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I'm creating some D&D 5e homebrew items based on the magic seeds from Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Ages. Similar to the Sling Bullets of Althemone from the Theros handbook, they're sling bullets with various effects. They can also be consumed like potions for short effects, but that isn't relevant to the question.

Here's one of the seed types as an example:

Scent Seed: Creates a cloud of perfume that lingers on the target for 1d6 rounds. Creatures that can smell within 30ft must succeed a DC10 WIS save or be compelled to investigate the smell, taking disadvantage on perception checks to perceive targets other than the perfume. Any creature that is in combat or can't be charmed succeeds on this saving throw automatically.

Normally, you would just make an attack roll against the target creature's AC, and on a hit, you deal your sling's 1d4 bludgeoning damage as the seed cracks open and applies its effect to the target. However, the seed could theoretically be fired at an empty space within range instead of a creature. As a 5ft square of the floor has no armor class and the average sling-user is probably skilled enough to hit it without issue, you don't need to make an attack roll in this situation.

However, my question is regarding how long range comes into play here. A sling has a range of 30/120, so it has disadvantage on targets further than 30ft away. What would happen when you use a sling to aim a Scent Seed at an empty 5ft square of floor that's 100ft away? Maybe spaces that are far enough to be considered long range have a default 10 AC, and if you don't beat the AC, the seed fails to crack open? Should you not have to bother rolling to hit even at that distance? Should seeds not be able to crack open at all unless they hit a target with AC?

For a more mundane, vanilla version of this question: Let's say a player wants to get a message to a goblin standing in a plaza 200ft away, so they tie a note to an arrow and fire it from their shortbow (80/320 range) to a space 10ft away from the goblin. Would they still need to roll for that, even though the space on the floor has no AC? Does it matter that the distance is so far that they would have long range disadvantage if they tried to shoot the goblin instead?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I can see you have accepted an answer, but I would caution that the way this site works the first answer isn't always the correct one. You are best leaving the question for a while and eventually an answer should accrue a higher number of votes, that shows that it is an answer the community agrees with. This answer so far has zero votes, so may not be correct. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 26, 2023 at 21:23

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On PHB p193, step 1 of making an attack is: "Choose a target. Pick a target within your attack's range: a creature, an object, or a location.", but also "if you're making an attack roll, you're making an attack." And the next page says "If the total of the roll plus modifiers equals or exceeds the target's Armor Class (AC), the attack hits." So if there is no AC, it's not an attack.

Your next best place of getting an answer is DMG p237: Using Ability Scores

When a player wants to do something, it's often appropriate to let the attempt succeed without a roll or a reference to the character's ability scores. For example, a character doesn't normally need to make a Dexterity check to walk across an empty room or a Charisma check to order a mug of ale. Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure. When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions:

Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?

Is a task so inappropriate or impossible-such as hitting the moon with an arrow-that it can't work?

If the answer to both of these questions is no, some kind of roll is appropriate. The following sections provide guidance on determining whether to call for an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw; how to assign DCs; when to use advantage and disadvantage; and other related topics.

I imagine that using a sling to hit locations with magic seeds would end up feeling like attacks, using the same Ability modifiers and proficiency bonuses, but use custom DCs that the DM has to assign on the fly, or predetermine if it's part of a puzzle that the DM has set up for the players.

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If the activity doesn't need to hit directly to be effective, it doesn't need an attack roll.

In your vanilla example, the GM's decision to call for a roll should depend on the risk & possible consequences of the circumstances surrounding the activity:

  • If there's no imminent threat and the archer has all the time they need to line up the shot, then the GM can rule it happens with no roll.
  • If the archer is a spy who doesn't want some third party to see them passing the message, maybe the archer has to roll Stealth against a certain DC to succeed without consequences.
  • If the archer has a small window of time to get the message to the goblin, the GM could call for a Dexterity check, with a failure meaning the arrow didn't land close enough to the goblin, or the archer took too long and the goblin moved on, and so on. The GM could allow the archer to add their proficiency bonus to the roll since the bow is a "tool" they're skilled at using. The GM might also rule the distance to the goblin complicates the shot enough that the archer has disadvantage on the check. Hey, that's basically an attack roll, only it's against a DC related to the activity instead of a specific target's AC!

In your Scent Seed example, you have a resource that creates an area of effect (a 30-ft radius) and causes creatures in the area to make a saving throw to avoid the effect. That sounds less like a weapon and more like... a spell.

Unlike weapons, spells don't have any rules to make a distinction between normal and maximum ranges. Even spells that require attack rolls to hit have only one range listed; you can't hit a target past that range (barring features like the Extend Spell metamagic or the Spell Sniper feat), but you'll also never have disadvantage for trying to hit a target from too far away, according to RAW.

In fact, there is a precedent for a weapon that has a single range specified in its text: the alchemist's fire flask.

Alchemist's Fire. This sticky, adhesive fluid ignites when exposed to air. As as action, you can throw this flask up to 20 feet, shattering it on impact. Make a ranged attack against a creature or object, treating the alchemist's fire as an improvised weapon. On a hit, the target takes 1d4 fire damage at the start of each of its turns. A creature can end this damage by using its action to make a DC 10 Dexterity check to extinguish the flames. (PHB 148-9)

Acid and holy water are similar, but with an additional purpose of splashing on a creature within 5 feet, so not exactly a single range specified. In any case, none of these weapons impose disadvantage on attack rolls for attacking at too far a range.

Similarly, you might add text to your mystical seeds to indicate that they can be launched up to a certain distance (independent of whether the seed requires an attack roll). Maybe a sling increases that distance, but there's still a hard limit regardless of the method; they're not as aerodynamic as normal sling bullets.

Finally: of the mystical seeds present in the Oracle games, the Scent Seed is unique in that it still has an effect if it hits the ground instead of an enemy or obstacle (to my recollection, anyway). You might accept that as a quirk of the Scent Seed itself and let your PCs lob them around without needing to make attack rolls, but they forfeit the damage they'd deal if they targeted a creature and hit its AC. Other seeds will always need a successful attack roll against a target to take effect.

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