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Here’s how DnD’s Surprise rules are changing in new 2024 books

DnD is changing the way Surprise rules work in the upcoming 2024 edition of the Player's Handbook, making 5e combat less punishing for the less wary.

DnD art showing elves jumping down to attack orcs

Wizards of the Coast is changing the way Surprise works in the upcoming 2024 DnD rulebooks. As explained in a recent video on the Dungeons and Dragons YouTube channel, the new rules are less punishing and intended to make combat more balanced.

In the 2014 ruleset, creatures that are surprised at the start of combat are unable to move, take an action, or perform a reaction during the first round of combat.

This often allowed players to wipe out all their enemies in a single round of combat – which could be frustrating if the DM had intended a pitched, dramatic battle. The rule made it difficult to come back from being surprised, a problem the new DnD books look to correct.

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Now, Wizards of the Coast have made the DnD Surprise rules a little more forgiving for the affected party. In the updated rules, surprised players or creatures will only have a disadvantage on their initiative roll at the start of combat. This means that players will have a higher chance of being able to claw back a victory after a bad start.

Jeremy Crawford, lead designer of the new Player’s Handbook, explained in a video on the Champion Fighter subclass that the surprise rule was meant to be more of a narrative tool and didn’t like how it could trivialize certain encounters, forcing monsters to spend the first round of combat “gawking” while players handily dispatched them.

The change seems to have been generally well-received by the community, but as with every rule change, there are some downsides. For instance, big fans of the Gloom Stalker Ranger subclass, which receives a bonus attacking enemies that have not yet acted, will be sad to see this adjustment. Some fans have also suggested it robs players who carefully approach an encounter of their reward.

The change also means that stealthy DnD monsters are significantly weakened, including the iconic 5e Mimic, which makes surprise its whole gimmick.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping players who dislike the change from simply ignoring it, or continuing to use the version in the 2014 rulebook.

The new Player’s Handbook is available for pre-order now, and launches on September 3, 2024. Check our DnD release schedule to see when the rest of year’s releases arrive, and don’t miss our guide to all the many, many DnD classes and DnD races.