Is it possible to hit an incorporeal creature with a spell that requires a melee touch attack without the use of any magical ability that allows one to make contact with incorporeal beings? Put another way, does using a melee touch attack spell grant the innate ability to hit incorporeal beings with it?

The most typical example would be the use of a Cure Spell, or potentially the Lay on Hands supernatural ability, as used on incorporeal undead such as Shadows or Banshees (Undead and Incorporeal tend to go together more than any other monster type, and all undead, physical or otherwise are harmed by healing magic). Would attempting to cast a healing spell on such a creature using only your bare hands be possible? I see three possible interpretation, with two possible answers:

1) Yes, because a magic spell is being used, and all magic grants the innate ability to bypass incorporeal creatures as per its definition.

2) No, because in order deliver a spell as a melee touch attack, one must first make the touch attack, which is impossible on such a creature. The magical nature of the attack does not come into play until after the mundane contact is made.

3) Yes, because even though #2 is true, one can release the spell simply in the general vicinity of the creature (such as sticking one's hand through them and releasing it inside them) without having to strictly feel the target.

The only reason this comes up is because I am concerned that the second one is correct - that such an attack is impossible because delivering such a touch attack does not count as magical until after it hits, which it never will.


1 Answer 1


First off, dandwiki has a bad reputation. I'm not sure who this is with, but I'd personally suggest using d20srd instead.

Here's their excerpt on Incorporeal Creatures (as a subtype):

Incorporeal Subtype

An incorporeal creature has no physical body. It can be harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, magic weapons or creatures that strike as magic weapons, and spells, spell-like abilities, or supernatural abilities. It is immune to all nonmagical attack forms. Even when hit by spells or magic weapons, it has a 50% chance to ignore any damage from a corporeal source (except for positive energy, negative energy, force effects such as magic missile, or attacks made with ghost touch weapons). Although it is not a magical attack, holy water can affect incorporeal undead, but a hit with holy water has a 50% chance of not affecting an incorporeal creature.

So let's quick break this down with a list of things that ignore incorporeality:

  • Magic weapons
  • Creatures that strike as magic weapons (including sufficiently leveled monks)
  • Spells, spell-like abilities, or supernatural abilities.

Of these, there is a 50% chance to ignore corporeally sourced damage (such as fire), but will always take damage from positive energy, negative energy, force effects, or things that explicitly target incorporeal targets.

So the answer is: You can always hit with anything (as normal), but you may not harm the incorporeal target.

However, if you are doing the appropriate types of damage, you will always do damage, while other spells may not-this is entirely dependent on the spell in question. Cure light Wounds? You're set. Burning hands? Flip a coin.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am not certain that this explanation deals with the possible interpretation that delivering the touch attack portion of a Cure Light Wounds spell is not part of the spell itself, and has a 100% miss rate, as the spell charge is simply being "held" until the touch is made and is not enhancing the touch. Are you sure this is not the case? \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ d20srd.org/srd/combat/actionsInCombat.htm#touchSpellsinCombat I think that it's ambiguous, but I see no reason not to have the attack always detonate, with magical weapons (and a touch spell is essentially always a magical weapon), it would hit, it would just only have the 50% chance of delivering damage. Note that the incorporeal foe is not evading attacks-it is not being affected by them, meaning that they still occur and hit, unlike concealment, but do nothing. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 7:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ In short, it's not necessarily in the rules to treat incorporeality's effect as a miss-it's merely a complete lack of response to the physical hit that occurs from an attack with a magical source. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 7:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SouthpawHare I disagree -- once you cast the spell, the magic is invoked. Completing the attack is not part of the casting, but how it is discharged. I even imagine caster's hands charged with some sort of visible energy; it's that energy that has to make contact, not the caster's flesh. \$\endgroup\$
    – starwed
    May 13, 2013 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Essentially, the touch spell is active at the point of your hand, moving through physical reality normally. As such, the spell will hit the incorporeal creature, and discharge. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 19:10

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