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The following are the rules for making an attack with a touch spell from touch spells in combat. I have bolded the statements which I wish to focus on.

Many spells have a range of touch. To use these spells, you cast the spell and then touch the subject. In the same round that you cast the spell, you may also touch (or attempt to touch) as a free action. You may take your move before casting the spell, after touching the target, or between casting the spell and touching the target. You can automatically touch one friend or use the spell on yourself, but to touch an opponent, you must succeed on an attack roll.

Touch Attacks: Touching an opponent with a touch spell is considered to be an armed attack and therefore does not provoke attacks of opportunity. The act of casting a spell, however, does provoke an attack of opportunity. Touch attacks come in two types: melee touch attacks and ranged touch attacks. You can score critical hits with either type of attack as long as the spell deals damage. Your opponent's AC against a touch attack does not include any armor bonus, shield bonus, or natural armor bonus. His size modifier, Dexterity modifier, and deflection bonus (if any) all apply normally.

Holding the Charge: If you don't discharge the spell in the round when you cast the spell, you can hold the charge indefinitely. You can continue to make touch attacks round after round. If you touch anything or anyone while holding a charge, even unintentionally, the spell discharges. If you cast another spell, the touch spell dissipates. You can touch one friend as a standard action or up to six friends as a full-round action. Alternatively, you may make a normal unarmed attack (or an attack with a natural weapon) while holding a charge. In this case, you aren't considered armed and you provoke attacks of opportunity as normal for the attack. If your unarmed attack or natural weapon attack normally doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity, neither does this attack. If the attack hits, you deal normal damage for your unarmed attack or natural weapon and the spell discharges. If the attack misses, you are still holding the charge.

Attack roll

An attack roll represents your attempt to strike your opponent on your turn in a round. When you make an attack roll, you roll a d20 and add your attack bonus. (Other modifiers may also apply to this roll.) If your result equals or beats the target's Armor Class, you hit and deal damage.

Its the first paragraph which I would like to draw your attention to. Specifically that in the round you cast the spell, you may touch or attempt to touch as a free action, however enemies still require an attack roll. Its not till the rounds after while holding the charge that its a standard action to make touches. While looking at the attack roll it makes no mention of an action, since attack rolls are part of many types of actions from standard, full, and even free as in the case of attacks of opportunity.

So with this wording, you should be allowed to safely cast a spell while outside of someone threatened area, walk upto an enemy (which may provoke an AOO, depending on you and them), and just stand there trying to touch them with free actions until you finally manage to hit them. Keep in mind that making attacks with a touch spell does not provoke.

So is this actually how it should work according to RAW (but not RAI), or have I missed a rule somewhere which changes this?

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RAW: Yes, you can make as many attacks as you like the first round because the rule is ambiguous.

RAI: No, because that would be silly.

The blurb on casting touch spells says that you can touch (or attempt to touch) as a free action the turn you cast the spell. It does NOT say you can touch ONCE as a free action, or that you cannot do it more than once. That being said, if you could take infinite free actions to attempt to touch a target, that is equivalent to just always succeeding. If you always succeed, why do you even need to roll? Touch spells in that case would simply read "You must be in melee range of the target".

It is clear that the intent is that there is a chance of failing to apply the spell to the target, which is only possible if you have limited chances (by the action economy) of hitting the target. The wording is just unfortunately ambiguous, which is par for the course for DnD-esque games. The rules are meant to be interpreted by a reasonable person. Of course, "reasonable person" is itself ill-defined, and so the cycle repeats itself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that its silly, but I was hoping that somewhere there had been something I missed which expressly ended up limiting it to a single touch more than what the DM/GM feels is reasonable for number of free actions in a turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Nov 21 '16 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's more like 'you may or may not be able to make as many attacks as you like on the first round'; the ambiguity leaves open a RAW-compliant system that allows this, as well as a RAW-compliant system that does not. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jul 1 '17 at 20:58
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While it is not the place you would look at first the Magus class with its spellstrike feature shows that it is only one free touch attack:

Spellstrike (Su): At 2nd level, whenever a magus casts a spell with a range of “touch” from the magus spell list, he can deliver the spell through any weapon he is wielding as part of a melee attack. Instead of the free melee touch attack normally allowed to deliver the spell, a magus can make one free melee attack with his weapon (at his highest base attack bonus) as part of casting this spell.

As you can see it states "the free touch attack" in singular not plural.

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TL;DR: NO, at least not at my table.

Determining type of attack

Definition

You get a touch attack, which is defined as:

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) [...]

A touch attack roll is an attack roll against the touch AC:

Attack Roll: An attack roll represents your attempt to strike your opponent on your turn in a round. When you make an attack roll, you roll a d20 and add your attack bonus. (Other modifiers may also apply to this roll.) If your result equals or beats the target's Armor Class, you hit and deal damage.

Action type consumed usually

Up to here, nothing indicates the usage of an action. What is an action anyway?

Action: An action is a discrete measurement of time during a round of combat. Using abilities, casting spells, and making attacks all require actions to perform. There are a number of different kinds of actions, such as a standard action, move action, swift action, free action, and full-round action (see Combat).

Now, there is a pretty list in the combat chapter what actions are what type. An extract:

Standard Action:

Attack (melee), provokes no AoO

Attack (ranged), provokes AoO

Attack (unarmed), provokes AoO [...]

cast a spell, provokes AoO [...]

So, here our touch attack needs to be typed. because it is part of a touch spell, it has to be (usually) an unarmed strike:

Range

Touch: You must touch a creature or object to affect it. A touch-spell that deals damage can score a critical hit just as a weapon can. A touch spell threatens a critical hit on a natural roll of 20 and deals double damage on a successful critical hit. Some touch spells allow you to touch multiple targets. You can touch up to 6 willing targets as part of the casting, but all targets of the spell must be touched in the same round that you finish casting the spell. If the spell allows you to touch targets over multiple rounds, touching 6 creatures is a full-round action.

Intermediate Conclusion on type

So, without any rule changing parts (which come in later), the touch spell is an unarmed attack roll against the touch AC that occupies a standard action and provokes an AoO, while the spellcasting provokes an additional AoO because it is a separate standard action.

Changes to this behavior

With that in mind, we look at the quoted part that changes this standard behavior:

Touch spells in combat: Many spells have a range of touch. To use these spells, you cast the spell and then touch the subject. In the same round that you cast the spell, you may also touch (or attempt to touch) as a free action. You may take your move before casting the spell, after touching the target, or between casting the spell and touching the target. You can automatically touch one friend or use the spell on yourself, but to touch an opponent, you must succeed on an attack roll.

Touch Attacks: Touching an opponent with a touch spell is considered to be an armed attack and therefore does not provoke attacks of opportunity. The act of casting a spell, however, does provoke an attack of opportunity. Touch attacks come in two types: melee touch attacks and ranged touch attacks. You can score critical hits with either type of attack as long as the spell deals damage. Your opponent's AC against a touch attack does not include any armor bonus, shield bonus, or natural armor bonus. His size modifier, Dexterity modifier, and deflection bonus (if any) all apply as normal.

Conclusion on the action type

Ok, let's start with the changes: The standard action to do this special attack gets changed to be a free action and also the Unarmed attack gets changed to be considered an armed attack, no longer provoking an extra AoO.

Nothing here indicates you get more than one attack or that other touch attacks after missing (while still holding the charge) would be also a free action or considered an armed attack in contrast to an unarmed attack they usually are. That is, there is no notion of the number of these attacks with the exception of a Magus' Spellstrike ability about which, see below.

Conclusion, based on failure to indicate it is multiple attacks

Because of the failure to prove one might do more than one AoO-free touch attack, I interpret the sentence "In the same round that you cast the spell, you may also touch (or attempt to touch) as a free action." as "You get one free touch attack that is considered armed as part of the spellcasting".

Spellstrike Argument

This interpretation is further bolstered by the Magus' Spellstrike ability, that clearly states it is meant as only one armed touch attack that can be made with it, replacing the one touch attack gained from casting a touch spell in combat (emphasis mine):

Spellstrike (SU): At 2nd level, whenever a magus casts a spell with a range of “touch” from the magus spell list, he can deliver the spell through any weapon he is wielding as part of a melee attack. Instead of the free melee touch attack normally allowed to deliver the spell, a magus can make one free melee attack with his weapon (at his highest base attack bonus) as part of casting this spell. If successful, this melee attack deals its normal damage as well as the effects of the spell. If the magus makes this attack in concert with spell combat, this melee attack takes all the penalties accrued by spell combat melee attacks. This attack uses the weapon's critical range (20, 19–20, or 18–20 and modified by the keen weapon property or similar effects), but the spell effect only deals ×2 damage on a successful critical hit, while the weapon damage uses its own critical modifier.

Final conclusion: In case of emergency it is the GM's Choice

You may, of course, feel free to interpret it in the way of granting unlimited tries as free actions, but then you'll have to convince your GM that a guaranteed touch attack1 is not a game breaker and as the rule is intended to be. Under RAW either interpretation is possible (though unlimited attacks seem pretty far fetched), so your GM's Interpretation is what you have to inquire about. In this case, it boils down to (emphasis mine):

Free Action: Free actions consume a very small amount of time and effort. You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally. However, there are reasonable limits on what you can really do for free, as decided by the GM.


1Guaranteed hit argument:

Assuming somebody has an unlimited amount of retries on the attack roll, at some point one of those rerolls will be a 20. As a 20 is an automated success and having an unlimited amount of retries, the success of the touch attack would be guaranteed. Because of this, one could argue that you wouldn't even need to roll - defying the whole point in making an attack roll in the first place.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What does TL, DR mean? \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Nov 21 '16 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Too Long;Didn't Read: Check: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TL;DR ; or TL;DR: it is the whole text below broken down to how I reason with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Nov 21 '16 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with what your interpretation is, but I am not looking for an interpretation but an actual rule, say in an FAQ or section of the rules which I didnt see. \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Nov 21 '16 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I couldn't find any FAQ or other parts indicating to it, so I have to refer to Rule #0: The GM is always right, his interpretation of the rules is how they are to be read. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Nov 21 '16 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ "If it worked that way it would be a guaranteed hit" is probably the most convincing part of this answer. Suggest you emphasise that part? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 21 '16 at 17:54
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It's very simple: A touch attack is considered a standard action, since it is an attack action. Only the first touch attack attempt in the same round in which you cast a spell with range: touch is a free action - you get it free with the casting of the spell, as that is a standard action; and yes, you may split it, so that you cast the spell (Standard action), then move into melee range of an enemy (Move action), and then attempt to touch them (Free action).

Note that this touch attack, which you get free with the standard action of casting the spell, because it's part of the spellcasting process, but may be delayed, does not provoke AoO; However, if you decide to hold the charge, you can either try to make further touch attacks in subsequent rounds, which do not provoke AoO or you can try to hit with an unarmed attack or attack with a natural weapon as a standard action in subsequent rounds, and then you will provoke AoO, because these would also add damage as by the rules for these attacks. However, the RAW does not explicitly say that touch attacks in subsequent rounds are free actions or standard actions; the rules are somewhat unclear in this case, but I think my next paragraph would apply here - otherwise, it'd be a bit silly, since you get as many free actions per round as you like, and could just roll and roll again, until finally, one of the attacks hits.

Also, touch attacks are always considered a single attack, you don't get multiples according to your BAB, and a full round action gives you exactly two touch attacks, as the rules state that a full round action gives you the attacks for a standard attack action plus one at full BAB, except when you are touching friends, then you can touch up to six, yourself included, given that they do not, for some reason, want to resist being touched.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You are not allowed to trade move actions for standard actions. Where does it say you only get one? It says that touching during that round is a free action, specifically separate from the action of casting the spell. In rounds after you cast its specifically stated how the attacks and touching works. You can get many touch attacks, thats what chill touch is for, you cant normally cast multiple spells (normally 2 at most). Using a touch spell acts like a unarmed attack, so if you had both monk and a spell casting class, you could flurry of blows until the spell is discharged. \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Nov 21 '16 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ What I meant was to give up your move action in favor of a full-round Action, i.e. for a full attack, or casting a spell with a cast time of one round or longer. Sorry, I usually call that "trading" a move action. \$\endgroup\$ – khaoliang Nov 21 '16 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ However, the second part of your comment is plain wrong: The rules you quote yourself state: "...You can continue to make touch attacks round after round..." which I read as "until one of them hits and the spell discharges, which ends the spell". However, that does depend on the amount of targets allowed by the spell description: if the spell has "Target: single" then only one target, the first one you hit with a touch attack, gets affected by the spell. Also: "If you cast another spell, the touch spell dissipates." so no, it does not allow you to cast multiple spells! \$\endgroup\$ – khaoliang Nov 21 '16 at 14:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ "trade a move action for a standard action" has a somehow clear meaning, an this meaning is wrong. Please edit your answer if it is not what you meant. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Nov 21 '16 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ "touch attacks are always considered a single attack" is wrong, a counter-example being the full-round of a gunslinger with a high enough BAB. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Nov 21 '16 at 14:31
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As Greysage mentioned in his answer, the rules as written don't give a strict limit on the number of touch attacks.

However, the general rules on free actions give the GM explicit power on the number and nature of free actions that can be taken per round:

Free Action

Free actions consume a very small amount of time and effort. You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally. However, there are reasonable limits on what you can really do for free, as decided by the GM.

A touch attack typically is a standard action. Casting a spell typically is a standard action, and in this case gives one or several free touch attacks, so it is extremely reasonable for the GM to rule that only one free touch attack can be made.

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Basically it means:

When you cast one of these spells, you get a charge of it on your hand. To make the spell come to effect you have to deliver it. As long as the spell is not delivered it stays on your hand (it can disappear for other reasons explained in the rules you quoted).

  • The turn you cast the spell, you get one attempt to deliver it as a free action. If you target an enemy you have to succeed at a touch attack roll or you don't deliver it.
  • The following turns, as long as you still hold the charge, you can spend a standard action to make a touch attack roll. If you succeed you deliver the spell. If you don't you hold the charge, for now.
  • You can also spend a standard action to do an unarmed strike or a natural attack (as with the attack action, if you do an unarmed strike without some particular feat you provoke AoO). In case of success you deal the normal damages of the attack (your unarmed strike damages or your natural attack damages), and you deliver the spell. In case of failure nothing particular happens and you hold the charge.

Very often, when something tells you you can do something, it means you can do it once. For example when a monster ability is "the target have to succeed at a DD20 will saving throw or die" it does not mean the target can attempt as many saving throw as she wants until one succeed, it means the target rolls only one.

It's not clear whether the spell is delivered if you do another action that involves a natural attack or an unarmed strike. Personally I can see two logical interpretations:

  • You consider that doing a full-round is not compatible with holding the spell, and that doing so immediately makes it vanish (you may have touched something else or just have been distracted). It seems the more logical balance-wise.

  • You consider that the charge can be hold as you full-round, and will be delivered at the first successful attack. It seems the more logical realistically-wise.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't see how this doesn't answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Nov 22 '16 at 9:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ anyway I added some explanations, it should be clearer \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Nov 22 '16 at 9:17

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