A Complete Guide to Attacks in DnD 5e, Photo Sketch of Armored Warriors in Combat

How DnD 5e Attack Rolls Work

Attacks in DnD 5e

Combat is a major aspect of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition.

There’s a lot that goes into fighting heroic (or maybe less-than-heroic) battles. And, you need to know how to attack in DnD 5e for things to go smoothly.

So, here’s a complete guide on how to attack in DnD 5e.

Let’s get right to it with the basics of attacks rolls.

How to Attack in DnD 5e

How to Attack in DnD 5e, Photo Sketch of Various Medieval Soldiers
Knowing how to attack in DnD 5e is important to keeping a smooth, appropriately paced game

So, let’s get right into the basics of attack in DnD 5e.

Page 194 of the Player’s Handbook, or here in the Combat section on DnD Beyond, outlines the most basic steps of making an attack:

"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…Determine modifiers…Resolve the attack…."

Now, I agree that these are the three most basic, stripped down steps of making an attack in DnD 5e. But, I do think there could be a little more clarification in these steps. So, I’d probably go with an outline like this:

  1. Choose Your Target
  2. Determine Modifiers
  3. Roll Your Attack
  4. Resolve the Attack
  5. Deal Damage On a Hit

Let’s go over these individually.

Choose Your Target
First step when making an attack; choose who or what you’re attacking.
Before doing any rolling, you need to know what you’re attacking. This could be another creature or an element of the battlefield like scaffolding or that very flammable looking pile of straw. You need to declare you’re taking the Attack action and what your target is before you roll.
Determine Modifiers
Next, after selecting your target, determine all relevant modifiers for the attack.
This includes your Attack Modifier, any potential bonuses (like if you have advantage or have an extra die from a spell), and any bonuses for your target like D&D’s Cover rules. You should know everything that benefits or hinders your roll ahead of time.
Roll Your Attack
Now for the exciting part; pick up your 20-sided die (d20) and roll.
Resolve Your Attack
Once your attack roll stops, add or subtract your modifiers to it.
After adding your modifiers, compare your total roll (d20 roll + modifiers) against your target’s Armor Class. You need to meet or exceed their AC to hit.
Deal Damage
If you score a hit, congratulations! You get to deal damage according to your weapon’s or spell’s damage dice.

And, that’s what you’ll do every time you make an attack roll in DnD 5e.

While this is a wide view of everything that goes into attacks in 5e, I want to go more granular so you can see how each of these mechanics work. Let’s start with your Attack Bonus and how you calculate it.

What Do You Add to Hit in DnD?

Typically, when you roll an attack in DnD 5e, you add your Attack Modifier to hit.

For your most basic, mundane attacks, this is the number you’ll use. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to calculate your Attack Modifier too. Just use the following formula:

Attack Modifier = Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus

That’s it. Easy as that.

Jot that number down on your character sheet and call it a day.

Now, if you’re using different weapons, then things get a little more complicated. But, not too much. Honestly, it’s the same formula just repeated depending on what you’re using.

Your Ability Modifier

Weapons in DnD 5e use either your Strength or Dexterity modifiers when determining your Attack Mod.

There are some general "Rules of Thumb" when it comes to which Ability Score you use for your Attack Modifier.

  • If you’re using a melee weapon, you use your Strength mod
  • If you’re using a ranged weapon, you use your Dexterity mod

But of course, there are exceptions to these rules. The Finesse weapon property means you can use Dexterity for a melee weapon. And, the Thrown weapon property means you can use Strength for a ranged weapon.

For example, a thrown javelin can use either your Strength or Dexterity mods when calculating your Attack Modifier. And, the same goes for a rapier for melee combat.

Either way, you use the same formula to calculate your Attack Modifier.

You just need to know which Ability Score your weapon uses.

…And, how your Ability Score Modifiers breakdown. But, that’s pretty easy too.

DnD 5e’s Ability Scores increase their respective modifiers by 1 for every 2 points in the score. Which sounds a lot more confusing than it is. Basically, every even number from 1 to 20 grants an additional +1 to your Ability Score Modifier.

So, the modifier breakdown looks like this (p. 13, PHB):

Ability Score: Modifier

  1. 1: -5
  2. 2-3: -4
  3. 4-5: -3
  4. 6-7: -2
  5. 8-9: -1
  6. 10-11: 0
  7. 12-13: +1
  8. 14-15: +2
  9. 16-17: +3
  10. 18-19: +4
  11. 20: +5

This applies to all Ability Scores. If you have a 15 in Dexterity, you have a +2 Dexterity Modifier. If you have a 16 in Strength, you have a +3 Strength Modifier. And, so on.

Remember: the Ability Score Modifier is what you use to calculate your Attack Mod in DnD 5e. Not the Ability Score itself.

With all this in mind, let’s move on to Proficiency Bonus.

Your Proficiency Bonus

The second part of determining your Attack Modifier is your Proficiency Bonus. Luckily, this is universal across all characters and is class, race, and weapon agnostic.

Your Proficiency Bonus comes from your overall character level. Add this number to your weapon’s corresponding Ability Score Modifier to calculate your Attack Modifier if you’re proficient with the weapon you’re using.

Since this is based on your overall level (not class level, that’s different), you always use the same number. Here’s the breakdown of your character’s Proficiency Bonus based on their level:

  1. 1st-4th Level: +2
  2. 5th-8th Level: +3
  3. 9th-12th Level: +4
  4. 13th-16th Level: +5
  5. 15th-20th Level: +6

So, say you have a 4th level Fighter with a Strength of 18. Their Ability Score modifier would be +4 (from the list above) and they’d have a Proficiency Bonus of +2. To figure out their Attack Modifier with a longsword (a weapon that uses Strength), we’d add their Ability Score Modifier with their Proficiency Bonus (4 + 2) for a total of +6 to hit.

Now, none of this matters if you’re fighting with a weapon you’re not proficient with.

You only add your Proficiency Bonus to your Attack Modifier if you’re proficient with that weapon.

You’ll know whether your character is proficient with a certain weapon at character creation. Each class starts with a set list of weapons they’re trained in. For example, Fighters are proficient in all Simple and Martial Weapons whereas Wizards are only trained in daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, and light crossbows. If a Wizard wanted to make an attack with a longsword, they wouldn’t add their Proficiency Bonus to their Attack Modifier.

Remember what weapons your character is trained in.

And, that’s how you calculate your Attack Modifier in DnD 5e.

…But, this all means nothing if you roll a natural 1.

Rolling a Natural 1 or 20

So, all that calculation for determining your Attack Modifiers in DnD 5e…and you roll a 1. What happens then?

Rolling a natural 1 or a natural 20 in DnD 5e is considered a critical miss or a critical hit, respectively. A natural 1 means you automatically miss your attack. And, a natural 20 means you automatically hit.

That’s…about it, really.

No matter how big you make your Attack Modifier, if you roll a natural 1, your attack misses. Period.

On the other hand, rolling a natural 20 means you’ll hit no matter what. It doesn’t matter how good your target’s AC is. You hit it.

Rolling natural 20s is referred to as scoring critical hits in DnD 5e. Not only does it mean you automatically hit, but you also deal more damage. So, it’s a huge boon if you get lucky enough to roll one.

But, the important things to remember if you roll a 1 or a 20 on you attack roll is the auto-miss and auto-hit aspect. The damage comes after.

How Does Extra Attack Work in 5e?

Many classes get the Extra Attack feature. But, how does it work?

Extra Attack does exactly what it sounds like it does; it gives you more attacks in DnD 5e. Usually, when you take the Attack action, you roll once and you’re done. But, Extra Attack gives you an additional attack (or more in the case of high-level Fighters) on your turn.

So, say you’re a 5th level (when most classes get this feature) Monk. When you take the Attack action, you make two attacks instead of one.

That’s the most basic explanation of Extra Attack.

One fun thing about this feature though is you can break up your attacks. Meaning, if you want to make your first attack, move to engage a different enemy, and make your second attack against the new target, you can totally do that.

This is great for cases when you incapacitate an enemy but their friends are still around.

But remember; it’s all part of a single Attack action. You’re not actually taking two separate actions. It’s all one Attack action to make several attack rolls.

…That might be a bit confusing.

The Attack action is a type of action you can take in DnD 5e. While an attack (lower case) is a type of roll your make against a target. You use the Attack Action to make an attack roll. And, Extra Attack means you only use one action to make two (or more) attacks on your turn.

I hope that makes sense. Honestly, it’s all semantics.

Unseen Attackers & Targets

Photo Sketch of a Ninja
Attacking out of stealth grants advantage on your first attack roll

Now, what if you can’t see an attack coming or you only vaguely know where your target is?

DnD 5e accounts for unseen attackers and targets. If your target can’t see you, you get advantage on your attack roll. If you can’t see your target, you have disadvantage instead.

It’s as easy as that.

Usually, this involves a Dexterity (Stealth) check made against your target’s Wisdom (Perception) or even their Passive Perception. The point is, you can’t be seen before making your attack.

Ambushes from thick foliage, attacks made in total darkness (for those of us without darkvision), or attacks into or out of thick for or other heavily obscured areas are all fair game for unseen attacks and attacks.

These types of attacks are sometimes called "Surprise Attacks." And typically, they result from a Surprise Round in combat. Basically, you get the drop on your enemies and get a whole combat round to yourselves before they can even act.

And, as you can imagine, it’s a huge benefit to strike when your enemy can’t see you. And, in the most extreme case, you might get a while round to act before your enemies can.

Hiding before your attack is a good way to get this advantage. But, if that’s all you’re doing, then you lose your bonus.

Say you’re hiding behind a tree and make a ranged attack. You get advantage on the first attack only (even if you have Extra Attack). You roll every subsequent attack normally after that. Unless you decide to hide again.

Things get wonky if you’re in heavily obscured areas. Basically, everything cancels out. You can’t see your target so you have disadvantage on your attacks. But, your target can’t see your, so you have advantage on your attacks against them.

Simply put; everything balances out at that point, and you roll normally.

Can You Ready an Attack in 5e?

Finally, when it comes to making an attack roll in DnD 5e, we ask the question; "can you Ready an attack?"

Yes, you can use the Ready action to hold an attack in DnD 5e. It uses your action for the turn. And, you’ll use your reaction based on a trigger you state when you decide to hold your attack.

Here’s the basic order of events when you hold your attack:

  1. Declare you’re using the Ready action to hold your attack
  2. State what will trigger your held attack
  3. Use your reaction to make your attack roll
  4. Follow normal steps to resolve your attack

Let me give you an example.

Your party knows there’s a monster nearby but can’t see it yet. So, you decide to use the Ready action to hold a longbow attack until you can see it. On the monster’s next turn, it bursts onto the battlefield. This triggers your held action and you make a ranged attack roll against it.

But remember; you use your reaction to activate your held attack. So, if you have something else that uses your reaction (like opportunity attacks), you can’t use them on the same round as your Readied action.

But, holding your attack in DnD 5e is a tactical decision if you don’t have any viable targets nearby.

How Does Extra Attack Work with a Held Attack?

Here’s a fun situation.

You have a 5th level Fighter and you decide to use the Ready action to hold your attack. Do you get to use Extra Attack when you held attack triggers?

The answer is; no. You don’t get extra attacks for a held action.

It all comes down to the wording. Extra Attack states:

"…you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

Page 49 of the Player’s Handbook, DnD Beyond

"on your turn" is the important part here.

Technically, when you use the Ready action to hold an attack, you’re not taking the Attack action on your turn. You’re taking the Ready action. Also, when your held attack triggers, you usually (though it happens sometimes) aren’t attacking on your turn.

The important part of this is you aren’t taking the Attack action. So, you don’t get the benefit of Extra Attack when you Ready an attack.

This also applies to any creatures that have Multiattack. So, remember that, Dungeon Masters.

Types of Attacks in DnD 5e

Now that you know how to attack in DnD 5e, let’s take a look at the different types of attacks you can make.

The same general rules apply to all of these. But, they each have their own special set of rules to remember. From when they can be used for to special circumstances that affect your attack rolls, you should know how each of the types of attacks in DnD 5e work.

There are three types of attacks to remember:

  • Melee Attacks
  • Ranged Attacks
  • Spell Attacks

I’m gonna break each of these down starting with melee attacks.

5e Melee Attacks

Photo Sketch of Two Knight Squaring Off
Melee attacks are attack made against a target within your character’s reach

Melee attacks in DnD 5e are attacks made against targets within reach of your character. These attacks are made with simple and martial melee weapons including handaxes, longswords, warhammers, and others.

Basically, these are attacks made in close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat.

Usually, melee attacks are made against targets within 5 feet of your character, otherwise known as "adjacent." That’s the typical range for a melee weapon. But, there are certain weapons or features that extend your reach.

Glaives and whips have a reach of 10 feet. So, you can attack targets out that far. Or, bugbear player characters get 5-foot bonus to their reach with the Long-Limbed feature.

But, to sum it up; melee attacks are made against targets within your reach.

Now, there are quite a few elements to melee attacks you should know. These are:

  • Melee Weapon Attacks
  • Opportunity Attacks
  • Offhand Attacks/Two-Weapon Fighting
  • Unarmed Attacks
  • Grapple
  • Shove

Let’s start with defining a melee weapon attack.

What Does Melee Weapon Attack Mean?

A melee weapon attack is a melee attack made with a weapon. But, it’s not always an attack made with a melee weapon.


Alright, here’s a scenario; a longsword is a melee weapon. If you roll an attack against a creature within 5 feet of you, that’s a melee attack made with a weapon or a melee weapon attack. If you throw that longsword (ill-advised, but go for it), that’s a ranged attack made with a melee weapon.

Honestly, this is one of those situations where semantics really comes into play.

Jeremy Crawford even cleared this up a while back because it’s such a weird way to phrase thing.

Basically, if you make an attack with a melee weapon against a target within your reach, that’s a melee weapon attack.

How Do Opportunity Attacks Work in 5e?

Opportunity Attacks are a special attack roll you can make in DnD 5e. When a creatures moves outside of your reach, you can use your reaction to make an attack against that creature.

It’s important to note that this type of attack roll doesn’t apply to ranged attacks because the target needs to leave your reach. If your reach is 10 feet (like with a glaive), if a creature attempts to move outside of that reach, you can use your reaction an make attack against it.

These attacks happen right before your target leaves your range. But, opportunity attacks do not stop a creature from moving. Once you resolve the attack roll as normal, the creature continues its movement.

Now, another thing to note is you can only make an opportunity attack against a creature you can see.

I’ve had a couple instances pop up in my own games where a player character couldn’t see an adjacent enemy (fog cloud and darkness, specifically). One enemy went to move away from the Rogue, and the player asked if they could make an opportunity attack. But, page 195 of the PHB explicitly states "You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach."

So remember; you need to actually see your target to make an opportunity attack against it.

Another way to prevent enemies from making opportunity attack rolls against your character is the Disengage action. This action prevents all opportunity attacks against you on your turn. So, you can move in-and-out of adjacency with enemies for the rest of your turn when you take the Disengage action.

Also, one final thing about opportunity attacks; you can’t roll them against creatures that move unwillingly (ie pushed by a spell), if they teleport, or if they’re moved without using their movement, action, or reaction.

For example, if a creature is hit by and fails their saving throw against the thunderwave spell and they move outside of your reach from the 15 foot knockback, you can’t make an opportunity attack against them.

Just something to remember there.

One last thing; you can’t make melee spell attacks as opportunity attacks.

This is another semantics argument.

Technically, opportunity attacks are a special type of attack. But, spell attacks aren’t considered "attacks" in the same sense. When you make a spell attack, you’re actually using the Cast a Spell action and making a spell attack as part of the casting.

It’s really fiddly. But, it’s an important enough distinction to warrant the War Caster feat.

How Do Offhand Attacks Work in 5e?

If you’re wielding two weapons with the Light property, you can make an attack with your offhand as a bonus action.

This is often called Two-Weapon Fighting or Dual-Wielding in DnD 5e.

This is one of a few situations when you can use your bonus action to attack in DnD 5e. Usually, it’s only your action (or reaction if you held an attack).

A few general rules to remember when attack with an offhand weapon:

  • You need to take the Attack action to use your bonus action to make an offhand attack
  • Both weapons need to have the Light property
  • Your offhand attack doesn’t add your Ability Modifier to the damage of the second attack unless the mod is negative

The sequence of events is important to making offhand attacks. First, you need to take the Attack action and roll your main hand attack. Then, after your first attack roll resolves, you can make your offhand attack as a bonus action.

And remember; your offhand attack uses up your bonus action. It’s not part of your regular Attack action even though it needs you to do that first.

I often see players wanting to dual wield a rapier and a shortsword (or some other like combination). But, Rules as Written, you can’t do that. Both weapons need the Light property if you want to make an offhand attack.

Now, if you have the Dual Wielder feat, that restriction gets lifted. Go nuts fighting with 2 longswords.

Also, you don’t add your Ability Modifier to the damage of the offhand attack unless that modifier is negative.

But, if you have the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style, this detriment goes away.

Basically, offhand attacks work like this:

  1. You’re using two weapons with the Light property
  2. You take the Attack action with your main hand weapon and resolve that attack first
  3. Then, you use your bonus action to make an offhand attack
  4. Resolve the offhand attack remembering you don’t add your Ability Score to the damage

How Do Unarmed Attacks Work?

Photo Sketch of a MMA Fighter Kicking Their Opponent
Unarmed strikes count as melee weapon attacks in DnD 5e

Unarmed Attacks in DnD 5e work the same way as any other melee attacks. You use your Attack action to make an attack roll against a target within your reach.

Now, unarmed attacks are different in that they don’t come with an assigned damage die. Unarmed strikes deal 1 plus your Strength modifier damage on a hit.

That’s it.

Now, there are ways to alter how much damage unarmed attacks do. Monks get a specific damage die based on their level for their unarmed strikes, the Tavern Brawler feat increases your unarmed strike damage to a d4, and the new Unarmed Fighting Fighting Style from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything gives the Fighter class an unarmed damage boost. But, for the most part, you’re dealing 1 + Strength mod for unarmed damage.

Are Unarmed Attacks Melee Weapon Attacks?

Here’s a common question that gets thrown around a bit.

Technically, unarmed strikes in DnD 5e aren’t weapon attacks. But, they’re an exception to the rule that melee weapon attacks are melee attacks made with weapons. So, yes, unarmed attacks are considered melee weapon attacks in DnD 5e.

Often, this question comes up for the Paladin’s Divine Smite feature. Given that Jeremy Crawford also agrees that unarmed strikes are an exception is enough for me. Punch those demons with the power of your divine fists.

Weirdly though, you can’t make unarmed strikes as part of Two-Weapon Fighting. If you look at the Weapons table on page 149 of the PHB, unarmed strikes don’t have the Light property. So, you can’t make an unarmed strike as an offhand attack.

…Unless you’re a Monk. Which is kind of their whole thing so that tracks.

Special Melee Attack: Grapple

Grappling is a special attack you can make in DnD 5e. In place of a regular attack, you make a grapple check which is a Strength (Athletics) roll made by you against a either a Strength (Athletic) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) roll made by your target.

Basically, instead of rolling a regular attack, you can opt to make a Grapple check against your target.

Now, this does work with Extra Attack. If you have the feature, you can make a grapple check in place of one of your attacks.

There are a few caveats to remember if you want to grapple something.

  1. Your target can’t be bigger than one size larger than you (so, a Medium creature can target a Large target but not a Huge one)
  2. You need to have one free hand
  3. Your target wins ties in the grapple check

If you succeed in your grapple check, your target is under the Grapple condition. And, they can use their action to attempt to escape with another contested roll.

The last fun thing about grappling a creature is you can move them with you. But, your speed is halved unless the grappled creature is at least two sizes smaller than you (so a Tiny creature for Medium-sized characters).

Special Melee Attack: Shove

Another special attack roll you can make in DnD 5e is a Shove roll.

As part of your Attack action, you can choose to shove your target in place of one of your attacks. Like grappling, you make contested rolls; your Strength (Athletics) check against your target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) roll.

I know quite a few players and DMs know about grapple checks. But, I feel like shove checks often get overlooked. Which is a dang shame.

If you succeed in your shove check, you either push your target up to 5 feet away from you or knock them prone.

Now, there are, of course, a couple caveats to shoving in DnD 5e:

  1. Your target can’t be more than one size larger than you
  2. Your target needs to be within your reach

So, no pushing Huge or larger creatures (unless you have the Powerful Build feature or are under the effects of the enlarge/reduce spell). And, you can shove a target with a ranged attack.

But, imagine the possibilities.

Have a nearby cliff? Shove a creature off it. Have Extra Attack? Use one of your attacks to knock your target prone then make your second attack at advantage and grant advantage to your melee allies until the creature stands up.

Just remember that shoving as an attack in DnD 5e is an option.

5e Ranged Attacks

Photo Sketch of an Archer Drawing a Recurve Bow
Ranged attacks are made against targets outside of your character’s melee reach

The second attack type in DnD 5e is a ranged attack.

Ranged attacks are made with weapons or abilities that extend beyond your character’s reach. These include bows, thrown weapons, or other projectiles.

Typically, ranged attacks use your Dexterity modifier to calculate your Attack Modifier. But, weapons with the Thrown property give you the option to use your Strength mod instead.

You make ranged attacks in the exact same way you do melee attacks. The difference being that you need to consider different aspects and restrictions that melee attacks don’t have. These are:

  • Weapon Ranges
  • Ranged Attacks While Adjacent

I want to touch on ranges first because they’re a bit weird.

DnD 5e Weapon Ranges

Ranged weapons and attacks in DnD 5e usually have two distances; normal and long. The normal range where you make attack rolls normally. The long range means you can still attack targets out to that distance but you do so with disadvantage.

So, what does this mean?

Well, if you look at a ranged weapon, you’ll see two ranges listed separated by a forward slash. The first number is your normal range and the second is your long range.

For example, the longbow has a range of 150/600. This means your roll normally for ranged attacks out to 150 feet. But, past that and out to 600 feet, your ranged attacks are at disadvantage.

You can’t make attack rolls against targets past a weapon’s long range. And, the same is true to features and spells that only have one listed range.

Ranged Attacks with an Adjacent Enemy

Often, a hostile creature move adjacent to you when all you want to do is make ranged attacks.

This actually makes attacking at range a lot harder.

If a hostile creature is within 5 feet of you in DnD 5e, all of your ranged attacks are made at disadvantage.

Now, the enemy needs to be within 5 feet of you (not necessarily within their reach) and they can’t be incapacitated, needs to see you, and can’t be incapacitated. So, you need to either move away or find some way to remove yourself from a hostile creature to get back to shooting normally.

I’ve had players ask if ranged attacks are still at a disadvantage if they’re attacking a different target from the adjacent enemy. But, it doesn’t matter who’re you’re attacking. All ranged attacks are at a disadvantage if an active enemy is within 5 feet of you.

If they can’t see you (because of invisibility or some other ability), then you’re golden and can keep firing normally.

But, letting enemies bog down your ranged allies is a huge detriment to your team.

…Or for your enemies if you do the same to them. Remember that.

5e Spell Attacks

Photo Sketch of a Person Casting a Spell
Spell attacks work the same way as regular melee & ranged attacks, but they don’t use the Attack action

The last type of attack in DnD 5e is the spell attack.

Spell attacks in DnD 5e work in much the same way as regular attacks. But, instead of using Strength or Dexterity as in weapon attacks, you use your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma modifier when calculating your Spell Attack Bonus. Which Ability Score you use depends on your casting class.

Certain spells require you to make an attack roll as part of their casting. You figure this out basically the same way as a regular attack roll. Roll a d20 and add your Spell Attack Bonus.

Your Spell Attack Bonus uses this formula:

Spell Attack Bonus = Spellcasting Modifier + Proficiency Bonus

Where your Attack Modifier use either your Strength or Dexterity modifier depending on the weapon, your Spell Attack Bonus uses either your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma modifier based on your spellcasting class.

You should know your Spellcasting Modifier from character creation.

  • Artificers, Eldritch Knight Fighters, Arcane Trickster Rogues, and Wizards use Intelligence
  • Clerics, Druids, and Rangers use Wisdom
  • Bard, Paladins, and Warlocks use Charisma

So, understand which Ability Score your class uses in their spellcasting to determine your Spell Attack Bonus.

It’s important to note that spell attacks ARE NOT taken as part of the Attack action. They are used as their own Cast a Spell action.

So, features like Extra Attack have no effect on spell attacks in DnD 5e.

Now, spell attacks are divided into two sub-types:

  • Melee Spell Attacks
  • Ranged Spell Attacks

Both of these work almost exactly the same way as their mundane counterparts. The difference being the effects of the spell being used.

Melee Spell Attacks

Some spells require you to make a melee spell attack as part of the casting.

Much like melee weapon attacks, melee spell attacks can only be made against targets within your reach. Other than that, you roll an attack and add your Spell Attack Bonus. If you meet or exceed your target’s AC, you hit and get to roll damage.

Now, spells in DnD 5e are a bit weird in that they don’t have a "reach."

Spells that require a melee spell attack roll are usually listed as having a range of "Touch." Which means you need to be able to reach out and actually touch your target. It’s not specifically a 5 foot range. But, it’s basically your character’s reach.

Ranged Spell Attacks

Like melee spell attacks, certain spells in DnD 5e ask you to make a ranged spell attack in their casting requirements.

And, like their melee counterparts, you simply roll a d20 to attack and add your Spell Attack Bonus to get your total to hit.

Now, unlike ranged weapon attacks, ranged spell attacks don’t have a normal and a long range. They have one range and that’s it. If your desired target is beyond that distance, they can’t be targeted.

For example, the fire bold cantrip has a range of 120 feet. If a creature is 125 feet out, you can’t target them with the cantrip.

Other than the lack of different range listings, ranged spell attacks have the same restrictions as their mundane counterparts. If you’re adjacent to a hostile creature, your ranged spell attacks are at disadvantage.

And remember; you’re not taking the Attack action with melee and ranged spell attacks. You’re using the Cast a Spell action.

It’s a small, but important distinction.

DnD 5e Attacks FAQ

Can You Move After Attacking in 5e?

Yes. You can move after attacking in DnD 5e. You can also move before or in-between attacks if you have the Extra Attack feature or can make an attack as a bonus action.

Do You Get Advantage on Surprise in 5e?

Yes. You get advantage on surprise attacks in DnD 5e. But, you only have advantage on the first attack you make during a surprise round.

What Triggers Opportunity Attacks in 5e?

An enemy moving outside of your reach triggers an opportunity attack in 5e. Usually, this means a creature moving out of adjacency, or 5 feet, from your character. But, weapons with the Reach feature or other racial features like the bugbear’s Long-Limbed feature extend your character’s reach.

Do Spells Have Attack Rolls?

Some spells have attack rolls in DnD 5e. Each spell lists the requirements for casting. Certain spells force a save, like fireball, while others use a spell attack roll, like scorching ray, to determine if they hit.

Can You Hold Extra Attack in 5e?

No. You can’t hold Extra Attack in 5e. Extra Attack explicitly states you make an additional attack roll on your turn. And, in order to hold an attack, you need to take the Ready action which means you can’t take the Attack action on your turn.


That about covers everything you need to know about attacks in DnD 5e.

I know it’s a lot. But, to keep your combat’s running smoothly, you should keep all relevant information in mind. Fighter’s won’t necessarily need to know the difference between a melee weapon attack and a melee spell attack. But, you might want to remember that unarmed strikes are considered melee weapon attacks.

If you have any questions or weird situations you’ve come across, leave a comment and I’ll see if I can help!

1 thought on “How DnD 5e Attack Rolls Work”

  1. Pingback: Booming Blade 5e: Spell How-To Guide | Shocking Move – Black Citadel RPG

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