I believe that the title is really explanatory for the question. But let me expand this a little. Can a monk deliver effects that require touch attacks with an unarmed strike?

For example, would a cleric/monk be able to use an unarmed strike attack + damage for an inflict wound spell? And if that is not possible by the PHB rules, are there any feat allowing it?

Please note that by touch attack I only refer to melee touch attacks and not always spells. The actual question popped in my head while reading this: Walker in the Waste prestige class from Sandstorm and its Desiccating Touch ability.


5 Answers 5


Delivering a spell as part of an unarmed strike

In answer to your question, yes a monk can deliver a touch attack spell through his normal attack. However you have to hit against their normal AC to do so, not their touch AC. If you miss their AC, you fail to do damage and the spell does not fire (even if you miss their AC, but hit their touch AC). If you hit, you do all the normal damage of your attack, and then the spell goes off. That's the advantage and disadvantage of doing it this way. The rules for this are here (thanks to @Tridus for the link).

Delivering a spell as a touch attack using natural weapons

A cleric/monk could also deliver the spell as a normal touch attack, rolling against the opponents touch AC, but doing no damage for his fists. This works no differently from any other touch attack because

  1. using a touch attack counts as an armed attack
  2. natural attacks count as being armed anyway

You can think of the difference between this and delivering it as part of a normal attack as a normal attack being a full on punch with a spell going off as the punch connects, whereas just going for a touch attack is just tapping the opponent anywhere, not bothering to penetrate their armour, and the spell goes off the moment you make contact with them.

Other classes

There are several other classes that do this type of thing by design, such as the Duskblade, who can deliver spells through their normal attacks. Having a look at the rules for them may give you further insight, if you need any.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This rule seems very strange. If you hit the touch AC but miss the normal AC, surely you have still in fact touched them (and didn't hit hard enough to go through their armor, or were blocked by their shield, etc), so why wouldn't the spell go off? If I were in this situation, I would feel robbed, since it was the armor or shield that made me "miss" so surely I hit the armor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Random832
    Sep 6, 2013 at 17:21
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Random832 It's easier to understand results when an attack is made against one AC. Having one attack that has to go against two different AC scores at once is adding complexity to the results, even though it definitely sounds odd. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Sep 6, 2013 at 19:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Random832 even though it's the armour that makes you miss, for rules simplicity you still count as having missed entirely. It's not like you just missed, you didn't hit at all as far as the rules are concerned. Whilst not realistic, it keeps things from getting too complex. \$\endgroup\$
    – Styphon
    Sep 6, 2013 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although all of the answers were acceptable, I chose this one, for the supplement of other classes. Nice answer, thanx :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 9, 2013 at 8:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Random832, it is mostly for balance. If you could try to hit the full AC for extra damage, and still do the spell's damage against the touch AC, there would be no reason to use simple touch attacks. Every caster would take Improved Unarmed Strike, and they were even stronger than before. Casters are strong enough as it is. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Dec 31, 2018 at 20:28

Yes, but...

If you're just trying to deliver a touch spell, it's no different than a normal touch attack (since delivering a touch spell means you're considered armed, and the Monk already is armed). You aim at touch AC, and if you make it the spell goes off.

If you're also trying to deliver your unarmed strike damage, you have to hit their full AC instead as it's now considered a weapon attack. If you hit that, you deal your unarmed strike damage and the spell hits.

If you fail to hit their full AC, you do no damage and the spell does not hit. In this case you're still holding the charge for the spell and can try again until you do hit (or discharge the spell some other way).

Source: Rules of the Game - Unarmed Attacks (part 3)

This also applies to classes like the Daggerspell Mage using a dagger, though their text explicitly gives them the option to deliver a normal attack or a touch attack to deliver the spell (the normal attack also doing attack damage).


Short answer, you have two options:

  • You can attack with both an unarmed strike (for damage) and a touch-attack effect, but you must hit full AC, not touch AC, to do so.

  • You can just touch the target normally, against touch AC, but this does not count as an unarmed strike attack and does not do unarmed strike damage.

So you have to pick one, touch AC or unarmed strike damage. This is not a monk feature or a cleric feature, just how unarmed strikes and touch attacks work in combination.

Regular attacks against touch AC

The ability to make a regular attack against touch AC is rare and fairly powerful. Touch AC is usually extremely easy to hit.

The spell wraithstrike from Spell Compendium does it, but it’s not on the Cleric list or in any Domain that I’m aware of (certainly isn’t on the Sand or Thirst domains).

The maneuver emerald razor from Tome of Battle turns the one attack you make as part of the maneuver into a touch attack, but that’s only one attack and takes your standard action. So unless you charge the touch attack in one round and then hold the charge to use emerald razor in the next round, you can’t get the combination. In any event, even if you do so, a monk/cleric can at best only use it once per encounter by taking the Martial Study feat.

The special weapon ability brilliant energy attacks touch AC, but is extremely expensive and makes the weapon useless against constructs and the undead. Unless you can get the necklace of natural attacks from Savage Species, you’re going to have a very hard time getting it on your unarmed strike anyway.


You can deliver a touch spell with a monk's unarmed strike, but there's not much benefit: you can't make the unarmed attack in the same round that you cast the spell.

Normally, when you cast a touch spell you can either touch an opponent for free, or hold the charge:

Touch Spells in Combat

Many spells have a range of touch. To use these spells, you cast the spell and then touch the subject, either in the same round or any time later. In the same round that you cast the spell, you may also touch (or attempt to touch) the target. You may take your move before casting the spell, after touching the target, or between casting the spell and touching the target.

However, you only get a free touch as part of the spell, not a free attack. Since an unarmed strike is an attack action, you would have to cast the spell one round, then make an unarmed strike in the following round.

While you can deliver a touch spell with an unarmed strike or natural weapon, there's no benefit since it takes two rounds anyway. It's actually harder, because to deliver a touch attack with an unarmed strike requires you to hit their full AC, not just touch AC:

If the attack hits, you deal normal damage for your unarmed attack or natural weapon and the spell discharges. If the attack misses, you are still holding the charge.

However, this still has its uses:

  • Since you can hold a charge indefinitely until you touch something, the monk can cast the spell ahead of time and hold it until a combat encounter
  • Some spells like chill touch allow multiple hits from one casting
  • Sometimes you want to deal a lot of damage in one round so the enemy can't escape or flee
  • You might have feats or items that grant some bonus to unarmed attacks but not touch attacks
  • Some creatures have always-on touch attacks that don't need to be cast, such as a lich's paralyzing touch

Source: D20 SRD, Actions in Combat.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't even think of that. Great answer! This helps a class like Daggerspell Mage, as they can cast a touch spell and deliver it with a dagger attack. They get the option as part of the cast to do that as a touch attack or as a normal melee attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Sep 6, 2013 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can always cast spells that are aren't standard actions and attack on the same round. Quickened spells are especially useful in that situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Styphon
    Sep 7, 2013 at 8:40

Delivering a touch attack with an unarmed strike shoud not be a problem, but the unarmed strike itself should not be considered a touch attack. Touch attacks signify something that can hit through armor or other such protection (such as electricity in the real world). I would say that if the monk hits the general AC - they get touch spell + striking damage, if they hit just the touch AC - they only get spell effects.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .