With that not-so-original name I would like to see what information gathering spells (from unwilling subjects) your troupes tend to favor. I am always curious about what other people do
Cast shriek of impeding shafts on subject. Tie down the subject (or ReCo him to quietness) and then poke him repeatedly with an arrow from several directions (use a grog for that, or a team of grogs). After a few hours he will be yelling like crazy.
Make the subject see his beloved ones turned to geese and get a fox (a familiar) into their stall. It was an Imaginem effect, but the players discussed later if it wouldn0t be cooler to do it for real.
Turn the pond of the undine to acid for instant duration each time. repeatedly.
Burn selected branches of a tree. They later used Creo vis to heal it, and even improve the tree a little, since they discovered it was not the correct tree, and that in fact it was the house of the forest lord that they had to please. woops!
Make the clothes of the victim itchy. Increase the itchy-ness to unbearable levels progressively.
Those are from the top of my head. They tend to resort to this when all the alternatives have failed. Or as a shortcut, but it tends to backfire in those instances.
Wow, you game with a scary group. I recall one game I ran in another system with my brother playing in it. He had gagged a prisoner with sharp teeth, but the prisoner started chewing through the gag. So he broke the prisoner's teeth before gagging it again. Later they caught a guy spying on them. After interrogating him painfully, my brother decided they couldn't keep him prisoner nor let him escape. I thought they would kill him. Nope. Broke both arms and legs, tied him up and gagged him, and left him in the woods. Well, I guess they did kill him that way. We were a bit shocked at my brother's methods. Your crowd probably would have been right at home with them.
We tend to end up doing really freaky stuff after several iterations of the snowball growing bigger and bigger, generally after some unsuccessful encounters/actions. This is how we decided to TAME a dragon to be our guard dog instead of just trying to get rid of the bugger, for example. This kind of stuff tends to be the consequences in that line of work But yeah, the troupe could do that sometimes.
We found that we do not like that aspect of hermetic magic after one of our characters developed a mentem specialist. It spoiled the fun for us, so there has been a tendency in our troupe to have abysmally bad intellego mentem totals though the board. It is like everybody had Difficult Mentem as default, even if nobody really takes it. The characters that develop mentem to deal with spirits and deal with mundanes tend to "forget" getting Intellego spells. It is a troupe thing, really. So we tend to gather our info through alternative methods than opening people's brains.
Agree on the InMe spells being very saga flavour specific, it really can blow some plot if you have a potent mind reader around.
Torture really isn't a good method of learning the truth, as noted people will tell you what they think you want to hear to get you to stop torturing them.
Thats not to say torture doesn't work, it just doesn't work as an investigative tool. It works just fine if you want to force a confession or if you want to terrify people into obedience. IIRC there were several legal codes (but maybe not England) where confessions obtained under torture were just dandy, so torture was less about getting the truth and more about forcing the confession to get the case finished.
More recent torture, in South America for instance, focused more on brutalising a population and hanging a terrible sword over them to keep them in line. One might argue that groups like the Spanish Inquisition also used it like this, to extract confessions on one hand and to terrify the masses and keep them in line on the other.
See I disagree, the modern day belief that torture only results in lies and being told what you want to hear, is not quite accurate. The recent research in the validity of torture is not precisely describing torture, but rather haphanded techniques of cruelty that illicit lies and a desire to escape pain. ((I shouldn't have to, but as a US citizen having to watch the embarrassing and disturbingly inhumane efforts to hurt people for information, I feel I should state that while I believe torture can and will work in some situations, I do not believe it is a action that a civilized and benevolent society should take no matter what the need.))
However, contrary to popular beliefs and current memes that say torture does not work, there is a history of torture working to withdraw information. It is always in the methods and the manipulation of the victim that determines success or failure. If you have a true genius of cruelty and patient villainy, that person can and would be capable of extracting information that was true and not riddled with lies. Byzantines had such persons, as did the court of Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV, and even Alexander the Greats stories, while nearly impossible to substantiate, has evidence of torture being successfully used and then that information being confirmed by a second unrelated series of events. It basically comes down to a very gray area, wherein torture used by someone who has simply the agenda to confirm what they want to believe, will fail endlessly to arrive at truth, which was never their goal to begin with. However a person, trained and reliably intelligent, will easily obtain the information that you want with a pretty high degree of accuracy.
But I will agree a magi with even a modest handful of Mentem spells would be far more accurate, quick, and ethical. But if all a magi has is a hammer, then the subject will have to become a nail.
PS. I always wonder if the current CIA and other secret spy agencies drive to state publicly that torture does not work is nothing more than a ruse to distract from their real findings on the topic and continued use of such tactics.
Oh you certainly CAN get good information out of torture, however, its unreliable. You can't trust that person because you know they'd say anything to stop the torture. You can easily imagine situations where a torturer could usefully extract a code for a bombs detonator from someone who knew it if they could reliably check the answers. But where the answer is more nebulous, all reliability disappears. If you've got a guy you think is involved in terrorist activities and you torture him to give up fellow terrorists, he'll give you names and spin an elaborate story if it stops the torture. Without someway to check the data immediately, you'll have no way of knowing if he is a genuine terrorist handing over his allies or a taxi driver picked up at random giving you his neighbours.
Many of the people you mentioned such as Louis XIV used torture to extract confessions and were more about implicating political enemies than finding the truth. Such enemies could then be arrested and tortured until they confessed their crimes. Very hard to tell so far away (and with history being written by the winners).
Many of the security services remember the lesson of Stalin, who's police and security services used torture extensively, driving away the sensitive and smart and leading to a service of incompetent sadists who struggled to solve simple crimes (but who could always find someone willing to confess).
Does anyone know what the legal situation was regarding torture in the Ars time period? What was legal, whether the confessions could be used? Regional differences? Church position on it?
It is hard to see why canon and secular courts would normally need to get information via torture. In both courts, guilt is really decided on the basis of what credible witnesses say. If a suspect is saying something different to the other witnesses, then the court would usually conclude that the suspect is lying and therefore guilty. There is no need to actually torture him to force a confession (although perhaps he might be sentenced differently if he does not confess).
On the other hand, if the court has already decided someone is guilty of a crime like treason or heresy, then perhaps torture might be entertained as a way to get information about plans, co-conspirators, etc. Although as clerics can't be involved in the shedding of blood, it is difficult to see how they could be legally involved in a torture regime. Of course, that might not stop some, but definitely many in the church will make a frowny face at the idea of torture.
I should add though, that by the late 13th century the church did legislate that torture of heretics was an acceptable strategy, which seems to have been based on the idea that secular courts also allowed for torture under some circumstances.
From my reading, torture wasn't usually used to find the truth so much as used to force people to recant lies, as the truth was already assumed to be known.
The (later) period inquisitions had mandates for when and how to use torture which was not as brutal as what me may assume medieval torture might have been - no blood, only 15 minutes per day, etc. Still pretty horrifying, but no days of being racked or dismemberment.
Traditionally there was likely a lot of yelling of 'CONFESS!' though, with a whole heap of verbal intimidation.
As for hermetic torture methods... while torture has occasionally been used in games I've run and played in, I very much use the 'fade to black' scenario. I'm not (and I don't think my players are) overly interested in the specifics. For physical torture, there may be an opposed roll of some kind. Intellego Mentem spells tend to be far more effective after all.
While authorised torture wasn't as common as many modern fictions make out, I'm sure there was plenty of unauthorised torture going on. It doesn't take much to push some people into doing some very horrific things to others even today. I can't imagine it would be any better in an environment with less law enforcement and more active demons.
I'm sure there are members of the Order of Hermes who engage in such activities. Probably want to keep it somewhat quiet, such activities would likely cause frowny faces amongst other members of the Order. With certain Flambeau milites swearing oaths of protection and Clan Sirnas Bjornaer invoking such vows as part of their initiations, chances are such activities are going to attract some Wizards War.
As for eliciting the truth: Intellego magics. Its only an issue when dealing with other magi - at which point intrigue, charm and guile step to the fore.
Im currently playing an executioner who happens to be a Magus ex Miscellanea, and I'm counting the days until either my covenants princeps (an Elk-Bjoernaer) or our Mercere-Magus decide to kill him.
It is difficult to play such a character in a way that doesn't ruin the game for everyone, myself included.
From a players perspective, there is absolutely no way to justify the use of torture. Never. Not even "fighting" terrorism. Whoever says otherwise is either ignorant, a liar or a madmen IMNSHO.
I've made some research, and I've decided NOT to describe any of the methods this character uses. Any serious description of what is done would cause players to vomit at the gaming table. Using magic doesn't make it any "cleaner". So all the other players / their characters get are hints.
Angelus told the other characters that every delinquent has the right not to be touched by the executioners bare hands, and that he needed to put on a fresh pair of gloves for each of them. So now, everytime I tell the players that Angelus burns a pair of gloves and puts on a new one, they know...
We've had some really tense situations in the game with these hints alone.
Having played mostly friendly and helpful characters so far, it is challenging, sometimes even strenuous.
Why would a person use such methods? How could the same person actually believe to be one of the good people? How does he justify his deeds? What happens when the executioner realizes that most of the people he killed were actually innocent?
I agree with most other posters that by far the most efficient method of getting information is via Mentem spells.
Based on very limited research (consisting of reading this thread and talking to people smarter than I am), the most 'common' means of torture are/were:
-Getting someone to recant a statement or belief such as heresy.
-Getting someone to say something you want them to, such as to admit to a crime, confess, embrace a belief, etc.
-Getting information. This is more of a modern concept, and this is usually the thing torture is least effective at.
-Vengeance/punishment: Well--if your goal is to make someone suffer, I suppose torture works as well as anything else.
I'm deliberately setting aside the moral arguments except to say that I think torture is wrong, in all circumstances, regardless of context.
That set aside, we did have one 'revenge' instance in a saga I ran. A player took the True Friend flaw for his (unGifted) sister. The covenant was attacked, and the players captured some prisoners. One of the attackers admitted that they were promised the 'reward' of being 'given' the sister. The magus took a knife, hacked his hands off, and he bled to death in front of the other prisoners. She then asked "Anyone else?" Most of them started crying for mercy, but one prisoner basically said 'you're going to kill me anyway, I wont' go out betraying my lord.' He was executed (more mercifully). Other than that, no real instances of torture IMS. I couldn't really interfere or veto as ST, as the character took True Friend as the Major Flaw.
Back towards topic, to answer the original question: Mentem is by far the best way of getting information. Intelligo Mentem to get it directly, Muto Mentem to change the subject's emotions towards the caster and regard him as an ally or superior. Possibly Muto Imaginem to make the subject think they're in a safe haven or to disguise the torturer as an ally.
In regards to an earlier post: Saying "I need a new pair of gloves," in some ways, is even more unsettling than RP'ing out every gory detail. Well played.