What is surprise?
Surprise is being caught unawares, unsuspecting. When surprised you are caught off guard and at a disadvantage. You may get run over, run over somebody else, receive a shock, or some like event. But there is one thing you need to be ready for, don’t be surprised when you are surprised.
This post deals primarily with surprise in RPGs (games or guides). As in life people in RPGs do get surprised. However, in most cases surprise in an RPG only occurs during combat, and most often at the start of combat. After that point somehow a person becomes miraculously aware of anything around him, and cannot be surprised anymore. In real life? No such luck.
We get surprised all the time. Sometimes we are preoccupied, just not paying attention to what is going on around us. Talking with a friend, texting on our cell phone, something like that. But that doesn’t appear to be happening in most RPGs. So I decided to change things.
First, instead of rolling to see if you are surprised, you roll to see if you saw something. Worse yet, should the GM be given the impression you really aren’t paying attention, he may ask you to roll to see if you notice anything, and maybe even to roll if you noted that what you saw (heard, felt, smelt, tasted, etc.) actually means something to you. There are times when we actually see it, but it doesn’t get our attention; why should RPGs be any different?
Second, you can be surprised later. Say you’re battling a foe when a second comes up on you. Did you notice him? Did he get your attention? Yes, it is possible for you to be so focused on one adversary that a second goes utterly unremarked.
Then you have situations outside of combat where you can still be surprised. By a pickpocket, or a stampeding horse. There are numerous others. Surprise is not just for fighting anymore. Think of all the times you were caught off guard at a real world event, and apply it to your favorite RPG.
To make this shorter, I’m working on mechanics for surprise in Mythus. Once they are ready they’ll be put up and you’ll get to comment on them. Yes, it does make life more difficult for GM and player, but at the same time it does add more opportunities for mishaps, misdeeds, and events.