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I have a situation in a game that I am DMing, and would like thoughts.

4 Players in a room, one of them, Player A, decides to investigate the cloak hanging on a hook for keys/treasure.

Its a cloaker and it decides to attack Player A, who is basically in the same space and bent over checking the cloak. So, imo, everyone is surprised and it is a hidden creature. (I get hidden from the text of the cloaker saying you cant tell its a monster when its still.)

Everyone rolls init and I give the cloaker an attack on Player A as it bites down on his unsuspecting head.

So Player B has alert feat and has rolled higher in the INIT than the cloaker. So by RAW, he should be able to have his turn before the cloaker. But the common sense here is that if PLayer B went first, he wouldn't know they were in combat.

So I have ruled that Player A is surprised and attacked, then we start INIT. Because letting player B do 6 seconds worth of action makes no sense to me when the cloaker didn't have to do anything but chomp down on Player A's head.

I don't want to simply skip over the Alert Feat, and if Player B was the one messing with the cloaks, then I would just go by init.

Any thoughts?

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2 Answers 2

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All participants act simultaneously

Despite the fact we use sequential turns to structure tactical combat in D&D, all the combatants act in parallel in the game world. Player characters are not frozen in time — they see the cloaker in that very moment it starts moving and is no longer "indistinguishable from a dark leather cloak". So the action proceeds as follows:

  1. The cloaker starts moving
  2. Player A see this, but can't react fast enough (read "surprised")
  3. Player B also see this, and is not surprised thanks to the Alert feat
  4. Due to their decent Dexterity, Player B can react before the cloaker does anything dangerous

Keep in mind the rules doesn't say explicitly, what exact benefit the cloaker has from being "indistinguishable". If its first attack was always unseen, the rules would say so. However, using the "surprised" condition looks reasonable, since the general rule of determining surprise is

The DM determines who might be surprised.

The rules also say

A member of a group can be surprised even if the other members aren't.

So it'd be perfectly fine if only Player A (the victim) was surprised, not the entire party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, though it doesn't really extend well to other similar situations, where it's literally impossible for the surprising attacker to be perceived (e.g. when an invisible attacker who has made a Stealth check that beats all Perceptions makes their first attack; they can't be detected until the exact moment they attack and break invisibility/Stealth, yet the high initiative Alert character is given the go ahead to act before anything has happened). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2023 at 23:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger Such a situation makes it more difficult, but not impossible. Could go with something vague like "your well-trained danger sense tingles, but you don't see or hear anything specific". The Alert character could then cast Faerie Fire, or ready an attack for when something happens. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jorn
    Jul 21, 2023 at 11:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger according to the 5e rules, an attack attempt (hit or miss) can be always perceived. This is perfectly aligned with the heroic fantasy genre. The rules do not specify the exact moment though. We can assume that the beginning of the attack is perceived by all participants, even when attacker is invisible. If you need to implement completely unseen executions, you are probably playing the wrong game. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jul 21, 2023 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ An analogy might be a scene from a movie, where POV Character A is investigating a box, and suddenly a dagger slams into the wall next to him. He's totally surprised, maybe a little terrified, thinking Surly Character B is attacking/threatening him, until he sees the scorpion - unnoticed until now by A (or the audience) - squirming on the end of B's knife. Cue pithy comment from B and a sigh of relief from A. \$\endgroup\$
    – Izzy
    Jul 22, 2023 at 0:25
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Thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate them.

I found a happy medium on this, I let player B take a "held action". This stops the BA and MOVEMENT from happening, which didnt seem possible. The cloak was literally on its target, so for it to chomp down would be .25 seconds, it didn't have to move at all.

So I went with "Player B feels that something is wrong, and knocks an arrow just in case."

Then he got to shoot arrow, then cloak surprise attack on Player A, then to initiative. Its not RAW, but it does seem to work out well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd say trust the mechanics of the game and stop trying to make them fit exactly to what you perceive happening. Maybe player B was paying special attention to what A was doing and noticed something strange about the cloak. "As long as it's underside isn't exposed'. As A is investigating, maybe B saw a bit of the underside. The monster's attack is also not instantaneous. If hidden, it doesn't just have to 'bite down', otherwise it's head would be visible and nobody would mistake it for a cloak. So maybe it has to spread its wings to expose it's head to bite. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 21, 2023 at 21:29

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