Making an Attack
Attacks all follow a simple structure, whether it is a melee attack with a sword, a ranged attack with a bow, or a spell attack. If it ever needs to be determined whether an action counts as an attack, it is an attack if you are making an attack roll.
- Select a Target: Choose a target within your attack’s reach or range: a creature, an object, or a location in space. Generally, you must have line of sight and line of effect to attack a target, but that can vary (such as firing an arrow through a glass window, or swinging a sword at where you assume a hidden target is located).
- Apply Modifiers: The Narrator determines whether the target has cover and if you have advantage or disadvantage on your attack roll. Certain abilities, spells, or effects can apply additional modifiers or expertise dice to your attack roll.
- Resolve the Attack: You make your attack roll, rolling a d20 and applying your modifier with the bonuses or penalties from above. On a hit, you roll damage and apply any additional effects of the attack.
When you attack a target, the result of your attack roll determines if it hits or misses. An attack roll is a d20 roll plus the appropriate modifiers (usually proficiency bonus and either Strength or Dexterity modifiers). If the total of the roll plus modifiers equals or exceeds the target’s Armor Class (AC), the attack hits. Objects and monsters have their own AC scores, while a character’s AC is determined by their armor, ability scores, features, traits, and magic items.
Critical Hits and Fumbles. A natural 20 on an attack roll is a critical hit and is always successful. On the flip side, rolling a natural 1 on an attack roll is considered a critical fumble and always misses.
Modifiers to the Roll
When making an attack roll, a character typically adds an ability modifier and their proficiency bonus to the roll. Monsters and other NPCs use whatever modifier is provided in their statistics (though they typically follow the same formulas).
- Ability Modifier: Melee attacks use the attacker’s Strength or Dexterity modifier depending on the weapon used, while ranged attacks usually use the attacker’s Dexterity modifier unless they are thrown.
- Spell attacks utilize the spellcasting ability of the spellcaster, determined by the class or trait which grants the spell.
- Proficiency Bonus: You add your proficiency bonus when attacking with a weapon you are proficient with, or when you are attacking with a spell.
- Nonproficient attacks do not add your proficiency bonus.
- Miscellaneous Modifiers: Sometimes you will gain other modifiers to your roll. These can come from combat maneuvers, spells, features, traits, or any ability that adds an expertise die. Magical weapons also often grant bonuses to attack rolls.
Unseen Attackers and Targets
Whether through stealth, environmental effects, or spells like invisibility , attackers and targets often go unseen. When you attack a target that you cannot see, but whose location you know, you have disadvantage on your attack roll.
Being unseen does not always mean hidden; you may know the location of an invisible target that is not using the Hide action to move quietly. However, if a target is both unseen and undetected, you must guess what square it occupies, and the Narrator will typically say that an attack missed if you guessed wrong so as not to give more information about the target’s location.
Likewise, if your target cannot see you, you have advantage on your attack rolls against it. If you are hidden when you make your attack, you give away your location after making the attack.
In situations where your target is unseen by you and you are unseen by your target (such as if both you and your target are invisible, or if you are fighting in magical darkness), all attack rolls are made at disadvantage .
Some creatures and characters have additional senses, like blindsight, that allow them to sense targets without vision. A creature is only unseen to them if they are unable to perceive it.
Ranged attacks can be many things, from projectile weapons like bows and crossbows, to thrown weapons like handaxes or javelins, or even the more exotic like ranged spell attacks or monstrous attacks such as acid spit or launched spikes.
Ranged attacks come with a range, and your target must be within that range. If a ranged attack has a single range, you cannot make an attack at a target beyond that range. If a ranged attack has two ranges (a normal range and a long range), attacks made at targets further than the normal range are made at disadvantage , and targets beyond long range cannot be targeted.
Ranged Attacks in Close Combat
It is difficult to aim a ranged attack when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged attack while you are within the reach of a hostile creature, you make the attack with disadvantage .
A melee attack is an attack made in hand-to-hand combat. These can be attacks with manufactured weapons, unarmed attacks, or natural weapons like claws, teeth, or horns. Some spells utilize melee attacks as well.
Most creatures have a reach of 5 feet, allowing them to make melee attacks against any creature within 5 feet of them. Larger creatures, or creatures using reach weapons, can have larger reach (noted in their attack entries).
The melee attack rolls you make are not the only times a character swings their weapon in a round. There are feints, parries, and other movements that are not rolled. As such, if someone drops their guard, they open themselves up to attack. Such an attack is called an opportunity attack.
You can use your reaction to attempt an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. An opportunity attack is a single melee attack against the provoking creature made immediately before the creature leaves your reach.
The Disengage action can be used to avoid provoking opportunity attacks. Movement through teleportation does not provoke opportunity attacks, and unless noted otherwise neither does forced movement (such as if you are pushed away by a creature or effect, or if you move past a creature while falling).
When you take the Attack action and attack with a weapon that does not have the heavy property that you are wielding in one hand, you can use your bonus action to attack with a different dual-wielding melee weapon that you are holding in your off-hand. You do not add your ability modifier to the damage roll of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative. If a weapon has the thrown property, you can make a ranged weapon attack with it instead.
If you have the Extra Attack feature, you can use your bonus action to make two attacks with the weapon in your off-hand.
Natural Weapons and Unarmed Strikes
All creatures are proficient with their natural weapons and unarmed strikes. Unless otherwise noted, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + Strength modifier.
Attacks made with natural weapons and unarmed strikes are considered to be melee weapon attacks, and a thrown weapon is considered to be a ranged weapon attack. Creatures have a reach of 5 feet with their melee weapon attacks, though larger creatures may have greater reach.