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I know if I cast a touch spell like Chill Touch, I have to roll a d20 to see if I hit against their touch AC, and I can potentially crit.

What if it's a spell like Entangle that has a range of long, though? Or any spell like that for that matter? Do I need to make an attack roll to see if I hit? If so, are there any modifiers, and what AC would I be trying to hit? Their touch?

What about area/ray/burst spells like Burning Hands?

I know creatures can make saves against certain spells but I'm confused about when to roll the d20 to see if the spell works.

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2 Answers 2

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No, you don't always require an attack roll. Only some among aggressive spells require attack rolls. Attack roll is generally tied with touching the target (like chill touch you have mentioned) or firing a ray to the target (like disintegrate).

There are three kinds of criteria for determining the success of spell.

  • Touch attack: You make an attack roll against the target's touch AC (hence the name "touch"), which disregards the enemy's AC bonus from armor. Usually targets a single creature.
  • Saving throw: Target(s) designated or targets caught in your spell's area of effect must make a saving throw against the DC decided by the spell's level and your magic ability. For example, targets caught in the area of your fireball must make a reflex save against your spell's saving throw DC.
  • No failure: Surprisingly, some spells don't allow chance to evade by either a missed attack roll or a successful saving throw. An example for this is power word kill, which always kills the target if it has less than 101 hit points.

Also, take note that there are spells which give benefits like bless, and they don't allow these kinds of saves ever.

P. S. To simplify the discussion, I didn't include spell resistance into the play. If the target has spell resistance, then "after passing a caster level check to affect the target" must precede wherever appropriate. Again, this only applies to spells that allow SR. (Detect Magic is an example of a spell that does not allow any of these methods of avoidance, so if you're using Invisibility, and someone scans your area with Detect Magic, they don't need an attack, you don't get a save or SR, and you will still be detected no matter how high your touch AC, save mods, or SR are.)

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A spell only needs an attack roll if it is a (ranged)touch attack or states that it needs one. Spells like Entangle or Fireball didn't need an attack roll. Anyway, the Game Master can decide to let you make an attack roll under certain circumstances.

some aspects are discussed in this question.

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The only expansion of SL I can think of here is “Spell Level,” which doesn’t make sense in context. Would you mind replacing the abbreviation? –  KRyan Mar 24 at 12:28
    
Yes right, the abbreviation was not expressive.. furthermore it was language specific ;) Thanks for your comment –  merando Mar 24 at 12:31
    
I suppose that "SL" in this case stands for "Spielleiter", which is the German word for Gamemaster. I submitted an edit to the answer as well. –  MrLemon Mar 24 at 12:32
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I feel that, while technically unnecessary, a discussion of the roll of saves as "like attacks but rolled by the other guy" might be useful. (And I'm not sure how appropriate it is for the GM to add extra chance for failure to a spell, which is what "letting" you make an attack roll when you wouldn't normally is doing. Do you have some example, precedent, or rules-based reason for mentioning this?) –  BESW Mar 24 at 12:36
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@BESW the fireball spell itself provides a good example: "If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must "hit" the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely." –  starwed Mar 25 at 16:24

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