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In the 5e Player's Handbook, rules are given on hidden weapons with sleight of hand. However, it doesn't say if there is any benefit to the hidden weapons or what it should be like.

Can a hidden weapon cause Suprise if combat is initiated with one being drawn?

For example, assassins might be disguised at a ball. They aren't hidden but it isn't known that they have hidden blades. The nearby player characters' and guards' passive Investigation is only high enough to notice one of the four assassins hidden weapons.

Are there rules from previous editions that might help?

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This is the DM's territory but surprise would be reasonable.

In this case literally – the rules say:

The DM determines who might be surprised.

However, there are some clarifications that follow that are in favor of surprise:

If neither side tries to be stealthy, they automatically notice each other. [...] Any character or monster that doesn't notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter.

Are the assasins trying to be stealthy? Well they are not literally hiding, but I would definitely consider their approach as stealthy. (Unless everyone knows them or they dress like assassins...)

Do other characters notice a threat? Seems to me they don't, because the blades are hidden.

Note though, that this seems situation/narrative sensitive. If a person in an open field 20 ft from you draws a previously unseen blade – no surprise. But when it happens right next to you at a busy ball? That's more like it. Just remember that DnD isn't detailed physics/combat simulators and these concepts (surprise) are just abstractions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to ask about the field part of your answer would that yield advantage? I know its not meant to be in depth simulator but someone pulling out a un noticed weapon and attacking seems pretty basic to have rules for especially with an entire skill that has that as a good part of it \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2019 at 9:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Deceptecium I think that the field example should generate neither advantage nor surprise. It's not anything mechanically significant, so it shouldn't yield any mechanical advantage. On the other hand if someone walks past you on the street just to turn around in the last second, reveal his hidden blade and stab you in the back, that is a surprise (not an advantage, at least not in the rules' sense). But that would also probably need some stealth/deception/sleight of hand checks. \$\endgroup\$
    – J.E
    Jan 25, 2019 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks for help I just wasn't sure if sleight of hand hidden weapon verse investigation should have benefits that are comparable to stealth vs perception. This cleared things up in sense that yes but under circumstances determined by dm \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2019 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's interesting that you chose 20ft as your example of "not a surprise". There is a firearm training exercise called the Tueller Drill, which posits that an attacker can close a 21ft gap and stab you before you have time to draw and fire a gun. And that's in optimal circumstances where you are ready and fully aware of what will happen. I think that's pretty good evidence that 20ft isn't enough time for a normal human to react, let alone when the attackers are the hyper dexterous rogues of D&D. \$\endgroup\$ May 20, 2020 at 7:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ In this respect, perhaps the raw rules "Any character or monster that doesn't notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter." is closest to reality, since at worst they miss out 6 seconds of gameplay. That's a lot, but it's likely closer to reality than 0 seconds. \$\endgroup\$ May 20, 2020 at 8:04

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