The World of Warcraft torture quest, The Art of Persuasion, keeps popping up on news sites, so I thought I would finally throw my two cents in.
Here is Richard Bartle's original post that started the debate,and his follow-up post to the responses it got.
In the quest, Librarian Normantis wants you to torture an Imprisoned Beryl Sorcerer so that he reveals the location of Lady Evanor who has been abducted. He says that he can’t do it himself because the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon it. He gives you the Neural Needler and you have to stick the guy a few times with it while he; at first taunts you, then says that he knows nothing, begs you to stop and then finally tells you where Lady Evanor is being held, though hedging that by saying that trying to save her is folly. If you are so inclined you can keep poking him while he tells you he doesn’t know anything else.
Bartle was saying that Blizzard failed with the torture quest because it was nothing, it didn’t mean anything, and it was just another couple of mouse clicks in a quest chain. It wasn’t just that you torture the Sorcerer that is the problem; it was the actual quest design that failed because it didn’t take advantage of the torture concept. A lot of people seem to miss this point. And comparing it to hundreds of non-player characters (NPCs) you actually kill isn’t valid; because it is not the same thing.
The textbook way this should be done is to offer the player a choice with a reward for torturing the NPC but also a negative consequence. Is the reward worth the negative consequence?
Let’s look at a perfect example already in WoW, raising your reputation with the Blood Sail Buccaneers by killing citizens of Booty Bay. Which you can read about here.
The reward for doing so is the Bloodsail Admiral’s Hat (item level 60, 63 honor, +25 stamina and right click summons a Bloodsail Parrot non-combat pet) and the title “Bloodsail Admiral.” It is basically just a cosmetic reward, albeit a rare one that you aren’t going to see a lot of people doing. Let’s not forget that prestige is also a big reward in these types of games.
The negative consequence is ruined faction with Booty Bay, and even damage to your reputation with other goblin factions. Basically, you can no longer get quests or buy items from NPCs in those towns. I should also note that if you are trying to cash in an in-game reward from the WoW trading card game, it’s very difficult because the NPC you use to enter the trading card code is in Booty Bay.
Is it worth it? Not for me to say, that is for each player to decide. The point is there is a choice with both a reward and consequence.
Now let’s take that basic example apply it to the torture quest. We will make it a choice.
Same setup, Lady Evanor, an important leader of the Kirin Tor, has been abducted. Librariam Normantis had captured a Beryl Sorcerer who may know where she is being held. He is unwilling to torture the captive himself and presents that option to the player.
The player has two response options with Librariam Normantis; one where you agree to torture the prisoner and one where you don’t. Both cases offer you a quest – one quest to torture the guy which has some nice item rewards to choose from and the other quest where you don’t torture him and get no reward, but go off to complete a bunch of other quests to kill the bad guys without the aid of Lady Evanor. Both quest lines can come back together in the end or not, it’s just you have to decide if you will torture the guy and get the item reward.
Problem is that is a cowardly way out. 99.9% of the players will poke the guy till he squeals and then take the reward. 0.0099% will do the same and just tell everybody they didn’t and only 0.001 will take the moral high road and say no. In the end it doesn’t mean anything because not getting the item reward isn’t enough of a choice.
We have to make the consequence something real. We also want to put the weight on the torture, making it the negative choice that the player deliberately does. So let’s say there is no torture quest offered in the chain.
Instead Librariam Normantis tells the player that Lady Evanor has been abducted and they have captured a Beryl Sorcerer who may know where she is being held, but he isn’t talking. He mentions that they found the Neural Needler on the Sorcerer when they captured him but that the Kirin Tor does not condone torture. The life of one person, even Lady Evanor, isn’t worth the loss of the moral high ground. He stressed that the Kirin Tor will not stand by anybody who performs or condones such torture. He then gives you another quest, based on some clue he has devised from the Sorcerer, a Sherlock Homes based “rare mud on his shoes” thing, and is sending you off to investigate. I would make this a Nexus dungeon quest that shows a decent reward.
However the Neural Needler is right there on the table next to the captured Beryl Sorcerer, it is even giving off a little pulsing spark. If you click on it, you get the option to use it on the prisoner to get him to talk. The text makes it clear this goes against the wishes of Librariam Normantis and the Kirin Tor and that you will not be able to deal with them afterwards. That’s it. No reward is shown for using the Needler, but still the temptation is there.
If you use the Needler you automatically fail the previously offered quest and can’t get it again. You also lose a large amount of Kirin Tor faction preventing you from getting any more quests from them. However you do get a quest to go rescue Lady Evanor based on the information you gain from the torture.
I would leverage this in several more quests later on, playing up on the “one life isn’t worth sacrificing your morals” line from Librariam Normantis. What about two lives, a dozen lives, or the lives of all the Kirin Tor?