No flips for you!
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.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.
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.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 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.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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.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?
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.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.