[RPG] How does the Alert feat change the first turn of the battle


One of my players has the Alert feat, according to which:

[…] You can’t be surprised while you are conscious.

Now, does this mean that a hidden enemy is automatically spotted?

Let me provide a practical example. The party is walking along a path. The PC that has the Alert feat is in the middle of the line. A group of enemies is hidden 30 meters ahead. When the PCs pass by, they attack. Is the first turn of the battle handled as a normal turn? If the enemies are automatically spotted, when are they spotted?

Best Answer

From the section on Surprise, PHB 189:

If you’re surprised, you can’t move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can’t take a reaction until that turn ends.

What the Alert feat does is it allows you to take your normal set of actions during the first round of combat, despite surprise. It doesn't let you see your foes automatically, it just lets you know that there are foes to be seen.

What this means is that you have a chance to do something at the same time as your enemies. You could dive for cover, or cast a spell, or possibly make an active Perception check to spot your enemies and attack.

In your example, when the hidden enemies roll for initiative and start firing, the Alert character knows that they are under attack fast enough that they can (if their initiative is high enough) jump out of the way or cast a defensive spell, reducing the effect of the ambush. Since surprise is determined on a personal level, and not a party level, only the Alert character gets these benefits, not any of their party members.