AD&D Demystified: Surprise (Even Further Clarification)


Both the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide make reference to a condition known as complete surprise. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, it isn’t explained. Let’s look at examples. On page 168 of the DMG under crossbow of speed:

In surprise situations it is of no help, but on complete surprise situations the held crossbow will enable its user to fire in the 2nd segment portion.

So what the heck does complete surprise mean? Could it be that regular surprise is a result of 1 on 1d6, whereas complete surprise is a result of 2?

To make things even more confusing, however, take a look at page 23 of Dungeon Module G1-2-3 Against the Giants. When describing wererats encountered in the secret room on level 2:

They always attack either by surprise (1-3) or complete surprise (4-6).

So is complete surprise is actually anything more than 3 segments? Page 51 of the PHB, in the description of the 6th level cleric spell, aerial servant:

The aerial servant will always attack by complete surprise when sent on a mission, and gain the benefit of 4 free melee rounds unless the creature is able to detect invisible objects, in which case a six-sided die is rolled, and 1 = 1 free round, 2 = 2 free rounds, 3 = 3 free rounds, 4 = 4 free rounds, and 5 or 6 = 0 free rounds (the opponent is not surprised at all).

The only reasonable conclusion, I believe, is that 4+ is complete surprise. As a side note, on page 6 of OD&D’s Eldritch Wizardry supplement:

*Complete surprise is basically a die of 2 when checking


AD&D Demystified: Surprise Segments


When a party is surprised, the individuals on the other side can perform a full round of melee attacks each surprise segment (DMG page 62).

If and individual in the surprising party has a missile weapon readied beforehand, a full round of missile attacks can be made at three times the normal rate—otherwise a full round of missile attacks at normal rate—each surprise segment.

When moving, however, only one segment of movement can be carried out (see PHB page 102).

Magic-users and clerics in a surprising party can cast a spell with a casting time of 1 segment or begin casting a spell with a longer casting time.

Spell casters seem to get shafted by these rules. Furthermore, the advantage given to readied missile weapons seems overpowered. If I’m in a party that surprises a group of monsters, and I have composite bow (rate of fire is 2) readied with an arrow, that means I get six missile attacks in the surprise segment! My potential damage range against a small or medium creature that segment goes from 2-12 to 6-36!

AD&D Demystified: Determining Encounter Distance


After determining surprise, the DM must determine the encounter distance. Determining encounter distance when outdoors is outlined on page 49 of the DMG. The base distance is 6″ to 24″ (6d4). If either party involved is surprised, the distance is modified by subtracting the value of the surprised parties’ rolls. For example, if party A is surprised and their roll was 2, the distance is 6d4 – 2. Surprise decreases the encounter distance.

Terrain will also modify the encounter distance:

Scrub— -1 per die on all 3’s and 4’s

Forest— -1 per die on all numbers

Marsh— -1 per die on all 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s

For example, suppose a roll for base distance results in: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 3 = 13″. If the encounter takes places in a marsh, the rolls are modified as follows: 1 + (2 – 1) + (3 – 1) + (4 – 1) + (3 – 1) = 7″.

Determining encounter distance indoors is outlined on page 62 of the DMG. The base encounter distance indoors is 5″ to 10″ (1d6 + 4), subject to the following conditions:

  • Modify the distance, if necessary, taking into account line of sight.
  • If one of the parties is being noisy, the other has the opportunity to flee or conceal themselves. If concealment is chosen, the encounter distance is 1″ to 4″ before discovery.
  • Next, the distance must be constrained by the actual size of the room.
  • If the encounter is the result of an unplanned appearance, for example, teleporting in, the effect on distance is the same as when constrained by a room’s area.
  • If either party is surprised, the encounter distance is 1″ to 3″.
  • Lighting also affects encounter distance:
    • If reliance on a light source is necessary, then the encounter distance is limited to two times the light source’s radius.
    • The range limit of infravision and ultravision limit encounter distance as well.

A Quick Review of Osprey’s Lion Rampant Medieval Wargaming Rules


The Good

  • Stand sizes don’t really matter.
  • Emphasizes the importance of leaders
  • Good for quick skirmishes
  • Option for Leader duels is neat
  • Possibility of scenarios with victory conditions other than kill as much of your enemy as possible
  • Fun “boast” system that lets you declare special conditions in which you will win “glory” points in an upcoming battle
  • Manual is well-written, with gorgeous illustrations and photos

The Not So Good

  • Unit facing doesn’t matter
  • No advantages for flank or rear attacks
  • No penalties for units that violate the 3″ unit cohesion rule
  • If a single unit fails to activate, your turn is over

AD&D Demystified: Surprise (Further Clarifications)

Parties With a Chance to Surprise

What if a party has a chance to surprise? Let’s walk through the example on page 62 of the DMG. Suppose party A is surprised on a roll of 1. Suppose party B has a 5 in 6 chance to surprise party A. 1 or 2 on 1d6 is the baseline. Since party A is surprised on only a 1, party B’s chance to surprise party A is actually 4 in 6. In other words, party A will be surprised on a result of 1-4 and lose that many segments (unless party B is surprised as well).

A More Complicated Example

What about a gray dwarf—duergar—who surprises others 3 in 6 times, but is only surprised 1 in 10 times (Unearthed Arcana page 10)? Dragon magazine (issue 133, page 74) recommends converting everything to percentages. To determine the number of lost segments, divide the d100 roll by 16 2/3.

AD&D Demystified: Surprise

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons—”first edition” or “1e”—may be the most convoluted and confusing edition of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game due to Gary Gygax’s penchant for verbosity and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) poor organization. Over the course of several posts, I will attempt to clarify those rules that tend to be the most confusing—especially those regarding combat.

The steps for encounters and combat are listed on page 61 of the DMG . Step one is: “1. Determine if either or both parties are SURPRISED.” Each side—players’ party vs. monsters—rolls 1d6. Normally, a side is surprised on a result of 1 or 2. However, if a member of a side has better odds, then those odds are used for the entire side. For example, a ranger is only surprised on a result of 1 on 1d6  (PHB page 24); therefore, the ranger’s party would only be surprised on a result of 1 instead of the normal 1 or 2.

If a side is surprised, the number of pips on the die is the number of segments of inactivity that side must endure. What happens if both side are surprised? Suppose side A rolls a 1, and side B rolls a 2. Sides A and B will be inactive for one segment (surprise cancels out for that segment), and then side B will be inactive for an additional segment, while side A gets to act. However….

If a side is surprised, individuals on that side apply their reaction adjustments (Dexterity Table on page 11 if PHB). A penalty adds lost segments for that individual, and a bonus negates lost segments for that individual. HOWEVER….

Dexterity reaction bonuses only apply if the individual falls under the “normal gear” encumbrance category; however, penalties apply regardless (PHB pages 101-102).