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Does D&D 5E have a mechanic similar to Touch AC or Flatfooted AC as it exists in D&D 3.5?

To put it simply, in D&D 3.5, touch AC excludes armor bonuses when armor can't help against an attack, and flatfooted AC excludes your Dexterity bonus when you haven't acted yet in combat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This question would be more answerable if there were definitions and rule citations for Touch AC or Flat-Footed. Were these only used in 3.x? Pathfinder? 4e? If they were used in multiple systems, were there significant differences? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2017 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am referring to the Amor class system in D&D 3.5, I am new to 5e and I am using my knowledge from that to assist me while I make the transfer. I didn't know some of the rules and couldn't find anyone else that has asked this question before me and received a straightforward answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Craigamore
    Jun 12, 2017 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since I have cross-edition experience and you clarified D&D 3.5, I edited your question with a brief summary of what Touch AC and Flatfooted AC are so that those who view your question don't have to follow the links to know. If you find my summary inaccurate, please consider revising it or rolling back the edit. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 9, 2018 at 20:55

4 Answers 4

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Mearls explicitly mentioned the design decision to not include Touch AC nor Flat-footed AC in the game during the playtest period. They are intentionally absent as a simplification which streamlines play.

Additionally, the thematic element of attacks is explained by Jeremy Crawford, on twitter (as mentioned by Doval):

Stoppable by armor? That's an attack. Not stoppable by armor? That usually requires a saving throw. #DnD

While not entirely accurate a portrayal of the spell list, it's substantially true. (In other words, there are exceptions.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think a bit about advantage would make this more complete. Advantage covers roughly the same ground as Flatfooted AC (plus a bunch of other ground too), and it might be worth explicitly noting that saving throws (expecially Dex) tend to take the place of 3.5 Touch AC. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ethan
    Jun 12, 2017 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, Advantage doesn't cover the same ground. Flatfooted is grounds for Advantage, but so are a lot of things FAR less potent. And it's immaterial to why it was left out, which was simplicity. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Jun 13, 2017 at 5:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I said roughly. Anything that would cause flatfooted would probably cause advantage. It took over the ground that flatfooted covered (plus a bunch of other things), so is thus relevant. It is the new mechanic to use when the defender can't adequately mount a normal defense. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ethan
    Jun 13, 2017 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, the new mechanic for no melee defense is both advantage to hit and automatic critical on hit. There's no equivalent for ranged weapons. See the conditions list. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Jun 24, 2017 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Spell attacks are also probably worth mentioning here. Armor is still applied against them, but they have greater accuracy for similar narrative reasons as touch attacks do. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 9, 2018 at 20:29
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No. There is no mention of touch AC or flat-footed AC in D&D 5th Edition source books.

If you want to use those rules, you will have to find a homebrew system, or adapt them yourself.

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While the concept does not exist, it is not as needed as in previous edition or Pathfinder.

Why?

  • Because of bounded accuracy: simpler math, less number explosions

  • Spellcasters now use their spellcasting ability to make their attack rolls, instead of Strength or Dexterity.

  • Less game math since gaining advantage will address most of these issues.

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So even though there is no "flat-footed" or "touch" AC, If you compare most things that are similar between the two editions you'll find most things now give you advantage or your target disadvantage.

Caught them off guard? Advantage to hit, disadvantage to dex saves
Easier to hit? Advantage to hit, disadvantage to saves

So essentially if you feel your target would have been flat-footed or using their touch AC use you DM powers of making the game work make that game time call.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Adding specific examples and/or quotes will strengthen your answer. What's an example of being caught off guard in 5e? How do the rules address that example? \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Dec 30, 2021 at 6:11

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