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I was researching sneak attacks made with spells and came across an interesting answer. That answer says the Arcane Trickster 10th level ability Surprise Spells lets you deal sneak attack damage with any spell, and goes on to name fireball.

How would sneak attacking via Surprise Spells apply to spells that the target can easily see, like black tentacles? Do the Arcane Trickster's spells benefit from their targets being flatfooted as long as the caster is invisible, or does the spell existing and being visible prevent the spell being used to sneak attack since they can see it to react?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related OOTS comic... ouch. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Jul 9 '17 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Remember, “[thing] and [thing]” is not a good title. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 9 '17 at 17:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie your editted title made the already posted answer rather off-place. I think "Does Surprise Spell work with indirect damage spells [like black tentacles] if the caster's situation allows it to a direct-damage one?" fits the spirit of OP's original question better. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Jul 9 '17 at 18:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin Sure, that would be an accurate edit if you wanted to make it. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 9 '17 at 21:03
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Surprise spells doesn't work with black tentacles at all.

the tentacles use your caster level as their base attack bonus and receive a +4 bonus due to their Strength and a +1 size bonus.

Your character has sneak attack damage, your black tentacles do not. It's not you dealing damage, it's the black tentacles dealing damage. This is the same logic that applies to summoning monsters. If you summon a monster with the surprise spells ability, they don't get the sneak attack dice either.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, thats a good point. I forgot that the BT got its own BAB \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Jul 9 '17 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually that's not obvious at all that it works that way. If the PC was just a Rogue/Wizard with sneak of course she couldn't sneak on black tentacles, but here he got a feature that explicitly "add her sneak attack damage to any spell that deals damage". \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jul 10 '17 at 9:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a difference between causing damage and summoning / creating something that deals damage. The black tentacles spell has it's own stats, it doesn't matter that those stats are derived from yours. It's a separate entity. \$\endgroup\$ – Snappie Jul 10 '17 at 9:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme I agree… sort of. I think that absent the phrase "if the targets are flat-footed" in the special ability surprise spells, the arcane trickster would just "add her sneak attack damage to any spell that deals damage" all the time, but just casting the spell black tentacles doesn't deal damage directly—the effect the spell creates does. However, upon typing that, that seems a really fine hair to split. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 10 '17 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel that black tentacles and summon monsters are clear cut. Some other spells leave room for ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$ – Snappie Jul 11 '17 at 6:13
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A surprise spell must be a targeted spell

The arcane trickster special ability surprise spells, in part, says, "At 10th level, an arcane trickster can add her sneak attack damage to any spell that deals damage, if the targets are flat-footed." Unlike, for example, the spell magic missile that has the entry Targets: Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart, the spells black tentacles and fireball have no Target entries so they have no targets (and, in fact, most area spells don't). Employing a targeted spell is one of the requirements for the special ability surprise spells to trigger.

Being invisible doesn't make your foes flat-footed

Merely being invisible is insufficient to render a foe flat-footed against the invisible creature's attacks. The invisible attacking creature does gain a +2 bonus on its attack rolls and the foe does lose it's Dexterity bonus to AC against the attack, but the foe is not actually considered flat-footed against attacks launched by the invisible creature, therefore the special ability surprise spells won't trigger by virtue of invisibility alone.

So to benefit from the special ability surprise spells, the arcane trickster can, for example, on the first round of combat cast a spell that has a Target entry at typical foes (like those without the extraordinary ability uncanny dodge) that have yet to act during that round. In such circumstances, the arcane trickster's special ability surprise spells usually triggers.

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