Imagine a rogue beginning to move silently against a foe who has not yet spotted the rogue.
The rogue approaches the foe from behind successfully, and the enemy is flat-footed against the rogue. How does this plays out? Is the rogue allowed to do a full attack (all his attacks), or is he only allowed to do a single attack, because this is a surprise round and only standard actions are allowed?


3 Answers 3


Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 disregards most facing rules, so sneaking up behind someone usually isn't done. Instead, the awareness of the foe is determined if the rogue attempts to evade detection (e.g. the rogue has concealment and approaches a foe while making Hide skill checks and Move Silently skill checks). This is covered in the SRD under Initiative.

Determining awareness may call for Listen checks, Spot checks, or other checks.

If the creature remains unaware of his attacker when the attacker begins combat with the creature, a surprise round ensues.

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.

Unaware Combatants
Combatants who are unaware at the start of battle don’t get to act in the surprise round. Unaware combatants are flat-footed because they have not acted yet, so they lose any Dexterity bonus to AC.

Emphasis mine. Thus, barring specific exceptions, taking the full attack action (including two-weapon fighting) can't be done during the surprise round. Usually, the rogue must hope to beat his foe's initiative check on the first regular combat round to take the full attack action against the foe while the foe is still flat-footed.

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    – mxyzplk
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 14:08

A rogue cannot make a full attack with a standard action, so the strictly literal answer is no.

A rogue can use a surprise round's action to close with a target (if they are close enough) and make a full attack action on the following (nonsurprise) round. If that is before the target's turn, the target is flatfooted and all the individual attacks do sneak attack damage.

If the target's turn comes before the rogue's, the rogue is still successfully hidden, and the target doesn't move away, the rogue can still do a full attack action, but only the first attack does sneak attack damage before the rogue is unhidden. The rogue might be better served to do a standard attack and move back into hiding before the end of his turn.


No, but they could gain a standard action attack plus a full attack, all while the opponent is flat-footed.

Exactly when the surprise round starts is not abundantly clear in the section on surprise. However, my understanding is that the surprise round starts either when at least one combatant from each side is aware of the other side, or when an aware combatant attacks. Before that, aware combatants may act outside of the limitations of a combat round, provided their actions don't "spoil the surprise".

Thus a hidden rogue could discover an enemy and attempt to quietly alert allies and sneak into position so when the surprise round starts, the rogue may use a standard action to attack, then in the following round, provided initiative was won, gain a full attack, all while the enemy is flat-footed.

Even if the enemy won initiative, while practically impossible, the rogue could remain hidden after the first attack, and thus gain a second sneak attack, or a third, etc.

Arguably easier, the rogue could also work with an ally or allies to get in a flanking position, especially if the rogue moves into position while the opponent is still flat-footed.


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