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I recall some rules in earlier editions where if you miss with a touch spell, it's "held" and you can try again on a future turn. Does that rule exist in 5e, and if so, where it is?

I'm guessing I'm just missing it, but I couldn't find it in the PHB.

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That doesn't exist in 5e.

In general, if you need to touch the target, this is handled as part of casting the spell, with a melee spell attack to determine if you succeed. For example, shocking grasp:

Lightning springs from your hand to deliver a shock to a creature you try to touch. Make a melee spell attack against the target. You have advantage on the attack roll if the target is wearing armor made of metal. On a hit, the target takes 1d8 lightning damage, and it can't take reactions until the start of its next turn.

If the spell attack fails, the spell does nothing. Note, since you're used to the mechanics from 3rd edition, that spell attacks are rolled against the target's normal AC.

There are a few exceptional cases:

Spells that act like weapons

This includes flame blade and vampiric touch. These also use melee spell attacks, but the spell lasts for some duration and allows you to make additional attacks during that time.

Spells that boost weapon attacks

The various paladin "smite" spells such as branding smite are all verbal-only bonus action spells (so you can cast them with a weapon in hand and immediately attack) with a duration of 1 minute. Once the spell is cast, the next time you hit someone with a melee weapon, the spell adds damage and other effects. This is arguably the most similar to the "held touch spell" from 3rd edition: you make your attack, and if you miss, it carries over to your next attack. However, they're not "touch" spells; you're still making normal weapon attacks.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So what about something like a Cure Wounds spell, if the target dodges out of the way (because they didn't realize it would help them) ? Is the spell wasted, or can the caster then choose to target themselves? \$\endgroup\$ – Ira Feb 22 at 20:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ira In 5e the rules are written for typical cases, not crazy edge cases. The typical use of Cure Wounds is that the target is cooperating and there's no chance you'll miss. For crazy edge cases, the DM would need to make a ruling. I've not been in that situation and don't know how I'd rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 22 at 20:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! In your last paragraph, I found the phrase “once the spell is up” a little confusing - something “being up” can also mean it is finished. Perhaps “once the spell is cast” would be better? \$\endgroup\$ – Guybrush McKenzie Feb 22 at 22:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ira To reiterate Mark Wells's point, we do not know "for sure" the behavior if you miss the target with Cure Wounds because the rules as written do not mention the possibility of missing with Cure Wounds. The spell literally just says "A creature you touch regains a number of hit points [...]" and that's it. Part of 5e's design philosophy is that figuring out what happens in weird cases is intentionally left to the DM's discretion. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Rotenberg Feb 23 at 5:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AaronRotenberg OK, thanks for the clarification. I guess I meant: "There is no example in the rules of any touch spell with instantaneous duration that can miss, but still have a result in a future round, right?" And as already clarified above, the answer is "Right. That doesn't exist in 5e. In weird cases like Cure Wounds missing, use DM's discretion, but it would be safe to assume instantaneous duration touch spells don't stick around for another round." Thanks for the help! \$\endgroup\$ – Ira Feb 23 at 15:56
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There aren't really any "touch spells" in 5e, or at least there is no AC modification for the distinction.

What spell are you thinking of specifically?

In general It depends on the spell. If it's a concentration spell like vampiric touch, you can keep trying as long as you maintain concentration until the spell ends. If it's a straight attack like booming blade, if you miss, that's it, you have to cast it again.

P203 of the players handbook explains the above in detail:

Duration

A spell's duration is the length of time the spell persists. A duration can be expressed in rounds, minutes, hours, or even years. Some spells specify that their effects last until the spells are dispelled or destroyed.

Instantaneous

Many spells are instantaneous. The spell harms, heals, creates, or alters a creature or an object in a way that can't be dispelled, because its magic exists only for an instant.

Concentration

Some spells require you to maintain concentration in order to keep their magic active. If you lose concentration, such a spell ends.

If a spell must be maintained with concentration, that fact appears in its Duration entry, and teh spell specifies how long you can concentrate on it. You can end concentration at any time (no action required).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you all very much! \$\endgroup\$ – Ira Feb 22 at 20:33

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