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D&D 5E 5e Surprise and Hiding Rules Interpretation

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You're missing my point - I hope not willfully. The rulebooks are meant to be read as rules - each word examined for how it's defined and what it means. The Sage Advice Compendium is an aide to help you understand and interpret the rules - they're not rules themselves, and they haven't been written to be read like rules. And, I haven't said it can be ignored. Have you watched the Sage Advice video yet with Jeremy Crawford where he talks specifically and a length about opponent distraction and alertness factoring into whether you can be hidden for surprise determination? It seems reasonable to me that in a video specifically talking about surprise that he would call out those edge case circumstances, and that's exactly what he calls out.
You seem to have missed two very big design goals for 5e. The first is that it's not written like a normal rules book -- it avoid jargon and uses natural language that is to be interpreted by the GM, not slavishly followed. This means that you do not actually examine each word for how it's defined and what it means. If you do this, you're going to be dissatisfied, and the instant point makes that case. Secondly, it's quite often written in a way that requires GM adjudication that is extra to the rules. Look to the rules for stealth, for instance -- nothing is hard and fast or jargony there; it explicitly places all determination into the hands of the GM.

So, it appears you're off on the wrong foot to start with, and that's leading into the instant issue.

Also, the implication that Jeremy just uses random words in Sage Advice that don't mean anything, like "usually," is not a good look to base an argument on.


You seem to be making some assumptions about my background being influenced by 3e/4e thinking. I played AD&D in high school and college (yes, I'm that old), and didn't return to D&D until 5e came out. I don't know if you're familiar with AD&D, but the rules were so scanty and unworkable as written that you practically were required to house rule a lot of things to make the game playable.

You seem pretty close here to arguing that there is no such thing as "rules as written" in 5e, but I think that's a fringe opinion if that's what you're arguing. My opinion, on the other hand, is that if you have a long-term group that have played together for years now, like I do, that if you DM enough you'll encounter these edge cases, and if you haven't worked out a consensus along the way about what the rules mean, you'll have continue to have tense moments in-game where players feel you're being unfair.

I'll give an example from early on in our play from a few years back. My closest friend of many years was playing a ranger who was parlaying from a distance with opponents in pre-combat role-play conversation, and suddenly says he's going to shoot an arrow at him. I ruled that initiative should be rolled and he came up like next to last in the order, and was very upset at the time. In fact, it wasn't until the Sage Advice Compendium came out that I feel he truly felt comfortable with that being how that situation should have been ran.

I'll give another example where it turned out I was wrong, also from a few years back. In a homebrew addition to Tyranny of Dragons, I had the party repelling down the side of a subterranean cliff-face in Undermountain, and there were caves with opponents along the way as they descended down. As they reached the first cave going down, I did a surprise check, some characters were surprised, and they took some damage before they could continue to descend. One of the monsters which was able to climb followed them out and continued to attack them as they descended. When they came to another cave opening with more opponents, I did another surprise check. After the session, one our players was very upset, and this is the one and only time I lost a player over a rules dispute. Maybe I'm scarred from it lol.

Anyway, again it took the Sage Advice Compendium to come out before I recognized I was wrong. To me, it was the same as if the party had gone from one room to another in a dungeon, regardless of the fact that the movement was vertical instead of horizontal. But the fact that that one monster followed them, and that they therefore remained in initiative order, meant that this was one combat session, not two. And by the rules as written, I shouldn't have done a second surprise determination.
I did, in fact, make an erroneous assumption. It's far more common to have people treat the rules as exhaustive and literal from 3e than from AD&D. Mea culpa.

I absolutely do not claim 5e has no RAW. Pointing out where and what that RAW is being taken as an argument that it doesn't exist is baffling.




To me, you're continuing to argue that there's no such thing as rules as written. But, if there is no rules-as-written, the DMG wouldn't say you're free to ignore them. I think there's a very good argument to be made, one that I agree with, that exceptions should be made to surprise in support of character development and skill. I replied earlier about how I would incorporate that into the surprise rules if a character had infiltrated an organization that the party then meets in combat. But just because the rules intentionally give the DM leeway to flex them doesn't mean that there's no way to determine when the DM is doing that and when they're not.
Again, I point out the core play loop, in the rules, and you claim I'm saying there are no rules? This is bizarre. What I'm going is pointing out that there's already a general rule for just about any case and that it's established in the first few pages of the PHB. So, when you go off looking for specific rules for things, when I say there's already a rule for that, it's the general rules for the core play loop, that isn't claiming RAW doesn't exist. It is interesting that you're dismissing the core play loop as not rules, though, and I think that's exactly where a huge amount of your issue is coming from.


I do find some irony that a conversation spurring by our group stepping back to re-read the rules elicits a response that implies we're in dire need of doing so. Here's a quote from the DMG, mentioned in light of adapting the rules to a particular campaign setting (DMG p. 41):

"Flavorful descriptions of actions in the game don't change the nuts and bolts of the rules, but they make all the difference in the feel of the campaign. Similarly, a class doesn't need new rules to reflect a cultural influence; a new name can do the trick."

To me, that says this : the rules are nuts and bolts. When you're wanting to give character's a sense of satisfaction when they try something thematic but potentially game-breaking if it's abused or repeated, the designers envision that your first option is to follow the rules you always do, but narrate the results in-line with the character's attempt. When the character attempts to "surprise" via Charisma, you do the narrate that at the table as if there were no mechanic behind it at all : "Your bard approaches the group of bandits disguised as a another bandit, but one says 'Hey, boys, when was the last time one of you cleaned under your fingernails, eh? He's not one of us.' And you do all of that without calling for a single check.

Here's what the DMG says about Rules Discussions (p. 235) " "You might need to set a policy on rules discussions at the table. Some groups don't mind putting the game on hold while they has out different interpretations of a rule. Others prefer to the the DM make a call and continue with the action. If you gloss over a rules issue in play, make a note of it (a good task to delegate to a player) and return to the issue later."

Nothing there about making up your own rules on the fly being sanctioned by the rules-as-written unless you're house-ruling something, making a call to have the game continue uninterrupted, or trying something out with the consent of the players as an experiment.
Sigh, when I point out specific passages that I think you should read, telling me you read other rules and they don't say anything about what I've said isn't irony. Read the passage in the PHB on the core play loop of the game. It's pretty short and very good.

Then, reread the DMG on the role of the dice. There are three paths. They do another good job of explaining the approaches to the game, but aren't quite as short.

And, when I point to how the rules tell you to play the game, that's not making up your own rules on the fly -- it's actually using the rules of the game.

Here's a great thread on this: How to Adjudicate Actions in D&D 5e. I highly recommend it.


You're making that up. Nothing in the rules gives any indication that surprise rule is meant only as guidance to the DM. It says the DM determines surprise, and then in the next sentence tells the DM exactly how to do that calculation. The definition of "determine" that this clearly intends is this one: "ascertain or establish exactly, typically as a result of research or calculation." I don't add hidden, the rules do, and all of the interpretation help in Sage Advice presumes that surprise is being calculated as passive Perception vs Stealth. There's not a word in there that suggest it's presuming that the DM could be determining surprise any other way.
Well, if I had said that the surprise rule was meant only as guidance, you'd be right, but that's not what I said. I said the surprise rule doesn't limit surprise to situations with hidden foes only. That's your reading, because you're fixed only on things explicitly said that agree with you. You've chosen to ignore the first and last sentence in that paragraph, or what step 1 says: the GM determines who's surprised. Usually (as Sage Advice says), that's going to be due to hidden foes, but that section is specific guidance for hidden foes -- it's not the exhaustive list of what the GM can use to determine who's surprised. Again, 5e doesn't go in for exhaustive rules or jargon but uses natural rules and follows an exception based design -- general rules hold unless specific rules directly change them. In this case, the general rule is that the GM decides. How? By following the other general rules of the game, like the core play loop. If someone is trying to hide, then here's a specific rule, which really isn't specific because it's just a restatement of the general rule.

Fundamentally, the core mechanic of 5e is not roll a d20, but that the GM decides.

I'm on-board so far.


Now, I'm no longer on board. I find it quite telling that nothing in the "Social Interaction" section of the DMG says anything about surprise. Nothing at all implying or stating that if you change an opponent's attitude from hostile or indifferent to friendly, that you can now suddenly attack and use the surprise mechanic to cause them to lose their turn. If that's what the designers intended, why not mention something so basic to the start of combat?
The designer didn't intend to limit much at all, so it's not shocking at all that they wouldn't waste words explaining how any and every rule interaction can work. Again, one the design principles of 5e is to rely on GM adjudication. Here, we have rules for social interaction, including how to get to your "ask." It doesn't limit what that "ask" can be, because it's up to the GM to determine if it would succeed, fail, or is uncertain and then what difficulty it might be and then to narrate the outcome.
And if that's what the designers intended, after having defined these terms in the DMG, why not mention that in the surprise rule in the PHB? Say something like: "Any character or monster that doesn't notice a creature they deem as hostile or indifferent is surprised at the start of the encounter.". And something like "...the DM compares the Stealth checks of anyone hiding with the passive Perception score of any creatures deemed hostile or indifferent to them." But, that's not what the rule says, and I find nothing that implies it either in the PHB or in Sage Advice.

If I was DMing this situation, and PCs had convinced opponents they were friendly but then attack, I'd roll initiative as normal with there being no chance of surprise. If any monsters rolled a low initiative, I'd narrate their response as seeming very "surprised" on their turn. I might even have the previous change of attitude influence the opponents choice of actions on their round : "Since your foes were pretty convinced you guys were now friendly, monster X is very confused when you try to attack, and only tries to disarm you as they see your attack coming." I might even have them take the disengage action initially as they try to figure out what happened. What I wouldn't do is try to abuse the surprise mechanic.
And doing so would be your prerogative, and a fine way to rule. What it isn't is demanded by RAW -- it's just your call. And, I can't see how using a rule in the book is in any way abusive towards it. The only people at the table I can be abusive towards is the players or myself. I cannot offend the rules. Allowing the PCs to gain surprise in this instance certainly doesn't abuse them, and it doesn't abuse me, either, so it really can't be abuse. Leaving the charged words off might really help, here.
 

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Jon Gilliam

Explorer
You seem to have missed two very big design goals for 5e. The first is that it's not written like a normal rules book -- it avoid jargon and uses natural language that is to be interpreted by the GM, not slavishly followed. This means that you do not actually examine each word for how it's defined and what it means. If you do this, you're going to be dissatisfied, and the instant point makes that case. Secondly, it's quite often written in a way that requires GM adjudication that is extra to the rules. Look to the rules for stealth, for instance -- nothing is hard and fast or jargony there; it explicitly places all determination into the hands of the GM.

So, it appears you're off on the wrong foot to start with, and that's leading into the instant issue.

Also, the implication that Jeremy just uses random words in Sage Advice that don't mean anything, like "usually," is not a good look to base an argument on.



I did, in fact, make an erroneous assumption. It's far more common to have people treat the rules as exhaustive and literal from 3e than from AD&D. Mea culpa.

I absolutely do not claim 5e has no RAW. Pointing out where and what that RAW is being taken as an argument that it doesn't exist is baffling.





Again, I point out the core play loop, in the rules, and you claim I'm saying there are no rules? This is bizarre. What I'm going is pointing out that there's already a general rule for just about any case and that it's established in the first few pages of the PHB. So, when you go off looking for specific rules for things, when I say there's already a rule for that, it's the general rules for the core play loop, that isn't claiming RAW doesn't exist. It is interesting that you're dismissing the core play loop as not rules, though, and I think that's exactly where a huge amount of your issue is coming from.



Sigh, when I point out specific passages that I think you should read, telling me you read other rules and they don't say anything about what I've said isn't irony. Read the passage in the PHB on the core play loop of the game. It's pretty short and very good.

Then, reread the DMG on the role of the dice. There are three paths. They do another good job of explaining the approaches to the game, but aren't quite as short.

And, when I point to how the rules tell you to play the game, that's not making up your own rules on the fly -- it's actually using the rules of the game.

Here's a great thread on this: How to Adjudicate Actions in D&D 5e. I highly recommend it.



Well, if I had said that the surprise rule was meant only as guidance, you'd be right, but that's not what I said. I said the surprise rule doesn't limit surprise to situations with hidden foes only. That's your reading, because you're fixed only on things explicitly said that agree with you. You've chosen to ignore the first and last sentence in that paragraph, or what step 1 says: the GM determines who's surprised. Usually (as Sage Advice says), that's going to be due to hidden foes, but that section is specific guidance for hidden foes -- it's not the exhaustive list of what the GM can use to determine who's surprised. Again, 5e doesn't go in for exhaustive rules or jargon but uses natural rules and follows an exception based design -- general rules hold unless specific rules directly change them. In this case, the general rule is that the GM decides. How? By following the other general rules of the game, like the core play loop. If someone is trying to hide, then here's a specific rule, which really isn't specific because it's just a restatement of the general rule.

Fundamentally, the core mechanic of 5e is not roll a d20, but that the GM decides.


The designer didn't intend to limit much at all, so it's not shocking at all that they wouldn't waste words explaining how any and every rule interaction can work. Again, one the design principles of 5e is to rely on GM adjudication. Here, we have rules for social interaction, including how to get to your "ask." It doesn't limit what that "ask" can be, because it's up to the GM to determine if it would succeed, fail, or is uncertain and then what difficulty it might be and then to narrate the outcome.

And doing so would be your prerogative, and a fine way to rule. What it isn't is demanded by RAW -- it's just your call. And, I can't see how using a rule in the book is in any way abusive towards it. The only people at the table I can be abusive towards is the players or myself. I cannot offend the rules. Allowing the PCs to gain surprise in this instance certainly doesn't abuse them, and it doesn't abuse me, either, so it really can't be abuse. Leaving the charged words off might really help, here.

For me, you're no longer presenting any arguments from the rules, or anything interesting to respond to here. You're simply reiterating that you think you're right, and I already knew that. Go in peace.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
For me, you're no longer presenting any arguments from the rules, or anything interesting to respond to here. You're simply reiterating that you think you're right, and I already knew that. Go in peace.
Nope. Don't think you can speak for my intentions.

I've presented you the rules of the game, and the design intent of those rules. I don't really care how you play except that I hope it's fun for you. However, to have a constructive discussion, there needs to be a common ground, and you're addressing the source material in a way it was not meant to be addressed -- it isn't a rule book that delineates all options but rather one that provides a strong general framework and then some specific options. You're looking for the specifics and ignoring the general. This makes sense seeing as how you're coming from AD&D, which wasn't at all like this. 5e has a strong general structure, so doesn't explain all the ways a thing can happen because that's covered under the general structure. When the rule says "the GM determines who's surprised" that's leveraging the general rule. That it then goes on to be specific in terms of hiding doesn't obviate the general rule, it just controls how to handle it when creatures are hiding. The GM can determine who's surprised in other ways as well -- that hasn't been deleted by the following paragraphs.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Nope. Don't think you can speak for my intentions.

I've presented you the rules of the game, and the design intent of those rules. I don't really care how you play except that I hope it's fun for you. However, to have a constructive discussion, there needs to be a common ground, and you're addressing the source material in a way it was not meant to be addressed -- it isn't a rule book that delineates all options but rather one that provides a strong general framework and then some specific options. You're looking for the specifics and ignoring the general. This makes sense seeing as how you're coming from AD&D, which wasn't at all like this. 5e has a strong general structure, so doesn't explain all the ways a thing can happen because that's covered under the general structure. When the rule says "the GM determines who's surprised" that's leveraging the general rule. That it then goes on to be specific in terms of hiding doesn't obviate the general rule, it just controls how to handle it when creatures are hiding. The GM can determine who's surprised in other ways as well -- that hasn't been deleted by the following paragraphs.

Again, these are just words - your words. I appreciate the kind ones, such as they are. But unless you're one of the designers (and speak up if you are!) you don't get speak for them. But, I leave you with the words directly from the DMG:

Rules enable you to have fun at the table. The rules serve you, not vice versa. There are the rules of the game, and there are table rules for how the game is played.

If you gloss over a rules issue in play, make a note of it (a good task to delegate to a player) and return to the issue later.

If you choose to ignore inspiration, you're telling the players that your campaign is one where you let the dice fall where they may. It's a good option for gritty campaigns or ones where the DM focuses on playing an impartial role as a rules arbiter.

Rules and game elements that override the rules for concentration, reactions, bonus actions, and magic item attunement can seriously unbalance or overcomplicate your game.

And in the PHB:
This book contains rules, especially in parts 2 and 3, that govern how the game plays. That said, many racial traits, class features, spells, magic items, monster abilities, and other game elements break the general ruIes in some way, creating an exception to how the rest of the game works. Remember this: lf a specific ruIe contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins.

Exceptions to the rules are often minor. For instance, many adventurers don't have proficiency with longbows, but every wood elf does because of a racial trait. That trait creates a minor exception in the game. Other examples of rule-breaking are more conspicuous. For instance, an adventurer can't normally pass through walls, but some spells make that possible. Magic accounts for most of the major exceptions to the rules.

I think all of this makes it clear that in 5e, rules are rules that should govern game play - they're written not as guidelines or suggestions, and they intend the DM to specifically call out house rules or rule variants that are to be used in a campaign. The rules even suggest that when a DM makes a one-off call during play on the rules, that they follow up to arbitrate that rule better. And the rules even give a meta rule on how to arbitrate when one rule seems in conflict with another. Where's the racial trait or class ability that says those are exceptions to the general rule for determining surprise? There aren't any.

So, I don't agree that 5e is mean to be "loosey goosey" with the rules - instead it's meant to empower the DM to house rule when they see fit, and gives warning about adopting rules that could unbalance or overcomplicate the game. I truly don't believe you've come to terms with these words printed on the page, or glowing from your screen, that were penned by the designers of the game and plainly indicate their intent.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Again, these are just words - your words. I appreciate the kind ones, such as they are. But unless you're one of the designers (and speak up if you are!) you don't get speak for them. But, I leave you with the words directly from the DMG:









And in the PHB:


I think all of this makes it clear that in 5e, rules are rules that should govern game play - they're written not as guidelines or suggestions, and they intend the DM to specifically call out house rules or rule variants that are to be used in a campaign. The rules even suggest that when a DM makes a one-off call during play on the rules, that they follow up to arbitrate that rule better. And the rules even give a meta rule on how to arbitrate when one rule seems in conflict with another. Where's the racial trait or class ability that says those are exceptions to the general rule for determining surprise? There aren't any.

So, I don't agree that 5e is mean to be "loosey goosey" with the rules - instead it's meant to empower the DM to house rule when they see fit, and gives warning about adopting rules that could unbalance or overcomplicate the game. I truly don't believe you've come to terms with these words printed on the page, or glowing from your screen, that were penned by the designers of the game and plainly indicate their intent.





I'll wait.
 

No, assassins don't assassinate through the "surprise" mechanic at all, since their abilities that are themed to assassination do not require surprise to engage. If they happen to already have surprise, those abilities are even more powerful. You say that yourself, "Death Strike stacks on top of the surprise round."

Therefore assassins are the class that get the most out of surprise rounds.

It's difficult for me to not feel I'm being intentionally misunderstood here ...

It's difficult for me to see how you have a coherent argument here. You are saying that assassins don't assassinate through the surprise mechanic - while at the same time being aware that assassins get the highest single target damage when surprise happens - and thus are most likely to leave their targets dead when surprise happens. I don't believe the misunderstanding is on my side.

other characters and classes should not be able to encroach on the defined abilities of assassins and rogues by setting up edge interpretations of the surprise mechanic somehow on a Charisma basis to effect something thematically similar to their abilities.

Once again it's difficult for me to see how you have a coherent argument here.

Assassins get the most out of the surprise round because they get an automatic critical hit if they hit a surprise round. This is an undeniable fact. If you make surprise easier to get you don't enable other classes to encroach on the defined abilities of the assassin unless you somehow also give other classes extra damage on top of the normal when they get surprise.

Indeed the easier it is to get surprise the more important the assassin bonus is. Far from trampling on the assassin bonus, by your refusal to accept the rules as intended and as outlined by the designers in one of the videos you yourself linked, you are directly nerfing the assassin by denying them access to a condition they get more benefit from than anyone else does.

Surprise is a very powerful bonus in combat, and setting up edge-cases to gain it should not equal or dwarf the abilities of an assassin or rogue that are meant to represent those situations thematically,

But it doesn't dwarf the abilities of the assassin. Denying the assassin the opportunity to get surprise nerfs them by ensuring that an ability that should trigger doesn't.

Just any ole character should not be able to setup clever combinations of checks to gain the larger part of the bonus applicable to those situations and encroach onto the what makes those other classes special.

You mean the ability to one-shot something with their own hit points with no resource expenditure isn't the larger bonus?

The surprise rules are explicitly intended for everyone. Please stop trying to nerf everyone.

If you want to be an assassin or a rogue, just be an assassin or rogue and play by the rules as written.

And that includes the ability to set up assassinations that don't directly require stealth. If I wanted to play an assassin I certainly wouldn't play one in your campaign with a directly targeted nerf that contradicts the rules both as written and as intended and that makes it significantly harder for it to use one of its main subclass abilities.

To put it simply the effectiveness of an ability is the impact of that ability multiplied by the chance of the ability applying. The power of the ability is an automatic crit - which no one else gets. The chance of it applying is based on how easy it is to apply. When you change the rules (as you are) to make it harder to apply you make a targeted nerf for the assassin.
 

You're missing my argument, which is from the intent of the designers. Given a certain theme or archetype of something from fantasy literature, the designers choose to represent that thing from a mechanics perspective and allocate it to a class or race, giving each class or race its set of "special" things that are supposed to be just that - special.

If the designers had intended for just any character with no necessary justification from an ability to setup what thematically constitutes a sneak attack by abusing an edge interpretation of the surprise rules, you have diminished the special features of characters who chose a particular race or class to be able to act out that theme in play. The designers also know that players are smart and always looking for ways to push the boundaries of what they can do, and they'd know if it was possible to setup surprise this way, that players will find combinations of spells or ability checks that they could bring out of the box and replicate.

Indeed. If the designers had intended for people to get the advantage of catching people by surprise the designers would have put something with a name like "surprise round" into the game. And they would have said that it only usually came from attacking from hiding implying, and confirming in other interviews that it wasn't just hiding.

You need a justification from fictional positioning - you don't get it for free. You need to work for it, while the rogue gets a similar advantage for free and one of the more reliable approaches for setting up surprise.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Therefore assassins are the class that get the most out of surprise rounds.



It's difficult for me to see how you have a coherent argument here. You are saying that assassins don't assassinate through the surprise mechanic - while at the same time being aware that assassins get the highest single target damage when surprise happens - and thus are most likely to leave their targets dead when surprise happens. I don't believe the misunderstanding is on my side.



Once again it's difficult for me to see how you have a coherent argument here.

Assassins get the most out of the surprise round because they get an automatic critical hit if they hit a surprise round. This is an undeniable fact. If you make surprise easier to get you don't enable other classes to encroach on the defined abilities of the assassin unless you somehow also give other classes extra damage on top of the normal when they get surprise.

Indeed the easier it is to get surprise the more important the assassin bonus is. Far from trampling on the assassin bonus, by your refusal to accept the rules as intended and as outlined by the designers in one of the videos you yourself linked, you are directly nerfing the assassin by denying them access to a condition they get more benefit from than anyone else does.



But it doesn't dwarf the abilities of the assassin. Denying the assassin the opportunity to get surprise nerfs them by ensuring that an ability that should trigger doesn't.



You mean the ability to one-shot something with their own hit points with no resource expenditure isn't the larger bonus?

The surprise rules are explicitly intended for everyone. Please stop trying to nerf everyone.



And that includes the ability to set up assassinations that don't directly require stealth. If I wanted to play an assassin I certainly wouldn't play one in your campaign with a directly targeted nerf that contradicts the rules both as written and as intended and that makes it significantly harder for it to use one of its main subclass abilities.

To put it simply the effectiveness of an ability is the impact of that ability multiplied by the chance of the ability applying. The power of the ability is an automatic crit - which no one else gets. The chance of it applying is based on how easy it is to apply. When you change the rules (as you are) to make it harder to apply you make a targeted nerf for the assassin.

Assassinations don't directly require Stealth, because the assassin's abilities don't presume surprise, aren't surprise-based, and only apply if the assassin is already attacking a surprised creature, determined by the procedure given for determining surprise : comparing passive Perceptions to Stealth check scores. Anything else is a house rule and is found nowhere in the rules.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Indeed. If the designers had intended for people to get the advantage of catching people by surprise the designers would have put something with a name like "surprise round" into the game. And they would have said that it only usually came from attacking from hiding implying, and confirming in other interviews that it wasn't just hiding.

You need a justification from fictional positioning - you don't get it for free. You need to work for it, while the rogue gets a similar advantage for free and one of the more reliable approaches for setting up surprise.

Wow, you all want to make a lot of that one word, "usually," in a Sage Advice response, while hand waving away that everything in that reply that clarifies and assumes that surprise is decided with Stealth. The general rule for deciding stealth presumes hiding, it says so right there, and nowhere is there any class or racial ability indicating a more specific rules overriding that.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer





I'll wait.

Thank you for pointing me to these - there's a treasure trove of archeology here. I also think none of it represents a reflective interpretation of what was delivered with 5e, and almost all of it instead represents brain-storming primarily by Mike Mearls.

However, if you take a look at the articles under "D&D Next Goals", I found some interesting quotes in the archives you linked to:

The standard rules represent the next step up in terms of complexity and options. You can think of them as a combination of 3rd Edition's character creation and 4th Edition's approach to DMing, with flexibility brought to the forefront for players and rugged extensibility for DMs

A DM who prefers to improvise things and make rulings can stick with the basic rules, while players who want more detailed character creation can use the standard rules to build their PCs. A group might prefer to use the standard core rules and their level of detail but with the simple characters of the basic game, but another group might use basic core rules and rely more on DM adjudication for adventures with their highly customized, standard rules characters.

Even at this early stage, they're thinking of "standard rules" and allowing flexibility for players while holding the DM to "rugged extensibility."

In the last article in this series, they have this to say about extending the rules :

Options in the final category—ones that alter the core in a fundamental way—are best used one at a time or with careful consideration for their interaction. Since they alter the core, they might not work well together. When we design them, we'll always assume that they are the lone, engine-altering option you're using. That path allows us to keep our sanity and also makes it more practical to implement such rules. A hit location table is one thing, but making one that also accounts for armor as damage reduction requires far more work.

So, I don't think these articles challenges in any way the idea that the designers intended a core set of fundamental rules, and that those rules themselves provide the structure for extending them in a modular fashion. What is more "core" to D&D than how combat starts and surprise determination?
 

Assassinations don't directly require Stealth, because the assassin's abilities don't presume surprise, aren't surprise-based, and only apply if the assassin is already attacking a surprised creature, determined by the procedure given for determining surprise : comparing passive Perceptions to Stealth check scores. Anything else is a house rule and is found nowhere in the rules.

On the contrary. The idea that the only way of getting surprise involves comparing passive Perceptions to Stealth check scores is a house rule and found nowhere in the rules.

If they had meant that the only way rather than the most common way was the stealth check vs perception they would have said that. They didn't because they didn't intend that. To claim otherwise is to ignore both the rules as written and the rules as intended and substitute them for your house rules.

Wow, you all want to make a lot of that one word, "usually," in a Sage Advice response, while hand waving away that everything in that reply that clarifies and assumes that surprise is decided with Stealth. The general rule for deciding stealth presumes hiding, it says so right there, and nowhere is there any class or racial ability indicating a more specific rules overriding that.

Wow, you want to ignore the rules as written and the intent of the rules. D&D is not and has never been a game where the rules cover all situations - and 5e is fairly explicit about that. What is the mechanism for establishing things where the standard rules don't apply? "The DM determines who might be surprised"

And no, the rules aren't going to provide you hard guidelines - D&D 5e is not that game. D&D 3.0 and 3.5 tried to be, and 4e in different ways also tried. But 5e doesn't even try (they called this "giving power back to the DM").
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Thank you for pointing me to these - there's a treasure trove of archeology here. I also think none of it represents a reflective interpretation of what was delivered with 5e, and almost all of it instead represents brain-storming primarily by Mike Mearls.

However, if you take a look at the articles under "D&D Next Goals", I found some interesting quotes in the archives you linked to:





Even at this early stage, they're thinking of "standard rules" and allowing flexibility for players while holding the DM to "rugged extensibility."

In the last article in this series, they have this to say about extending the rules :



So, I don't think these articles challenges in any way the idea that the designers intended a core set of fundamental rules, and that those rules themselves provide the structure for extending them in a modular fashion. What is more "core" to D&D than how combat starts and surprise determination?
Very little is more core to D&D that combat, true. However, we aren't talking about that, we're talking about how you're reading rules as if the book is a technical manual when it was, according to what you just read and acknowledged, not meant to be one. That means that when the rules say "the GM determines who's surprised" that it means just that -- the GM has the duty and authority to determine surprise. That it goes on to provide clear assistance for the most common case doesn't remove the fact that the rule is, bluntly, that the GM decides. That is the RAW, that is the most simple, highest level, clearest statement on surprise. Pulling up two sentences from further into the section as if that's the top level rule is not correct. That is how you determine surprise when stealth is involved, but the GM may decide other things.

'Rulings not rules' is the catchphrase of this edition.
 


Jon Gilliam

Explorer
On the contrary. The idea that the only way of getting surprise involves comparing passive Perceptions to Stealth check scores is a house rule and found nowhere in the rules.

If they had meant that the only way rather than the most common way was the stealth check vs perception they would have said that. They didn't because they didn't intend that. To claim otherwise is to ignore both the rules as written and the rules as intended and substitute them for your house rules.



Wow, you want to ignore the rules as written and the intent of the rules. D&D is not and has never been a game where the rules cover all situations - and 5e is fairly explicit about that. What is the mechanism for establishing things where the standard rules don't apply? "The DM determines who might be surprised"

And no, the rules aren't going to provide you hard guidelines - D&D 5e is not that game. D&D 3.0 and 3.5 tried to be, and 4e in different ways also tried. But 5e doesn't even try (they called this "giving power back to the DM").

It's found here in the rules on p. 7 of the PHB:

This book contains rules, especially in parts 2 and 3,
that govern how the game plays. That said, many racial
traits, class features, spells, magic items, monster abilities,
and other game elements break the general ruIes in
some way, creating an exception to how the rest of the
game works. Remember this: lf a specific ruIe contradicts
a general rule, the specific rule wins.

Exceptions to the rules are often minor. For instance,
many adventurers don't have proficiency with longbows,
but every wood elf does because of a racial trait. That
trait creates a minor exception in the game. Other
examples of rule-breaking are more conspicuous. For
instance, an adventurer can't normally pass through
walls, but some spells make that possible. Magic
accounts for most of the major exceptions to the rules.

There are no specific rules, either for racial traits or class abilities, that contradict and are more specific than the general rule of determining surprise on a Stealth vs passive Perception basis, and therefore that rule governs how the game plays.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
So, it sounds like both sides of the argument agree that the "DM determines who might be surprised". But they disagree as to whether the subsequent text concerning Stealth/Perception is a prescriptive instruction reagrding how to make that determination, or whether it is a descriptive example of how that determination can be made.

Sounds like a pretty standard type of disagreement regarding textual interpretation. Both sides have offered extra-textual support that may-or-may-not be persuasive, but it does not appear that there is anything in the text itself that is dispositive. Accordingly, it would appear that the text can be fairly said to be ambiguous, yes? If so, it's up to each DM how to rule at their table, and neither way of ruling would be a houserule. Even so, DMs would be well advised to share their ruling with new players in advance, just so everyone is on the same page.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So, it sounds like both sides of the argument agree that the "DM determines who might be surprised". But they disagree as to whether the subsequent text concerning Stealth/Perception is a prescriptive instruction reagrding how to make that determination, or whether it is a descriptive example of how that determination can be made.

Sounds like a pretty standard type of disagreement regarding textual interpretation. Both sides have offered extra-textual support that may-or-may-not be persuasive, but it does not appear that there is anything in the text itself that is dispositive. Accordingly, it would appear that the text can be fairly said to be ambiguous, yes? If so, it's up to each DM how to rule at their table, and neither way of ruling would be a houserule. Even so, DMs would be well advised to share their ruling with new players in advance, just so everyone is on the same page.
Yep, this has largely been my point -- it's not RAW, it's just how you're ruling. And so long as that's fun for you, it's the right way to play.

I've largely been pushing back due to the unspoken bit in Jon's argument that if you allow for surprise via any other method that stealth, you're not playing by RAW.
150 posts arguing about the stealth rules? I know COVID quarantine has messed up everyone's sense of time, but I didn't think it was 2015 again... ;)
Jon's new here.
 

Jon Gilliam

Explorer
Yep, this has largely been my point -- it's not RAW, it's just how you're ruling. And so long as that's fun for you, it's the right way to play.

I've largely been pushing back due to the unspoken bit in Jon's argument that if you allow for surprise via any other method that stealth, you're not playing by RAW.

Jon's new here.

It's funny that people a few posts back are wanting to parse the word "usually" in the Sage Advice Compendium as if it were an unearthed scrap of the original gospels, and now it's "extra-textual support."

The rules as they're written are clear : there's a rule printed that specifies how surprise should be determined with Stealth versus passive Perceptions checks, there is no alternative rule given anywhere in the rules, no module published by WOTC that ever sets up a surprise ambush meant to be ran on anything other than on a Stealth basis, and no argument that doesn't try to pluck words or sentences out of context that supports any other meaning.

It is not the case that all interpretations of the rules are equal, and it is not the case that the Sage Advice Compendium supports any other interpretation of that rule. Here's the intro to that Compendium..

Sage Advice Compendium:
Official rulings on how to interpret rules are made here in the Sage Advice Compendium by the game’s lead rules designer, Jeremy Crawford (@JeremyECrawford on Twitter). The public statements of the D&D team, or anyone else at Wizards of the Coast, are not official rulings; they are advice. Jeremy Crawford’s tweets are often a preview of rulings that will appear here.
A Dungeon Master adjudicates the game and determines whether to use an official ruling in play. The DM always has the final say on rules questions.

In other words, you can interpret things however you want at your table, but Sage Advice offers the official guidance on how to interpret the rules. It offers no alternative procedure to determine surprise, and it's clear that it presumes that any creature surprising you is hidden:

Sage Advice Compendium:
In other words, once a fight starts, you can’t be surprised again, although a hidden foe can still gain the normal benefits from being unseen (see “Unseen Attackers and Targets” on page 194 of the Player’s Handbook).

And it also makes it clear that you're "usually" surprised by failing to notice foes being stealthy, although you can also be surprised by foes with an "especially surprising trait" such as with the gelatinous cube, which is a case of a specific trait over-riding the general rule:

Monster Manual entry for Gelatinous Cube's "Transparent" trait:
A creature that tries to enter the cube's space while unaware of the cube is surprised by the cube.

Note that the cube doesn't get some advantage to a Deception check - a creature is just automatically surprised. This fits exactly into the modular rule structure envisioned by 5e : the general Stealth-based rule applies unless and only unless some more specific trait indicates otherwise.

Sage Advice Compendium:
To be surprised, you must be caught off guard, usually because you failed to notice foes being stealthy or you were startled by an enemy with a special ability, such as the gelatinous cube’s Transparent trait, that makes it exceptionally surprising.

You would have to reach so far you'd have to stand on your tippy toes to imagine any of that means anything else. I think some people who struggled with interpreting the text of the rule before the Sage Advice Compendium came out established an early idée fixe about what the rules meant, and having envisioned a square hole, they're now determined to stuff the round peg into it. But no matter how much you squint, it still doesn't fit.

If you intend to extend the core rules by replacing the surprise mechanic by something of your own creation or by some community content, that also fits into the 5e modular system - but, it's no longer running Rules as Written, even though the rules allow for it. If you intentionally make a one-off determination that you allow something as a one-off in play that determines surprise some other way, that's fine : you're running Rules as Written by default, and you've let your players know you may depart from that for one-offs.

But, none of that changes the rules or how the game intends for them to be used.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It's funny that people a few posts back are wanting to parse the word "usually" in the Sage Advice Compendium as if it were an unearthed scrap of the original gospels, and now it's "extra-textual support."
Except that's not what happened, at all. Instead, people read 'usually' as the word usually, and treated it that way. You want to delete that word as not saying anything while sticking hard to other words -- in other words, it's not us doing the funny. Either deal with all of the words or don't, but don't try to make that other people's problem. My interpretation, for instance, fully encapsulates your own -- I allow for hiding to achieve surprise as the rules provide. That I also read the other words and see that this isn't the only way to achieve surprise isn't selective parsing.

And, no one here would argue that Sage Advice is anything other than 'extra-textual.' I mean, it definitionally is. Why would this be a bad thing? The Federalist Papers are extra-textual to the US Constitution, for example, but still very important in understanding it. Being extra-textual just means it's not in the text of whatever the focus of discussion is. It's a positional statement, not a value statement.

The rules as they're written are clear : there's a rule printed that specifies how surprise should be determined with Stealth versus passive Perceptions checks, there is no alternative rule given anywhere in the rules, no module published by WOTC that ever sets up a surprise ambush meant to be ran on anything other than on a Stealth basis, and no argument that doesn't try to pluck words or sentences out of context that supports any other meaning.
I mean, there's the big, starting alternative that says "the GM determines who's surprised." Scratch that, it isn't an alternative, it's the top level rule, under which the hidden rules operate without superceding.

It is not the case that all interpretations of the rules are equal, and it is not the case that the Sage Advice Compendium supports any other interpretation of that rule. Here's the intro to that Compendium..

Sage Advice Compendium:


In other words, you can interpret things however you want at your table, but Sage Advice offers the official guidance on how to interpret the rules. It offers no alternative procedure to determine surprise, and it's clear that it presumes that any creature surprising you is hidden:

Sage Advice Compendium:
No one disputes either of these statements you quote.

And it also makes it clear that you're "usually" surprised by failing to notice foes being stealthy, although you can also be surprised by foes with an "especially surprising trait" such as with the gelatinous cube, which is a case of a specific trait over-riding the general rule:
And here you're mixing an matching. The Sage Advice just says "usually." You can also be surprised by a specific rule, yes, no dispute, but the "usually" doesn't limit things to that. Nor does the actual rule, which is "the GM determines who's surprised." There's lots of other rules to give the GM tools to determine that, and it's up to the GM to decide how to use them. The 1/2 a paragraph under the surprise heading that talks to the usual case of hiding doesn't remove the GM's authority to decide, here.

Monster Manual entry for Gelatinous Cube's "Transparent" trait:


Note that the cube doesn't get some advantage to a Deception check - a creature is just automatically surprised. This fits exactly into the modular rule structure envisioned by 5e : the general Stealth-based rule applies unless and only unless some more specific trait indicates otherwise.
No dispute. This doesn't reinforce your argument, though, as it's a specific rule for only that monster, and such specifics are already covered in the general rules as to how they operate. To clarify -- you can be absolutely right about surprise and this works how it does; conversely, I can be absolutely right about surprise and this still works how it does. It doesn't support or detract from either argument. Hence, orthogonal.
Sage Advice Compendium:


You would have to reach so far you'd have to stand on your tippy toes to imagine any of that means anything else. I think some people who struggled with interpreting the text of the rule before the Sage Advice Compendium came out established an early idée fixe about what the rules meant, and having envisioned a square hole, they're now determined to stuff the round peg into it. But no matter how much you squint, it still doesn't fit.
Oh, and you talk about irony!

Seriously, if we parse that down to something more simple, it reads:

"To be surprised, you must be caught off guard, usually because condition A occurs or condition B occurs.... "

Okay, here's the rub. You read this as "it's usually condition A, or it's condition B." Other read this as, "it's usually condition A or B." The punctuation here helps split out the different readings. To you, it's mostly A but sometimes B, but never anything else. To me, that reads it's mostly A or B, but can be something else. Both are fine readings of this specific extra-textual advice (swidt). It's only when you bring it back to the rules that your reading doesn't jive well with me, because the rules say the GM determines and we already have rules for how GM's determine things. The bit about how stealth works really is just a restatement of the general rule of how GM's determine things that deals with hiding. I don't even need to consider gelatinous cube special abilities because they already trump general rules and so don't support or detract from either reading. I just need to look to the general structure of 5e, the tools provided for GMs to determine things, the framework for play, and the fact that the surprise rules start off with saying the GM determines surprise. Viola! So long as the GM thinks a thing might be sufficient for surprise, it's sufficient.

If you intend to extend the core rules by replacing the surprise mechanic by something of your own creation or by some community content, that also fits into the 5e modular system - but, it's no longer running Rules as Written, even though the rules allow for it. If you intentionally make a one-off determination that you allow something as a one-off in play that determines surprise some other way, that's fine : you're running Rules as Written by default, and you've let your players know you may depart from that for one-offs.
I haven't added one word to the rules, and have specifically references which rules I'm using -- references you have yet to address. Please don't accuse me of houseruling when I've done nothing but point at the rules and haven't added a word.
But, none of that changes the rules or how the game intends for them to be used.
You chastised me above for assuming to know the intent of the designers, but here you are doing it yourself. I assume you have some reference for this, because your cites of the rules and Sage Advice are, at best, open to liberal interpretation.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
5erule.JPG


I want to call out the 3rd paragraph of Part 3.

The rules don't account for every possible situation that might arise during a typical D&D session. (Snip example of a situation that might come up) How you determine the outcome of this action is up to you.

In the last sentence "you" refers to the DM. Therefore, one of the very first "rules" that 5e lays out is that it is your job as a DM to determine what happens if the players want to do something that isn't already spelled out explicitly in the rules.

Deciding how to adjudicate an action a player takes, regardless of if you reuse a similar set of rules laid out in the books or if you make up something completely whole cloth, is specifically spelled out as a job of the DM, within the greater ruleset that is 5e.

If you want to continue to argue "You can do that but its houseruling" at this point is semantics of arguing what the definition of houseruling is. Miriam-Webster defines it as " a rule (as in a game) that applies only among a certain group or in a certain place" which 100% describes something that has happened in every game of D&D run by a human DM.

To reiterate a point made about 400 times already in this thread....the base design of 5e encourages and expects DMs to improvise in a lot of cases. That improvisation is both a "houserule" AND a part of the rules at the same time.

When the trombone wielding assassin shoots a poison dart from the bell and hits his mark in the neck for a stealthy kill and the DM decides to use the Suprise Round rules to adjudicate that action...they are literally following the instructions of what the DMG tells them to do in Part 3 listed above.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think all of this makes it clear that in 5e, rules are rules that should govern game play - they're written not as guidelines or suggestions, and they intend the DM to specifically call out house rules or rule variants that are to be used in a campaign. The rules even suggest that when a DM makes a one-off call during play on the rules, that they follow up to arbitrate that rule better. And the rules even give a meta rule on how to arbitrate when one rule seems in conflict with another. Where's the racial trait or class ability that says those are exceptions to the general rule for determining surprise? There aren't any.

From page 4 "The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren't in charge. You're the DM, and you are in charge of the game."

It's crystal clear that the rules are secondary to DM decision. It's so important in fact, that they put it in the very introduction to the book, rather than bury it deeper.

That jives with what the designers said about 5e It's a rulings over rules edition. It's designed for the DM to make rulings for tables that supersede the rules and/or fill in gaps.
 

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