There is nothing in the surprise rules that says it requires hiding. The rules give a way to be unnoticed, but never say "this is the only way to be not noticed as a threat", which you seem to be reading into those rules.
That isn't RAW, that is inventing a house rule.
The rules clearly say "notice a threat". Threat, not being a defined game term, falls back on the plain English meaning.
A person standing next to you that looks like an orchestra member with no weapons neither hiding, nor are they a "threat you noticed", in plain English.
They did not say "notice an opponent", and replacing one word with another is not reading the rules as written.
How the DM adjudicates them pulling that off is not detailed in those rules right there. But there are plenty of rules on how disguise works in 5e.
Is is good that you are now claiming that the word "threat" means "opponent", because we can now be clear why you are misreading the rules as written.
But to be clear, if Bob had zero plan to engage at that moment (he was going to attack in 1 minute when the clock strikes 12), didn't see Alice, and Alice attacked, would Charlie be surprised? What if he beat Alice's stealth check?
If Bob saw Alice, but intended to keep his cover, would Charlie be surprised?
If Bob changed his mind after combat began, does Charlie retroactively become unsurprised?
You want to cover edge cases.
My point is, the rules are really clear. If you notice a threat, you aren't surprised on the first turn of combat. If you don't notice a threat, you are surprised on the first turn of combat.
If someone is hidden from you, you don't notice them. If you don't notice them, you don't know they are a threat. This is not the only way to not notice a threat; there are both disguise methods and deception methods, for example. They are covered in the rules for disguise and deception.
Surprise rules work for two opposing sides. What happens with surprise when a third group of combatants sneaks up, hidden from the melee, and ambushes?
The surprise rule is relevant only when a combat is starting. Any ambushes during the fight use the rules for Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
Being hidden and surprise are two different things.
You can surprise someone, without being hidden.
You're written a lot to respond to, so I'll take it in chunks. I'm uncertain that we have any real disagreement on this first point. Your allies clearly notice you, and that is clearly not enough for surprise where opponents must notice a threat. So, I stand with my previous statement : whenever opponents notice you "as a threat", your allies meeting the same criteria notice you as a threat as well. I don't think there's a reason to call that out more emphatically.
But, it is the case that non-hidden opponents are automatically noticed and do make your entire side of the combat "immune" to surprise. We make the case for that in this FAQ, which asks the same question in a different way:
- Does all of one side of an impending combat need to hide to have surprise? Yes. If even one opponent (one threat) is noticed by a member of the opposing side, then that creature is not surprised. All opposing creatures will perceive the presence of an unhidden party member as a threat and will therefore not be surprised. Since surprise is determined prior to the DM establishing the location of the characters and monsters, characters who do not declare they are hiding are assumed to have their presence perceived by their opponents in determining who is surprised.
These are the rules as written: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 any opposing creature is surprised at the start of the encounter.
I agree that if you rewrite the rules as written to what you pretend they say, you have a case.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.
They are two orthogonal concepts.If you've got an argument from the text, I'm all ears. Otherwise, you do you.
Would you be surprised if you were sitting down to dinner with your Mum or someone you implicitly trusted, and in the middle of a pleasant chat about the weather she suddenly tried to stab you in the face with a kitchen knife?
If the answer to that question is 'Yes' then you agree it is possible to be surprised when combat starts (your Mum tries to stab you in the face) and you're unaware of a hostile threat when the aforementioned face stabbing happens.
It's a judgement call (generally most creatures are wary - particularly in dungeon environments) but its useful when a trusted ally or fellow PC (unknowingly dominated) or a Doppelganger or similar suddenly attacks.
Instead of Stealth v Perception, run it as Deception v Insight.
If you want RAW for that, it's under 'the DM is always right and can make rulings whenever they want'.
They are two orthogonal concepts.
Surprise is binary, between two sides. Either you are surprised or not. You can't be surprised by some and not by others.
Whether somebody is hidden is not binary. Some can be hidden, others might not.
It is not a requirement that all memebers of a party are hiding, for a surprise to happen.
If my fighter is talking to an orc, I am not hidding. He can see me. Meanwhile, my fellow rogue buddie, is sneaking up on the orc from behind. The rogue's stealth check succeeds, i.e. the orc is now surprised. Initiatives are rolled. The rogue has been hiding, so the rogue has advantage. My fighter has not been hiding, so he has no advantage. And the orc is surprised, and gets no turn on the first round.
If anyone who is uncertain about how the designers of the game felt that combat should start want to hear from a designer, check out this Sage Advice video by Jeremy Crawford, the lead designer of 5e. He makes it clear that in the "surprise" dagger attack situation, that's an initiative roll (not surprise). He also makes it clear that surprise is meant for an ambush, and that it's resolved with Stealth checks. Take a listen
Roll for Initiative! The ins and outs of beginning combat - w/ Jeremy CrawfordD&D Sage Advice ·www.sageadvice.eu
This is the rules you want to play by:
These are the rules as written:
I agree that if you rewrite the rules as written to what you pretend they say, you have a case.
Without that rewrite, you aren't using the rules as written.
That is fine, but don't pretend you are playing RAW. You are restricting surprise by replacing a word in the rules.
Your rules are consistent with themselves, and I hope they make you enjoy the game. Just don't pretend your specific reinterpretation of the rules is what the rules must be read as.
I fixed the bolding to include something just as important as what you bolded.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."
You can use an unassuming character as bait as long as they're not an opponent. That assassin's can't get surprise in a disguise is RAW, and not absurd at all. Watch the video linked previously if you want to understand how the 5e designers viewed surprise. Giving a disguised Assassin the ability to surprise allows them to Hide in Plain Sight, which is a 10th level ranger ability. There is no Hide in Plain Sight ability for Assassins.I fixed the bolding to include something just as important as what you bolded.
In a fight, most creatures are alert to threats. Outside combat, that is not assumed at all.
The idea that you can’t use an unassuming character as bait for an ambush and gain surprise, or surprise someone in a crowd, or that an assassin can’t get surprise in a disguise, is absurd, and very much not RAW or RAI.
No, it doesn’t. You’re drawing false connections.You can use an unassuming character as bait as long as they're not an opponent. That assassin's can't get surprise in a disguise is RAW, and not absurd at all. Watch the video linked previously if you want to understand how the 5e designers viewed surprise. Giving a disguised Assassin the ability to surprise allows them to Hide in Plain Sight, which is a 10th level ranger ability. There is no Hide in Plain Sight ability for Assassins.
- Definition of being "Hidden" : Being "hidden" from an opposing creature means that you could attack that creature without them being able to perceive that your attack is coming.
The definition of being hidden is being both unseen and unheard.
PHB Page 195, "If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses."
I had trouble getting my head around the OPs rules. It seems awfully...legal. In my group whoever is DMing interprets the situation as best he/she can, and we're all pretty ok with the result. I guess we each learn each DM's particular style, and try to accommodate it.
But here's a general (slightly off-topic) question for everybody: I've seen comments from many people that suggest they let archers pop out of hiding and get advantage on their attack, but rule that you can't do the same thing with melee because you "can be seen" (at least in theory, if behind the target) and therefore you aren't attacking from Hidden.
- Isn't that really a matter of degree, though? The archer is unhidden for some amount of time, whereas the melee attacker is unhidden for a generally longer time. But...both have to become unhidden in order to actually attack. It seems like a totally arbitrary (and unsupported by RAW) ruling to give it to ranged but not melee.
- Is it really gonna break anything to allow the melee rogue to get advantage this way? It's not like the rogue can Disengage, Hide, and get a bonus attack as a repeatedly tactic every round. Even with swashbuckler or mobile you can still only do 2 of the 3.
No, it doesn’t. You’re drawing false connections.
Houserules are fine, but this is definitely a houserule, not RAW.