Would anyone like to comment on my interpretation of these rules for my campaign?
Determining Surprise and Start of Combat
Determining Surprise and Start of Combat
- Only hidden creatures can gain surprise : Only creatures who will be hidden at the first round of combat are able to surprise other creatures.
- Players decide pre-combat if their character will be hiding : When a combat is about to begin, if it will be possible for characters to hide the DM will ask the players which of them wants their character to be hidden at the start of combat, and any who do will make a Stealth check. Note again that only characters who are going to be hidden at the start of combat have any chance to surprise other creatures. The DM decides whether it would be unreasonable for any particular characters who are already exposed to opponents in a combat zone to hide before combat begins.
- DM determines who is surprised : The DM next determines who is surprised by comparing the Stealth checks of anyone who will be hiding with the passive Perception scores of all of the creatures on the opposing side (and vice versa). Individual creatures on either or both sides may be surprised. Any character or monster whose passive perception is less than the lowest Stealth of all opponents doesn’t notice any threats, and is surprised at the start of the encounter. Characters or creatures who are surprised can’t move or take actions on the first turn of combat.
- DM asks for marching order and location preferences : The DM reveals the combat zone map, asks the players what their marching order is, and asks what they would like their general starting location to be for the combat. It does not matter whether that general location of preference is reachable in a round with the character’s movement speed or not.
- DM decides where characters are located : Taking into consideration marching order and the player’s preference for their character’s starting location, the DM will position the characters such that they are hidden from the opposing creatures with passive perceptions lower than their stealth rolls. The path that a character took to get to that starting location is not part of the combat and is narrated by the DM to reflect which characters will be trying to hide. Once a character reaches their starting position, they will always be hidden from the appropriate opponents as per their Stealth check. If there is not sufficient cover represented on a map to reflect how they are hidden, that cover will be narrated by the DM as a “theater of the mind” addition to the map.
- Characters hidden at their starting locations are as per the Hide action : Once combat commences, for characters whose players wanted them hidden at the start of combat, it is as if those characters have previously taken the Hide action with the same Stealth check as was made for surprise determination.
- Definition of being “Hidden” : Being “hidden” from an opposing creature means that the other creature was not able to notice you as a potential threat with the ability to attack them.
- The DM decides when characters or monsters can hide : The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding, and determines what abilities or conditions would make it impossible for another creature to notice you are a potential threat (see PHB 1st Ed. errata, or PHB 2nd Ed p. 177). The DM would take into consideration things such as whether a creature is visible to another, whether they are making noise, whether the creature has some class or racial trait that makes them unnoticeable in certain situations, etc.
- Can I initiate surprise by deceiving an adjacent opponent into believing I’m actually an ally and then suddenly attacking? No, because surprise requires hiding and your opponent still notices you as something with the ability to attack regardless of your deception. This would be an initiative roll, but if your opponent who had been successfully deceived previously (Insight vs Deception check) wins initiative, they may choose to do nothing to counter your attack on their turn if they momentarily believe the initiation of your action is due to something else other than commencing an attack.
- Can my character hide and initiate surprise by successfully impersonating an inanimate object and then attacking, even if I’m in plain view? Yes, because your opponents might then not notice you as something with the potential to attack them. A halfling in plain view might hide among a collection of dolls, or a character might hide in plain view among a collection of wax figures for example. This distinguishes itself from the ranger’s Hide in Plain Sight ability in two ways : the ranger ability provides a +10 bonus to the Stealth check, and it allows the ranger to do so in any natural setting instead of the very peculiar circumstances otherwise necessary.
- If I hide by impersonating an inanimate object, can I then attack at advantage as per the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule? No. The rule explicitly states that your opponent must not be able to see you to gain advantage, and being hidden and visible are different things (for example, you can be invisible but not hidden).
- Can I hide in a crowd of people and then initiate surprise by attacking opponents even if they would see me approach from the crowd? The DM would decide based on the circumstances. The DM can choose to allow a character to continue to be hidden as they approach a creature if circumstances would have that creature being distracted, as by a crowd (PHB p. 177, Hiding side box).
- Can a ranger with the Hide in Plain Sight ability attack at advantage using the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule? No. Rangers with this ability may initiate surprise in plain sight because they are hidden, but they may not attack at advantage using the Unseen Attackers rule. The description of the ability only says that such a ranger is hidden, not that they are unseen, and the Unseen Attackers rule is based on sight.
- Can rangers with the Hide in Plain Sight ability initiate surprise on attacking when in plain view? Yes, because their opponents might not notice them as something with the potential to attack which is what defines them as hidden.
- Can creatures with the False Appearance trait such as mimics or gargoyles hide and initiate surprise on attacking when they are in plain view? Yes, because their special trait allows them to be indistinguishable from an inanimate object, which might not be noticed as something with the potential to attack.
- Can creatures with the False Appearance trait such as mimics or gargoyles hide and then gain advantage as per the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule when they are in plain sight? No, because that rule is based on being unseen. The mimic or gargoyle can be hidden (not noticed as something with the ability to attack), but if they are in plain sight they are not unseen.
- If my character chose to start combat hidden, can they attack the creatures who didn’t perceive them on the first round of combat at advantage as per the Unseen Attackers and Targets rule? Yes. If you choose for your character to be hidden at the start of a combat, the DM will position your character so that they are hidden (in almost all cases both unseen and unheard) by the creatures whose passive perception scores are less than your Stealth check. Your character can try to determine on their turn which of their opponents they notice can also see them and which cannot, possibly making an Nature check to assess the terrain in uncertain cases.
Hiding Errata (p. 177). The following sentence has been added to the beginning of this section: “The DM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding.”
The first sentence of the second paragraph now begins, “You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly…”
(PHB 1st Ed Errata) emphasis added on the new text
Using Ability Scores, Hiding Side-box:
You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly, and you give away your position if you make noise, such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase. An invisible creature can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, and it does have to stay quiet.
In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the DM might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack roll before you are seen.
(PHB p. 177, Hiding side box) emphasis added on the last sentence
Combat Surprise Rules:
A band of adventurers sneaks up on a bandit camp, springing from the trees to attack them. A gelatinous cube slides down a dungeon passage, unnoticed by the adventurers until the cube engulfs one of them. In these situations, one side of the battle gains surprise over the other.
The DM determines who might be surprised. If neither side tries to be stealthy, they automatically notice each other. Otherwise, the DM compares the Dexterity (Stealth) checks of anyone hiding with the passive Wisdom (Perception) score of each creature on the opposing side. Any character or monster that doesn’t notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter.
If you’re surprised, you can’t move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can’t take a reaction until that turn ends. A member of a group can be surprised even if the other members aren’t.
(PHB p.189, Surprise) emphasis added
1. Determine surprise. The DM determines whether anyone involved in the combat encounter is surprised.
2. Establish positions. The DM decides where all the characters and monsters are located. Given the adventurers’ marching order or their stated positions in the room or other location, the DM figures out where the adversaries are–how far away and in what direction.
3. Roll initiative. Everyone involved in the combat encounter rolls initiative, determining the order of combatants’ turns.
4. Take turns. Each participant in the battle takes a turn in initiative order.
5. Begin the next round. When everyone involved in the combat has had a turn, the round ends. Repeat step 4 until the fighting stops.
(PHB p. 189) emphasis added on first sentence of the 2nd bullet
Unseen Attackers and Targets
Combatants often try to escape their foes’ notice by hiding, casting the invisibility spell, or lurking in darkness.
When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you’re guessing the target’s location or you’re targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the DM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly.
When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden–both unseen and unheard–when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.
(PHB p. 193) emphasis added on the word “can’t”
Ranger’s Hide in Plain Sight ability
Starting at 10th level, you can spend 1 minute creating camouflage for yourself. You must have access to fresh mud, dirt, plants, soot, and other naturally occurring materials with which to create your camouflage.
Once you are camouflaged in this way, you can try to hide by pressing yourself up against a solid surface, such as a tree or wall, that is at least as tall and wide as you are. You gain a +10 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) checks as long as you remain there without moving or taking actions. Once you move or take an action or a reaction, you must camouflage yourself again to gain this benefit.
(PHB p. 92)
Gargoyle Monster Description
Deadly Reputation. Gargoyles have a reputation for cruelty. Statues carved into the likenesses of gargoyles appear in the architecture of countless cultures to frighten away trespassers. Although such sculptures are only decorative, real gargoyles can hide among them to ambush unsuspecting victims. A gargoyle might alleviate the tedium of its watch by catching and tormenting birds or rodents, but its long wait only increases its craving for harming sentient creatures.
(MM p. 140, emphasis added on 3rd sentence)
Gargoyle’s False Appearance trait
False Appearance. While the gargoyle remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from an inanimate statue.
(MM p. 140)