Looking at this question about sniping, in this situation:

Example 3

A wields a loaded crossbow and waits on on a cliff overlooking a valley for B to walk by. A is unobserved and has a low obstacle for cover. B, 360 ft. away, walks by. An opposed skill check is made (A's Hide skill versus B's Spot skill at -36 for distance). A wins the opposed skill check. A's presence is unknown to B. A, during the surprise, fires his crossbow round at B.

The problem is that A doesn't get a move action to hide again. With only two combatants, the surprise round lets A act but not B. Can A choose not to act, waiting until the first round of combat actually begins, and thus getting a full action? B cannot see A and does not know A is there, so can combat actually begin at all?

(The original question was targeted at 3.5 but I play Pathfinder, so both answers would be useful for me to understand the situation)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Possibly of interest: Sandals of Quick Reaction and Bandit, both of which seem to imply that sniping during a surprise round is normally impossible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric B
    May 23, 2014 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for an answer that is rules-as-written, or would an answer based on a more liberal interpretation be just as good? \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    May 23, 2014 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @EricB don't see the implication; more actions is always good, not just for sniping, and neither thing mentions sniping explicitly. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 29, 2014 at 8:57

10 Answers 10


Well, it depends.

If you go purely RAW, you can't.

But that is silly.

The rules of when combat starts are really a disapointment. I would suggest you to see this with your DM. Most DM's house-rule obvious silly things, like the XP-Penalty for multiclassing, so maybe your DM would go the same way with those rules.

Afterall, what sense would make if you got penalized by going first?

In this special case, I would let the sniper shoot his arrow and do his hide check. That's a valid way to rule this situation that won't really break the game.

Talk to your DM and check with him. There's no better person that address this besides him.

Want a RAW solution?

Create a diversion.

Use your surprise round to throw a rock somewhere so the enemy look to that side. Done.

Problem solved.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is throwing a rock going to make the opponent aware? Maybe, maybe not. Yelling a threat or slur will. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Jul 3, 2015 at 17:33

You cannot stop a Surprise round from occurring. You can, however, Delay until the first round of the Combat.

So in a word, yes. Yes you can not act in the surprise round.


By choosing to delay, you take no action and then act normally on whatever initiative count you decide to act. When you delay, you voluntarily reduce your own initiative result for the rest of the combat. When your new, lower initiative count comes up later in the same round, you can act normally. You can specify this new initiative result or just wait until some time later in the round and act then, thus fixing your new initiative count at that point.

You never get back the time you spend waiting to see what’s going to happen. You can’t, however, interrupt anyone else’s action (as you can with a readied action).

Initiative Consequences of Delaying

Your initiative result becomes the count on which you took the delayed action. If you come to your next action and have not yet performed an action, you don’t get to take a delayed action (though you can delay again).

If you take a delayed action in the next round, before your regular turn comes up, your initiative count rises to that new point in the order of battle, and you do not get your regular action that round.

There is nothing stopping you using this as a method to act first in the first round regardless of rolled initiative.

Arguments Against This

There are two things which people might take as proof that you can't 'not act' in the Surprise Round.

The Surprise Round

If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds begin. Any combatants aware of the opponents can act in the surprise round, so they roll for initiative. In initiative order (highest to lowest), combatants who started the battle aware of their opponents each take a standard action during the surprise round. You can also take free actions during the surprise round. If no one or everyone is surprised, no surprise round occurs.

This is the first. There is no 'can', so some people, despite textual examples to the contrary, might take it to mean that you must take a standard action in the Surprise Round. There are a lot of standard actions that do not necessarily make foes aware of you, though, so do one of those. Make a Knowledge Check, for example. Or Drink a held potion. Or spend your standard action performing a move action like drawing a weapon, or sneaking. So forth.

There is no magical 'initiative sensor' that tells foes that you are there when initiative is rolled. There can, and should, be combats where multiple rounds occur without foes becoming aware of you.

At the start of a battle, each combatant makes an initiative check.

'It's not a battle unless you're attacking!'. There are no explicit rules for when to roll initiative. Thus, people will argue that it requires an 'attack' to roll initiative, thus shoehorning someone into a surprise round standard action attack any time they declare an attack (and thus ruining a stealthed Full Attack, or a Sniping attempt).

The DMG mentions that moving into initiative is a good way to deal with time sensitive situations, like sneaking past guards or trying to defuse a bomb. The Rules of the Game articles mention something similar. Overland Movement is based on your combat speed, and combat actions like 'hustling' (double move action) and 'sprinting' (full round action).

The game is intended to be executed in rounds, and rolling initiative is just a formalization of that, rather than the abstraction used normally 'I search the corridor' etc. Even using only the sentence above, we come to this;

battle ˈbat(ə)l/

noun: battle; plural noun: battles

1. a sustained fight between large organized armed forces.

"the battle lasted for several hours"

synonyms: fight, conflict, armed conflict, clash, struggle, skirmish, engagement, affray, fray, encounter, confrontation; More

In usage, 'battle' in modern american english refers to any situation with formalized violence. 'The duration of the hostilities', the 'armed conflict in the blah region'. It is not typically used solely to refer to actual instances of getting shot or stabbed. If you're trying to sneak up on someone, that is probably also part of the combat, and should, or could, be handled in rounds.

It's entirely possible to kill an enemy without the rest of the enemies noticing - illusions, Dominate Person, Death Attack + silence.

At that point, under the argument that 'combat' only starts when enemies notice, at which point you only get a surprise round before they get to respond, you have a situation that is plainly ridiculous - a silent, perfect kill 'triggering combat' and having guards raising the alarm all over the place for no reason, like it's a computer game with shoddy code.

It makes vastly more sense that Initiative can and should be rolled any time it's important to track things in rounds - just as the DMG says you should. 'Getting in position to attack the enemies' sounds like something that should be tracked in rounds, if there is a chance of being spotted, or other people doing other things at the same time.

Otherwise you end up with combat occurring 'off screen' as long as enemies remain unaware, which removes the entire point of the initiative order - to track people's actions and give everyone a turn.

In short, the 'Surprise Round' is a terrible kludge inserted at the last minute without regard for the other rules, exactly the same as the Sniping section in the Hide rules. It should not exist. It raises multiple rules questions, is open-ended in several respects, it contradicts the normal rules for initiative and the verisimilitude of the normal cat-and-mouse game of ninja vs guards.

It should not exist. But if it does exist, there is nothing stopping you simply delaying out of it, except for a misreading of the first line of a condensed set of rules text in the SRD - that can, and should, be ignored in favour of the more complete explanation of Rounds and Combat which exists in the DMG proper.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a point of order: "the 'Surprise Round' is a terrible kludge inserted at the last minute without regard for the other rules": Far from being inserted at the last minute, "the surprise round" has been in D&D for four decades. \$\endgroup\$ May 23, 2014 at 20:37

You can avoid the surprise round by going out of hiding and honorably declaring your murderous intentions.

Short of that, no, you can't skip your surprise round if there are unaware combatants. It automatically happens.

See this clause from the initiative rules:

The Surprise Round

If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds begin.

So if your opponent is unaware, you get a surprise round whether you like it or not.

I'd also argue that in this situation (one aware combatant and one unaware) you can't twiddle your thumbs through the surprise round. If you're skipping go before combat starts and you're the only one participating, then combat hasn't started, which means the surprise round has yet to happen.

Is it silly?

Absolutely. Welcome to actions and initiative in D&D 3.5. Hope you didn't want to walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.

(Note: I write this from a D&D 3.5 standpoint. The text appears to be unchanged in Pathfinder.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that in this particular case, since there is only one aware combatant, the logical conclusion is that skipping their action merely delays the surprise round. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Jul 3, 2015 at 17:32

I'm guessing your goal here is to get a full round action before the other person goes/is flat footed; if you wait til the following round, you run the risk of having that other person go before you. I think you might be able to spend your surprise round delaying. You would then insert your character's actions at the top of the initiative order at the beginning of the next round. Your DM might be skeptical about this, but I don't see why it wouldn't work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you don't take some action to start combat (and thus trigger the surprise round), is initiative ever rolled? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    May 23, 2014 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no hard and fast rule for when initiative is rolled. There are some loose guidelines, which recommend both rolling it any time there is a time pressure, and rolling it 'when battle occurs'. As such, it's not part of RAW, and comes down to when the DM thinks combat 'should' be rolled. The advice in the DMG suggests rolling it any time there is a time pressure, and 'sneaking up on people to ambush them' sounds like a prime candidate for that. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    May 23, 2014 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JackLesnie Yep. That's something I'd like to see this answer address in some way, as it's a fairly key part of the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    May 23, 2014 at 17:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Them being flat-footed is a nice to have, not necessarily required. If they roll initiative, win over me, and still can't perceive me with a spot check, all they get is the bonus to AC for not being flat-footed anymore. \$\endgroup\$ May 23, 2014 at 18:14

Here's where I keep coming back to:

If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds begin.

So we have a surprise round (round 0) where A is aware of B but B is not aware of A. A chooses not to act, passing their standard action with a delay or a no-op or whatever. At the top of the next round, A is aware of B but B is not aware of A. That means not all combatants are aware of their opponents, so round 1 is also a surprise round. A does not get to move, so A delays again. Round 2 begins. B is not aware of A, so this is also a surprise round.

The loop won't end until B becomes aware of A. If B gets to make another perception check, or if A changes spots so re-rolls hide, or something like that, this could break the loop, but otherwise it seems A is stuck with a partial action. If A fires, B is now aware of A's general presence (and possibly their location depending on what else is going on), so we're into regular combat.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The rules never discuss a second surprise round, but this is a logical conclusion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Jul 3, 2015 at 17:28

You can't snipe during a surprise round

I disagree with all the answers here because they all say that being unable to snipe during the surprise round makes no sense, and then go on to provide a bunch of rule-bending or house ruling to rectify this 'problem'.

I say it makes total sense! The rules as written clearly do not support sniping during a surprise round. Since the other answers cover that quite thoroughly, instead I'll just discuss why this is. Let's consider the cases of both aware and unaware opponents.

Unaware Opponents

The guard blocking the gate is standing at attention, keeping an eye out for threats. Suddenly a crossbow bolt flies out of the trees and hits him, so he immediately looks over there to see what the hell is going on. Unless the guard has the intelligence of an ooze, he knows that he just got attacked by that bush and no amount of stealth mastery is going to convince him otherwise.

Aware Opponents

At some point, combat started. However, the rogue is not currently visible. The party's fighter or barbarian charged in and started swinging wildly, while the rogue sat quietly behind a bush. Now, the rogue's turn has come, and since he was clever enough to bide his time until his enemy was distracted by other combat, he can now snipe and potentially remain hidden using a full turn.


Well dang, I really wanted to snipe that guy undetected. Don't worry, with a little magical assistance, or extremely specialized training, you can! (Note however that these are pathfinder specific)

If you're a Bandit, you have access to Ambush:

At 4th level, a bandit becomes fully practiced in the art of ambushing. When she acts in the surprise round, she can take a move action, standard action, and swift action during the surprise round, not just a move or standard action.

And for everyone else, there's the Sandals of Quick Reaction:

When the wearer acts during a surprise round, he can take a standard and a move action during the surprise round. If the wearer already has the ability to take a standard and a move action during the surprise round, he instead gains a +10 circumstance bonus to speed when acting during a surprise round.

Finally, I'll add that if this is almost certainly not an oversight or a design flaw. Why would the designers explicitly make stealth after sniping a move action if it were not meant to be extremely difficult to do? I find it quite unlikely that they simply forgot about surprise rounds while writing the snipe rules. Furthermore, while the Ambush ability could certainly apply to other, non-sniper builds, it really seems like it was practically designed for sniping. This is just more evidence that being unable to snipe during the surprise round is by design.

But, in the end, as everyone else has said countless times, it is up to the GM to decide what works best at your table. At the least, I hope this sheds some light on the other side of this argument.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree that "Unless the guard has the intelligence of an ooze, he knows that he just got attacked by that bush". Sure, if you're Solid Snake in a cardboard box it's obvious. In a forest, which bush just attacked you? Was someone inside the bush or behind it? Was it a creature or a crossbow trap? Maybe it's someone with Greater Invisibility cast upon them. The point is, there are plenty of reasons why a fairly smart guard doesn't perfectly understand the situation, and some of them allow the rogue to stay "hidden". Also, in this case, what happens after battle starts? \$\endgroup\$ May 23, 2014 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point is that all other things being equal, you're more likely to notice where the shot came from if it initiates combat than if you were already fighting something else. Of course there are ways to stay hidden, greater invisibility is certainly one of them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric B
    May 23, 2014 at 19:20

This is not really that complex a problem.

From the Player's Handbook (3.5, paraphrased):

  1. Combatants all start out flat-footed. Combatants loose flat-footed status once they act.

  2. The DM decided who is aware of whom and those who are aware of those who aren't get roll initiative. They also have a surprise round where they can do one standard action.

  3. Combatants who have not yet rolled initiative do so. This line here is the important part: it does not say that all combatants who are aware now roll initiative; it say all combatants, even the clueless fellow you're about to snipe.

  4. Combatants act in initiative order.

  5. Repeat 4 and 5 ad nauseum.

What this says is that time doesn't enter some funky perpetual surprise round half-step. This says that after the surprise round time continues normally.

The thing of it is you can use a delay action. Very first line of delay action is that you take no action and then act normally on whatever initiative count you decide to act. In other words, if your character takes no action during the surprise round he can basically pick his initiative in the first full round, and because initiative has no set scale save its order, you can always opt to go first in the round. That's how snipers get the opportunity to snipe and hide in combat without being seen.

Before I'll finish I'd like to point out the main reason sniping in 3.5 is set up like this, IMHO. PCs sniping a NPC villain is fun and enjoyable. PCs getting sniped at by an NPC is in no way fun nor enjoyable. If PCs could snipe in the surprise round, then NPCs could too and your character might become an ex-character on a poor initiative roll even if you got lucky and spotted the sniper. To avoid that, making sniping during the surprise round itself impossible is a good solution, and letting them pick their initiative the next round is also a good way to let those with the skill continue to have their head-shots at the unwary.


If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds begin.

As I see it, there's two major interpretations:

  1. When combat begins, there is one surprise round, followed by zero or more regular rounds.
  2. If no combatants are aware of their opponents, then combat has not yet begun, so a surprise round would occur. If they remain unaware, combat still has not yet begun, so a surprise round would occur.

I think the first interpratation (RAI here), makes a little less sense, and fits with all of the other rules better. I think that the second interpretation (RAI still), makes a little more sense, but doesn't fit in with the other rules and can lead to absurdities.

According to the first interpretation, surprise rounds don't happen until after combat has officially "begin". This is backed by the RAW that says that the surprise round begins after initiative has already been rolled for combat (at least according to the d20srd and dndwiki, which is all I have access to right now). The surprise round happens, (and characters may delay, there's nothing saying they can't), and then regular initiative is rolled, and regular turns begin, and the snipers may have their delayed turns: attack and hide. This doesn't conflict with any other rules I'm aware of, and the only oddities are that players are rolling initiative and beginning turns before the characters know that combat is starting, and that it would be common to delay the surprise round actions until the regular round, which is admittedly pretty weird.

According to the second interpretation, no actions have taken place, therefore combat has not yet begun. They others are also claiming that you can't delay in a surprise round, or else it leads to the aforementioned noncombat paradox, leading to the inability to ambush an opponent.
There's also two other consequences:

2A) You could stick with RAW that additional surprise rounds only occur "if some but not all combatants are aware of their opponents", but this leads to the paradox that as long as any one character remains oblivious (drunk?), then combat would take place entirely in surprise rounds, and nobody could move. You could argue that that character was not a combatant to bypass the issue, but RAW definitely doesn't mention any rules for "noncombatant" characters in combat.

2B) You could claim that additional surprise rounds only occur if nobody on one team is aware, but then that is clearly not backed by RAW, since RAW doesn't really have the concept of "teams". RAW has the concept of allies vs enemies, but these are subjective and not-transative, and deciding who's on which team may become fuzzy.


This is not how a surprise round works, at least not in games I run.

As Zachiel mentions in this post, the rules don't explicitly spell out when a surprise round actually starts. Your question implies that the surprise round starts the moment you become aware of your enemy. I rule this as Zachiel does; the surprise round starts when a combatant from the opposing (surprised) side becomes aware. Up until that point, the aware side can act freely. Thus if you didn't choose to act, no surprise round would occur (since the other side doesn't know you are there).

Having said that, it doesn't necessarily change anything. The question still remains, once you choose to act and the surprise round ensues, you don't have the actions to snipe in the half-length surprise round, so how do you attack and then hide? I do not see any way, short of a feat or magic that grants you additional actions to snipe during the surprise round. I also see no reason you could not delay**, though you may lose the favorable conditions of attacking before your opponent has acted.

Also, dropping prone is a free action, so you could shoot, then drop prone. This isn't technically sniping, but would grant you total cover after the attack, so you would at least start your next turn hidden (and thus qualify for sniping). If you had a feat that allowed you to get back up as a swift action, then you could follow up this maneuver with sniping, but otherwise you won't be able to snipe as this requires a standard action ranged attack followed by a move action to hide.

Without feats or magic, one way to snipe is to make a noise so that your opponent is "aware" of you (and thus no surprise round occurs). Again, you give up favorable conditions and an attack if your opponent rolls a higher initiative, but then the conditions and action economy would allow you to snipe.

While technically not "sniping", since sniping requires a "move action", I see no reason you could not simply duck. If dropping prone is a free action, certainly ducking would not require more. Shoot, then duck during the surprise round (which grants total cover, obviating the need for a Hide check), then on your next turn, lift up your head (which may require a Spot check, depending on if your opponent beat your initiative and what your opponent did while you were hidden from each other), and decide what to do, including "sniping".

One could argue (I guess I am), you could forgo sniping altogether and take advantage of the cliff to achieve the same results, without the need for a hide check or a move action, since with your head sticking out, you have cover, but when ducking, you have total cover. Just remember, while you benefit from total cover, so does your opponent, and may use that to close distance to the cliff and ready an action to attack when you poke your head out next... Sniping is technically superior, as you can Hide with cover (without having to block your line of sight to the enemy), but you could use this approach during the surprise round, gambling that you will beat the opponent's initiative and snipe after that.

**I have seen it argued that if you delay, you have not "acted", thus you remain flat-footed, but that's a separate issue (and extremely literal).


PathFinder based answer.

Combat is initiated when B becomes aware of A, so after the shot since it has already been stated that B did not notice A lurking above behind low cover at 360' distance. So the shot is in the surprise round and it's the only action of that round. Roll initiative.

IF A goes first then engage sniping rules because B hasn't even had a chance to see A yet,

IF B goes first then they need to figure out who shot them, yes Stealth is negated by the attack but that doesn't mean that B instantly knows exactly where A is.

Arrows/Bolts have momentum, pain causes a reaction (as does surprise if the shot is a near miss), when you're hit you might have a 45 degree idea of where it came from horizontally and perhaps a bit better vertically working back from how the arrow/bolt is sticking out of you. If it missed then the scan area would be even larger unless you can see where the arrow/bolt landed and work back from that point. That's still a big area to look over to see the non-Stealthed A.

"Notice a visible creature" is DC 0 Perception check (a Perception check is a standard action so B has to wait until their turn to do it)... but A is still 360' away so there's a +36 to the DC. Go ahead B, make that DC 36 Perception check to see where A is... you've got 6 seconds before it gets even harder.

This is why a smart B should just run for cover rather than standing there like a deer in headlights scanning potentially hundreds of square feet of terrain for A.


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