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I am somewhat confused about how to determine the range of an attack. In PHB p. 191, one finds a "Creature Size" table, which determines the space a creature controls in combat in function of its size. What influence does this have upon calculating ranges (if any)?

Do I calculate the distance between the centers of the spaces occupied by the attacker and the target? Or should I regard these spaces as solid squares/boxes and use the minimal distance between any two points of them? Or something else?

For example, let's say Bob (a fictitious Human Fighter) has a reach of 5 ft. and wants to smack a nearby goblin with his axe. The center of the space occupied by the goblin is 8 ft. away from Bob's. For simplicity let's also assume Bob and the goblin's 5 by 5 ft. spaces are perfectly aligned with each other; i.e., if we trace a line between the center of Bob's space and the goblin's, then this line is perpendicular to the squares' edges.

If we measure the range as the distance between the centers of the two squares, then the attack is out of range. However if we use the distance between any point in the two squares, or the distance between the squares' nearest edges, then the range is 8 - 2.5 - 2.5 = 3 ft., and the attack is a hit (if Bob's attack roll is good). Which is correct in this situation?

Since grids are only a variant rule in 5e, this question disregards the use of one. You may mention grids in your answer, but please make sure to include how to calculate ranges without them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you speaking of squares and spaces, if you want an answer that doesn't use grids? \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jul 16 '17 at 19:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri Because the PHB (p. 191, "Creature Size") also does so, despite grids being only a variant rule. \$\endgroup\$ – dkaeae Jul 16 '17 at 19:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri I'm speaking of geometrical squares, not squares in a grid (notice the spaces in the "Size Categories" table in the PHB are all square). \$\endgroup\$ – dkaeae Jul 16 '17 at 19:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you using miniatures without a grid or just narratively describing combat? I can't tell which from the post, but which one affects how to explain the answer for your context. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 16 '17 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] Is an opponent who is adjacent to you 5 feet away or 10 feet away? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 16 '17 at 20:07
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Squares don't matter for range when not using the grid

a melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach. (PHB 195)

If a foe is inside your reach, it's in range for melee attack. A goblin 8 feet away is not in range for a melee attack with a reach of 5 feet.

You can make ranged attacks only against targets within a specified range (PHB 195)

As before, only the actual location of the monster matters, no mention of squares.

The target of a spell must be within the spell's range. (PHB 203)

Spells follow the usual rules in this matter.

The squares matter in cramped spaces

The controlled areas for different creatures are an useful indicator, even when playing without a grid, for defining mobility in tighter areas. For example, a medium creature standing in the middle of a 5-foot hallway is large enough to effectively block it from hostiles. This has no relation to the range of attacks directed against it, though.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. That clarifies it. You might want to add that for calculating ranges you should just consider the creatures as points in space (without volume), and disregard their (or their miniature's) sizes :) \$\endgroup\$ – dkaeae Jul 16 '17 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dkaeae A creature modeled as a point won't quite cut it, because that would make hitting large enough enemies impossible. The only sane interpretation is that the creatures do have volume, but this volume is less than the "grid size" of the creature. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jul 17 '17 at 10:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ But if we take the creatures' volume into account, then we have to deduct that from the attack range... and then the goblin must be strictly less than 8 ft away. \$\endgroup\$ – dkaeae Jul 18 '17 at 10:49
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Your question: Do I calculate the distance between the centers of the spaces (in the sense of PHB p. 191) occupied by the attacker and the target? Or should I regard these spaces as solid squares/boxes and use the minimal distance between any two points of them?

Melee Attacks (PHB p.195)

Most creatures have a 5-foot reach and can thus attack targets within 5 feet of them when making a melee attack. Certain creatures (typically those larger than Medium) have melee attacks with a greater reach than 5 feet, as noted in their descriptions.

So for a 5' reach weapon a combatant can "attack targets within 5 feet of them", which means any part of them. A Huge dragon can be attacked if any part of it's body is "within 5 feet of them" for instance.

If you are using a grid then use the same calculation as you would if you were moving the attacking figure from it's grid square or hex to the closest grid square or hex of the target.

If you are just describing the scene, i.e. not using a grid/figures, then if the DM says they are with 5 feet of each other then they are.

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You have to consider that the creatures aren't standing statically in the center of their 'space', but rather moving dynamically about. And so the creature 'occupies' the entire 5x5 or 10x10 or whatever cubic volume the size of the creature gives. Reach then goes from the edge of that volume to the edge of the next creature's 'occupied' volume. So if you're attacking with a club, you're reaching that club and your arm out from your volume to hit into a volume that is up to 5 feet away from you- which is why in the grid you can only hit a square adjacent to you.

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