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My Human Shadow Magic Sorcerer attempted to intimidate a captive NPC cultist in order to extract information from him.

After the intimidation succeeded, as announced by the DM, the NPC was extremely cocky and pugnacious towards my character in a way that seemed to me like he was provoking my character to kill him.

Is this a valid "response" to a successful intimidation?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this needs to be closed, because the answer it has attracted isn't opinion based. If it does come to attract poor answers I will be proven wrong, but this has a useful (non-opinion) answer already, so I think we should give it the benefit of the doubt. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Feb 20 at 11:28
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A badly chosen approach to a situation can guarantee narrative failure in spite of mechanical success. I'm fairly confident that's what happened here.

From the info you've given, the situation was that your character had a cultist at his mercy. Just describing them as a cultist suggests a primarily fanatic devotion to a cause greater than themselves, and in some cases a willingness to die furthering said cause or even an eagerness to be martyred for it. Your GM confirmed that this was largely the case. If the cultist wants to protect cult secrets by taking them to the grave more than they want to live as a betrayer, offering to kill them if they don't comply is literally giving them what they really want. That's not intimidation, no matter what the skill check die shows.

The GM describing it as successful Intimidation wasn't wrong, if your roll beat the DC, but it definitely sent you the wrong message. In fact, there's an argument to be made that your GM shouldn't have let you roll at all. Letting you make the Intimidation check in the first place, if they knew your chosen approach would make the task impossible, gives you the illusion that narrative success was still possible if you rolled well enough and sets you up for disappointment if the check Succeeds. What they could have done instead was make the failure of the approach more visible: either through in game descriptions such as "At the mention of death, he looks suddenly at you like a kid in a candy store." or outright tell you "You just threatened a death seeker... with death. He laughs and dares you to get on with it. You'll need a different leverage on him if you want him to spill the beans."

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Is this a valid "response" to a successful intimidation check?

Only Your GM Knows

Any response can be valid because your GM knows things that you and your PC don't. Maybe this NPC reacts like this when he's intimidated because of something that has happened to him in the past. In this case, the answer would be YES.

Maybe your GM did not foresee the successful intimidation of this NPC and he reacted poorly to not kill a crucial part of a plot. In this case, the answer would be NO.


Have you talked with your GM? If not, please do. Explain to him out of game that you found the NPC's reaction weird. Your GM will either say that they did not roleplay this part as well as they could or that the NPC's reaction is perfectly normal for reasons your PC wouldn't know.


EDIT: The comments made by @NathanS add a lot so I'm also including them here. The gist is that you have successfully intimidiated this NPC, but not all people react the same way to a feeling. As @NathanS said, the NPC may be insane or maybe he's trained to respond like this, etc. If you had rolled for an insight check you would have known that he's merely playing it cool.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this answer; I've recently had situations where my players intimidated goblins and hobgoblins. The goblins reacted as you would expect, like cowards who spill the beans about their plans easily. The hobgoblins were much more tight lipped and "do your worst", not fearing death, which was somewhat surprising to my players after how successful the goblin interrogations were (I read up on hobgoblins in the MM and VGtE beforehand just to be sure how they'd react). In short, individual NPCs (of varying races or upbringings) may not think or react like how you'd expect... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 20 at 10:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Valamorde Still, there are explanations; maybe he's insane, maybe it's a "fight" response (as per "fight/flight" responses to danger), maybe he's been trained to react that way to attempts to get him to be intimidated into divulging information, maybe he's ... etc, etc. As Aventinus says, only your DM knows (or, I'm barking up the wrong tree and the DM simply made a mistake, but that possibility is also acknowledged in this answer). \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 20 at 10:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Valamorde You assume that there is only one way to responde to a feeling. People feel intimidiated all the time, not all of them start crying or begging for their freedom. Some may act with rage, others may try to rationalize things, etc. Yet, deep inside they feel terrified. In this case, you successfully intimidiated this person. Maybe, if you had rolled for an insight check you would have known that he's merely playing it cool. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Feb 20 at 10:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ By the way, aggression as a reaction to fear is perfectly normal — "That instinct, the well-known “fight or flight response”, causes the person either to fend off that threat or to run away from it. ... In social interactions, the “fight” can be expressed as bossiness, defensiveness, provocation, belligerence, and non-compliance" jbrf.org/more-about-fear-aggression-and-anxiety \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Feb 20 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is excellent. I would add that reacting with anger is not the stereotypical expected, or generally desired reaction. If I was playing with a DM who had a lot of NPCs react that way to a successful intimidation. That said, in real life people do sometimes cover fear with anger at times. It can even make sense when what you fear most is something other than your death or injury... \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Feb 20 at 17:29

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