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Suppose that my party uses Dimension Door to get into the enemy temple. Their spell dumps them into a room containing a cultist who is awake and alert (but not, obviously, expecting imminent combat). What happens next?

I'm choosing between:

  1. Casting the spell initiates combat with a surprise round; the spellcaster gets no further actions this turn, but the rest of the party gets a standard action for surprise
  2. The party wasn't aware of the cultist prior to the spell, so it takes them a bit of time to orient themselves; there is no surprise round

Is there a standard way to handle this, or do I just do whatever leads to a more interesting combat?

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From page 178 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook:

How Combat Works
...
1. When combat begins, all combatants roll initiative.
2. Determine which characters are aware of their opponents. These characters can act during a surprise round. If all the characters are aware of their opponents, proceed with normal rounds.

So, with the information given in the question, no, there would be no surprise round. The PCs were not aware of what was in the room before teleporting into it, and the cultist was not aware of them before they appeared. Therefore, both parties become aware of each other at the same time, and combat proceeds without a surprise round.

Of course, if the situation changes, the answer might change as well. If, for example, the party used Clairvoyance to scout out the room before they went in, they would know about the threat, and would get to act in the surprise round. On the other hand, if the cultists had a spell active on their temple to warn them of anyone attempting to teleport in, they might have the surprise instead. But, without any outside factors like that, no surprise round.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take a moment to check out the tour and the help center to get an idea of how things work. That said, great first answer, +1! \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Jun 26 '15 at 0:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Thank you! Been hunting for somewhere I could contribute something for a while now, finally got lucky. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26 '15 at 0:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Would it be possible/useful to ready an action "when there is a cultist in my range when we teleport in, I attack them immediately"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Jun 26 '15 at 12:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp Readying an action is generally not allowed outside of initiative order, largely to deal with attempts to use it to supplant the initiative roll. The point at which initiative itself is rolled could be considered variable, which could allow an "early" readying, but this should be used carefully. I personally wouldn't allow an initiative roll unless the PCs were specifically aware of a potential threat (e.g. trying to negotiate with some unfriendly-looking orcs to let them pass instead of attacking) rather than just generally being on guard (e.g. walking through a random dungeon hall). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26 '15 at 12:15

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