As suggested by @doppelgreener I am posing this question here in response to the closure of How does surprise work in D&D 5e?

Please accept and remember that I do not believe and I do not wish to infer that the people I mention who hold different opinions from me are in any way acting maliciously or capriciously or that they are in any way not 100% admirable human beings. I just think they're wrong and they think I'm wrong :).

The Originating Question

The question is as stated: How does surprise work in D&D 5e?

As originally posed it referenced all the Questions I could find on surprise and suggested that they were specific instances of a general misunderstanding of the surprise mechanic in DnD-5e. The answer was posted Q&A style as a Community Wiki and is essentially original.

Both the question and the answer received a large number of up-votes a favorites.

It was then closed as "Too broad".

As currently posed (post-hold) it quotes the 3 paragraphs from the PHB about surprise and asks for an explanation of this mechanic with examples.

What this site says about "Too Broad"

https://rpg.stackexchange.com/help/closed-questions says:

  • too broad - if your question could be answered by an entire book, or has many valid answers, it's probably too broad for our format

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow down the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

And at https://rpg.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic it says (my emphasis):

The best questions are those that have specific answers; RPG.SE is not a general discussion forum. In general, if you have a question which covers:

  • A specific problem with playing or running a table-top RPG;
  • RPG rules or mechanics;
  • RPG adventures and campaigns;
  • Tools and equipment used while playing table-top RPGs (including running them online);
  • Information about RPG campaign settings;
  • Techniques for running or playing RPGs; and
  • Matters which are specific to table-top pen and paper RPGs,

then you're in the right place!

and also:

We want the questions on our site to be valuable sources of information for the whole Internet, not just our community members, so we try to keep subjective opinions out of our questions and answers when we can. Share your personal play experiences and viewpoints, but avoid argument.

Community members can and will edit your questions and answers to be clear and grammatically correct.

Community members will vote up clearly asked, cogent, reasoned questions and answers and vote down off topic, incoherent, or inflammatory questions and answers.

https://rpg.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask says:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK. (Discussions are of course welcome in our real time web chat.)

The Discussion

Please take the time to read the discussion that took place in the comments because it is really these that are the source of this question. I will attempt to summarize the positions taken by the protagonists; it is not my intention to put words in anyone's mouth or misrepresent what was said, you all have enough reputation to edit this question so I you feel I have done you a disservice please do so so that the summary acurately reflects what you meant.

  • @GMJoe said the basis of the question as originally posed i.e. as a one-stop-shop for surprise with links to other questions was inappropriate for the forum. I accept that and as a result edited the question so that it stood on its own merits.
  • @GMJoe suggested that it was "Unclear" as "It's trying to solve all possible problems with surprise without specifying what those problems are." and "this question isn't trying to solve a real problem that someone faces"; in this he was supported by @Miniman who said "questions of the type "how does this mechanic work" are too broad. The site deals in specific problems." Questions on how mechanics work are specifically permitted on this site; they are a permitted class of question that exists independently of those that are attempting to solve a specific problem.
  • @SevenSidedDie & @Miniman both had variations on the theme that high up-votes on question or answer do not save a poor question. I accept that position but they surely must serve as an indicator; if 20+ people think a question is worthwhile then the 5 people who voted to close it should be open to having another look. As my father is very fond of saying to me when I express a strong opinion "Never overlook the possibility that you could be dead wrong."
  • @Miniman & @GMJoe both quoted "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face" from https://rpg.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask. I do not understand this at all. The question posed is practical (surprise is an inherent part of most DnD 5e combats), answerable (clearly it is because I answered it) and its an actual problem I face (until I looked at these paragraphs thoroughly, I was playing it wrong).
  • @BraddSzonye said "The single, very good, not terribly long answer is strong evidence that this close reason does not apply. Voting to reopen." That's what I'm saying ;).

Compare and Contrast

As my English essay questions used to say ...

The answers I would like to see will demonstrate, within the guidelines this site provides how How does surprise work in D&D 5e? is too broad while the following are not:

Not all of these are rules focused so answers can and should address if this is in itself a factor in deciding issues of "too broad".

Please specifically reference the relevant parts of the sites various "how to" pages and the specific questions cited as referenced above.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One point of clarification: is the intention of the closed question to be a definitive answer to the general problem of misunderstanding surprise, so that all/most future questions about surprise could be closed as a duplicate of it? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 0:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Very well presented! However, there's a big issue with your final list of five other questions provided for comparison: At least three of them are not focused on rules examination. "Too broad" for a rules-focused question is going to look very different than "too broad" for a practices-focused question, and I think it might be distracting from the main thrust of this meta to treat as identical questions which rely on rules citation and questions which rely on experience citation. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 1:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie No, it is intended to stand on its own merits. Experience will show if it becomes a, to coin a usage, "touchstone" question. I am sure there will always be sufficient "curly" situations that questions on DnD 5e surprise will not be addressed by it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW I see your point but I think that that may be part of the problem: does the context of the question change the goalposts of "too broad"? I will specifically add that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 1:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ 'it is that that I would like answers to address but I am not averse to proposed edits to the originating question that would make it not "too broad."' -- I do not understand what this sentence is trying to say. Could you revise it for clarity? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 4:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Highly related meta, particularly Brian's comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 4:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Trying to dictate what a good answer looks like can work on the main site, but on meta it seems like a really bad idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 5:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @miniman: at least there is little risk of driving Dale M from this site (in re the wax eagle Q and Brian A you cited). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dale M I believe that a change in scope to that question on surprise might make it more suitable, to whit, "how does surprise in 5e differ from (insert a version here)." When I read your intro again, the core appeal seems to be to highlight the delta between version x assumptions and 5e mechanics of surprise. I think this would allow a narrowing of scope for both q and a. Does that fit your intention? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 22:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Korvin Such an edit is actually a substantial scope change. Votes should not be presumed to carry over, and it would require a very different kind of answer. It is probably also something best asked by someone actually having a problem and needing that comparison, so that we can understand properly where to focus our attention for people confused by this (not guess at it). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener: the question was posed to Dale M. Thank you for your perspective. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 3:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Korvin Naturally. I already left a comment explaining this to Dale when I rolled back such an edit, and as you suggested it, I felt it would be remiss of me not to advise you as well of the issues with such an edit. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 4:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener: Thank you for taking the time to explain. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 11:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman The first time I tried to open that, it didn't open. OK, comment removed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 21:37

4 Answers 4


This is too broad.

You are simply saying "explain a rules system to me." You may as well ask how combat works, or how spellcasting works. Your question indicates no problem, nothing you are clear on or specifically unclear on. It does not appear to be a real question based on a problem you have - "I want someone to read it to me" is not a real problem. What is the specific problem you have with the rules? Seems to me that since you're self-posting an answer you are just trying to make a faq or dupe target and like most question seeding the problem is that it may or may not help someone with a real specific question about surprise. The SE way is to answer those new questions, not artificially extend some master community wiki to do so.

So no, this isn't what we do, and it will stay closed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The response to Dale M's attempt to explain a game mechanic seems to have arrived at a curious outcome: "no good deed goes unpunished." I have bookmarked his Q and A because it is useful. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 19:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are many useful things in the world that are not good RPG.SE questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 22:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast How is it being punished? \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 4:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ For Miniman-the sincere effort to take a variety of "surprise" 5e questions and consolidate them into an easy to use tool/answer seemed to me a good deed. Closing the attempt at a best total answer struck me as a slap to one of our best answer providers on 5e topics. I do understand, mxyzplk's point, and answer, on the S.E. imperatives regarding scope limitations. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Korvin Good quality contributors should be working with the community to maintain a good quality bar, and should understand that their overall contributions don't excuse specific perceived violations of our quality standards. They will be unlikely to take it as a "slap" as you put it -- people who take closure and moderation so personally don't tend to become quality contributors on the site, and reject our system and leave (that's fine, this site is not for them) or else shed that attitude over time. Dale ought to be OK. If he takes it as a slap, that's on him to deal with, not us. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 0:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener: it appears that you took my comment personally. Please don't. Dissenting voices are permitted, I would hope. Even though the tool here in the SE world is an attempt at a flesh based sorting algorithm, too much group think isn't healthy in any group. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 4:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Korvin I did not take it personally. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 4:06

The question at issue is definitely "Too Broad"

The question does not do nearly enough to define its scope. Stripping out the rules quote, the question can be reduced entirely to "Explain surprise to me". These kinds of questions are ruled as "Too Broad" for a few reasons:

  • They don't present a problem that is solved by RPG expertise. This question is solved by reading the rules, and maybe by playing out an encounter. There is no expertise involved, just reading.
  • They don't present a specific problem. The guidelines of the site are based upon making it valuable for future readers. With a question that is this nonspecific, it's unlikely that a future reader will find it as a solution to a problem they are having.

One way to evaluate whether a question is likely to be "Too Broad" is whether it is capable of having multiple valid answers. Most questions are formed such many valid answers of the form "Yes because X", "No because Y" exist. Not all of those answers are good, but they are all valid. If we contrast with the question at issue, it fails this test on two counts:

  1. There is only one correct answer because multiple answers would each address separate parts of the question. A valid answer must stand alone and address the entirety of the question.
  2. There is only one correct answer because the answer is just repeating the official rules text.
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    \$\begingroup\$ "They don't present a problem that is solved by RPG expertise" is respectfully disagreed. Dale M provides some of the best advice/answers on this site. "Expert" is very much an adjective to apply to his ability to explain how this latest version works. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 1:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Having read the numerous dissenting comments across these posts, it seems that you have a view that might be better off in an answer to the question. Not because too many comments are an issue (that's fine on meta), but because a view hiding in the comments is powerless, as voters cannot vote on it properly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 5:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: I used that comment to explain to Grubermensch why I could not vote for his answer. Words have meanings. I don't find that I have enough material for an answer, particularly as some of the amplification has helped me see what is behind both the core issue and the mxyxplk answer that Dale M has accepted. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 11:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: my takeaway from this fairly interesting discussion is that a community-wiki approach is no longer supported at RPG SE. As I went back to the beginning, I noted that the CW feature was used in some cases, but it appears to have been discarded. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: I note that the upvote (Q) button text reads: this question shows research effort; it is useful and clear. I note that the upvote button (A) reads: "this answer is useful." mxyzplk already pointed out (usefully) in a comment that a lot of useful things don't fit the RPG.SE model. This answer isn't useful, and I pointed to one of a number of reasons why. Really am trying to use the tools available. I don't have a useful answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, in that case I misunderstood your first comment just here. Keep in mind that the adjective "expert" is not the same as the noun "expertise"; the former describes a person, the latter describes a kind of knowledge. No denigration of Dale M's status as expert appears above. This answer is saying that the kind of knowledge needed to answer the question is not the kind our site is about. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 2:15

The problem isn't the question, it's the game mechanic

It's three years later, and I finally take up @SevenSidedDie's suggestion (made in a comment) to offer an answer. The question on the main site was wrestling with the hot mess that surprise became in D&D 5e due to previous edition carry over. A lot of us walked into this edition with expectations on how surprise works and what mechanical if/then conditions are met for surprise to exist, based on the previous editions of the game.

After playing this game for a while, and seeing different DMs apply surprise differently, I find that the question needs to be left as closed but available as a resource. We have a great many old questions that are closed for a variety of reasons. Dale's effort to make sense of surprise is a result of something @nitsua remarked upon regarding an early question about advantage:

I just think neither TSR nor WotC has ever done a good job of assembling a PHB to be accessible to someone who hasn't already mastered a previous PHB.

When asking "what problem are you trying to solve" Dale's question asks about a problem that every DM and every group I've played with has tried to solve: how to make it work so that it is clear at the table how surprise works.

The answer appears to be:

Forget anything you ever knew about surprise in D&D, and pretend that this is a brand new game feature.

I'd even offer that as an answer if the question were re opened, even though to a great extent Dale offered a rational way to treat it as a new mechanic in his comprehensive answer. But after reviewing the comments and this meta, I agree that it should remain locked; I don't think it ought to remain deleted. Per Seven's comment then:

locked by SevenSidedDie♦ Oct 4 '15 at 3:56 This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed.


Undelete, but leave locked.

Experience based piece of this answer

I found that Answer very helpful in discussing how surprise works and doesn't work in three different gaming groups for full group discussions, and with two other DM's in one-on-one discussions. The link to that answer was a key enabler to all of those discussions.

All of us had engaged in quite a bit of head scratching over 5e's presentation of surprise. This comprehensive answer is a worthy bookmark, but it is useful only people can read it.

Bottom Line

Please leave locked, but re-open so that it is viewable. The caveats in the comments under the question are quite clear on why it is locked.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The rationale for later deletion was because the author was persistently comment-answering other questions about surprise with a link to it. Deletion was the least intervention that could put a stop to the problem. There is still a concern that new questions would get linkbombed with it, but more likely and worse is that by our rules nearly ever question on surprise could be validly argued to be a duplicate (and has been), even if it was still closed and locked, and that's not a headache the site needs, or that I'd like to see or deal with. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 17:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ That question and its answer may be a case of material that is most valuable on someone's own blog. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie OK, thanks for the mod's eye view on that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 19:19

Your question is not too broad

It is as broad as it needs to be.
Surprise is a confusing topic, its parts could be and were covered in several standalone questions, but the more parts it is broken into, the harder it is to actually understand it.

Your question helped a lot.

Our interpretation of "too broad" is too narrow indeed

Unfortunately it encourages duplicates, and decreases the usefulness.


We have about 20 questions about the relationship between multiclassing and spell slots in 5e, one asking about Eldritch Knight and Wizard, some Eldritch Knight and Cleric, some all casters combined.
They should all be linked to a sufficiently broad question, and closed as duplicates.

Decreased usefulness

Frequently comments ask for more details about the situation. Sometimes it is necessary, but mostly not.
Yes, the question about Dual Wielder can be narrowed down to 3rd level Elven Trickery Clerics, and the answer tailor-made, but than the answer is only useful for dual wielding 3rd level Elven Trickery Clerics, so basically one person.
I do not think this should be our goal, so I always try to go broader in the answer at least.

I think the current habits are diminishing the site's usefulness.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If there's a need for a canonical question & dupe target for a common and samey topic like that one then we can do that. An important difference is whether we're doing that before or after we know we need one, so that we know what it needs to say. Historical context here was that the question being discussed came at a time people were already fed up with generalised question-seeding for D&D 5e. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 20:59

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