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    Default Starting Combat Hidden

    Something that has come up in my recent game is that the rogue player insists on starting every fight already hidden.

    Now, I am running my own system, and I don't really have a rule to cover this. It doesn't seem terribly unrealistic, but it is a bit unfair (after all, why wouldn't everyone start hidden?)

    I was trying to look and see how other systems handle this, and afaict, they don't. None of the RPG books on my shelf seem to mention it at all.

    So, do you know of any systems that have good rules for determining who can start combat hidden?

    How do you handle it at your tables?

    Thanks!
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    I don't know how your system handles hiding, but in general it seems like something that should be very dependent on the situation. Are the party ambushing someone? Then it makes sense to start hidden. But if they're just sort of run into their enemies or are ambushed themselves? That makes less sense. Though I suppose it depends on what we mean by "hidden", I could see a stealth expert sticking to the shadows and generally being less noticable when moving around, but I wouldn't really call that "hidden".

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    GURPS does have one, which is literally "roll stealth". Usually with negative modifiers. You can reconcile "basic -5 to skill" in genre books with generic rules in Basic by presuming that in a stand-up fight you need to hide in one turn, so you usually need to move fast while in the ambush situation you don't need to and can roll the full skill.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Most every system I've ever played has some sort of 'Stealth vs Perception' system, either against a flat difficulty or (more commonly) opposed by the enemies roll.

    Further, many systems have some type of "Hide In Plain Sight" feat or special ability that says you can't use Stealth unless you have cover or the environment justifies it, and this special ability bypasses that.

    If you're ambushing somebody, you roll Stealth. If they don't see you, you start the fight hidden from them. (Technically, you're usually taking an action to hide, but this doesn't matter as we don't track round by round actions outside of initiative). Either you're in a hiding spot waiting for them, or you quietly open the door to their room and toss a knife at their back.

    If you're doing something else, you aren't hidden, because we've established that instead you're walking down the corridor drinking potions, or standing in the king's throne room talking to him, or whatever.

    If everyone can hide as a free action at the start of a combat, then logically, everybody should. There's no downside. If it's your own system and you don't want this to happen, build a chain of feats or the equivilant that say: Feat 1 (Hide In Plain Sight): I may Hide In Plain Sight, even if people are looking directly at me (I'm just that amazing a ninja); Feat 2 (Vanish): I may hide as a free action; Feat 3 (Ghost-like), I may hide instantly as a reaction, even if I am unaware anyone is looking at me or about to ambush me.
    Then it becomes possible for the player, and most people in the world won't do it because of the feat investment.
    Last edited by Reversefigure4; 2021-11-21 at 06:21 PM.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    It seems like a simple stealth vs perception situation to determine whether the hiding is successful in the first place, should probably be conditional on the terrain and the timing. It shouldn't always, or even often be possible to begin a combat hidden, without magic. The effect of attacking from hiding depends- it might just be that the hiding character gets an attack before the target has a chance to do anything, before initiative is determined. Once they attack, it makes sense that their hiding spot is revealed automatically, unless it's a modern sniper rifle situation and they are at a significant distance, or again, magic.

    Haven't found any games talking about it? I mean, D&D has very explicit rules about attacking from hiding, and a whole class that is built around doing it, in every edition. That's what back stab/sneak attack is. If you have sneak attack ability, you do extra damage when attacking from hiding. In 5e, you get advantage on attacks against unaware targets. A surprise round is what happens when one party is unaware of the other when the attack begins- the attackers get to take an action before their targets have a chance to do anything. In 3e that also meant they were "flat footed" and lost dex bonus to armor for that attack.
    Anyone can try to hide, most characters won't be particularly good at it.
    Last edited by Thrudd; 2021-11-21 at 07:29 PM.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    I agree with Reversefigure4, anyone can start combat hidden but then they had to say that they were hiding and that also precludes most other actions.

    Hiding also requires being heavily obscured, which limits WHERE you can be. The rogue can also stealth as a bonus action so if there's anywhere to hide they shouldn't have a problem starting their next turn hidden.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    In wargames the basic mechanic is that something that can be stealthy can only start stealthy if they meet conditions.
    The most simplistic condition is being in ambush (i.e. waiting for the enemy to come to you).
    The most difficult condition is double blind. (i.e. everything is hidden until spotted, which works best when both sides are moving into contact).

    The task then is to build the conditions on which it is reasonable for a character to start in stealth. Make the players aware this applies to enemies as well as PCs, so the non stealthy players may decide to veto this change.
    Factors that I would consider relevant:
    - speed of movement
    - sound (far more important irl than most games give credit for)
    - cover
    - skill at hiding
    - any distractions in the vicinity
    - how large an area the spotters have to surveil. Itmuch easier to watch a hallway than a 180 degree arc.
    - how close they are to others (once youve spotted one member of a group its much easier to locate other nearby members).

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    AD&D just went with surprise rolls. Certain species or classes got bonuses and the DM determined if there was any automatic success or failure. Then as long as one side or set of participants had a chance to surprise or to be surprised you rolled.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    If they start hidden that is usually handled by a mechanic like a surprise round. After all, successfully hiding by definition means that the enemy is unaware of your presence*.

    *generally speaking. It's also possible to be hidden from view, but have the enemy know you're out there somewhere. If that's the case, usually they won't be surprised, but may suffer other penalties relative to attacking or being attacked by you.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    So many factors can affect this. It's certainly reasonable to try it, but it isn't automatic.

    "In the last two minutes, you were taking part in the discussion. You aren't hidden."

    "Sure. As you approached the ogres, you saw them first."

    "No. They attacked you."

    "You just picked up the sword from the last treasure. You're with the others, not off in a corner."

    "You rolled a high initiative, and they are flat-footed. You are in the middle of the path, but you can use your move action to get somewhere hidden before they notice you. Make a Move Silently check and then a Hide check. Remember that if you move more than half your speed, there's a -5 penalty."

    Or, in advance, "OK, you're walking through the forest. Is the rogue trying to stay hidden? If so, he needs to stay out of discussions, and if he walks into a trap, the rest of the party won't see it."

    Sometimes make them places their minis before they know it's an encounter, so you can see if the rogue is hidden.

    But also, if he is doing this regularly, they should occasionally deal with an encounter in which an enemy rogue starts off hidden.

    Finally, it's perfectly normal for a rogue to try to stay in the shadows. Let it usually happen. But he needs to be doing it regularly, and it has reasonable consequences. If he's hiding behind a tree, then he has a minus on his Spot check. If he's searching a room, then he isn't hiding.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    I think difference between surprise and being hidden is important. If you are on a high alert, moving through the dangerous zone and someone hidden (or straight up invisible) starts shooting at you you don't know where the attacker is you may be especially vulnerable (unable to choose cover effectively, flat-footed in D&D terms etc), but not surprised. On the other hand when the bad guys (or maybe good guys, depending on whom you are playing) jump through the windows, break through the walls or teleport in front of you you may be surprised, but they are not hidden.

    Also everything Jay R said about appropriate situation being a prerequisite.
    Last edited by Saint-Just; 2021-11-22 at 01:16 PM.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Pretty much what @Jay R said. Except for a few little details, like I might actually give a bonus to perception rather than a penalty to a Rogue hiding behind a tree (compared to a party being more active).

    However, I'll encourage you to talk to your player(s) about this. I'd open with a full heuristic of what is required to qualify as "hidden" (or, at a minimum, copy @Jay R's list) for them to edit, to start a discussion. Honestly, Talakeal, with your group, I might have a physical "hidden" token that the Rogue's player claims and loses by their actions. Because y'all are never in sync, this physical representation might make good practice for "why do you think you are hidden" style questions and productive open communication that your group so desperately needs.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Surprise rounds don't really work here.

    The issue is not that the whole group is hidden (although, honestly, why not?), it's that the rest of the party charges in while the rogue strikes from stealth to ensure they get the same number of actions as everyone else but also get their first turn sneak attack.

    Obviously, stealth rolls as normal.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    The issue is not that the whole group is hidden (although, honestly, why not?), it's that the rest of the party charges in while the rogue strikes from stealth to ensure they get the same number of actions as everyone else but also get their first turn sneak attack.
    If you want to grant the request, it could be justified as the rogue taking advantage of the enemy being distracted by the rest of the party to strike more-or-less unseen. Of course, from a balance perspective it might be good to include some drawback, like losing the first round or whatever (but depending on how the rest of the class balance is, it might not be necessary).

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Batcathat View Post
    If you want to grant the request, it could be justified as the rogue taking advantage of the enemy being distracted by the rest of the party to strike more-or-less unseen. Of course, from a balance perspective it might be good to include some drawback, like losing the first round or whatever (but depending on how the rest of the class balance is, it might not be necessary).
    Losing the first round is RAI, but the player has simply stated that they hide first and tell the rest of the party to not attack until they are already hidden and in an ambush position.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Losing the first round is RAI, but the player has simply stated that they hide first and tell the rest of the party to not attack until they are already hidden and in an ambush position.
    That sounds fine to me, when they're in a position to do so. Since it kind of requires the enemy to come to the party to pull of, I imagine it wouldn't be an every battle thing.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Losing the first round is RAI, but the player has simply stated that they hide first and tell the rest of the party to not attack until they are already hidden and in an ambush position.
    IF that's physically possible, then I don't see why that should be punished. But this request should raise some questions of your own, I think. How far are the rest of the players hanging back? If they're close by, the enemy could notice them and initiate combat before the rogue is in position. If they're far away and the rogue fails their stealth roll (or equivalent in your system), then it should take a while for help to arrive. And of course, there should be fights where 'starting hidden' is not possible, such as when there's nothing near the battlefield that allows for hiding, or because the enemy initiated the fight before the rogue had a chance to hide.

    But in general, if there are places to hide and there is no ticking clock forcing an immediate engagement, I don't see why the other players wouldn't give the rogue a moment to get into position, or why you as DM would disallow it.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Due to a character having a habit of knocking up local noble's daughters and freaking ton of spell slots for invisibilty I had something not quite similar during the early days of 3e. Totally not an issue, it mostly just helped not being targeted during the opening round. Backfired occasionally when things had tremor sense or the like, but thats normal & expected.

    Party takes a minute to let their assassin get in a good position before starting a combat they get to prep for? Yeah, no problems from me. Good teamwork.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Yeah, I'm struggling to imagine any way that a GM penalizing an actual attempt at teamwork - in Bizarro World, at Talakeal's table no less - would ever be a good thing.

    What's the problem here? Give your players kudos for having their characters work together. This is time to break out the carrot, not the stick!

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    Yeah, I'm struggling to imagine any way that a GM penalizing an actual attempt at teamwork - in Bizarro World, at Talakeal's table no less - would ever be a good thing.

    What's the problem here? Give your players kudos for having their characters work together. This is time to break out the carrot, not the stick!
    Not really sure what teamwork is involved here; its just the rogue player declaring that their character is hidden at the start of every encounter with no input from anyone else.

    Likewise, not sure I would use the term "penalize" so much as looking for a reason why everyone doesn't declare themselves hidden to establish a new baseline for the game.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Not really sure what teamwork is involved here; its just the rogue player declaring that their character is hidden at the start of every encounter with no input from anyone else.
    So not teamwork, just: DM="roll initative" & player="i'm hidden before combat" ?

    Yeah, ok. That won't fly. If my character casts invisibility as the first thing every encounter I don't expect to be invisible before the encounter. There needs to be a 'go stealthy' at some point before combat starts unless they have a special rule allowing retroactive stealth declarations. Now if they have a "declare you're hidden after combat starts and you get to start combat hidden" ability then its fine.
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    If you have characters whose concept is being an "ambush predator" then it's healthy to have a mix of encounters where they get to be in position, and encounters where they're caught off-guard. How you arrange that mix should depend in part on how much effort they put in to scouting and being stealthy. (Just saying "I hide" and rolling will work some of the time, but probably not as much as if they are more creative/thorough, imo.)
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Not really sure what teamwork is involved here; its just the rogue player declaring that their character is hidden at the start of every encounter with no input from anyone else.

    Likewise, not sure I would use the term "penalize" so much as looking for a reason why everyone doesn't declare themselves hidden to establish a new baseline for the game.
    Wait, don't you have mechanical requirements and processes to determine if/when characters can be hidden? They can't just say "I'm hidden" and you say "ok".
    They say "I want to hide", and you say "ok, where?"
    "In the shadows"
    "Ok, there's a darkened area in the trees 20 feet fron the road. Roll stealth"
    "Got 75%"
    "Ok, you're hidden. The orc patrol you spotted comes down the road, they see the rest of the party and charge, roll initiative." (roll perception, they don't see the hidden guy)
    "As soon as the first orc comes by my position, I sneak attack!"
    "You're 20 feet away, so you need to use a ranged attack or come out of hiding"
    "I want to stab him with my magic +10 flame sword"
    "Then you will need another stealth roll to approach the orc without being seen. It will be easier if you wait until they are engaged with your allies so they are distracted"
    "Ok, got a 50%"
    (Roll another perception check, orc sees him)
    "Sorry, the orc caught you moving out of the corner of its eye, no sneak attack bonus"
    "RAAAAH, YOU SUCK!" ( throws dice)
    Last edited by Thrudd; 2021-11-23 at 06:29 PM.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    I was trying to look and see how other systems handle this, and afaict, they don't. None of the RPG books on my shelf seem to mention it at all.
    Perhaps you could look at digital rpg copies, since it seems like your shelf must be quite thin to not have a single RPG that has a system for Stealth.

    Why not try looking for inspiration at Heart of Darkness, the RPG you're linking to in your own signature, which seems to clearly have rules for Stealth vs Alertness, rules for cover and darkness, rules for what Action is takes to Hide, and rules for being able to Hide while others are looking at you if you roll a critical success?

    Are you running into a specific issue that isn't covered by these sorts of rules?
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Not really sure what teamwork is involved here; its just the rogue player declaring that their character is hidden at the start of every encounter with no input from anyone else.

    Likewise, not sure I would use the term "penalize" so much as looking for a reason why everyone doesn't declare themselves hidden to establish a new baseline for the game.
    If it was a one off DMs discretion would be the ruling.

    However since it has become a regular thing then there needs to be a written process in the rules for how to start an encounter hidden.

    This does affect the whole party for a number of reasons.
    1) Stealthy movement (1/2 speed in most RPGs) is ridiculously generous compared to real life, but the whole party needs to be moving at the speed of the slowest member otherwise the party breaks up.
    2) Verbal communications. If youre moving in stealth then your character at the very least cannot talk to the rest of the party.
    3) Stealthy movement + spot check penalties should be multiplied at least i.e. 1/4 speed or even stationary only. You are doing 2 separate things: looking in your immediate vicinity; and looking outwards. You cant watch where you place your feet and scan the bushes for threats at the same time.

    Your rogue wants to have their cake and eat it too, they want all the benefits of normal movement and communications and all the benefits of being hidden. The party needs to choose one or the other.

    Create the rules, put them up for discussion and feedback from the group. Emphasize that you will use the same rules for enemies if they have characters that want to start hidden too.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Is this actually an issue where the player is saying "My character is using stealth while moving at all times", assuming that doing so will let them be hidden and get sneak attack at the start of any encounter that occurs?

    If this is a condition you allow to exist, regardless of light, terrain and cover (lack thereof), then yes, everyone would and should do that all the time.
    Most games don't let characters do that. You track travel time in turns of a specific intervals, and require a stealth check from everyone each turn, with terrain modifiers.
    Or, you describe a scene and environment, the players say where and how they attempt to hide/be stealthy, make their rolls, and this applies until they encounter some new environmental (like the trees thin, the fog clears, etc).

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    It seems like the first step is to nail down what the current rule is. It sounds to me like the rule is, most charitably, "I have the stealth skill, conditions allow for the use of stealth, and I tell Talakeal that I am hiding -> I begin combat with the Hidden condition".

    And that is the way that the rule should remain for the duration of this campaign.

    You should discuss with the players how the rule should change for next time, run a few one-shots between campaigns to test out rules changes if you're not satisfied with the current rule.

    But given your group, and your history with rules changes, you should not change the rules mid campaign. Or, rather, only your players should initiate a rule change mid campaign. And even that should be handled with all the care of a live dirty bomb.

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Something that has come up in my recent game is that the rogue player insists on starting every fight already hidden.

    Now, I am running my own system, and I don't really have a rule to cover this. It doesn't seem terribly unrealistic, but it is a bit unfair (after all, why wouldn't everyone start hidden?)

    I was trying to look and see how other systems handle this, and afaict, they don't. None of the RPG books on my shelf seem to mention it at all.

    So, do you know of any systems that have good rules for determining who can start combat hidden?

    How do you handle it at your tables?

    Thanks!
    As with anything Id recommend first figuring out if a specific rule is needed. Some games have basically no special case rules for anything, they just expect you to use the core mechanic however you see fit. Could you do that with your system?

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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Thrudd View Post
    Wait, don't you have mechanical requirements and processes to determine if/when characters can be hidden? They can't just say "I'm hidden" and you say "ok".
    They say "I want to hide", and you say "ok, where?"
    "In the shadows"
    "Ok, there's a darkened area in the trees 20 feet fron the road. Roll stealth"
    "Got 75%"
    "Ok, you're hidden. The orc patrol you spotted comes down the road, they see the rest of the party and charge, roll initiative." (roll perception, they don't see the hidden guy)
    "As soon as the first orc comes by my position, I sneak attack!"
    "You're 20 feet away, so you need to use a ranged attack or come out of hiding"
    "I want to stab him with my magic +10 flame sword"
    "Then you will need another stealth roll to approach the orc without being seen. It will be easier if you wait until they are engaged with your allies so they are distracted"
    "Ok, got a 50%"
    (Roll another perception check, orc sees him)
    "Sorry, the orc caught you moving out of the corner of its eye, no sneak attack bonus"
    "RAAAAH, YOU SUCK!" ( throws dice)
    If he spotted the patrol and they failed to spot him, shouldn't there be a surprise round? It depends on the system obviously, but my point is several games have ways to handle this scenario you might be overlooking.
    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
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    Default Re: Starting Combat Hidden

    Quote Originally Posted by Quertus View Post
    It seems like the first step is to nail down what the current rule is. It sounds to me like the rule is, most charitably, "I have the stealth skill, conditions allow for the use of stealth, and I tell Talakeal that I am hiding -> I begin combat with the Hidden condition".

    And that is the way that the rule should remain for the duration of this campaign.

    You should discuss with the players how the rule should change for next time, run a few one-shots between campaigns to test out rules changes if you're not satisfied with the current rule.

    But given your group, and your history with rules changes, you should not change the rules mid campaign. Or, rather, only your players should initiate a rule change mid campaign. And even that should be handled with all the care of a live dirty bomb.
    The rule is it takes an action to hide.

    The player asked me what was to stop him from taking said action at the first sign of trouble before the fight starts, and then remaining hidden and then starting the fight with a first turn backstab.

    To which I said... I'll need to think about that and consult the forums.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reversefigure4 View Post
    Perhaps you could look at digital rpg copies, since it seems like your shelf must be quite thin to not have a single RPG that has a system for Stealth.

    Why not try looking for inspiration at Heart of Darkness, the RPG you're linking to in your own signature, which seems to clearly have rules for Stealth vs Alertness, rules for cover and darkness, rules for what Action is takes to Hide, and rules for being able to Hide while others are looking at you if you roll a critical success?

    Are you running into a specific issue that isn't covered by these sorts of rules?
    Its not that stealth rules are in short supply, its that there are lots of edge cases they aren't robust to handle.

    In this particular case, its asking at what point it is appropriate to bring out the stealth rules.
    Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy.

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