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I had a player ask me whether the Sharpshooter feat (PHB, p. 170) works on spells, but I wasn't entirely sure. It says “ranged weapon attacks”, but I'm not sure if an eldritch blast cantrip counts as a ranged weapon attack.

Does the Sharpshooter feat work on ranged spells that require an attack roll, such as the eldritch blast spell?

I'm pretty sure it doesn't, given that the book also provides the Spell Sniper feat that indicates that it works on “ranged spell attacks” (PHB, p. 170), but I'd like to get a second or third opinion on it.

(I think the player was asking about it because they want the −5 attack / +10 damage that Sharpshooter offers, because Spell Sniper does not include that.)

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You are correct; the Sharpshooter does not affect spell attacks.

The description of the eldritch blast cantrip states that you “Make a ranged spell attack”; it does not involve a weapon or a weapon attack at all.

Therefore, it is not affected by the benefits of the Sharpshooter feat (PHB, p. 170) - the first two of which apply to "ranged weapon attacks", and the last of which applies to "an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with".

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No - Sharpshooter does not work on ranged spell attacks that require an attack roll.

Background

First, it is useful to distinguish between the types of attacks in 5th edition.

Though there may be more, for our purposes we can categorize attacks into 1 of 4 types, across two criteria (melee vs ranged, and weapon vs spell - this answer here breaks these down in greater detail):

  • Melee Weapon Attack - an attack in close quarters using a physical weapon (think a Sword or Rapier)
  • Ranged Weapon Attach - a ranged attack using a physical weapon (think using a bow or a thrown spear)
  • Melee Spell Attack - an attack using a spell in close quarters (Shocking Grasp comes to mind but there are many others)
  • Ranged Spell Attack - a ranged attack using a spell (e.g. Firebolt)

Depending on the type of attack it is, there are various factors which can affect the outcome of the attack (advantage vs disadvantage being a primary consideration - see the answers here and here for more information).

Sharpshooter

Turning to your question now, let's begin by looking at the Sharpshooter feat:

You have mastered ranged weapons and can make shots that others find impossible. You gain the following benefits:

• Attacking at long range doesn't impose disadvantage on your ranged weapon attack rolls.

• Your ranged weapons ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.

• Before you make a ranged attack with a ranged weapon with which you are proficient, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If you do so and the attack hits, it deals +10 damage.

Looking at the third feature in particular, it has 3 requirements: (1) you must be making a ranged attack, (2) with a ranged weapon, (3) with which you are proficient.

So, does Eldritch Blast meet these criteria? Turning to the text of the spell:

A beam of crackling energy streaks toward a creature within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d10 force damage.

As we can see, Eldritch Blast has us roll a ranged spell attack, which as we discussed above, is distinct from a ranged weapon attack. Moreover, Eldritch Blast does not use a Ranged Weapon.

As a result, Eldritch Blast does not meet the necessary criteria to use Sharpshooter, and Sharpshooter therefore cannot be applied to this attack.

Bonus: Spell Sniper

Turning to Spell Sniper, the text reads:

You have learned techniques to enhance your attacks with certain kinds of spells, gaining the following benefits:

  • When you cast a spell that requires you to make an attack roll, the spell's range is doubled.
  • Your ranged spell attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.
  • You learn one cantrip that requires an attack roll. Choose the cantrip from the bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list. Your spellcasting ability for this cantrip depends on the spell list you chose from: Charisma for bard, sorcerer, and warlock; Wisdom for cleric or druid; or Intelligence for wizard.

As we can see here, the first feature can be applied when casting a spell that requires us to make an attack roll. Eldritch Blast would meet these requirements. Likewise, the second feature speaks to ranged spell attacks, and Eldritch Blast, per its own description, has us make a ranged spell attack.

As a result, Eldritch Blast would apply to the first two features of Spell Sniper.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer so far! The one part that I'm hung up on is that there isn't really any argument or evidence here that the four types of attacks listed are universally distinct: that is, that there is no such thing as an attack with a ranged weapon that is also a ranged spell attack. I think it's probably true! But I need some evidence to come to that conclusion. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9 '21 at 22:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Gandalfmeansme Actually, there it is: see for example Is it possible to use Sneak Attack with the Magic Stone cantrip? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Nov 9 '21 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Good point! So we'll need some argument for why this isn't one of those cases. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9 '21 at 23:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, I think Magic Stone (and the linked Sneak Attack question) provides strong evidence that "spell" and "weapon" attacks are categorically different. Magic Stone is clearly using a weapon-like thing in the form of a rock or an actual weapon in the form of the sling, but still making a spell attack. Sneak Attack triggers with the sling because you're using a ranged weapon and because the ability doesn't specify "weapon attack". \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Nov 9 '21 at 23:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @minnmass Good point. The thing that complicates this is that Sharpshooter does not require a "weapon attack" either. It specifies that you must make a "ranged attack with a ranged weapon" (PHB, p. 170). \$\endgroup\$ Nov 12 '21 at 17:28
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No, an attack with Eldritch Blast is not made "with a ranged weapon"

A quick note before we begin: the title of the question refers to any "ranged spell that requires an attack roll," which is a very broad category. But the body of the question specifically wants to know if Eldritch Blast could be used with the Sharpshooter feat. Thus, this answer concentrates mainly on Eldritch Blast, but will give some notes on other spells.

First, let's look at the text of the feat Sharpshooter, specifically the third bullet point (PHB, p. 170, bold added):

Before you make a ranged attack with a ranged weapon with which you are proficient, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If you do so and the attack hits, it deals +10 damage.

This means the applicability of the feat to the spell Eldritch Blast relies on that spell being an "attack with a ranged weapon." So is it?

In the real world, what is and isn't a "weapon" is largely a matter of opinion and circumstance. Arguments have been (successfully) made in court that categorized such disparate things as a hurled alligator, a fish, and (no kidding) an animated GIF as deadly weapons.

However, in DnD we have more simple guidelines. According to the Player's Handbook, p. 14:

For attacks with ranged weapons, use your Dexterity modifier for attack and damage rolls. A weapon that has the thrown property, such as a handaxe, can use your Strength modifier instead.

This provides us with a simple rule: unless we've been given a rule that provides an exception (such as the Hexblade Warlock's feature that lets them attack with Charisma when using a weapon), if an attack doesn't use Dexterity (or Strength if it has the thrown property), then it isn't an "attack with a a ranged weapon." 1

Does Eldritch Blast use dexterity? Well, the rules identify the attack made with Eldritch Blast to be a "ranged spell attack" (PHB, p. 237), and the rules on such attacks state (PHB, p. 205):

Your attack bonus with a spell attack equals your spellcasting ability modifier + your proficiency bonus.

Warlocks use Charisma as a spellcasting ability, and as far as I know every class that can cast spells as a class feature uses either Inteligence, Charisma, or Wisdom as such a spellcasting ability2. Thus, spell attacks do not count as attacks made "with a ranged weapon."

1: There are also exceptions to the contrapositive of this rule (i.e. the original quote above). For example, the Spell Magic Stone allows one to make a Ranged Spell attack, but also can involve an attack with a sling, a ranged weapon, that hurls a projectile. In that case, you would make a ranged spell attack, but also would be making an "attack with a ranged weapon." Since Eldritch Blast does not similarly allow/require you to use a ranged weapon as part of its attack, Eldritch Blast does not provide a similar exception.

2: There are rare instances where a spell can be cast with Dexterity as a spellcasting modifier. For example, Variant Humans with the Mark of Passage (Eberron Rising from the Last War, p. 46) can cast the Misty Step spell once (recharges on a long rest) using Dexterity as their spellcasting modifier. If a spell ever with a spell attack roll allows you to use Dexterity as the spellcasting modifier, then the above objection would not apply. However, I have yet to find an instance of this anywhere in the rules.

What if the weapon is a spellcasting focus? (probably not)

Ok, let's leave aside for a moment that the spell Eldritch Blast has no material component, and thus a focus isn't used in its casting at all (which should end the conversation immediately). Let's pretend that it did, and ask if Sharpshooter could still apply.

In this instance, the rules are unclear. Does using a ranged weapon as a focus for a spell with an attack roll (such as through the Ruby of the War Mage [XGtE] ) count as making an "attack with a ranged weapon"? The question relies on an interpretation of the semantics invovled, and must go beyond RAW (rules as written). Fortunately, when we are attempting to figure out what the rules mean beyond their literal statement, we can turn to the designers to give us their RAI statements (rules as intended).

Jeremy Crawford (lead designer of DnD 5e) was asked the following:

Can you use a longbow in melee to get GWM and Sharpshooter in a single attack for +20 damage?

(NOTE: At the time, there was no requirement that you make a "ranged attack" in the text of Sharpshooter).

His (unofficial) reply was the following:

If you use a weapon in a way that turns it into an improvised weapon—such as smacking someone with a bow—that weapon has none of its regular properties, unless the DM rules otherwise.

He also made the following (unofficial statement):

DM's call. To me, a weapon is improvised if used counter to its design (e.g., a slashing weapon not slashing).

While these are not "rules," they do give us guidance on how a rule applies. A DM gets to make their own call on whether or not using a weapon as a focus makes it an "improvised weapon," but there is a very reasonable argument that it should. After all, a bow used as a weapon focus is not being used for its intended purpose (shooting arrows), but rather being used "counter to its design."

So if a DM rules in this way, and a ranged weapon was used as an arcane (or druidic, or divine) focus for a spell attack (without also shooting an arrow) , the above tweet indicates that it ceases to be considered a ranged weapon while being used in this way. Thus even if the spell attack was made using a ranged weapon as an arcane focus, it still would not qualify as an "attack with a ranged weapon" for the purposes of the Sharpshooter feat, unless the weapon was also being used for its intended purpose as part of the spell (like a melee weapon is used in the spell Green Flame Blade).

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It does, but only on certain spells and under certain circumstances.

It is possible to use Sharpshooter with certain ranged spell attack rolls under select circumstances. The text of Sharpshooter states (emphasis mine):

Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If that attack hits, you add +10 to the attack's damage.

The emphasized text on the part of Sharpshooter that your player wants to use places 2 restrictions. First, that the ranged attack has to use a ranged weapon, meaning that the ranged weapon must be a component to the spell. RAW, I'd say you would technically be making the attack with the ranged weapon since it would be used in the attack. It's a little hazy since 5e doesn't define "using it in an attack" anywhere (that I know of), but I'll be assuming that it works because otherwise there is no way I can think of that Sharpshooter would work with a ranged spell attack since Sharpshooter requires use of a ranged weapon. In this instance, use of a ranged weapon as a spellcasting focus would let you use it in the attack, fulfilling the requirement of using it in the attack. The second requires proficiency with the weapon. So, to use Sharpshooter on spell attacks you need the ranged weapon to be a spellcasting focus and you need proficiency with the weapon. The problem of proficiency is easy to solve, but the problem of using a ranged weapon as a spellcasting focus is more difficult. It is doable, however, with certain class features and magic items, my favorite examples of which are the warlock's Improved Pact Weapon eldritch invocation and the Ruby of the War Mage magic item. Improved Pact Weapon states:

You can use any weapon you summon with your Pact of the Blade feature as a spellcasting focus for your warlock spells. In addition, the weapon gains a +1 bonus to its attack and damage rolls, unless it is a magic weapon that already has a bonus to those rolls. Finally, the weapon you conjure can be a shortbow, longbow, light crossbow, or heavy crossbow.

The Ruby of the War Mage states:

this 1-inch-diameter ruby allows you to use a simple or martial weapon as a spellcasting focus for your spells.

These examples and others can allow you to use a ranged weapon as a spellcasting focus. However, there is still the issue of using the weapon in the attack. Since the ranged spell attack would need to be made using a ranged attack, the weapon would have to be part of the spell as mentioned earlier. This means that a spell would have to have material components to use a ranged weapon in the attack, as spells without a material component wouldn't make use of a spellcasting focus and would therefore not be able to use the bow in the spell attack. The most devastating part of this is the fact that it is impossible to use Sharpshooter on Eldritch Blast, since Eldritch Blast lacks material components. It is still possible to use Sharpshooter with certain ranged spell attacks, however, as a few spells both make a ranged spell attack and use material components. Witch, Bolt, for example, makes a ranged attack roll and uses material components.

In summary:

You can use Sharpshooter with ranged spell attacks, but only if the spell requires material components, requires an attack roll, and uses a ranged weapon as a spellcasting focus/material component. As such, it wouldn't work with Eldritch Blast, but it would with other spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wow. Three downvotes and no help. @Zweiclops1206 Can you provide citation which shows that using a ranged weapon as a focus counts as "make an attack with a ranged weapon?" I can see what you're going for, but not sure it's supported by RAW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Longspeak
    Nov 9 '21 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not clarified anywhere specific. I'm going off the rule of thumb in Ch. 9 of the PHB that says "if you are making an attack roll, you are making an attack" and off the fact that Sharpshooter says you need to attack "with a ranged weapon" but never specifies that it has to be a ranged weapon attack specifically, but simply says it has to be a ranged attack. Since a ranged attack can be a spell attack or a weapon attack, I'm assuming in my answer that a spell attack technically works because otherwise there is no way for this to work (which I put in an edit I made in the second paragraph.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9 '21 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is text in PHB, p. 177 (bold added), that says "you add your Dexterity modifier to your attack roll and your damage roll when attacking with a ranged weapon." While I find your interpretation quite interesting, wouldn't it would also mean that we had to start adding the dexterity modifier of characters to damage from spell attacks (when cast with this material focus)? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9 '21 at 21:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ What I think would be very helpful is if you could find some place in the rules where it identified a spell attack (using a focus) as somehow being an attack made with that focus. If you can find that, it would be a powerful aide to your argument. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9 '21 at 21:08

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