Ranged Spell Attacks in Melee 5e

Published on March 7, 2023

Are you a caster stuck in melee combat? You might want to think twice before dusting off that trusty fire bolt.

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Spells With Ranged Attacks

In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5e), spells that have a ranged spell attack can be incredibly useful. Not only are they usually potent damage dealers, but they also have the opportunity to crit or gain advantage when attacking from an unseen position, just like normal ranged attacks.

Unfortunately, like mundane ranged attacks in D&D 5e, they can also pose a challenge when an enemy gets too close. In this article, we’ll explore the rules around ranged spell attacks in melee combat and how to handle them in your game.

Rulings for Ranged Spell Attacks in Melee 5e

First, let’s define what we mean by a “ranged spell attack.” In 5e, some spells require the caster to make a ranged spell attack roll against a target’s Armor Class (AC). These spells typically have a range listed in their description, such as “Range: 60 feet.” Examples of popular spells with ranged spell attacks include:

  • Eldritch blast
  • Fire bolt
  • Guiding bolt

When a caster engaged in melee combat and wants to use one of these trusty damage dealers, they may run into issues. According to the Basic Rules:

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t incapacitated.

– Chapter 9: Combat – Basic Rules

Strategies for Coping With Disadvantage on Ranged Spells in Melee

So you’re a caster and an enemy is up in your grill. What are some ways of punishing them for their attempt to ruin your gameplan?

  • You could Disengage from the enemy, move away to a safe distance, and then use a ranged spell attack. Unfortunately, because Disengaging requires an action, you’d have to wait until your next turn to cast your spell if it doesn’t have a bonus action casting time.
  • You could also misty step out of range and then attack. Seeing as misty step is only a bonus action, you’ll still have your action to cast a spell! Be careful, though. You can’t cast two leveled spells in one turn so your ranged spell attack will need to be a cantrip.
  • Alternatively, they could use a different spell that doesn’t require a ranged spell attack, such as a spell with an area of effect. Because you’re not making an attack roll, there’s no disadvantage applied to these types of spells.
  • You could also stock a spell for these occastions, like shocking grasp which is a melee spell attack. It always pays off to be prepared!

Getting Out of Dodge

In conclusion, being a caster in melee combat can be a dangerous place in 5e, but there are ways to overcome it if you’re prepared. By understanding the rules and using class abilities to your advantage, you can make those enemies pay for closing the distance!

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. He is a Adamantine best-selling author of Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery on DMs Guild and is a contributing author at D&D Beyond. Follow Mike on Twitter.

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