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D&D 5E Surprise and Sneak Attack

Note that a ranged assassin with a longbow can attack, break off and hide, then repeat the cycle by starting a new combat once the target tries to let down their guard to rest, heal, etc...

Why? The DM should either adjudicate that there is no uncertainty and so the guard is killed by the shot OR have the injured guard ring the alarm bell. Madness cycle ended.
 

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aco175

Legend
What If my sleeping Fighter at 20th level with 250 HP getting Assassinated?

Im just auto-killed am I?
I had a PC in 1e get killed this way. The assassin wrote a note to the DM who adjudicated the note and told me, "you're dead."

In my game, the rogue gets to make a sneak attack on the first round if the monsters have not acted yet. An assassin can score a crit if they hit with this attack on the first round only unless the monsters are surprised, and if the monster has not gone yet. There has been a few times where the PCs sneak and the monster is surprised on the first round and the assassin still has the initiative on the monster going into the 2nd round.

I
 


Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
What If my sleeping Fighter at 20th level with 250 HP getting Assassinated?

Im just auto-killed am I?
This is the beauty of sticking to the rules. If you're assassinating an ogre with 50+ hp and your assassinate attack does well over 70+ damage, it's an instakill, just as expected.

If you're facing a blackguard with 100+ hp and you're assassinate attack does roughly 70 damage, the blackguard woke up from his sleep while you were attacking him and narrowly dodged(advantage). It nicked him as he tried to shuffle out your way (damage) and it was hard for him to keep you from his throat (crit). He's been surprised, though, so this is all happening before he can do anything but react to the most reflexive movements.
 

This is a fair point. If the player declared the Attack action, they shouldn't be able to pull it back after initiative is rolled. There are no guarantees to the Assassinate ability when the dice come out.

When the hidden Rogue says 'I shoot the guard with my crossbow' he's declaring an action then and there. As soon as the dice get thrown down to resolve that action, and initiative determined, he cant 'take it back' now that he rolled poorly on that Dexterity ability check to sequence that action.

He's committed now.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
When the hidden Rogue says 'I shoot the guard with my crossbow' he's declaring an action then and there. As soon as the dice get thrown down to resolve that action, and initiative determined, he cant 'take it back' now that he rolled poorly on that Dexterity ability check to sequence that action.

He's committed now.
And, until the Assassin commits to something that will start combat, combat doesn't start.

The same is true when you say "I stab the elf". That is your declared action. Someone could beat your dex check and kill you before you do it, but you are going to stab the elf.
This is the beauty of sticking to the rules. If you're assassinating an ogre with 50+ hp and your assassinate attack does well over 70+ damage, it's an instakill, just as expected.

If you're facing a blackguard with 100+ hp and you're assassinate attack does roughly 70 damage, the blackguard woke up from his sleep while you were attacking him and narrowly dodged(advantage). It nicked him as he tried to shuffle out your way (damage) and it was hard for him to keep you from his throat (crit). He's been surprised, though, so this is all happening before he can do anything but react to the most reflexive movements.
The PC only gets to narrate how they killed it when they reduce it to 0 HP. ;)
 

Dausuul

Legend
When the hidden Rogue says 'I shoot the guard with my crossbow' he's declaring an action then and there. As soon as the dice get thrown down to resolve that action, and initiative determined, he cant 'take it back' now that he rolled poorly on that Dexterity ability check to sequence that action.

He's committed now.
That's a generally reasonable house rule, but very much a house rule. Per RAW, you declare your action on your turn, not before it. And until initiative is rolled, it can't be your turn because there are no turns.

This is one of the many hiccups that result from having "roll initiative" a) be a discrete event with mechanical consequences, and b) take place before the action that triggers an initiative roll. My group has stumbled over this little paradox more than once. I hope the next edition, whenever it comes, does away with a). Rolling initiative should be viewed simply as determining a pre-existing state of affairs: You are always in initiative order, but normally you don't care what that order is. As soon as it becomes important to know, you roll initiative.

In this approach, surprise would not depend on "Initiative was just rolled"--it would be the result of "On my last turn, I was not aware that combat was imminent, and since then combat has begun." If the action that starts combat is an assassin attacking an unaware target, the assassin gets the benefit of surprise, end of story. If the assassin sees the result of the initiative roll and for some reason decides not to attack, okay. You don't attack. Nothing happens. If the initiative roll doesn't change anything, it doesn't matter if it's followed by combat or not.
 
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That's a generally reasonable house rule - but very much a house rule. Per RAW, you declare your action on your turn, not before it. And until initiative is rolled, it can't be your turn because there are no turns.

It's not a house rule.

When a creature (PC or monster) declares a hostile action, combat sequencing starts (and narrative time ends). Every participant in that combat then gets a Dexterity Ability check (initiative) to determine reaction speed to that trigger.

If (during a parlay) you declare your PC Thokk will 'draw his sword and stab the bad guy in the face', the DM says the following:

DM: ''OK; as you're all sitting there talking to each other, suddenly Thokk screams in rage, and his hand goes for his Sword, a look of murder in his eyes. Roll initiative.''

No one is surprised. Everyone rolls initiative. Turns are taken in order.

Thokk isnt 'locked into' going for his sword of course, but the damage is done.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
And as the Rules (and Crawford himself) state clearly, this is NOT surprise. It's just normal initiative.

I think this is a bad interpretation. It makes it impossible for someone sucker punch someone else with a surprise move. It should be possible to surprise someone even if you know they're there - it's just that the test won't be based on stealth and perception, it'll be based on deception and insight. The key aspect of surprise is still preserved - not noticing the threat - just the specific parameters have changed.
 

And, until the Assassin commits to something that will start combat, combat doesn't start.

He has committed to an action. Watch:

DM: Your Assassin sneaks up to the Guard through the shadows. He looks unaware of your presence, gazing intently at a copy of the famous magazine 'Sexy Orc Maidens of Waterdeep'. You're 30' away from him.
Player: I take careful aim with my Crossbow and shoot him in the spine.
DM: Are you SURE you want to shoot him?
Player: Yes!
DM: You bring your bow to bear, and the twang of the bow string echoes out through the dim night. Roll initiative.

Scenario 1) The Guard goes first, he's surprised (cant move or act on his turn). He then stops being surprised and the Assassin makes his attack roll (no critical hit).
Scenario 2) The Assassin goes first, the Guard is surprised (critical hit)
 

The same is true when you say "I stab the elf". That is your declared action. Someone could beat your dex check and kill you before you do it, but you are going to stab the elf.

As highlighted above, that's down to a question of narration, not an issue with the rules.

Thokk: 'I stab the Elf'
DM: (narrating) 'As you're all taking about what to have for dinner, Thokk screams in rage, his hand reaching for his sword, and murder in his eyes... directed at the Elf! Roll initiative!'
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
In this approach, surprise would not depend on "Initiative was just rolled"--it would be the result of "On my last turn, I was not aware that combat was imminent, and since then combat has begun." If the action that starts combat is an assassin attacking an unaware target, the assassin gets the benefit of surprise, end of story. If the assassin sees the result of the initiative roll and for some reason decides not to attack, okay. You don't attack. Nothing happens. If the initiative roll doesn't change anything, it doesn't matter if it's followed by combat or not.

I can't really go for that and I don't think it's particularly square with either the rules or fairness within the construct of the game. It leaves out the potential for a character to try to get the drop on the opposition but fail because the opposition turned out to be faster or more aware than the combat initiator thought. I wouldn't necessarily require an assassin trying to surprise his target to follow through on the attack, but the whole thing that initiated rolling initiative was a hostile move - think of it as a gun hand twitching toward a holster or a hand going to the hilt of a weapon. Once that's in motion, initiative will be rolled and then we'll see who manages to react first.
 

If the action that starts combat is an assassin attacking an unaware target, the assassin gets the benefit of surprise, end of story. If the assassin sees the result of the initiative roll and for some reason decides not to attack, okay.

How is the Assassin seeing the result of the Dexterity check he just made?

He's aware he's in a game is he? He can see the results of dice rolls his player has just made to resolve his actions can he? He can choose to retcon declared actions when he doesnt like the results of those rolls can he?
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
There’s a key bit missing though. IMHO

It's not a house rule.

When a creature (PC or monster) declares a hostile action, the result of which is uncertain, combat sequencing starts (and narrative time ends).

Not all actions are uncertain. and that means violent actions too.

The combat system has been built to “model“ a battle where the outcome has been determined to be uncertain. That’s why we have the bands for evaluating the combat challenge: easy, medium, hard & deadly. Even easy has a tiny chance of going sideways if the monsters get lucky enough. Combats outside of that range are not considered uncertain: too easy ? The PCs crush their foes. Too deadly? TPK or the PCs are easily captured. There is no point in running those combats as the result is certain and the “game“ becomes boring,

So to come back around, combat sequencing starts when the DM has determined that the result of the violent action is uncertain and the rules need to aid in adjudicating the result.

And yes, if the DM wants to kill your character they can do so at any point in any number of ways. But that‘s always been true. With great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes.
 


Where do the rules say this? Source?

The PHB.

When narrative time ends, and Combat begins (when a creature declares hostilities, or the DM determines a monster is going to attack), surprise is determined, positions established, and then initiative is rolled:

A typical combat encounter is a clash between two sides, a Flurry of weapon swings, feints, parries, footwork, and Spellcasting. The game organizes the chaos of combat into a cycle of rounds and turns. A round represents about 6 seconds in the game world. During a round, each participant in a battle takes a turn. The order of turns is determined at the beginning of a combat encounter, when everyone rolls Initiative. Once everyone has taken a turn, the fight continues to the next round if neither side has defeated the other.

Combat Step by Step
  1. Determine Surprise. The GM determines whether anyone involved in the combat encounter is surprised.
  2. Establish positions: The GM 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 GM figures out where the adversaries are̶how 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.
After surprise is determined, and initiative rolled for by EVERYONE in the combat, turns are taken in initiative order.
 

Dausuul

Legend
How is the Assassin seeing the result of the Dexterity check he just made?

He's aware he's in a game is he and can see the results of rolls his player has just made to resolve his actions?
He knows his initiative the same way he knows his hit points. The character is not aware that it is a game and he has hit points. But he is roughly aware of his physical state and how likely he is to survive getting beat on by a monster. Similarly, he is not aware of initiative as such, but he is aware of the tactical situation, which is represented, very abstractly, by initiative.

I mean, are you actually proposing to prevent players from using their knowledge of initiative order for tactical purposes? Good luck with that.
 

Not all actions are uncertain. and that means violent actions too.

Monsters have AC's and Hit Points. So yes, murder is uncertain.

While I see no need to combat sequence out a 20th level Fighter murdering a sleeping Goblin, generally no no murder is automatic.
 

He knows his initiative the same way he knows his hit points.

No he doesnt. In what frigging world does a sniper sit there, finger on the trigger and dude in the cross-hairs and think to himself... 'No wait... not yet - I think I just failed my Initiative roll!'.

Try rocking up to my table and declaring an action, then trying to ret-con it because you didnt like the roll.

Your Dexterity check for initiative is part of you resolving the action, you just declared. Aint no freaking way I would let you take it back because you didnt like the roll.
 

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