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(For this example I'm using stealth vs perception, but same applies to for example deception or other skills as appropriate)
I've found the current RAW for handling ambushes to be quite lacking.
After first succeeding on a stealth check you gain the following:
You gain 2-3 things, which is planned positioning and the option of rolling something other than perception for initiative and if the GM is nice you get your reaction at the start of combat.
Then you sound off initiative where ambushers roll stealth and defenders roll perception.
If perception is higher they "spot" or "feel" every character below their initiative
If stealth is higher, they are "unseen" for every enemy below their initiative.
My problem with this ambush system is that if your perception is your highest initiative modifier, then your only benefit is positioning and you roll an inferior initiative (stealth). Being first in combat is way more important than positioning at start of combat so you will never want to do a stealth approach if your perception is higher.
So I've made a new Exploration tactic which i call "Setting an ambush"
Setting an ambush:
You attempt to ambush your foe before initiating combat. Explain and discuss your tactic to the GM, execute the plan and then roll an appropriate skill check versus DC set by the GM dependent on plan/situation/opposing skill.
(Each participating player is rolling against their own separate DC)
Success: Your plan succeeds, move into position, gain a reaction and a Ready action with the trigger "At the start of combat".
Failure: GM will narrate a failure based on your tactic, you move into position, do not gain a ready action or reaction.
Critical failure: Your starting position is somewhere between the beginning and end of your planned starting position.
The benefit you gain is 1 "narrated move" acton and 1 action at start of combat, you may choose to ignore the trigger and not spend your reaction to instead spend it on some other Reaction trigger.
simplified you gain 1 move and 1 action "At the start of combat" as a sort of "surprise round".
So an example:
2 characters wish to ambush a guard that they know will pass between 2 doors through a corridor, their current position is in through 1 of the doors, but they want 1 character in each door.
They want to use the tactic "Setting an ambush" where the plan is that 1 character bolts across the corridor to stand in the other door so that they both can attack the guard when he passes between them.
Both roll a stealth check vs DC which is in this case based on guard perception DC, distance and any circumstantial effects like cover and lighting.
The one bolting to the other side will naturally have a higher DC check due to lacking cover and a circumstantial "have to time it right as the guard looks away for a moment"
If the plan is successful for both, then combat begins when characters are in position and the guard is between them.
If 1 or more fails, the character who failed is spotted, but is still moved into position. While the other is in position, unseen and gains his Ready action.
However the Guard may or may not stop his current movement, but if he stops then thats the guard new starting position in combat and not between the doors. Or he might run after the intruder and then combat would begin when the guard runs into the square next to the successfull character.
If both fail then they still move into position, but neither gains ready actions and the guard may or may not run to towards them as above.
If someone critical fails, the GM decides (appropriate to the fiction) the characters starting position somewhere between the start of the plan and end of the plan.
Setting an ambush must always imply that combat will always start at the end of it.
All characters Setting an ambush start and happen simultaneously, you cannot have 1 player plan and attempt his "setting an ambush" and then do the next player. All participating players decide their plan, then execute it.
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Exploration tactics as-is are very basic. This new tactic has as a lot of more words than the old ones. But I believe this is a must. Exploration mode is very weak rules-wise and a lot of exploration rules are needed to shore up the system.
My favorite example of a botched exploration tactic rule is Lookout. First, this is described under social encounters - because no-one ever looks for enemies when traveling? Second, it has no actual rules for how it works. :o
|The Once and Future Kai|
I like the thought but not the implementation (because it uses Exploration Mode's current set-up). My big problem with Exploration Mode is that it's essentially a big list of static options (e.g. Select a Tactic and that's it) rather than a dynamic ruleset (e.g. Combat Mode's Action Economy). It adds Tracking Complexity rather than Depth.
Ambushing opponents should definitely be supported (by more than just positioning)...but I don't like it being a static option. I'd been hoping that Exploration Mode's core chassis would get more attention during the playtest. :-/ The fact that you needed to suggest this illustrates a weakness in the system (which is at the top of my list as I'm sold on Combat and Downtime modes as they are).
Honestly, I think "surprise rounds" still work rather well in the new system, they just aren't spelled out as clearly as I'd like in the rules. I've pieced together my own way to run them under RAW and it works fine. I'd argue maybe even better than PF1-- "ready one action" is simpler than the stuff we had before involving charges and five foot steps and such.