How Ranged Touch Attack Really Works in Pathfinder 1e & 2e

A pair of armored knights guard the house of a crooked barron known for his tyrannic temper and penchant for tossing complainers behind bars. With justice on her mind, a halfling sorcerer approaches the baron’s house.

Spying the intruder, the guards draw their swords, but the halfling sorcerer unleashes three beams of searing hot flames, torching the guards in their armor and clearing a path to the baron.

It’s no secret that combat in Pathfinder can be a challenge, especially compared to other tabletop games that use the d20 system. But don’t despair! With a little help, you’ll be tossing deadly rays of magic like a pro. 

What is a Ranged Touch Attack in Pathfinder?

Ranged Touch Attack requires your attack to make contact with the target and ignores any defenses like armor or shields. Your Touch Attack Roll is resolved against the target’s Touch Armor Class. The target modifiers such as Dexterity, Cover, Deflection, and Size modifiers are still used to determine their Touch AC.  

Incorporeal Touch Attacks also ignore cover bonuses but would be affected by protections like Mage Armor.

Damaging your opponent isn’t as easy as simply firing an arrow. A ranged attack needs to pierce an enemy’s armor in order to be effective. But with a Ranged Touch Attack, you only need to make contact with the opponent in order for the attack to be successful.

Some spells require the caster to make a ranged touch attack. In order for these spells to work, the caster needs precision and accuracy. Just like with a ranged weapon attack, the ranged touch attack is based on your character’s Dexterity modifier.

This is one of the reasons it’s important for spellcasters to be fairly nimble.

When a ranged touch attack is made as part of a spell, no separate action is required on the part of the caster. Other actions that require a ranged touch attack include throwing a net or tossing holy water on a creature.

How to Calculate a Ranged Touch Attack

Making a ranged touch attack starts with a d20 roll. Add your character’s base attack bonus and dexterity modifier as well as any other bonuses. Lastly, calculate the range penalty, if any.

When making ranged touch attacks against an enemy, you use the enemy’s Touch AC. This type of attack ignores an opponent’s armor, including shields and natural armor. Without the extra protection of armor, your enemy will be forced to rely on quick feet. 

Here are the formulas for calculating a ranged touch attacks and a character’s touch AC:

Ranged Touch Attack

Base Attack Bonus + Dexterity modifier + size bonus + range penalty

Touch AC

10 + Dexterity modifier + size modifier + misc modifiers

Range Penalties

Spells that require the caster to make a ranged touch attack will have a range increment. Attacks within this range suffer no penalty, but attempting to hit creatures beyond that range will cause you to suffer a penalty on your roll. 

Just how big a penalty will depend on how far you are away from the target. If your target is beyond a single range increment, you’ll have a -2 penalty on your attack roll. Beyond that, your chances only get worse. 

Ranged weapons can be used to attack targets up to 5 range increments away from your characters.

Using a Ray Spell

Some effects are rays. You aim a ray as if using a ranged weapon, though typically you make a ranged touch attack rather than a normal ranged attack. As with a ranged weapon, you can fire into the dark or at an invisible creature and hope you hit something.

Source: Core Rulebook

Rays are a special type of effect created by some spells. These rays are conjured by the caster and last only for a split second, though the effects caused by the ray can persist longer.

Remember, when you deal damage using a ray spell you can score a critical hit just like with a normal weapon attack. Also, ray attacks count as weapon attacks for the purpose of spells and other effects. 

Incorporeal Touch

If a creature has the ability to make an incorporeal touch attack, that means its attack can bypass solid objects. Good luck to anyone trying to dodge such an attack. Even hiding behind a wall won’t save you from the reach of an incorporeal touch. 

Triggering Attacks of Opportunity

Just like casting a spell, making a ranged touch attack will provoke an attack of opportunity. Of course, this only counts if the enemy isn’t flat-footed, e.g. they haven’t taken a turn in combat yet.

Casting a spell also provokes an attack of opportunity, so casting a spell with a ranged touch attack will actually leave you open to two attacks of opportunity. 

Of course, most characters can only take one opportunity attack per round of combat, but if you’re surrounded by multiple foes, you might want to run before flinging a scorching ray. 

It’s important to note that even if the spell is cast defensively, a ranged touch attack will still provoke attacks of opportunity from adjacent enemies.

A Touch of Magic

Several spells require players to make a ranged touch attack. As a result, characters with a high Dexterity score will be more effective with them. 

Scorching Ray

  • Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels
  • Effect: one or more rays
  • Duration: instantaneous

With Scorching Ray, you can blast multiple opponents with beams of fire. At early levels, you can only release a single ray. As your character gains experience, however, you’ll be able to blast your opponents with up to three beams of searing flames. 

These rays of fire are released simultaneously and require you to make a ranged touch attack for each beam. This evocation spell is available to sorcerers, wizards, and magi. 


  • Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels
  • Effect: one ball of packed ice and snow
  • Duration: instantaneous

A druid flings a magical snowball at a skeleton. Upon contact, the bones of the creature freeze and shatter, sending the monster back to the underworld. 

A good way to chill someone out, the Snowball spell conjures a ball of frozen snow that you can hurl at an opponent using a ranged touch attack. If the snowball makes contact, your enemy will suffer 1d6 cold damage and be forced to make a Fortitude saving throw or else become staggered

Contagious Flame

  • Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels
  • Effect: three or more rays
  • Duration: 3 rounds

Similar to Scorching Ray, this spell involves hurling beams of fire at your targets. With Contagious Flame, you’ll have three beams of fire at your disposal. As your character grows more powerful you’ll gain more breams, up to a maximum of five.

But unlike Scorching Ray, the fun doesn’t stop after you’ve damaged your opponents. On your next turn, a new beam of fire is released from any creature you hit with Contagious Flame. These flames can be directed with a free action. This continues for a total of three rounds.

Gloomblind Bolts

  • Range: 100 ft. + 10 ft./ level
  • Effect: one or more bolts of energy
  • Duration: instantaneous

This spell pulls bolts of negative energy from the Shadow Plane. Each bolt requires a successful ranged touch attack. On a hit, the bolts of negative energy cause a living creature to suffer 4d6 points of damage. Undead creatures receive the opposite and are instead healed by the negative energy.

After making contact, the bolt’s corrosive energy spreads over a damaged creature, causing blindness. Only a successful Reflex saving throw will keep a creature from being blinded for a round.

Acid Arrow

  • Range: 400 ft. + 40 ft./ level
  • Effect: one arrow of acid
  • Duration: 1 round + 1 round per three levels

Use this spell to fling an arrow of deadly acid at your opponent, causing 2d4 points of acid damage. To hit with the acid arrow, you must make a successful ranged touch attack. 

The acid continues dealing damage to the enemy for a number rounds equal to your caster level divided by three, up to a maximum of 6 rounds.

Staying in Touch

Whether you’re a spell slinging sorcerer or a master swordsman, you can’t always count on brute force to win the day. When it comes to landing a ranged touch attack, agility and precision are the key to victory

For adventurers in the world of Golarion, every day brings new opportunities, and new dangers. Keep your spells ready and your mind focused if you hope to make it out alive.