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.


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.

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    \$\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\$ – GoblinTheodicy Oct 26 '14 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Only if you have the Warcaster feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Orvir Oct 26 '14 at 17:14
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    \$\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 '16 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another difference is that melee attacks have advantage on prone targets. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Mar 6 '17 at 9:00

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.


Another thing to note is if you are attacking an enemy who is prone. Melee attacks have advantage vs. prone, but ranged attacks have disadvantage vs. prone.

This came up in my last game - ranger had knocked a hobgoblin prone, and my warlock was able to attack from 30' with Thorn Whip with advantage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the RPG Stack Exchange Daniel, feel free to take the tour of this website to get acquainted. This aspect of the melee spell attack was mentioned in the accepted answer. Did you find that answer insufficient? \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Feb 5 '16 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.se! Take a look at the tour; it's a useful introduction to the site. So that this is a real answer on its own, it's preferable that it answer the question independently by including any necessary statements, and refer to other answers only to give due credit. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 5 '16 at 20:03

protected by SevenSidedDie Jul 24 '18 at 15:30

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