Saturday, July 11, 2015

How You Can (Usually) Go First During The Surprise Round

The surprise round is one of those things you don't want to be on the receiving end of. Your party might be at full power, weapons out, and ready to rumble, but after a single surprise round you can be put at a severe disadvantage by a flight of arrows from snipers, or a series of spells that change the terrain all around you. If you've been wondering how you can go first more often without playing an entire party of Sohei, diviners, and Kensai, the answer is on page 23 of Blood of the Moon.

Well son of a bitch...
Don't feel bad, most people never got their hands on the soft-cover copy of the book that introduced the skinwalker race, and provided a bunch of features to go with it (I did, because I was one of the contributors to that particular book). Page 23 introduces three feats that compliment the Fanglord, which is a skinwalker that's related to weretigers and rakshasa. The feat you're looking for is Surprising Combatant, and it provides you with a strategic advantage; as a free action made with your initiative check, you can bluff your way out of being attacked.

Suddenly Here's Why Charisma is Important

Here's how it works. If you have this feat (you don't have to be a weretiger or a Fanglord to possess it, but you should be able to explain how you did learn it if you aren't one of these creatures) you make a bluff check as part of every initiative check. Every enemy makes a sense motive check. Every enemy who fails a sense motive check doesn't regard you as part of this fight, and typically that means they'll ignore you. If all of the enemies discount you, then you may act as part of the surprise round.

They never saw it coming.
That sounds great, particularly given that sense motive isn't something most of your villains are going to have a lot of points invested in. So if you take a little time to buff your bluff by taking feats like Skill Focus or Deceitful, you're going to wind up participating in the surprise round a lot more often. With that said, a single move or standard action is only going to let you do so much in combat. This is particularly true if you are a melee combatant instead of a spellcaster.

Unless, that is, you have the 4th level ability of the rogue's Bandit archetype; Ambush.

Ambush says that whenever you act in the surprise round you may take a standard, a move, and a swift action as if it were a regular turn. Not only that, but if you're mixing and matching your rogue archetypes you can combine Thug with Bandit, making a combination that dovetails nicely.

It's Amazing What You Can Do With One Turn

How many times have you been looking at your enemies as they spring up for a surprise round and known you could end this as soon as it began if you could only act? Casting entangle on a bunch of bandits hiding in the brush, throwing an alchemist fire into the midst of a swarm before it can engulf the wizard, or putting an arrow into a spellcaster to disrupt the fireball that's about to be dropped on your head is something that will really change the course a fight could take.

Or, if you're just getting a full round all to yourself, why not get in as much sneak attack as you can with it?

Also, if you're going to be going in the surprise round then you may as well go before all the bad guys, too. Here's How To Top The Initiative Order (Almost) Every Time to help you be the fastest off the mark.

Editor's Note

It's been brought to my attention that the feat has been altered since the publication of Blood of the Moon. The errata, buried in a forum post but linked here at the D20PFSRD renders the above guide moot. However, DMs who prefer to use the original version of the feat in their games may still find this interpretation to be of use.

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  1. I'm not sure how 'official' D20pfsrd is as a source, but they list an updated version of the feat which works a little differently.

    1. Even the D20PFSRD seems unsure about the update (saying that it's as official as an errata is likely to get, since softcover books are rarely updated).

  2. I didn't know that the soft-cover version of that book was rare, I managed to buy a copy over Amazon alongside "Kobolds of Golarion" and "The Ranged Tactics Toolbox" to make a Skin-Walker (Wolf) Character for a Ravenloft campaign that never really materialised.

    1. It isn't rare in the slightest; it's that a lot of gamers don't bother with the softcover books. Some DMs will get the regional flavor for an adventure path, but that's often all.

    2. okay, the wording confused me is all.

      Fun book though

  3. An interesting alternative to the Bandit / Thug is the Bandit / Rake, with lots of points put into Intimidate. Against large concentrated groups you can debuff the lot of them with no save via Dazzling Display, and versus single opponents you can go in, get your Sneak Attack, debuff them, and if you crit on the sneak attack beyond 7th level, end the fight right there via making them run away.

    If you go Strength / Charisma route, you can follow the feat path to Shatter Defenses, which means you can *keep* an opponent flatfooted and debuffed through the entire fight. Which is just peachy keen, as far as Rogues are concerned.