21st Century D&D


Surprise is what happens when one side has gotten the drop on the other. The process supercedes the normal determination of initiative, and surprised targets are particularly poor at defending themselves.

A d6 is rolled for each side which might be surprised. Thus if party A is ambushing party B, only party B throws a surprise die. Unless otherwise stated, a combatant is surprised 2 in 6, which means on a 1 or 2 for his side’s surprise die, he is surprised. Some creatures and character classes are surprised on lesser chances, such as rangers (in wilderness), thieves and assassins (in urban areas), and monks above 1st level. In addition, some creatures will increase their opponents’ chance to be surprised (see the ranger for an example.)

If surprise is indicated for any combatant, a surprise round takes place. Only non-surprised combatants can act in this round.

Disadvantages of Being Surprised

Surprised combatants have the following disadvantages:

Surprise and Initiative

If there are non-surprised combatants on both sides of a conflict, then initiative is rolled to determine which side goes first in the surprise round; these initiatives are retained after the surprise round for the rest of the combat, as normal.

If one side is totally surprised, then initiative is determined as normal after the surprise round. It is perfectly possible for the surprising party to win initiative, thus enabling them to immediately take another turn!

Surprise Scenarios

Some sample scenarios which may lead to surprise, taken from the Tao of D&D wiki, are listed below.

Surprise may occur when the characters are: