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If you cast the Witch Bolt spell (PHB, p. 289) but miss with the attack, can you still maintain concentration to allow you to use your action next turn to retry the attack on the target if the target is still within range and has not hit the user?

We had an instance where the Warlock missed the initial attack roll; we need the ruling on whether the Warlock would get another chance next turn to use the Witch Bolt without having to spend another spell slot, or whether it fizzles out and requires another spell slot.

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If it misses initially, it fizzles out.

The text for Witch Bolt is clear that it only takes effect on a hit:

Make a ranged spell attack against that creature. On a hit, the target takes 1d12 lightning damage, and on each of your turns for the duration, you can use your action to deal 1d12 lightning damage to the target automatically.

On a miss, the spell slot is wasted and the warlock would need to try again next turn.

Yes, the spell is situational. It has its uses, though there are many drawbacks and shortfalls, but I wouldn't tell a guy not to pick it if he really wanted to.

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The extra action/damage requires Witch Bolt to hit. If it misses, there's no concentration and you can't deal the extra damage on subsequent turns.

On a hit, the target takes 1d12 lightning damage, and on each of your turns for the duration, you can use your action to deal 1d12 lightning damage to the target automatically.

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I would say, that if the spell doesn't connect with it's initial attack that the spell is wasted. If the spell can't connect with it's intended victim the spell slot is used up.

On a hit, the target takes 1d12 lightning damage, and on each of your turns for the duration, you can use your action to deal 1d12 lightning damage to the target automatically.

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No, your Warlock would not get the chance to make a Ranged Spell Attack roll on following turns due to the specific wording of the spell. He would, however, maintain Concentration on the spell.

He cannot try again due to it not being stated within the spell's effects, as it is stated in a similar spell, Vampiric Touch:

Until the spell ends, you can make the attack again on each of your turns as an action.

Due to the rules of Duration: Concentration (PHB, pg. 203), the Warlock can maintain Concentration on the spell after the initial attack roll miss.

Some spells require you to maintain concentration in order to keep their magic active. If you lose concentration, such a spell ends.

The following factors break concentration: Casting another spell that requires concentration, Taking damage, Being incapacitated or killed

As none of those requisites are met by the ranged spell attack missing, the Warlock may maintain concentration on his Witch Bolt spell but will not be able to apply any of the spells effects (explicitly stated as "On a hit") or make any additional ranged spell attack rolls (as it is not stated within the spells effects separate to the "On a hit" effects).

In conclusion, your Warlock may choose to maintain his concentration on the spell, but gains none of its effects (or any additional ranged spell attacks) for the duration he maintains concentration on it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting. Can you identify any situations where maintaining concentration on a spell that has no effects would matter? \$\endgroup\$ – Ceribia Apr 8 '17 at 7:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ceribia The War Magic Wizard from a recent UA would be one. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 8 '17 at 7:47
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The description of the witch bolt spell (PHB, p. 289) says:

On a hit, the target takes 1d12 lightning damage, and on each of your turns for the duration, you can use your action to deal 1d12 lightning damage to the target automatically.

The confusion lies in the handbook's lack of rules on what happens when a spell misses; it only addresses what happens "on a hit". It is assumed that, say in this case Witch Bolt, if the spell misses its effects don't trigger. So even if the spell has concentration, you can't concentrate on a spell that does have its effects trigger.

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This is not as clear cut as everyone is assuming. If we are believing that the rules of 5e are similar to that of MTG, then we must read each sentence as stating what it means, and not assume that two different sentences necessarily relate to each other. The phrase “you create a SUSTAINED arc of lightning” then there’s a period, as in, that happens. Then, once you have a sustained arc, the next sentence tells you to make an attack. The sustainment of the spell does not rely on the attack. It also gives two reasons for the spell to end, neither of which have anything to do with missing. I understand that a 1D12 for a level 1 spell does seem overpowered, which is what I assume is the deciding factor in people’s responses, but the text IS NOT CLEAR. As written.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And what evidence do you have that would support a belief that the D&D 5e rules work anything at all like the MTG rules? \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Sep 18 at 5:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're right that the text isn't clear, but mentioning the MTG rules weakens your argument (they're not relevant at all), and "read each sentence as stating what it means" is generally a bad approach to apply to D&D 5e rules, which are written for ease of reading rather than technical precision. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 18 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ The reason I say this is they are both owned by Wizards of the Coast, and 5e’s wording became more like MTG compared to other editions. \$\endgroup\$ – Gorm Drakul Sep 18 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's clear as a bell to someone who has never played MtG. FWIW, D&D 5e was created with, as a goal, pulling a lot of new players into the game/hobby. What is not a useful assumption is that a new player has, or should have, any familiarity with MtG, or even previous editions of D&D, as they get into the rules and learn how to play. (While I find your answer interesting, in terms of parsing rules text with some background information, it really does not fit into the 5e schema). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 19 at 3:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Whoops, sorry, where are my manners? Welcome to RPGSE. The tour and the help center are good guides to how this Q&A site works, which includes how to ask a good question and how to craft a good, well supported, answer. Hope you'll stick around. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 19 at 13:38

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