Perception checks and the surprise round


Rules Questions


Say the PCs enter a cave and are about to be ambushed by bats. Only one of the PCs makes his perception check to spot them. Can he warn the other PCs so they get to act in the surprise round too?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Short answer, no.

Long answer:

Based on your example, the bats are already aware of the party, since they're about to ambush them. It all depends on whether the PC that made his roll does so in advance of the bats launching their attack, or as a result of the bats launching their attack. If he knew that the bats were there before the attack was due to be launched, he has the opportunity to start the combat sequence. He can warn the rest of the party (speaking is a free action that may be taken out of turn) on the surprise round of his own choosing. His fellow PCs will still not be able to act in that round, but the bats can. Chances are they'll attack (following all the normal rules for a surprise round). He can also attack, if he wants. End result: normal surprise round. Conversely, if he reacts to the bats attack, he might (with decent initiative) be able to beat the bats to an attack, and still shout a warning, but his fellow PCs won't be able to act. End result: normal surprise round.

Sczarni

Yeh, I have a batter... er I mean better example:

We have 4 party members get attacked by 4 monsters.
All of the party were trying to use stealth, as were all of the monsters.
Party - Rogue and Mage were unseen, Fighter and Cleric were seen.
Mobs - 2 were seen, 2 weren't.

So the surprise round stars with the highest init, which just happens to be the Mage. As a standard action, he casts a redied fast fireball.

Now, at this point, wouldn't EVERYONE know something is going down?

Just sayin'.

To put it another way; the fireball now attacks two mobs who go in the surprise round and two that don't.

I had a similar incident with a mob casting a ray attack in a surprise round, where it aimed at a unaware person, but was a 30' cone so it hit everyone... because the unaware person was easier to hit flat-footed.

dems the rules, surprise rounds are always a little harry, IMHO.


Chemlak wrote:
If he knew that the bats were there before the attack was due to be launched, he has the opportunity to start the combat sequence. He can warn the rest of the party (speaking is a free action that may be taken out of turn) on the surprise round of his own choosing. His fellow PCs will still not be able to act in that round, but the bats can.

Thanks for your answer. Why does shouting a warning start the combat sequence though? And why wouldn't his fellow PCs be able to act (initiative hasn't been rolled yet and thanks to the warning everyone is aware of the bats now).


maouse wrote:

Yeh, I have a batter... er I mean better example:

We have 4 party members get attacked by 4 monsters.
All of the party were trying to use stealth, as were all of the monsters.
Party - Rogue and Mage were unseen, Fighter and Cleric were seen.
Mobs - 2 were seen, 2 weren't.

So the surprise round stars with the highest init, which just happens to be the Mage. As a standard action, he casts a redied fast fireball.

Now, at this point, wouldn't EVERYONE know something is going down?

Just sayin'.

To put it another way; the fireball now attacks two mobs who go in the surprise round and two that don't.

I had a similar incident with a mob casting a ray attack in a surprise round, where it aimed at a unaware person, but was a 30' cone so it hit everyone... because the unaware person was easier to hit flat-footed.

dems the rules, surprise rounds are always a little harry, IMHO.

I don't think this is a batter example. ;p

The unaware monsters suddenly get blasted by a fireball. They didn't see it coming, didn't even know there was a mage around. The shock of having their face melted out of nowhere should be enough to justify that they can't act in the surprise round. Sure, they are aware they are being attacked now... they're just too surprised to act (see what I did there? :) )


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I'm not sure how relevant the APs are to your discussion, but I'm on my fourth one now and it's fairly common for the author to say that the PCs who make a successful DC whatever perception check can act in the surprise round.

The assumption seems to be that the PCs who do NOT make a successful Perception check can NOT act in the surprise round. Otherwise, it's just more wasted verbiage.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

If it helps, consider that ostensibly everything that happens in a round happens at almost the same time.

For convenience sake, we split that time up into turns, and have everybody take their actions one after another in succession (so the wizard casts fireball, and then the fighter charges, and then the dragon uses its breath weapon), but within the fiction of the game things are a lot more hectic and crazy (the wizard is casting his fireball while the fighter is charging while the dragon is using its breath weapon.)

So in the batter case, the two monsters that spotted the PCs are starting to take their actions before the fireball goes off, the wizard is just faster on the draw and finished his fireball before they finish their action. Similarly, the non-wizard PC who spotted the monsters isn't actually waiting until the wizard casts his fireball to act, hes starting his action the moment he spots the enemy (and the wizard just finishes casting before he finishes his action).

The two monsters that didn't spot the PCs and the two PCs that didn't spot the monsters all start their actions after the fireball goes off, at which point the second round has begun.


This is why advanced scouting is important. If the PCs enter the ambush area, fail their Perception DCs, then the only PCs that get to act during the surprise round are those that made the check. Even if a PC that made his check says something, it doesn't help the others unless they have Teamwork feats that allow them to do so.

To mitigate this, they should employ the same tactics military units do. That is a point man set up 30 feat or a single move in advance or an advance scout. You send the scout in, usually a guy with a high perception and stealth, to locate the enemy in advance and prevent the ambush. He can do this by attacking the enemy first or at least allow the party to set up to take the ambush in the location of their choice.

I've always advocated for advance scouting. It helps prevent major ambushes and puts your party in a much better position. You can set up ambushes on your enemy if you have a good advance scout.

By the rules, that is the best way to prevent an ambush.


Surprise doesn't have to mean that one is not "aware" of their opponent.

Take the case of the two sneaking parties. They both know the other is out there, else why would they be sneaking? It just so happens that they are a lot closer to each other than they thought.

When they finally do "meet" some combatants were surprised and their actions were slightly delayed. Others were ready for it. This is cause for the surprise round.

It doesn't have to mean that one of the surprised people has no idea the enemy is there. It could mean that they flinched or jumped when surprised and lost their action. It could mean that they were off balance or something of that nature. A party member "yelling" might be what made that individual jump in the first place!

Perception is the most common form that I have seen to determine who is surprised and who is ready for action. I also like the idea of a reflex check. It seems to me that perception would let you know it is there but reflex would allow you to react. I don't know how I would set that DC though.

As to the forward scout, that is what I would like to do, but in play it always seems that the scout is either playing the game by himself or getting to make all the decisions for the party. And if using the scout is such a common tactic in the world, enemies would prepare and counter for it. If that happened that scout would get killed very often. That isn't much fun for the player.


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The problem with advance scouting is that the stealth rules make it very hard to stealth without the terrain being set up in your favor. As it is, it tends to be VERY rough on the scout.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

One thing I tend to use in my own games is the concept of "readiness", which is a player-decided state of combat preparation. At its most basic, a given character is either "combat-ready" or "not combat-ready". A combat-ready character has weapon in hand and is prepared for battle. Otherwise he does not. By default, all characters are not combat-ready unless a) the GM is explicitly advised of it (and a simple declaration of "I'm scouting" or "I'm guarding" does the job), or b) the situation is such that it is unreasonable to assume the characters won't have their weapons out (such as when trekking through a dungeon).

Importantly, though, this has no bearing on surprise and the adjudication of surprise rounds. A character can be combat-ready and still not act in the surprise round. All it does is mean that the drawing of weapons has a clear requirement (if you're not combat ready, you need to draw your sword), whether it's a surprise round or not. (And no, my players aren't allowed to just say "we're always combat-ready".)

The important thing is that the combat round sequence begins as soon as one side becomes aware of the other. Any characters involved that are aware of the opposing side are immediately given a surprise round in which they can act. This represents that split second in which awareness of an enemy force gives you a chance to react. Being aware of your ally yelling "Ware!" is in itself useless, because you'll be trying to figure out what they're warning you about, because you haven't seen the threat, yet. You simply cannot respond to that threat. That's what the surprise round simulates - the opportunity to take action while the enemy haven't noticed you.

The thing is, because of the limited actions available in the surprise round, chances are that if you get a good initiative score, your enemy will be unable to capitalise on that advantage. A bad initiative score gives them even more opportunity to take advantage of catching you unawares. At the end of the day, initiative represents your ability to react to surprising situations. If you want to place more emphasis on speed of reactions, use a different (smaller) dice for determining initiative: changing it to a d12 drastically changes the impact of the initiative bonus on the final initiative score. For a very different situation, consider 2d10, which allows roughly the same amount of numerical results as a d20, but tends towards a roll of 11, making the character's initiative bonus vastly more important, but still allows for luck.


BigNorseWolf wrote:
The problem with advance scouting is that the stealth rules make it very hard to stealth without the terrain being set up in your favor. As it is, it tends to be VERY rough on the scout.

Not really. All he has to do is move quietly, listen at doors, and the like. In a hallway, he can use corners for stealth.

Our advance scout moves from room to room listening at doors or barely opening doors to peer in. He doesn't have to get specific information, merely an awareness that a room is being entered with live targets.

We usually scout in within two move actions of each other in a dungeon. We use a point man outside within one move of the party. Unless the opponent has a serious movement advantage on you, you're ok using this amount of space. Then the surprise round is used up with the enemy moving. Which is still advantageous to your party since they closed melee range while gaining no advantage in number of attacks.

Only negative would be a ranged encounter or much better movement in outdoor situation. Indoors you can often offset the advantage using spacing.

Advance scouting is an expectation of mine as a DM. Those players that don't use it usually end up in some very bad situations.


BigNorseWolf wrote:
The problem with advance scouting is that the stealth rules make it very hard to stealth without the terrain being set up in your favor. As it is, it tends to be VERY rough on the scout.

This has been my experience as well. When all goes well, advance scouting is great. When you step on a trap you missed, the guards get a lucky perception roll, or any other the dozen of things that can get you spotted, next thing you know you have alerted enemies to your location and the rest of your party is 100+ feet away... The latter only has to happen once for you to end up very dead.


Thanks for all your replies. From now on I'm running it like suggested: everyone rolls Perception, only those PCs that make their roll get to act in the surprise round. Thanks for clearing it up.


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Chris Braga wrote:
Thanks for all your replies. From now on I'm running it like suggested: everyone rolls Perception, only those PCs that make their roll get to act in the surprise round. Thanks for clearing it up.

That's the default. There's a few other variations that I've used

If the people are in hiding plain sight (like people about to mug you pretending to be merchants) use bluff vs sense motive

I've used archetecture/engineering to spot unusual "statues" that come to life.

Knowledge: Nature to recognize that the Robin sitting on the branch was out of season (and was a druid about to let loose with the call lightning)

I've even had a knowledge:history check for recognizing that there were only 7 lords sons of Drex, so that 8th statue standing there was probably a problem.


Raith Shadar wrote:
Our advance scout moves from room to room listening at doors or barely opening doors to peer in. He doesn't have to get specific information, merely an awareness that a room is being entered with live targets.

Most Dms i've played with have set the bar for noticing an ajar door fairly low.

Liberty's Edge

I personally feel like suprise rounds are over used. I do my best to avoid surprise rounds. Reserved for ambushes either by bad guys or good guys. Also keep in my ambushes should be difficult. Any stratagy is only as strong as its weakest link. There for I have one ambusher getting noticed screws up the ambush and prevents a surprise round.

There is a handful of reasons for this. Players HATE being caught constantly in ambushes. Also the look of disgust I have seen on peoples faces when their character dies before they can act in combat. I have seen people quit games over it.

The most important part of suprise rounds is ALWAYS give the players perception checks.

Sovereign Court

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I do have a distaste for the "so totally saw it coming surprise" round. Like when the GM makes you roll surprise against the monsters behind the Big Ominous Door that you were carefully opening, everyone already with weapons drawn.

In that case I think it makes more sense to consider that combat rounds are already rolling before the door opens; you just don't know the monsters' initiatives yet.


@BigNorseWolf My answer to weapons ready idea (which I actually like) is quick draw. Helps a lot actually.

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If your PC group really wants to be able to give each other warnings during the surprise round, there's a teamwork feat for that. Lookout is IMO one of the few teamwork feats actually worth taking.

-You always get to act during the surprise round as long as anyone with the feat makes their Perception check
-People who made their check get full rounds instead of a single action.


Axe Haggart wrote:


There is a handful of reasons for this. Players HATE being caught constantly in ambushes. Also the look of disgust I have seen on peoples faces when their character dies before they can act in combat. I have seen people quit games over it.
ks.

What were such fragile characters doing out front anyway? Someone stealthy if you have them, one or two tanks to protect the wizards and range specialists, then the ones likely to get hurt when surprised. If they were shoving ahead then they kind of deserved what they got.


daimaru wrote:
Axe Haggart wrote:


There is a handful of reasons for this. Players HATE being caught constantly in ambushes. Also the look of disgust I have seen on peoples faces when their character dies before they can act in combat. I have seen people quit games over it.
ks.
What were such fragile characters doing out front anyway? Someone stealthy if you have them, one or two tanks to protect the wizards and range specialists, then the ones likely to get hurt when surprised. If they were shoving ahead then they kind of deserved what they got.

Ambushes aren't necessarily from the front. And the stealthy type tend to be vulnerable if they're spotted.


Ascalaphus wrote:

I do have a distaste for the "so totally saw it coming surprise" round. Like when the GM makes you roll surprise against the monsters behind the Big Ominous Door that you were carefully opening, everyone already with weapons drawn.

I like it when the DM knows everyone's perception ability and does the rolling ahead of time behind his screen. You don't know what he's rolling for or quite when, so you're -really- surprised.

Or when your stealth expert tells everyone to hold back while he sneaks up and listens at the door -before- the tanks come crashing up in their heavy armor then you have a legitimate reason to be told either "you hear nothing" or "an argument in orcish" when he rolls perception.

Sovereign Court

Surprise rounds are under-used IMO. Take the classic dungeon crawling example. The players loudly (or quietly) debate at a closed door in a dungeon. The Guecubuon (intelligent undead w/ tremor sense) on the other side is already wise to them and hides with a 28 stealth roll. The PCs fail their opposed Perception, so he gets a surprise round (where he will likely stone shape to divide the party (or trap melee) and then earth glide and isolate them off one-by-one.

Intelligent foes should attempt to get the ambush if the party is stupid. I've had players rage at me over it, but the reality is that if you go clanking around a dungeon, comically kicking doors down... Well, that crap has consequences. An intelligent enemy is going to hide, flank and try to take your butt down. Not just sit there like a lump on a log.


thejeff wrote:
Ambushes aren't necessarily from the front. And the stealthy type tend to be vulnerable if they're spotted.

Sure, but then they weren't (usually) taking the terrain and situation into consideration. The stealth character usually works best out front in a dungeon checking for doors and traps. Out in the open where your party can't really hide, hold him back and let the tanks lead.

And an ambush from behind gives -everyone- a chance to spot them as they go by.

Granted, accidents happen. Friday an idiot with nothing but a dagger attacked the two leading tanks when we found him sitting on a hoard. When the other tank tripped him I decided my level one warpriest would grapple him so we could ask questions. I mean what could a nebbish like this do anyway? Then he rolled a natural 20 and started changing into a werewolf. Made up for it with good rolls on the grapple and pin and help from my friends, but that could have turned out badly. Chewed up half my hit points with his first roll. Still it -was- my decision to grapple.


taldanrebel2187 wrote:


Intelligent foes should attempt to get the ambush if the party is stupid. I've had players rage at me over it, but the reality is that if you go clanking around a dungeon, comically kicking doors down... Well, that crap has consequences. An intelligent enemy is going to hide, flank and try to take your butt down. Not just sit there like a lump on a log.

Yup, really. They deserve it. OTOH, that wastes a huge amount of prep work (usually the whole first session) so as DM you can give them some sort of do over or maybe just not have quite so lethal a monster on the other side of the doors until they smarten up a bit.


daimaru wrote:
thejeff wrote:
Ambushes aren't necessarily from the front. And the stealthy type tend to be vulnerable if they're spotted.

Sure, but then they weren't (usually) taking the terrain and situation into consideration. The stealth character usually works best out front in a dungeon checking for doors and traps. Out in the open where your party can't really hide, hold him back and let the tanks lead.

And an ambush from behind gives -everyone- a chance to spot them as they go by.

Not all areas are straight single corridors with doors conveniently sealing off the rooms. Anytime you pass an intersection, a clever enemy who knows the layout could be circling back behind you. Think Tucker's kobolds. :) Though it doesn't have to be that nasty.

If all the enemies aren't carefully secured behind doors, the scout can easily be spotted, especially if there's nothing to hide him in the hall except darkness and the enemy is under cover and has darkvision. And there very often isn't anything in the average hallway - which might just mean, don't scout.


daimaru wrote:
taldanrebel2187 wrote:


Intelligent foes should attempt to get the ambush if the party is stupid. I've had players rage at me over it, but the reality is that if you go clanking around a dungeon, comically kicking doors down... Well, that crap has consequences. An intelligent enemy is going to hide, flank and try to take your butt down. Not just sit there like a lump on a log.
Yup, really. They deserve it. OTOH, that wastes a huge amount of prep work (usually the whole first session) so as DM you can give them some sort of do over or maybe just not have quite so lethal a monster on the other side of the doors until they smarten up a bit.

I'm always curious exactly how this is supposed to work.

I mean, I get the "not kicking doors down" thing. Use someone with open locks or magic, fine.
But are we really supposed to not bring anyone in heavy armor (clanking) or without a high stealth skill? And in any relatively close quarters organized dungeon isn't the first fight likely to make enough noise to alert the whole place anyway? If there's a chance of hearing you clank around, they're definitely going to hear swords clashing and their friends screaming as they die.

I've really never been able to see how to run the standard "Invading the orc tribes lair" without either slaughtering the party as they face the entire tribe at once, probably from several sides, or ignoring any realistic reactions from the bad guys.


thejeff wrote:


I've really never been able to see how to run the standard "Invading the orc tribes lair" without either slaughtering the party as they face the entire tribe at once, probably from several sides, or ignoring any realistic reactions from the bad guys.

That can certainly happen, but there -are- ways to deal with it. If you're the DM have the lair set up so the orcs are spread out and can't all pile on at once. If you're the adventurers, once you're aware that you're in trouble, fall back to a defensible spot and set up a defense in depth.

If you and the DM are -both- trying to make this survivable (and you should be, if the adventurers aren't being fools) the DM should design the lair so there -is- a defensible spot. That's the ideal adventure after all. The DM shouldn't be -trying- to kill off the adventurers and they -should- be thinking, not just fools rushing in.

Granted, again, accidents happen. :)


daimaru wrote:
thejeff wrote:


I've really never been able to see how to run the standard "Invading the orc tribes lair" without either slaughtering the party as they face the entire tribe at once, probably from several sides, or ignoring any realistic reactions from the bad guys.

That can certainly happen, but there -are- ways to deal with it. If you're the DM have the lair set up so the orcs are spread out and can't all pile on at once. If you're the adventurers, once you're aware that you're in trouble, fall back to a defensible spot and set up a defense in depth.

If you and the DM are -both- trying to make this survivable (and you should be, if the adventurers aren't being fools) the DM should design the lair so there -is- a defensible spot. That's the ideal adventure after all. The DM shouldn't be -trying- to kill off the adventurers and they -should- be thinking, not just fools rushing in.

Granted, again, accidents happen. :)

Personally, I tend to avoid such scenarios in my design. They're a staple of published adventures though and I never can tell how they're supposed to work.

Sovereign Court

It's the element of realism. If you're a guy in full plate walking down a narrow hall, people on the other side of a thin wooden door are going to know you are coming. Because CLANK CLANK CLANK.

If the party has reason to suspect danger ahead, then they can gamble and send the Rogue ahead. The rogue can sneak up and listen at the door, pick the lock, disable traps and so forth. Or send the BSF crashing through.

Adventurers cannot have their cake and eat it too. Expecting "WHY DID WE DIE" is just silly in my opinion. People that want to auto-win should be playing 4th edition with its silly healing surges.

/rant


taldanrebel2187 wrote:

It's the element of realism. If you're a guy in full plate walking down a narrow hall, people on the other side of a thin wooden door are going to know you are coming. Because CLANK CLANK CLANK.

If the party has reason to suspect danger ahead, then they can gamble and send the Rogue ahead. The rogue can sneak up and listen at the door, pick the lock, disable traps and so forth. Or send the BSF crashing through.

And then the Clanky fighter still has to walk up to the door, so unless you're gonna have the rogue open the door and attack solo, they're still gonna know. A round or so less warning.

And that's assuming there's a door.


thejeff wrote:

And then the Clanky fighter still has to walk up to the door, so unless you're gonna have the rogue open the door and attack solo, they're still gonna know. A round or so less warning.

Absolutely. But everyone in your group knows too, and no one is surprised. You can have everyone positioned where you want and actions readied. So can they of course, but you can't have everything.

Sovereign Court

Right the thing is the Rogue silently whips the door open. On the surprise round, the melee moves through and thus gets in position to setup a flank and tank. The Barbarian delays and charges through. The wizard has his metamagic rod out already and a creature summoned. The Paladin has Protection from Evil, Bless and Bull's Strength on him. Cleric readies a channel if people look hurt, excluding bad guys. Wizard goes first, readies an action to when the door opens, and casts glitterdust on the room, blinding 2 of the 3 orc warriors. All's well that ends well.

Sovereign Court

Effective scouting lets you buff for rooms with enemies. Without it, you have to gamble; maybe the room is empty and we waste buffs, or maybe we don't buff and there's enemies and we're not going in with optimal prebuffs.

Plus, you might want different buffs/weapons drawn against an undead, group of skeletons or pack of kobold alchemists.

And yeah sure, enemies will have heard the fighter clanking. But the scout who's listening at the door will also hear them making plans. If he hears enemies casting buff spells, and setting up an ambush, he can tell the fighter to wait a minute before kicking down the door, to let those buffs expire again.


More thoughts on the surprise rounds by a dev'

For those who don't want to open a new tab:
The topic was about a rogue trying to kill a guard while invisible.
Sean K Reynolds wrote:

Because the rogue knows when combat is starting and the guard doesn't, it's the rogue's attack that determine when combat starts. It shouldn't matter that the rogue drew a dagger, or poisoned the drawn dagger, cast invisibility, or wrote a sonnet, or whatever... the guard doesn't know he's being threatened, the rogue hasn't taken any hostile actions, so combat hasn't started yet. So the actual sequence is like this:

Scenario:
Guard on watch. Rogue wants to kill him.

Not yet in combat
Rogue casts invisibility, draws dagger, and sneaks up to guard. Guard fails all Perception checks, and is unaware of rogue.

Just before combat
Rogue decides to attack, combat begins, initiative is rolled. (Rogue 5, Guard 8)

Surprise Round
Init 8: Guard surprised, takes no actions.
Init 5: Rogue attacks guard, gets sneak attack, invisibility breaks.
End of round.

Round 1
Init 8: Guard's turn. Guard is no longer flat-footed. Guard full-attacks rogue.
Init 5: Rogue full-attacks guard.

Basically, combat doesn't start until (A) one creature initiates an attack against another creature, or (B) a creature is anticipating an attack from another creature. You could sit in the "not yet in combat" zone for hours before you hit the moment of "just before combat."

For example, in Maouse example, the casting of the fireball is the surprise round.

For people who doesn't want to get caught in ambushes, there are illusion and divination spells for that. A lot. Scouting is a great thing too.
Even without it, common sense is your greater ally: Don't make noise until you're discovered, and when you're spotted, kill quickly and efficiently. Or don't let them be prepared. Or outsmart them.

I'd just like to remember that making noise can be acceptable in some dungeons: Heavy doors, range, and usual noise (yes, there might be some guys in heavy armor running around usually here) can cover some to much of it. Just end a fight quickly and prevent enemies from escaping and it can be okay.

DM should consider that their monsters aren't always waiting for the PJ, as much as they aren't always surprised to see them. Players and GM should be aware and taking advantage of that.

The usual way is to know the place before you act: Some divinations and scouting can effectively help you. I like to corrupt one of them, or even extract their thoughts. It's sometimes way easier and faster. Charm person/monster is so cool for that.

When you know that, and you know if they have an usual policy to fight invasions, just use that to trap your enemies: Nothing's better than attacking ambushed foes by behind, trapping them between you and their traps.

When there is no way around, sending summoned monsters (or better, horses, for 1h/CL and because they are noticeable) can make great diversions and ruin an ambush. It's especially effective against foes with limited intelligence, as often they'll shown themselves to finish the first intruder they see.

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