When a PC’s character is being tortured, it should be an unpleasant experience. The character is suffering as much as the GM can make possible. Even so, most players will nonchalantly stare down the GM, proclaiming that their character refuses to crack, or that their character never screams, or perhaps simply says nothing, waiting for the next segment to be given by the GM. No matter what the GM might do to the character, the player simply doesn’t empathize enough to truly grow upset. How do you make the PC feel for their character?
The first step is to completely isolate the player. Let’s say in a party of five adventurers, three of the group are caught while the other two go back to town, two days away, to get help. Each of the three PCs are taken to separate cells. One of them is taken soon after to a torture chamber where “the boss” wants to interrogate him. Out of game, take the player out of the room. Don’t let him get courage from the other gamers. Leave him on his own for a few moments while you work with the other players. Let the isolated individual think about what he’s going to do.
When you get back to your victim, consider everything that matters to his character that can be taken away, and start to take it, beginning with his friends. In the example, we’ll say the character is a sorcerer. The sorcerer can hear his screams nearby. The torturer enters the room and begins asking his questions. The sorcerer is stubborn and won’t answer. He is informed that his friends will suffer if he does not yield. After the next nearby scream, the sorcerer is told that one of his friends just lost a hand. This continues, his friends losing limb after limb and eventually being killed (not really, just what the torturer is saying).
Assuming such simple, brutish tactics don’t crack a PC, it is time to hit them closer to home. Begin using torture devices to inflict ability damage. The sorcerer, his face a mask of stone, does not flinch as his friends die. He knows he has to be silent for the common good. The torturer pulls out a strange device and clamps it to the sorcerer’s face. Each time the torturer uses it, the sorcerer takes 1d4 charisma damage. Out of game, the GM knows that this is not permanent and will heal, but the player should not be informed of this. Let him wonder if his character is falling apart by the seams. How much can he take before he knows he must answer or watch his beautifully written character become a useless piece of paper?
Ultimately, what it comes down to is the unknown. What the player doesn’t know will hurt him. Are his friends in the next room really losing limbs? Did they really kill his animal companion? Was his treasure really tossed into the sea? Did they really just ruin any chance of spellcasting for the rest of this character’s life? Is he really going to be addicted to this drug? The unknown, ultimately, will cause the player just to want to move on. He will be tired of it, possibly even a sore loser. He wants it to end. The GM must now tell him no. Keep the torture going a little longer than the player wants. Only when he is at the point where he wishes his character would die, just so it could end, should the GM release the poor PC.
With these tricks, let PCs tremble as torture chambers everywhere become a lot darker, a lot lonelier, and filled with a lot more suffering.