Whether you’re striking with a melee weapon, firing a weapon at range, or making an attack roll as part of a spell, an attack has a simple structure.
- Choose a target. Pick a target within your attack’s range: a creature, an object, or a location.
- Determine modifiers. The GM determines whether the target has cover and whether you have advantage or disadvantage against the target. In addition, spells, special abilities, and other effects can apply penalties or bonuses to your attack roll.
- Resolve the attack. You make the attack roll. On a hit, you roll damage, unless the particular attack has rules that specify otherwise. Some attacks cause special effects in addition to or instead of damage.
If there’s ever any question whether something you’re doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you’re making an attack roll, you’re making an attack.
When you make an attack, your attack roll determines whether the attack hits or misses. To make an attack roll, roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. If the total of the roll plus modifiers equals or exceeds the target’s Armor Class (AC), the attack hits. The AC of a character is determined at character creation, whereas the AC of a monster is in its stat block.
Modifiers to the Roll
When a character makes an attack roll, the two most common modifiers to the roll are an ability modifier and the character’s proficiency bonus. When a monster makes an attack roll, it uses whatever modifier is provided in its stat block.
Ability Modifier. The ability modifier used for a melee weapon attack is Strength, and the ability modifier used for a ranged weapon attack is Dexterity. Weapons that have the finesse or thrown property break this rule.
Some spells also require an attack roll. The ability modifier used for a spell attack depends on the spellcasting ability of the spellcaster.
Proficiency Bonus. You add your proficiency bonus to your attack roll when you attack using a weapon with which you have proficiency, as well as when you attack with a spell.
Rolling 1 or 20
Sometimes fate blesses or curses a combatant, causing the novice to hit and the veteran to miss.
If the d20 roll for an attack is a 20, the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC. This is called a critical hit, which is explained later in this chapter.
If the d20 roll for an attack is a 1, the attack misses regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC.
Unseen Attackers and Targets
Combatants often try to escape their foes’ notice by hiding, casting the invisibility spell, or lurking in darkness.
When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you’re guessing the target’s location or you’re targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the GM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly.
When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.
When you make a ranged attack, you fire a bow or a crossbow, hurl a handaxe, or otherwise send projectiles to strike a foe at a distance. A monster might shoot spines from its tail. Many spells also involve making a ranged attack.
You can make ranged attacks only against targets within a specified range.
If a ranged attack, such as one made with a spell, has a single range, you can’t attack a target beyond this range.
Some ranged attacks, such as those made with a longbow or a shortbow, have two ranges. The smaller number is the normal range, and the larger number is the long range. Your attack roll has disadvantage when your target is beyond normal range, and you can’t attack a target beyond the long range.
Ranged Attacks in Close Combat
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.
Used in hand-to-hand combat, a melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach. A melee attack typically uses a handheld weapon such as a sword, a warhammer, or an axe. A typical monster makes a melee attack when it strikes with its claws, horns, teeth, tentacles, or other body part. A few spells also involve making a melee attack.
Most creatures have a 5-foot reach and can thus attack targets within 5 feet of them when making a melee attack. Certain creatures (typically those larger than Medium) have melee attacks with a greater reach than 5 feet, as noted in their descriptions.
Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head-butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons). On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes.
In a fight, everyone is constantly watching for a chance to strike an enemy who is fleeing or passing by. Such a strike is called an opportunity attack.
You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. To make the opportunity attack, you use your reaction to make one melee attack against the provoking creature. The attack occurs right before the creature leaves your reach.
You can avoid provoking an opportunity attack by taking the Disengage action. You also don’t provoke an opportunity attack when you teleport or when someone or something moves you without using your movement, action, or reaction. For example, you don’t provoke an opportunity attack if an explosion hurls you out of a foe’s reach or if gravity causes you to fall past an enemy.
When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative.
If either weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon, instead of making a melee attack with it.
Contests in Combat
Battle often involves pitting your prowess against that of your foe. Such a challenge is represented by a contest. This section includes the most common contests that require an action in combat: grappling and shoving a creature. The GM can use these contests as models for improvising others.
When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.
The target of your grapple must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target by making a grapple check instead of an attack roll: a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). If you succeed, you subject the target to the grappled condition (see appendix A). The condition specifies the things that end it, and you can release the target whenever you like (no action required).
Escaping a Grapple. A grappled creature can use its action to escape. To do so, it must succeed on a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by your Strength
Moving a Grappled Creature. When you move, you can drag or carry the grappled creature with you, but your speed is halved, unless the creature is two or more sizes smaller than you.
Shoving a Creature
Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.
The target must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Instead of making an attack roll, you make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). If you win the contest, you either knock the target prone or push it 5 feet away from you.