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The description for Chromatic Orb states (PHB, p. 221):

You hurl a 4-inch-diameter sphere of energy at a creature that you can see within range. You choose acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder for the type of orb you create, and then make a ranged spell attack against the target. If the attack hits, the creature takes 3d8 damage of the type you chose.

However, it doesn't mention any saving throw details. My understanding is that the only risk with using a ranged spell is that if you're within 5 feet, then you will cast the spell at disadvantage (PHB 195). However, the description of Chromatic Orb clearly includes the words "If the attack hits." Nothing is stated for the conditions in which the ranged spell attack could miss, such as a successful saving throw. So, how could this spell ever not hit the target?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "My understanding is that the only risk with using a ranged spell is that if you're within 5 feet, then you will cast the spell at disadvantage" — If there was no roll involved, what was the point of disadvantage? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 10 '20 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor You still need to roll for damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – devinbost
    May 10 '20 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair point, however, damage rolls aren't subject of advantage/disadvantage mechanics.. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 10 '20 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ enkryptor, you're saying that advantage/disadvantage only affects whether or not something hits, not the actual damage inflicted? \$\endgroup\$
    – devinbost
    May 11 '20 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ rules as written only an ability check, a saving throw, or an attack roll can be thrown with advantage/disadvantage dndbeyond.com/sources/basic-rules/… No damage rolls. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 11 '20 at 20:05
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You have to make a ranged spell attack for Chromatic Orb to hit:

You choose acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder for the type of orb you create, and then make a ranged spell attack against the target. If the attack hits, the creature takes 3d8 damage of the type you chose.

Spell attacks require you to make an attack roll:

Some spells require the caster to make an attack roll to determine whether the spell effect hits the intended target. Your attack bonus with a spell attack equals your spellcasting ability modifier + your proficiency bonus.

As per normal, if your attack doesn't beat the enemy AC, your attack misses:

When you make an attack, your attack roll determines whether the attack hits or misses. To make an attack roll, roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. If the total of the roll plus modifiers equals or exceeds the target's Armor Class (AC), the attack hits.

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Not all spells use saving throws to determine the outcome. From the "Attack Rolls" section of the spellcasting rules:

Some spells require the caster to make an attack roll to determine whether the spell effect hits the intended target. Your attack bonus with a spell attack equals your spellcasting ability modifier + your proficiency bonus.

This is what Chromatic Orb is referring to by "Make a ranged spell attack". You have to make an attack roll to determine whether it hits; if it meets or beats the target's AC, the attack hits.

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Chromatic Orb requires the caster to make a ranged spell attack (per your quote):

You choose acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder for the type of orb you create, and then make a ranged spell attack against the target.

Ranged attacks are described on page 195 of the Player's Handbook. They are described as a kind of attack, which involve an attack roll. You do need to roll to hit with spells like Chromatic Orb which require ranged spell attacks. You can fail to hit if your roll does not exceed your target's armor class.

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