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The rules for a surprise round, seem to be focused on the people being surprised. (They lose a turn) rather than being focused on the people doing the surprising (They get an extra turn)

The rules are clear, that each person in a group can be surprised, even if other people in the group are not surprised. So if a party is ambushed by a single stealthy carrion crawler, some members of the group will lose a turn (be surprised) and others will not (they get to act normally).

However, I'm not clear what happens if two groups approach each other, were some members are being stealthy and others are not.

For example, I have a Rogue who is being quiet and stealthy and rolls a 20 on their stealth check. The rest of the group however (Fighter and Wizard), is just marching along at a slow pace. They turn a corner, and see a group of 4 goblins, with a passive perception of 13. Do the 4 goblins lose their first turn because they are surprised by the rogue? Do the Fighter and Wizard get to act on that first turn?

Another example, Same two groups. Two of the goblins rolled a 20 on their stealth, and the other two rolled a 5. Are the Fighter and Wizard and Rogue surprised? (They lose their first turn) Or can they only attack the two goblins with a stealth of 5?

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I think you will get more and better answers by waiting a couple of days to select one. –  gomad Jul 16 at 6:01
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Surprise and stealth seemed to be explained in better detail in the Starter Kit

The Lost Mine of Phandelver features a small goblin ambush (as seen in the WOTC Livestream). The rules walkthrough for the stealth check and the suprise round says to roll once for all the goblins (adding their +6 stealth skill) and compare that one, party-wide check to Passive Perception of the PCs. PCs whose passive is less than the goblin stealth check are surprised and do not act in the first round.

This concurs with the Basic rules where in general one part or the other has the possibility of surprise depending on who is trying to set up an ambush.

1 player/PC scouting ahead of the main party would be treated like a separate party for the purposes of surprise round. They might find some goblins, fail to be noticed by the goblins, slip away warn the party, then the party as a whole could try to stealth forward.

A player showing up late to a fight could be hidden if they make a suitable stealth roll (i.e. some kind of cover) giving them advantage.

In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the Dungeon Master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen.

If the monsters and the main bulk of the party have already spotted one another/are engaged in combat I don't think a player who is further behind would in anyway get a surprise round compared to everyone else, no matter how good their stealth check. The enemies have already been alerted to the presence of the party (their enemies) and will be wary as the combat commences.

However if that player is trying to sneak into the combat, they can and should get advantage if they make a good enough stealth check.

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So just to be clear, individuals can be surprised, but individuals can not surprise a group unless alone? –  GMNoob Jul 15 at 12:32
    
This is a great answer, but there are still two parts that I'm unclear on. What if a character who does not yet detect the hidden goblins (because his or her passive perception is too low) chooses to roll a perception check prior to being attacked by the goblins? Does he or she have a chance to not be surprised if successful? Also, when running games in previous editions during situations like this, I would ask each player to roll a perception check. Does passive perception completely replace this practice, or is that up to the GM? –  Dyndrilliac Jul 15 at 12:39
    
@Dyndrilliac passive perception replaces a roll unless the Player requests to do it. The DM doesn't ask for it, unless it's not an "always happening" situation. –  GMNoob Jul 15 at 12:40
    
I get why the goblins would get a single roll, but if you're rolling stealth for a group of adventurers instead of a group of identical monsters, how do you decide whose stealth bonus to use? Worst bonus? Best? Average? –  Tack Jul 15 at 14:00
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@Tack worst, the noise heavy armor fighter is really going to muck it up for everyone else if they are staying together. Its a single roll for the goblins because they have identical stats. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 15 at 14:03
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The Basic Rules (Ver 0.1) does not specify what happen in this case, and DM can decides what happens.

In playtest rules, when a group meet another group, a few things may happen:

  1. Every member of both groups successfully hide from every member of the other group, and they sneak by each other unaware of the encounter.
  2. Every member of one of the groups successfully hide from every member of the other group, and they get a surprise round.
  3. In other cases, characters who are "less prepared" (by failing readiness check) are surprised, regardless of hidden status. A character can be both hidden and surprised.

Related rules in DM guildelines's Dungeon Adventuring section:

Travel Pace. The travel pace of an exploring group determines its readiness. This quality is expressed as a DC that you can use for several circumstances, such as when a character makes a Wisdom saving throw at the start of a battle to avoid being surprised.

Stealth. One group or the other can avoid detection completely only if all its members are successfully sneaking. Otherwise, contests occur as necessary to determine if anyone attempting to sneak on either side is detected.

Surprise. If one group is hidden from the other, that group has surprise. Otherwise, each creature and character makes a Wisdom saving throw against a DC that corresponds to its readiness.

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The rules for determining surprise in combat changed from the playtest, (from DM fiat to rules) Any reason why these other playtest hints would be useful? –  GMNoob Jul 15 at 10:45
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@GMNoob Good question. The way I read it, in playtest the combat rules concern 'what happens when you are surprised', and the DM rules concern 'who is surprised when two group meet', which is the question here. The basic rules has yet to provide DM rules, and the question doesn't exclude playtest, so I think for the best answer I cannot exclude relevant playtest rules. Does it make sense? –  Sheepy Jul 15 at 10:59
    
the DM rules here tell me who has surprise (a concept that may not be relevant), not who is surprised. Especially since there is no wisdom saving throw in the rules anymore. :( –  GMNoob Jul 15 at 11:02
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I've added emphasis to the quoted section: A group can avoid detection if all its members are successfully sneaking, and if a group is hidden, they get surprise. –  Adeptus Jul 16 at 0:30
    
@GMNoob I read 'who has surprise' as 'the other side is surprised', like 'you grab him' means 'he is grappled by you'. The readiness wis save is missing in basic not because the rules has been removed, but because it is not released yet (WotC plan to release it in the future). It may have really been removed, but we don't know until it is out; before then, playtest is all we have. –  Sheepy Jul 16 at 3:04
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