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Player Handbook states that ranged attacks within 30 ft may use benefits of sneak attack. But what about ranged touch attacks?

I paid attention to description part of the sneak attack rule. It seems that there are contradictions between sneak and touch attacks. The first requires performer to carefully select vital points and the latter based on touch attack's capability to damage target without careful aiming.

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2 Answers 2

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Ranged Touch Attacks Can Inflict Sneak Attack Damage

Although it's implied by the Player's Handbook, Complete Arcane clarifies this in the section Weaponlike Spells

Any spell that requires an attack roll and deals damage functions as a weapon in certain respects, whether the spell deals normal hit point damage, nonlethal damage, ability damage, or energy drain. Such spells can threaten critical hits, can be used in sneak attacks, and can be used with favored enemy damage bonuses. You can even use a number of combat-enhancing feats from the Player’s Handbook to improve the effectiveness of weaponlike spells... (85)

A spell that requires a ranged touch attack require an attack roll. If the spell also deals damage, it can inflict sneak attack damage if sneak attack's conditions are met.

Further,

A successful sneak attack with a weaponlike spell deals extra damage of the same type as the spell normally deals.... The exception is spells that deal energy drain or ability damage, which deal negative energy damage on a sneak attack, not extra negative levels or ability damage. (CAr 86)

Thus, for example, the Rog1/Wiz3 who casts the 2nd-level Sor/Wiz spell scorching ray [evoc] (PH 274) can inflict with that spell an extra 1d6 points of fire damage by meeting the requirements for inflicting sneak attack damage, and, for example, a Rog3/Wiz7 who casts the 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell enervation [necro] (PH 226) can inflict with that spell an extra 2d6 points of negative energy damage by meeting the requirements for inflicting sneak attack damage.

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Holy moley, that's a nasty combo (enervation!) –  Rob Jul 30 at 14:38
    
@Rob It can be, but it's also kind of like the wizard saying, "With that spell you've contracted ebola and you have a mild headache!" –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 30 at 14:43
    
Would it work with a rogue UMD a wand of Enervation? –  Rob Jul 30 at 14:47
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@Rob Absolutely. Now that is a headache worth noting. The rogue, would probably still inflict more raw damage by using two-weapon fighting to huck multiple flasks of acid, though. It'd be fine for his standard action, however. –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 30 at 14:49
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Actually it says that the extra damage would just be negative energy damage, not extra negative levels, so if that's what you meant, sorry - I misinterpreted your question. –  LAK Jul 30 at 19:18

Yes, touch attacks can inflict sneak attacks.

Remember that a touch attack is just a special kind of attack that targets a creature's touch AC:

Some attacks disregard armor, including shields and natural armor.

Aside from that, a touch attack is an ordinary attack. If such an attack qualifies for Sneak Attack, Sneak Attack damage is dealt.

How exactly this works with different types of touch attacks wasn't clarified in the core rules. See Hey I Can Chan's answer for the explanation from Complete Arcane.

Your confusion may come from inferring the wrong flavor from the description of sneak attacks and touch attacks. A touch attack doesn't have to imply that less aiming is required, only that shields, armor, and natural armor are not effective in defending against the attack.

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