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I know that when attacking with a melee weapon you would add your Attack Bonus to your attack roll and your Strength Modifier to the damage roll.
How does this work when you're casting a ranged spell instead?

I think I should add my BAB to the attack roll but then what?
Do I need to add the Dexterity Modifier like one does for ranged physical attacks?
Do I add any ability modifier to my damage roll?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

You are probably looking at a ray spell. The Magic rules state:


Some effects are rays. You aim a ray as if using a ranged weapon, though typically you make a ranged touch attack rather than a normal ranged attack. As with a ranged weapon, you can fire into the dark or at an invisible creature and hope you hit something. You don't have to see the creature you're trying to hit, as you do with a targeted spell. Intervening creatures and obstacles, however, can block your line of sight or provide cover for the creature at which you're aiming.

If a ray spell has a duration, it's the duration of the effect that the ray causes, not the length of time the ray itself persists.

If a ray spell deals damage, you can score a critical hit just as if it were a weapon. A ray spell threatens a critical hit on a natural roll of 20 and deals double damage on a successful critical hit.

Other ranged spells will state whether it's a ranged attack or a ranged touch attack, which determines whether you are trying to hit the enemy's normal AC or their touch AC. In any event, it is a ranged attack and therefore the Combat rules state:

Your attack bonus with a ranged weapon is:

Base attack bonus + Dexterity modifier + size modifier + range penalty

Unless you have a special ability that says otherwise, you do not add anything to damage. See Damage in the Combat rules - it says you add Strength bonus to melee or thrown weapons, period.

Though you should add more context to your question - just in case you're super confused, let me clarify that you don't need to roll to hit on any spell just because it has a range. Take Fireball, range Long. You don't roll to hit with it, you just place the 20' radius spread area wherever you want within that range (that you have line of effect to yadda yadda) and it affects everyone in that area.

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Ok, that makes sense. So if it's a ranged spell that does require a roll to hit, then I would treat it as a ranged attack and add the appropriate modifiers. – Nerevar Mar 24 '14 at 16:48
@Nerevar That is correct. – mxyzplk Mar 24 '14 at 17:42

Yes, melee touch attack spells are base attack + strength and ranged touch attacks are base attack + dex. You can also take weapon focus (melee touch) to get another +1 to melee touch attacks, weapon focus (ray) for +1 to ranged, and point blank shot to get another +1 to ranged touch (within 30 feet). So in general, yes, modifiers apply to spells that require touch attacks.

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Touch attacks are resolved just like regular attacks, but they target touch AC instead.

Whatever modifier would apply to a ranged roll will apply to a ranged touch attack (including your Dex modifier) and the same stands true for melee attacks and melee touch attacks, with one notable exception: usually, when you cast a spell you're just trying to touch your enemy, not with your weapon but with the spell itself.
As a consequence, you don't add the modifiers you'd apply to your weapon (enhancement bonus, weapon focus feats relative to your weapon), applying those relative to spells instead. Also, you don't roll damage as if you were hitting with a weapon. Instead, you do whatever the spell tells you, which usually involves no damage modifiers tied to your ability scores.

When I say usually I mean there might be spells or features that let you use a touch attack instead of a regular attack with your weapon (there surely were in D&D 3.5, on which Pathfinder is based). Those would retain the usual weapon modifiers both to the attack roll and to the damage roll, since you'd just be using your physical attack (against a lower AC).

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