Monday, October 31, 2011

Surprise Suxors

DMing lately I've realized I don't like surprise... rules. They are (to lessor or greater extent depending on system) a confusing exception to combat sequence.  Esp in OSRIC!  Surprise has the same, bad "swingy" characteristics of criticals (unfun to be surprised, an anti-climatically "win" button to surprise).  Worst of all, asking for a surprise check eliminates any actual surprise!  [Don't generally wanna roll dice in secret for players.  A mechanic that requires me to, is a bad mechanic].

I'm not against surprise.   But, it doesn't have an effect on play often enough to deserve it's own specialized mechanic and it should not be a part of every combat.   Surprise should be uncommon and special.  Not, "ho-hum we rolled for surprise".  Instead, "Holy fuck where did that come from!"  Certain creatures that attack from ambush, should roll for surprise.  Or, just give them the initial attack automatically.

My just formulated rule of thumb; If ambusher is something like jaguar, piecer, mimic combat will start with their "free" attack.  Then roll for initiative.  If it's just some schmuck orcs with bows hiding in the woods I'll give them first initiative.  Which, I guess is a surprise rule.  So, I must alter my initial statement to "I don't like existing, complex surprise rules.  I like mine."  Which is really no surprise ;)

Still, describing how a stalagtite has fallen from ceiling, knocking down Sir Roderick and piercing his shoulder is much more fun/dramatic/tension building than annoucing "roll for surprise".


  1. I get not wanting to roll in secret for players. I don't care for it as a player, either. I actually did like it when, the 3.5 Dirt campaign, you had us roll a d20 about 100 times and record that list, which you then used as our "rolls" whenever you needed a secret roll, such as for spot checks.

    I realize that it makes no actual numerical difference whether you or I throw the dice, but the fact that I did somehow gives me a sense of "ownership" of the roll.

    Under your surprise house rule, will skilled ambushers like a mimic get the "free" attack even if players have described how they are being extremely wary and careful? I have to say that as a player, I don't really like rules where I feel my character isn't given a chance.

  2. Hey, I still have at least one reader!

    Characters are always extremely wary and careful! It's only one attack, you still have a chance ;) and it's only creatures who are built around ambush and only when they could ambush. So, if you poke chest with 10' pole you will spoil the mimics surprise.

    Based on concrete, i.e. not just saying "I'm looking real hard", action rather than die roll.


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