How many times have you, as a player or GM, had characters face the long arm of the law? Usually this isn’t a happy meeting, since most characters have (at one time or another) broken the law at some point. Yes, you might say “My group’s conscience is clear like a Paladin’s heart,” but even the chivalric life of a Paladin might be considered a crime in a kingdom dominated by the followers of chaos or evil.
So, don’t worry – there are no “innocent” characters. There are only those who were not interrogated properly.
Here are some tips and tricks showing how to play things out when characters get arrested…
Detention of PCs may be a good idea for part of an adventure or it can even be an adventure itself. But before you decide to put adventurers behind bars, you will need to make some preparations.
Being arrested is almost always something PCs do not expect. They’ve usually managed to avoid law enforcers so many times that when they finally get caught, it should be kind of a shock. The best way is to arrange an arrest scene in a moment they won’t even think about being stopped. Maybe they will drop in to a local pub, try to load some resources onto their spaceship, or meet an informant at an inn.
This first shock will be your ally. Use it.
Don’t let the PCs stop to think about what to do. Law enforcers should act with surprise on their side. It’s not like they’re going to send an invitation to the PCs. Instead, they will prepare a trap.
Also don’t forget that law enforcers are not law enforcers by accident. They are very well trained. They are organized. They have a plan and the means to implement it. When they want to hunt down and interrogate the PCs, they are prepared and will strike at the least expected moment.
Your players might protest and say, ”But the town militia is bunch of stupid and stubborn men!” Well, it may be true. It is up to you how you see and describe them. But it does not change one thing: they are numerous and organized. Catching PCs may be more difficult for them, but they will do it.
The best way to play out an arrest adventure is to run your game session in a place where you will be able to use a few rooms. Use the space available to you. If you have the gaming room, kitchen and bathroom, use them all. Why? Because after being detained it can be very useful to separate the PCs. Remember: isolation is the key to a successful interrogation. As a game master you can separate your players and travel from room to room to role-play the situation. The best solution is to have one more free room for an interrogation chamber.
Another important thing to do before your game session: document your PCs past “achievements”. It means gathering information about previous events when the PCs broke the law. During the interrogation that information will be your asset – the PCs will probably not remember exactly what they did and how they did it. You will. And they may be surprised how much the law enforcers, through the game master, know about the PC‘s past activities.
After a surprise arrest, the players will have to be separated. Take each player to a different room. It should – from the very beginning – make them anxious. After shock, isolation is the second tool of law enforcers. They will not leave PCs chit-chatting
in a waiting room. They will separate them as soon as possible. This is the condition of sucessful interrogation.
So the isolated player’s characters will start to ask themselves questions: What and why happened? What to do? What to say?
You can inform the players that everything their PCs have possessed is now taken away from them. Particularly paranoid and sneaky PCs may have something hidden especially for such an event like a lockpick or paper clip. But do not let the players communicate. Do they have mobiles? Take them away for gaming time.
Do not answer any questions. If someone starts demanding answers, you can say: Soon you will get all your answers, but I will be the one who asks questions.
Or simply: Don’t worry, soon you will be interrogated.
You can also leave a spark of hope: I am sure it is a misunderstanding and it will all be explained as soon as possible.
Then leave players with their thoughts. Most will not know where you are. Maybe with another player? Maybe you left to buy snacks? Whatever you do in this moment, their imagination will work for to your advantage.
Then visit every player, pretending to be a guard, and order them to go to sleep. Then have a cup of coffee. The real game will start soon…
Interrogations usually consist of three parts.
1. Checking the identity of the suspect. This is a good moment to make PCs feel nervous again.
Just go into the room and ask: What is your name? Your occupation? Age?
Write it down and give it to the player to sign. These are only simple bits of information about their identity, nothing more. But players will hestitate before signing. Psychology makes them do so.
What if they refuse to answer questions about their identity? It makes things worse for them. You can say for example: Don’t worry, we know who you are and what you did. We are not mistaken.
2. Free speech of the suspect.
Just walk into the room with the player or take him/her to your interrogation chamber and say nothing. If s/he starts to speak anything, ask “helpful” questions.
- Do you know why you’re here?
- Do you know what can happen to you?
Try not to answer any of the PC’s questions, but repeat yours. You should also suggest that the PC should start talking. If he/she chooses not to communicate, leave him/her alone – just say: You’ve had your chance to come clean. Soon we will start discussing the details.
3. Questioning of the suspect.
The most important part of the interrogation starts here. Now is the time to force PCs to speak. And play with them, because they should not know what the other PCs said.
Start with simple information. Tell a player’s character what will happen when s/he lies. Don’t play “good and bad cop.” Players know about it from the movies and television. Instead just use more psychology.
Start asking questions. If a PC is stubborn and does not want to answer, there are several ways – without using force – to make her/him feel that not talking isn’t helping their situation.
For example, you might say: Your friend X [another PC] has said a lot of interesting things. They do not put you in good light.
- X [name of PC who was not fitting into the group] has been working for us for a long time. We know everything. X will finish his report before Noon and then he will be free to go while you sit here for who knows how long.
Or try to recruit him/her by saying:
- I have found some questionable details in the testimony from X. I believe you can correct them.
This is an idea of how to make some unusual gaming session. For sure, your players will remember it for long long time. It can also put some interesting conflicts in a party. Does player X really work for the law enforcers? Did someone say too much?
Of course, if you desire, you can free the PCs, or let them escape. That may be a good start for a campaign in jail or on a lonely prison-island. It’s all up to you as GM to figure out what you want to accomplish.
The most important thing to remember is – IT IS ONLY A GAME. DO NOT FORGET THIS PLEASE! In-game detention and interrogation are FAKE. DO NOT FORGET about players’ dignity and good taste. In a good game everybody is having fun.
Enjoy it responsibly.
This article is a part of the Unusual Suspects. Redesigned book.
- Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: Slavery as a Moral Trap (gameknightreviews.com)
- [The Underdark Gazette] An Introduction to Game-Mastering an Old School FRPG (underdarkgazette.blogspot.com)
- [Berin Kinsman’s Dire Blog] [RPG Blog Carnival] The Indifference Trap (berinkinsman.wordpress.com)
- Killing a fellow PC: Bad Form? Or Bad Ass? from STUFFER SHACK (stuffershack.com)
- How to Set Up an Assassination Attempt without Upsetting Your Players (Part 3 of 3) from Kobold Quarterly (koboldquarterly.com)
- [Points of Light] Legend & Lore: Out of Bounds (daegames.blogspot.com)