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If an enemy is involved in melee combat with a friend would firing a ranged touch spell work just like firing an arrow and be subject to the shooting into melee penalty?

In other words, if the foe is directly in front of the caster and engaged in melee with a friend (who is on the other side) would the spell would have a -4 penalty on the attack roll?

Does this also apply if the friend is standing between you and the foe engaged in melee combat, thus providing soft cover. So would the penalty be -8 for the ranged touch spell?

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I'm particularly interested in how soft cover plays into this. For one reason or another, we always use -4 regardless, but I'm not sure that's right. – EnvisionAndDevelop May 8 '14 at 16:20
Touch attacks resolves as normal armed attacks, and scrolling down to the ranged touch attack rules, it says that they an AOO in melee as usual, so I'd include the -4 for firing into melee as usual too – Einacio May 8 '14 at 16:32
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Yes and yes

Ranged touch attacks are both ranged attacks and touch attacks. Rules for either apply to them (be careful about context, though; in some places “touch attacks,” may, in context, be talking only about melee). Rules for firing into melee or cover apply to them.

Note that touch attacks are much easier than regular attacks, particularly at higher levels where armor and natural armor tend to grow, and monsters in particular tend to get bigger, costing them size penalties and often Dexterity as well. By high levels, a touch attack at −8 is likely easier than a regular attack. Even at low levels, it might be true for the guy in full-plate.

So Precise Shot’s a pretty solid feat for people planning on shooting a lot of rays, but it’s not entirely required. You’ll hit a lot of those attacks even if you’re taking −4 or −8. But definitely worth taking if there aren’t particularly crucial feats you need to get.

Note that Point-Blank Shot, though a terrible feat on its own and almost-purely a tax on getting to the good stuff like Precise Shot, does apply to magical attacks (that meets its other conditions).

But you can easily skip both feats if you can get the rod of magical precision from Complete Mage. It provides the benefits of Precise Shot for 12,000 gp, but only for spells and spell-like abilities.

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