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D&D 5E Surprise and Sneak Attack

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.
When I saw that PF2 allows the gm to call for any skill for initiative (with perception as the default), I realized I'm going to be bringing that idea into every dnd-like game I run from now on.
 

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CydKnight

Explorer
The ruling on this has been an issue for me as a DM in the past. You have one chance to use Assassinate and that will always be before combat officially begins. In order for that to occur, you must surprise your target before the initiative round. It can't occur after initiative, because surprise isn't possible after combat begins (all within initiative are now aware that combat has begun so they can no longer be surprised). I've always been up front with Rogue PCs about how I rule this as a DM before beginning a new campaign or introducing a new PC to a current one, and it has resulted in one instance where a PC decided he didn't want to play at all if that's how I rule it. The argument being that if they are able to Hide during combat then they can surprise their target. This is just not how I see the design intent of this rule.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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."

That's because assassination auto killed in 1e if the assassin rolled his percentage or lower. That percentage depended on the level of assassin vs. the level of victim. A 10th level assassin has a 1% chance to auto kill an 18+ level victim. A 15th level assassin has a 30% chance to kill the 18+ level victim, and that's as good as it gets. In 5e assassination has changed to be as little as 1 point of extra damage.
 

You're not revealed from hiding until after the attack is resolved (hit or miss) barring the Skulker feat.

The issue is raised where you have to cross ground in the open to get to your target; then it does become DM call (maybe you can sneak up behind your target, even though there is no technical 'facing' etc)

Yes. Exactly.
 

In 5e assassination has changed to be as little as 1 point of extra damage.

Citation please.

Last time I checked, it was an attack with advantage, auto crit and later on doubke damage on a failed check IIRC.

Probably if the assassin is invisible, silent and the target is sleeping, probably I let the assassin autosucceed on his initiative dexterity check. I would at least give the assassin advantage and the target disadvantage. That way, chance for an auto kill is not actually that low...
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Give me an example.

An NPC assassin sneaks up on my sleeping 5th level Fighter. He puts his sword to my neck and pushes hard.

The game doesn't have that rule. What would happen is that the sleeping fighter would roll for initiative. Maybe the assassin makes a slight noise waking the fighter right before the strike and he moves a bit, still surprised and the sword only grazes the neck for crit damage. It's up to the DM to narrate how the fighter can both take the crit damage and survive(assuming he doesn't massive damage and die). Or the DM can house rule in these auto death abilities, in which case it can be a toddler with a knife. It doesn't have to be an assassin if all it takes is asleep and a knife to the neck.
 

The ruling on this has been an issue for me as a DM in the past. You have one chance to use Assassinate and that will always be before combat officially begins. In order for that to occur, you must surprise your target before the initiative round. It can't occur after initiative, because surprise isn't possible after combat begins (all within initiative are now aware that combat has begun so they can no longer be surprised). I've always been up front with Rogue PCs about how I rule this as a DM before beginning a new campaign or introducing a new PC to a current one, and it has resulted in one instance where a PC decided he didn't want to play at all if that's how I rule it. The argument being that if they are able to Hide during combat then they can surprise their target. This is just not how I see the design intent of this rule.
emphasis mine -

This isn't quite true: you're surprised until your first turn, so you can roll initiative and still be surprised during any turns that happen before your turn. But if you roll high on initiative you might not be surprised for very long, but if you roll poorly you might be surprised for the entire first turn of combat.

Now, this is an issue for assassins because they need to not only successfully hide but also beat the target's initiative to use the Assassinate feature, which is a lot of rolling to make it work (and/or a lot of other choices that need to go certain ways to do even somewhat reliably), which means it's not something you can just do, unlike moist other eponymous features. It's a legit issue.
 

CydKnight

Explorer
emphasis mine -

This isn't quite true: you're surprised until your first turn, so you can roll initiative and still be surprised during any turns that happen before your turn. But if you roll high on initiative you might not be surprised for very long, but if you roll poorly you might be surprised for the entire first turn of combat.

Now, this is an issue for assassins because they need to not only successfully hide but also beat the target's initiative to use the Assassinate feature, which is a lot of rolling to make it work (and/or a lot of other choices that need to go certain ways to do even somewhat reliably), which means it's not something you can just do, unlike moist other eponymous features. It's a legit issue.
It is true for me because this is how I rule it. If combat has begun within initiative, then I rule there are no more surprises. Just because your initiative roll is worse than the enemy Assassin doesn't mean you are surprised during initiative, it simply means the Assassin acted on the recognition of combat faster than you did. At least that's how it goes in my games. I find ruling in this way simple and straightforward in a way the entire table can easily understand and usually agree upon. You can obviously rule how you like for your games.
 

Thanks Everyone. Your input helps. The PHB states that surprise is when one side is unaware of the threat. i.e. either the assassin is hidden or does not appear to be dangerous and hostility has not broken out. In the artist formerly known as the surprise round, one or both sides are attempting to surprise the other. Participants that are surprised have all rolled initiative anyway, but don't act or react in that round.

If the assassin achieves surprise in this round, even if the assassin loses initiative, he gets to act and the surprised target doesn't. If he hits, and the target has not acted yet, then it's a critical hit.

The DMG discussing this references that the DM can decide if advantage or surprise can occur at other times. In play, I've encountered situations with the players using magic to do so and even where the target gets hit but remains unaware of who hit him or where the attacker may have gone. Particularly if the assassin is acting alone, I can envision the target in some cases being 'unaware of the threat' and later attacked again. That's outside the RAW but it seems to be the kind of case the DMG is referring to where the DM would make the call.

Personally, for the sake of fun, I would not summarily rule that an assassinate strike or even the death strike are an automatic kill unless it contributed to the enjoyment.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
First, the uncertainty rule only applies to ability checks, though. The rule is written in that section and only used for those checks, not in the combat section. Second, even if the DM house rules the uncertainty rule to apply to strikes in combat, the Assassinate ability does not kill. It just does a crit, which could be 1 additional point of damage. That means that death is uncertain, even if you succeed in using the ability.
An attack is an ability check. The DC is the AC of the monster.

And the Assassinate ability is simply a feature that character gets during combat. It does not define the entirety of how that character might possibly kill something. If the assassin is hidden on a rooftop waiting patiently for their foe who makes an appearance and provides an easy shot, the assassin will fire and drop their target. There is no uncertainty. The assassin is surely competent at their job? It would be like asking a blacksmith to make an ability check to pound metal on an anvil. :)

In the heat of combat where they're fighting for their life? They've got a slick move or two up their sleeve but it's far different from former scenario as there's too much chaos for anything to be certain.
 
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I could also pose an example. The assassin rolls a 3 on initiative. The target is surprised by the assassin's stealth having rolled low on his perception check but rolls a high initiative. The target can't act or react on this turn. The assassin hits him before the target acts (and has surprise because of his stealth even though he lost initiative). Then the target gets charmed and no longer considers the assassin a threat and again doesn't act on his next turn. The assassin comes up in order again with his low initiative but the target still hasn't acted. Surprise?
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
An attack is an ability check. The DC is the AC of the monster.

An attack is not an ability check. Like saving throws, it's a roll that uses stat bonuses, but nowhere is it said to be an ability check. Not in the combat section, and not in the ability check section.

And the Assassinate ability is simply a feature that character gets during combat. It does not define the entirety of how that character might possibly kill something. If the assassin is hidden on a rooftop waiting patiently for their foe who makes an appearance and provides an easy shot, the assassin will fire and drop their target. There is no uncertainty. The assassin is surely competent at their job? It would be like asking a blacksmith to make an ability check to pound metal on an anvil. :)

You are adding more to the Assassinate ability than is there. By RAW, it's only a crit, which can mean as little as 1 point of extra damage.
 


robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
An attack is not an ability check. Like saving throws, it's a roll that uses stat bonuses, but nowhere is it said to be an ability check. Not in the combat section, and not in the ability check section.

So a D20 roll to which you add either your strength or dex modifiers and proficiency bonus and compare with a number to see if you succeed is not an ability check?....

Just because WotC doesn’t write their books in plain English doesn’t mean we can’t say “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...”
 

So a D20 roll to which you add either your strength or dex modifiers and proficiency bonus and compare with a number to see if you succeed is not an ability check?....

Just because WotC doesn’t write their books in plain English doesn’t mean we can’t say “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...”
@Maxperson is correct. An attack roll is explicitly not an ability check. For example Bard's JOAT ability does not give a bonus to attacks with non-proficient weapons. It does give a bonus to initiative rolls, which explicitly are ability checks. Guidance cantrip does not affect attack rolls.
 


I'm talking about his auto death addition.
Which must be at least +3 unless there is some circumstance which denies the Sneak Attack bonus. The sneak attack does weapon damage plus at least 2d6 (level 3). The crit doubles the weapon damage dice and the sneak attack dice, so you must roll at least 3 extra dice.
 

FreeTheSlaves

Adventurer
If you're unaware of attackers you're surprised. If you're surprised you don't get to act, move or react until your first turn is finished.

If an assassin initiated combat, but the party concluded the battle halfway through round one. It's concluded. I suppose the upstaged assassin could resheathe their half drawn dagger, or what have you that started the battle. A bit of sleight of hand and no one apart from their friends might ever know they started it.

In real world, surprise is so powerful because sudden extreme aggressiveness forces a rapid change in mindset. But after an initial attack, no one will be in a relaxed frame of mind. I think the RAW supports this narrative quite beautifully, actually.

Now, if Calm Emotions were cast, or some clever acting were done - against a higher DC, perhaps skilled PCs could pull it off again in short order? Yeah, I'd let players get creative.

Regarding Charm Person to end the battle... It depends on how the fight started. If the assassin drew an unseen dagger but the Enchanter charmed the foe - before the foe had their turn, well, the foe's only enemy would be a 'trusted friend and ally', so they'd still be in a relaxed unaware state. Put yourself in the mind of out NPC, that can help adjudicate these things.
If, however, the foe had ended their turn before being charmed, too slow! They would have picked up on the tenseness and become alert. There are uncommon weapons of warning, Dex ASI's and the Alert feat in the game for a reason. Maybe delay SS until shoring up initiative?
 

Didn't we have this exact discussion back in 2015? and in 2016? Twice in '17? In both 2018 and 2019? I don't think there will be any new arguments presented.

Rule zero gives the DM authority to adjucate edge-cases where strictly following the rules give an unsatisfactory result. In my opinion the case of a single assasin attacking a single completely unaware target from hiding is definitely a situation where following the initiative and surprise rules can give a very counter-intuitive result, and my solution is simple; don't roll initiative. The assassin goes first and gets to make his attack. If the target is still alive after that, combat proceeeds normally.
 

FreeTheSlaves

Adventurer
Ability checks, saving throws and attack rolls are divided arbitrarily to make the game work. Really they're one in the same, dividing them up allows more nuance and depth.
 

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