the questioner wants to hear

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    \$\begingroup\$ Some people are good actors, but from personal real-life experience, actual intimidation is pretty easy to spot, and "acting" an involuntary reaction is also pretty easy to spot. But of course this answer is right that responses given under this kind of duress will almost always be what the intimidated party thinks you want said/done. \$\endgroup\$ – T.E.D. Jan 5 '19 at 16:06
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Usually yes, a player should know if their check succeeded or failed.

You could make it more ambiguous if you wanted to though as you mentioned in your last sentence. If your NPC is trying to hide some information and the intimidation check failed, you could roll a deception check for them. In this case the NPC might pretend to be frightened and give false information under the pre-tense that the player characters believe they intimidated them. In this case, only a successful insight check competed against the deception check would reveal the truth.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Noting that, in reality, Intimidation is quite likely to result in some manner of answer from most "normal" citizens in an attempt to appease the PC. Even a NPC not knowing the information may attempt to "volunteer" something. As such... Intimidation should really be coupled with Insight for best results. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jan 4 '19 at 16:58
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The PCs may or may not know whether they have failed depending on how the skill check is set up. Obviously the PCs would know if they failed to intimidate a bandit into backing down, but they wouldn't necessarily know whether they're being deceived or not.

The scenario you gave seems like a good place for a Contest, as described in the Player's Handbook, p.174.

The PC and the monster make an ability roll each, and then compare the results to determine who wins. If the monster is just going to hold out against torture, then it would probably be a Constitution roll versus Charisma(Intimidation). If the monster wants to pretend to break while actually lying, that's obviously a Charisma(Deception) roll versus the PCs' Charisma(Intimidation).

Since the PCs shouldn't necessarily know if they've been bluffed, it's a good idea to roll your monster's deception behind a screen in this case, and of course don't tell them you're rolling Deception.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this approach. Your hidden roll could be deception, persuasion, or just constitution. Either way you tell the player the outcome in terms of description rather than winning/losing roll and they have to decide what to do. \$\endgroup\$ – jerclarke Nov 18 '19 at 19:37
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Whether they got the prisoner to talk is obvious.

Is he talking? Then you got him to talk. (Mechanically you can handle this several ways, but the simplest is to just assume that they crank up the pressure until he talks. Unless you're under very tight time limits or the prisoner is likely to escape, there's not really any other outcome.)

Whether he's lying, or holding something back, is not obvious.

This is where your players learn an important fact about torture.

Before we roll skill checks we should know what success and failure look like. The interrogation is going to continue until the party believes they've gotten the answers they want from the prisoner. Success means that those answers are correct. Failure means they're incorrect or incomplete.

If the guy has no reason to lie or hold back, then they can't fail. Just tell them everything he knows.

Suppose he does want to lie. That's a Deception check. Since the PHB doesn't spell this out: the DC for a Deception check to hide information is the Passive Insight of whoever you're talking to. Hopefully the players will be smart enough to have their highest-Insight guy involved in the interrogation.

(If anyone asks if they can "make an Insight check", I recommend giving a steely glare and asking what exactly their character is doing to "gain insight".)

The Deception check should be a hidden roll. If it fails, then you tell the player a plausible lie. If it succeeds, tell them the truth. Either way, tell them they're pretty sure from the guy's body language and tone of voice that it's true. This summarizes the whole process of asking questions, getting lied to or distracted, scaring the guy again, asking more questions, etc. into one roll that determines the outcome we care about.

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Players know what players know and Characters know what Characters know.

Joe is playing Silk the Thief. Silk encounters a vault door for Farln the Mad Trapper. Joe rolls Find Traps and gets a decent but unimpressive roll. GM: "You find no traps." Joe: "Wait, There arn't any traps? Or there IS a trap and I didn't find it?" GM: "Silk found no traps." GM leans back with a grin Joe can decide that Silk is feeling paranoid and search again, or he can decide Silk is good enough to find even the worst Farln has to offer and open the door.. its up to him.

Some successes are obvious.. you hit the orc. Some, are not. If the party is successful on the intimidation, the creature should give honest information, or reveal its lack of information. If they fail, the creature may lie, or clam up, unintentionally give bad info, or any other non-helpful response you can think of. Now, if it lies, you would give your PCs a Sense Motive / Detect Lies roll as appropriate, but I would usually make that roll for them so they don't Meta-Game know they failed. Depends on your players honestly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Sense Motive / Detect Lies roll" - Neither of those are 5e skills. I assume you're thinking of Insight :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 5 '19 at 1:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast, The downside of playing 3.5, pathfinder, 5e, and GURPS more or less all at the same time... I completely forget what the precise names for each skill is.... \$\endgroup\$ – Corbin Matheson Jan 9 '19 at 12:49

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