Dungeons & Dragons Changes Rules on Surprising Foes in 2024 Player's Handbook

Dungeons & Dragons is toning down how Surprise works in the 2024 Core Rulebooks.

Dungeons & Dragons is changing the rules on how "surprise" works in its upcoming rulebooks. This week, Wizards of the Coast released its first salvo of information about the new Core Rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons, which features an extensively revised ruleset for the game's current 5th Edition. While the D&D design team insists that the game's rules aren't changing enough to call the 2024 ruleset a new edition, numerous smaller rules are receiving updates, which are intended to make the game more balanced. One such change is to how "surprise" works within the game, making it less prohibitory than the 2014 ruleset. 

In the 2014 ruleset, if a creature is surprised at the start of combat, they are unable to move, take an action, or take a reaction during the first round of combat. Any creature with the surprised condition is functionally a sitting duck during combat, which usually made ambushes and "sneak attacks" (not related to the Rogue's Sneak Attack ability) incredibly deadly. A prepared group of players could wipe out foes in a single round of combat or make the combat encounter superfluous at best, while a surprised group of players were instantly put at a crippling disadvantage. 

The 2024 ruleset tones the Surprised condition down significantly. Now, if a player or monster is Surprised, they have disadvantage on their Initiative roll at the start of combat. Some classes or subclasses can still take advantage of the Surprised condition, such as the Champion Fighter subclass. The Champion Fighter has advantage on Initiative, which makes it much more likely that they will go early in the combat round when they are facing a surprised foe and also means that they'll have a straight roll on Initiative when surprised. 

The changes to how the Surprised condition works means that players should no longer try to find convoluted ways to surprise foes in every situation, as it's not nearly as powerful of a condition to obtain. It also means that DMs may no longer choose to enforce the rules that surrounding surprise (i.e., active Stealth checks checked against passive Perception scores of their opponents) since the rules aren't nearly as punishing.

You can check out other rules changes appearing in the 2024 Core Rulebooks, and the Player's Handbook will be released on September 17th.