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The paladin ability lay on hands requires you to touch the target. However, it looks like there are no touch rules for AC in 5e. Would this then mean that laying hands on a hostile enemy counts as a spell attack, or would it require a regular unarmed attack? Would there be any changes to the target's AC?

I'm attempting to cast the spell on a normally non-hostile creature that has been affected by poison. The character is attempting to use Lay on Hands to neutralize the poison in order to avoid having to kill the creature.

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Touch = Melee range for all intents and porpoises. It does not tell you about what the power's attack roll/saving throw/action is.

The text of the Lay On Hands ability states:

As an action, you can touch a creature and draw power from the pool to restore a number of hit points to that creature, up to the maximum amount remaining in your pool.

From Range (Players Basic p79)

Range

The target of a spell must be within the spell’s range. For a spell like magic missile, the target is a creature. For a spell like fireball, the target is the point in space where the ball of fire erupts.

Most spells have ranges expressed in feet. Some spells can target only a creature (including you) that you touch. Other spells, such as the shield spell, affect only you. These spells have a range of self.

Basically, if you are adjacent (on a square grid this is in an adjacent square, in a gridless style, this is 5' or less away (or in melee range without reach if that's what you're tracking).

Lay on Hands doesn't require an attack roll, it just happens. There is not a specifier that the creature is willing, again, if you can touch them it happens. Your DM may want to include a saving throw or make it a melee attack, but this is would be a house rule, not a RAW interpretation. The RAW here is that if you're in range, and there are no qualifiers, the effect happens. If you want to add a house rule, take a look at the Light cantrip for a solid implementation.

Also, it's worth asking yourself why you want to use it on an enemy? It has no negative effect on them, and would mean you are restoring them HP.

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    \$\begingroup\$ (Was intents and porpoises already mentioned? It appears out of place in an otherwise serious answer.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 8 '15 at 1:57
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Lay on Hands is not normally used for an attack, and isn't an attack. It's an ability you can use when you can literally lay your hands onto a creature.

You can argue it into an "attack" several ways, but all such arguments are trying to rely on strict rules for this corner case in a game that doesn't have strict rules for corner cases; a game that instead expects the group and the DM to run odd corner cases like this in a way that makes sense to them. And if you're asking yourself "how does this even work?" then it doesn't make sense to do it that way.

For your specific case — trying to heal a normally non-hostile creature of a poison that makes it hostile — the way that makes sense is to capture and restrain the creature so that you can administer healing. Grapple, net, trap, charm — whatever works. Immobilise or neutralise the creature so that you can approach it and use the non-attack ability to lay on hands (sounds gentle and takes a few moments of non-violent contact, doesn't it?) to purge the maddening poison from its blood.

Don't forget you can knock it out

Your desire to do this instead of killing it suggests that you're unaware of the easiest option: just hit it until it's unconscious. In D&D 5e, whoever deals the damage that brings a creature to 0 hit points has the choice (if it was a melee attack) of what happens: either killing it, or just knocking it unconscious. It doesn't have to die. See Knocking a Creature Out on page 198 of the Player's Handbook.

That's the simplest, easiest way to deal with this creature: hit it in melee until it stops moving, heal it of its poison madness, and then continue on your way.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So basically you would have it be something which you can not use on a hostile target. The target would either have to be willing, or unable to resist. \$\endgroup\$ – jperkins Mar 2 '15 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ This makes more sense to me. When I read Lay on Hands, it does not sound like a simple Touch and run. In other words, the healing power does not go on the hand and as soon as you touch, is applied. So having to somehow neutralize the target first is a requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Oct 12 '15 at 8:17
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Lay On Hands isn't an attack...

It is merely an action that let's you restore HP or remove specific conditions. There is no language about it healing or damaging certain types of creatures as channel divinity had in various versions of the playtest. As written Lay on Hands simply effects the target if you trigger it in range.

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I would argue (and yes, this is subjective) that you would need to grapple the target.

Thematically, you can think of Lay on Hands as a bit more involved of a process than just briefly making contact with the target. Keeping in mind that a round is 6 seconds, actions are really more involved than you might otherwise be inclined to think. e.g. an attack roll represents not a single swing of the sword, but up to a full 6 seconds worth of engaging in combat, weaving and dodging, and taking advantage of one (or more!) openings, distractions, and weaknesses in the target's defense.

Likewise, Lay on Hands is an action taking place over (up to) six seconds. If you think of the game as a movie and how you might expect this to play out cinematic-ally, Lay on Hands would be the character kneeling down, gently placing their hands on the target, closing their eyes, and praying for a second or three. The actual effect would take a couple of seconds of continued contact and concentration.

Thus, if you accept this interpretation, laying on hands is not something you can really do in combat as an attack. It's not just a hand darting in past a defense when there's an opening; it's a prolonged action that takes up to a whole round of (relatively) intimate contact. The closest rule you have in the D&D 5E book that accomplishes this (and this is based off of some monsters' abilities with similar needs) is a grapple: that thematically would be the character restraining the target well enough and long enough with the necessary contact to complete the full process of laying on hands.

That would be my interpretation of how to apply these rules. As others have already said, though, the 5E rules leave a lot up to the GM. You're free to consider laying on hands to be a more instantaneous effect and rule appropriately.

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