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A continuation of How does surprise actually work in 7th Sea?. I edited in some additional clarification after I'd received answers, and it ended up getting lost...

The rules have this to say about surprise and ambush:

[make Wits + Ambush rolls] If you win, your target is surprised for one Phase.

You are allowed to Hold any Actions you would have normally received until you are no longer surprised.

Example: [...] the guard is surprised for 1 Phase. If Rodriguez saved an Action to take advantage of his surprise, the guard will most likely die a quick death.

The last question had to do with the timing of the ambush, this one has to do with initiative.

Let's take a look at the simple case of one ambusher and one ambushee (like the example).

Does it follow this sequence of events:

  1. Ambush check.
  2. Rodrigo gets one action while the guard is surprised.
  3. Initiative is rolled.

Or this one:

  1. Ambush check.
  2. Rodrigo and the guard roll initiative.
  3. The guard holds any phase one actions he rolls, and is considered to be surprised if Rodrigo happens to have actions during phase one.

Or something else?

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Roll the ambush check. Roll initiative. Non-surprised parties act normally; surprised parties do not. Then on to normal resolution.

Remember, examples are often not updated to rules changes late in playtest.

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So you're suggesting the second sequence of events? The problem I have with that is that many times (particularly when the ambusher is acting alone, when it's most needed) the ambush will do nothing. Hmm... Still, that may just be working as intended. – AceCalhoon Jan 18 '11 at 15:59
It's a known issue of the 7th Sea rules. Ambushes are not terribly effective in 7th Sea. it's that whole phase issue. – aramis Jan 20 '11 at 3:34
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Per the Compendium, page 5 (aka the official errata):

  • You are surprised for one entire round, not one phase.

This cleans up most issues with surprise. Surprised characters do not roll initiative during the first round. Surprising characters do.

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