Using T0rtvre

I had to change the title and content of this article because of the disturbing number of people who search “t0rtvre” and find this blog.  Not D&D specific, mind you, just that one word.  So I’ve changed every instance of the word in this article in the hopes that I’ll be demoted in Google’s rankings, while still preserving its usefulness to DMs.

The subject of this post most likely has made you a bit uncomfortable. I will freely admit that, even as I type this, I too am a bit uncomfortable with the idea of using t0rtvre in my campaign. That’s a good thing. It makes you normal.  Hang on to that feeling as you read this. Having said that, I am going to delve into an argument for using t0rtvre in a campaign, and then give you a bit of homebrew “crunch” to help you implement it.

Before I begin, let me point out that there are two ways to use t0rtvre in your campaign.  There’s t0rtvre that the PCs inflict on NPCs, and there’s t0rtvre of PCs by NPCs. I’m not going to discuss the first kind of t0rtvre. There is a wide range of opinions on that subject, but  in the end it’s a decision that is made by your specific group.  Whether or not you want to put your players in the position of “we need this information NOW and this is the ONLY way to get it!” is up to you, and I can’t really answer how your group will react to such a situation.  Recently, television series have explored the use of t0rtvre by the heroes of the narrative, and whether it’s ok. “Lost” and “24” spring immediately to mind. You may want to start there if you’re considering allowing the PCs to use t0rtvre.

Argument

There is a long cinematic and literary tradition of villans using t0rtvre on the heroes of the story. If not t0rtvre, often a “slow, painful death” which isn’t really that far from t0rtvre. Wesley is t0rtvred in Princess Bride. James Bond is t0rtvred in Casino Royale. Han Solo is t0rtvred in Cloud City. There is an entire “Legend of the Seeker” episode depicting Richard being t0rtvred by his captors (yes, I watch Legend of the Seeker). And those are just the examples that come immediately to mind. While we may cringe at such a scene, we accept it as a plot device because the evil nemesis in the story is the one perpetrating the t0rtvre.

Considering this, why don’t we see t0rtvre more often (if at all!) in our campaigns?  Chances are, the DM is uncomfortable t0rtvring a PC; perhaps the DM feels he is condoning t0rtvre by using it, or perhaps there is a feeling of “I am doing this” rather than “the evil NPC is doing this.”  Neither of these statements are true.  Here is a statement that is true: sometimes, doing what is uncomfortable can take you to new and unexpected places; this is especially true when you’re telling a story.  Even though the idea of t0rtvre makes us uncomfortable, it is an appropriate thing for the villans in our stories to do.  You may find at some point that putting your reservations aside and using a villan to t0rtvre one of your PCs will move the story forward, make the villan that much more despicable, and create very real dramatic tension.

Problem

Assuming you agree, the problem with t0rtvre isn’t necessarily a moral one, but a logistic one.  In other words, how do we use t0rtvre when the party usually stays together?  Using NPCs to rescue the party from a t0rtvrer makes them the victims, not the heroes.  T0rtvre is only an effective plot device when the party has been split in some way.  Ideally, one party member is somehow separated from the rest, and the focus of the adventure suddenly becomes rescue of the missing comrade.  Here are a few ideas to help; whether you want to take advantage of such a situation if it arises, or if you want to deliberately create such a situation is completely up to you.

  • Instead of a TPK, some party members flee a fight, leaving the dying behind.
  • In the middle of a fight, some bad guys drag one party member away.
  • A party member voluntarily leaves the rest of the party to explore on their own.
  • Middle of the night abduction
  • A party member is captured between adventures

Crunch

Here is what I came up with to houserule t0rtvre.  In my mind, there are two distinct aspects to defining t0rtvre.  First, the t0rtvrer needs to make the PC feel pain.  That will be an attack against their Fortitude defense.  Second, in response, the PC will need to wall off their mind from the pain so that they do not break.  That will be an Endurance check.  We also need to consider what will happen when the PC eventually breaks; the results of failure will depend largely upon the intent behind the t0rtvre, whether it be for information, to dominate the subject, or simply a means of slow death.   So here’s how the mechanic is going to work in my game:

I don’t want to treat the attack versus Fortitude as an “in combat” attack.  So we’re going to write that part up as a ritual, with a 1 hour “casting” time.  There will still be an attack roll however; the 1 hour prerequisite simply precludes an NPC from using this in combat.  It assumes that, for t0rtvre to be effective, the t0rtvrer needs ample time and the right environment.  Combat allows neither.  The attack roll will be based upon Wisdom.  I chose Wisdom primarily because that’s the ability tied to Heal; it seems to me that Heal, while generally considered the opposite of t0rtvre, would encompass knowledge of human anatomy.  If the PC is hit by this attack, the t0rtvrer is considered to have inflicted excruciating pain upon the PC, and the PC must now make an Endurance check to try and keep their mind from breaking under the intense physical pain.  For every Endurance check failure, the PC loses a healing surge.  Failure with no surges left is a complete breakdown of the PCs mind and body.  The t0rtvrer has won.  You could also use a “3 strikes” rule instead of losing surges – things would go faster, but the relative “hardiness” of high CON characters wouldn’t show through.

So what happens when the t0rtvrer wins? That depends upon the intent of the t0rtvre.  If the t0rtvrer is looking for information, it is conceivable that there could be bluff or intimidation checks after each failed endurance check.  In the spirit of simplicity, however, I’ll use one of three conditions: Compliant, Catatonic, or Dead.  The t0rtvrer chooses one of them when the subject is broken.  Compliant means the PC will do whatever the NPC asks, and willingly give true information.  In the future, the PC has a -5 to attack the NPC (in the event they escape, or attempt to).  Catatonic is a breaking of the mind, reducing all the PCs mental stats to 1.  Dead is, well, dead.

Here is a PDF of the rules, outlined as a ritual.

The wording of all this is intentionally vague; whether you want to describe in detail what is going on, or whether you want to simply say, “you’re being t0rtvred” is, again, up to you. 

A Warning

Please pay attention to your players and their responses to the t0rtvre.  If they seem excited rather than concerned, you should probably abandon the use of t0rtvre as a plot device.  If they seem eager to t0rtvre every single person or monster they come across, you should probably abandon the use of t0rtvre.  Also, I wouldn’t recommend using t0rtvre on a regular basis; like most extraordinary circumstances in our campaigns, less is more.  Once is usually enough.

Even if you’re not intending on using t0rtvre in your campaign, I hope I’ve at least given you something to think about.  I’d love to hear some thoughts.  It t0rtvre ever appropriate? Would you ever let the PCs do it?


3 thoughts on “Using T0rtvre

  1. BrianLiberge

    I find my players more often being the t0rtvrers, rather than the other was around. However, in either scenario my first instinct has been treat it a bit like a skill challenge, which was worked out quite well.

    Once an enemy is properly subdued, it really doesn’t take much skill simply to cause pain, so I don’t use Fortitude at all. I’ve always considered t0rtvre a bit of a mental issue. The t0rtvrer uses Intimidate as the primary skill, will Will being the target with modifiers do to circumstances. The Modifiers are often key, rewarding a players cleverness. Breaking a person’s fingers one by one is certainly t0rtvre, but waiting till you’re in a dark damp basement, invading the person’s memories with psionic powers and then having the wizard create twisted illusions in another matter entirely.

    Depending on the nature of the t0rtvre I have allowed Endurance to be used as a defense instead of Will and other skills to be used secondarily. A good bluff can be just as useful as an intimidate sometimes.

    Reply
    1. Benoit Post author

      I did consider t0rtvre as a skill challenge, but that only really works on the PC side of the equation. I really wanted something for an NPC to do, and with concrete results. The players feel the mounting urgency of losing healing surges as a kind of clock ticking, I think. Especially if they don’t know what happens when they run out of healing surges, and still haven’t been rescued. Your comments about an attack vs. will are well made, and I can certainly see that as an alternative to an attack vs. fortitude.

      Reply
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