We make clear in our Game Statement that torture is an adult theme that you might expect to encounter in Falling Down. It comes up a lot in all sorts of fiction, as well as in the real world, and it’s powerfully emotive.

What it isn’t, however, is an effective way to gather human intelligence. Most authorities on the matter agree that intelligence gained through torture is unreliable at best. It turns out that people will say pretty much anything to stop themselves being hurt, and that often that stuff is completely false.

For example, the Tera Shebans (and the Joanites of the Watch) use torture against the Fallen all the time in the published Tribe 8 material. They use it to gather info even though Aspects like Truthsaying or the clever application of Conjunctional Synthesis of other forms is infinitely more reliable. They use it, often not really caring about the answers they get - they use it to humiliate and degrade the “leaders” of the Fallen, and to break the spirit of the rest of the “Eighth Tribe.”

(It doesn’t work for that purpose either, as it happens, but that’s someone else’s story!)

So, what does this mean for Falling Down? Well, sort of nothing and everything. You should still expect to encounter torture as a theme in the game. It's a powerful theme and act of one person attempting to impose their will on another - to take away their agency. We would hope that those characters who do it will be the ones who rationalise it or desire it for all sorts of reasons that make them deeper and more compelling. We'd also hope that other characters might be horrified, or grimly accepting of torture if they encounter it. Ideally, it should express and provoke interpersonal conflict.

On an OC level, you should still feel free to enact torture on NPCs or PCs alike (obviously don’t actually hurt them, and don’t touch people in a way they haven’t consented to, though!). There is, however, no mechanical support for this - they are under no obligation to provide you with accurate or detailed information, or information of any kind if they don’t think their character would do so. And if you’re being tortured, please keep in mind that spilling all kinds of nonsense is an absolutely valid response! Ideally, victims of torture should give the information they think the torturer wants to hear rather than accurate information - in fact, it should be less accurate than information gained through more reasonable measures, and people who suffer torture should have long-term consequences to their physical and mental health - in a roleplay sense rather than a “numbers” sense.

Mechanically, the ways to find out withheld information are all very much in the realm of Synthesis - Intuitive Mystery or Truth, for example, or the Truthsaying Aspect. Even these can’t make someone tell you the truth - they can just make it hard/deeply unwise for them to lie, and they might not want to say anything. So perhaps combining torture and Synthesis is your best bet after all…but again, that’s down to their and your roleplaying (and how that intersects with the rules).

We've designed it this way because Falling Down is a game about truth, deception, power and agency (among other things). We want our evil acts to be driven by characters rather than numbers, and we want them to have heavy consequences. The world is nasty and brutal and horrible things happen, but not for any reliable or positive reason. Your character might believe torture works, or is fun, or acceptable in some circumstances, but that doesn't make it any better at finding the truth. That requires the spark of humanity expressed in Synthesis.

(This post inspired by a lengthy and excellent discussion on one of our players' Facebook pages over Christmas, with particular thanks going to Red Claire, some of whose comments we have directly quoted above)

reflections_on_torture.txt · Last modified: 2015/03/25 10:03 by joe
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