In 5e a lot of the spells in both the Monster Manual and PHB talk about a spell being a "melee spell attack". Is this simply to do with the range of the spell or are there additional rules to rolling?

The reason I'm slightly confused is because the cantrip Thorn Whip says to make a melee spell attack against a foe, but it has a range of 30.


2 Answers 2


A melee spell attack follows all the rules of a traditional melee attack. The applicable rules are on page 195/205 of the PHB or 73/81 in the Basic Rules pdf.

Most creatures have a 5-foot reach and can thus attack targets within 5 feet of them when making a melee attack. Certain creatures (typically those larger than Medium) have melee attacks with a greater reach than 5 feet, as noted in their descriptions.

In this case, thorn whip attacks like a melee weapon with 30-foot reach.

The difference between a melee attack and ranged attack is that a ranged attack suffers disadvantage if you're within 5 feet of an enemy while a melee attack is not affected.

In addition, a melee spell attack like a ranged spell attack uses your spell attack modifier (spellcasting ability + proficiency).

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Wait, does this mean that spells that call for a melee spell attack can be used to take opportunity attacks? That's only about 5 spells, but still... \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26, 2014 at 13:22
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Only if you have the Warcaster feat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Orvir
    Oct 26, 2014 at 17:14
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ There is one other difference: a Melee Spell Attack, as opposed to a Melee Weapon Attack, uses your Spell Attack Modifier (spellcasting ability modifier + proficiency modifier). \$\endgroup\$
    – Catbus
    Feb 5, 2016 at 22:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another difference is that melee attacks have advantage on prone targets. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Mar 6, 2017 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor - that's not quite true. Attacks from within 5' of the prone target have advantage, any attacks from more than 5' away will have disadvantage. This also means that ranged attacks against a prone target within 5' will be a straight roll - advantage and disadvantage cancelling (unless they're also incapacitated). \$\endgroup\$
    – sirjonsnow
    Sep 15, 2021 at 4:46

This works like any other spell attack roll; it uses your spellcasting attribute and so on. However, it also has the properties of a melee attack.

Notably, ranged attacks (including ranged spell attacks) are made with disadvantage if you're within 5 feet of an active enemy. "Thorn Whip" and other melee spells can be used in melee without disadvantage.


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