Can a creature lacking a special ability to make either touch attacks or ranged touch attacks nonetheless make against his foes—without provoking attacks of opportunity—touch attacks or ranged touch attacks, respectively, that deal no damage?

That is, while touch attacks and ranged touch attacks in Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 are typically made with spells and special abilities, can any creature make them (dealing no damage and without provoking attacks of opportunity) instead of making one or more standard attacks?


  • Can Two-fisted Abe, street fighter extraordinaire,1 instead of making a standard attack with his unarmed strike against his foe, make against his foe a touch attack with his unarmed strike that deals no damage, perhaps in an effort to confuse or to bluff his foe or to demonstrate his own confidence?
  • Can One-shot Bill, archer against evil,2 instead of making a standard ranged attack with his bow, make against his foe a ranged touch attack with his bow that deals no damage, perhaps in an effort to draw aggro from an otherwise engaged foe or reveal his position to particular foe?

While related to this Pathfinder question on delivering contact poison, given their relationship, I'd appreciate answers address both systems.

1 He punches streets a lot. He's winning.
2 He braces against signs reading evil.


3 Answers 3


Disclaimer: For unusual situations that aren't specifically covered; however, of which existing rules can be applied, read below.

Two-Fisted Abe

If Two-Fisted Abe is simply trying to touch him, then yes of course, roll a touch attack. This would be no different from a spell caster rolling a touch attack. The only difference is, nothing happens after the touch.

It should even work with weapons. Not every attack roll has to be met with brute force.

Something similar can be seen in the movie Kingdom of Heaven; the Knight Hospitaller taps Balian on the head with his sword. He didn't cause any damage. He didn't try to penetrate armor. But he was making a point.

What is the mechanic used? A touch attack. It is in the definitions. Tell the DM, "I want to touch him to show him that I can hit him and not cause any damage." Remember Armor Class is not really hit or miss. A failure to do damage on an attack roll probably did in fact hit the opponent (hit is touch AC) but you failed to penetrate his armor, or his agility, or his other defenses (shield, natural armor, etc). A roll of a 1 is an automatic miss, because you fail to hit even his touch AC.

One-Shot Bill

If One-Shot Bill is simply trying to lob an arrow without causing damage, then he can't do that with his bow. The bow sends the projectile outward and if the arrow does damage, it does damage.

A GM could make a house rule that such a master with a bow could launch an arrow with just the right amount of draw that the arrow bounces off - but that is so unlikely it would have to be a -10 minimum penalty.

There are rules for ranged pins, ranged sunders, and ranged feints, however; if One-Shot Bill was that sort of master with his bow, then he would probably have taken those feats as well.

There are other things he could do with his arrows as well to make them less lethal - fey craft, or using smaller arrows. There are also Arrows of Cure Light Wounds (whenever the arrow hits, it also heals).

Now, thrown weapons are a different thing altogether. Splash weapons are a ranged touch attack. Unless you are throwing something like a baseball at someone with the intent of really causing damage, tossing a coin or pebble at someone with the intent of it hitting their touch ac would indeed be a ranged touch attack.

Also, spitting on people is a ranged touch attack. The Eye of Gruumsh prestige class has Blinding Spittle, in which they literally spit in someone's eyes - and it's a ranged touch attack. The Spit Poison feat allows those that can deliver a poisonous bite to spit their poison instead - and it's a ranged touch attack.

PF vs. D&D 3.5e

The only difference between the two systems, regarding ranged pins and sunders and whatnot, would be CMB vs. CMD in Pathfinder which of course doesn't exist in D&D 3.5e.

Otherwise, the mechanics are the same. Touch attacks are touch attacks, and ranged touch attacks are ranged touch attacks.


D&D Glossary: Touch Attack

An attack in which the attacker must connect with an opponent but does not need to penetrate armor. Touch attacks may be either melee or ranged.

PFSRD: Touch Attacks

Some attacks completely disregard armor, including shields and natural armor—the aggressor need only touch a foe for such an attack to take full effect. In these cases, the attacker makes a touch attack roll (either ranged or melee).

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ The existing rule about being able to do nonlethal with melee weapons might be relevant: d20pfsrd.com/gamemastering/combat#TOC-Nonlethal-Damage \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 12:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Because I just looked it up the other day, by extrapolating from ursuma pepper powder, any creature with a mouth can make a spit attack; however, in one of my favorite bits from 3.5 (right up there with Muscular action closes the hole), 'Spitting' is considered an exotic weapon. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Except, while a creature can elect to deal nonlethal damage, apparently it can't elect to do less damage. I don't want to draw a false analogy, but it seems as if the way one pulls one's punch is not by making touch attacks but, instead, by dealing nonlethal damage. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ he can't do that with his bow... - when I was a kid, I shot my (still-living-and-largely-unharmed) brother several times with my bow by just not pulling as far back and lobbing it at an angle. Not exactly advisable, but has been done... certainly would be easier not to hurt someone with armor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin you're right - that's a side effect of repairing the Wizards Archive link. It's not necessary, I'll train my script to skip links like that if the video is not available. The formatting was messed up because of the CommonMark migration - my script has support for some necessary changes but this is too complicated. Thanks for the ping! \$\endgroup\$
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 18:47

Under rules as written, no, there is no rule that allows you to make touch attacks.

For ranged touch attacks, it seems pretty sensible. A "ranged touch attack" is not simply touching someone with an arrow (touching people with arrows shot from a bow usually deals damage) - it usually involves a ray or bolt of some kind. You can point your fingers at someone and yell, "Pew pew," but that's not a ranged touch attack.

For melee touch attacks, I could see arguments either way. On the one hand, it does seem completely reasonable that you could try to touch someone with or without a Harm spell in hand; the physical action is the same. On the other hand, rules as written still don't make any special provision for attempting to touch an enemy without a spell - and if holding a touch spell has some visible sign, it could also be that the reason it doesn't provoke an AoO is because your opponent treats your glowing hand of death like a weapon, and if they know your touch is not actually dangerous, they wouldn't.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What rule says you can't make touch attacks? Whenever you start a grapple you make a touch attack. At any point in time you can say, "I cease the grapple." Therefore you made your touch attack, without hurting anyone. There is a LOT less effort in simply putting your hand on someone than trying to take a full on swing at them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 7:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ruut Most folks are going to provoke attacks of opportunity when they try that touch attack to start a grapple, though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 8:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I agree. But as a streetfighting extraordinaire he won't have Improved Grapple? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 8:33

You can try dealing nonlethal damage with a -4 penalty, but i think it would provoke AoO.. You can try to bluff him or intimidate him by using your bluff/intimidate skill and doing this by talking or whatever And I think it would not provoke AoO


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