In this article I have so many footnotes that using asterisks becomes annoying, so instead I’m using bracketed footnote numbers, like this.
If you’re a wizard in 3E, it’s hard to hit with your attack-roll spells because your BAB is really low. And because 3E added a whole bunch of attack-roll spells, it’s fairly common for a wizard to have to make attack rolls.
For some attack forms, it makes sense that you don’t have to get through your target’s armor. For example, a death ray like disintegrate, probably just kills you if it touches you, and because the game rules say that your gear counts as you (and vice versa), hitting your armor is enough for it to affect you.
And thus was born the touch attack Armor Class: your AC without all of that pesky armor that’s intended to prevent things from hurting you. Suddenly wizards have a reasonable chance to hit with many of their attack-roll spells.
But I don’t think that all things defined as touch attacks really ought to completely bypass your armor.
For example, if you’re wearing full plate, then you are wearing a layer of clothes, a thick layer of padding to protect you from chafing from the metal armor, and the layer of metal armor itself. That’s a lot of material between the attack and your vulnerable skin. If I shoot you with a powerful laser, it would have to burn through all of that metal, padding, and cloth before it could actually hurt you. Likewise, if I threw alchemist’s fire at you, your armor should provide some protection against that attack because it’s not directly burning your flesh. But in the game, targeting touch AC means your armor provides no protection whatsoever.
In other words, the “touch attacks target your touch attack AC” mechanic devalues the role of armor in the game. And it devalues natural armor, too. And because most non-humanoid monsters rely on natural armor to meet the expected AC values for their CRs, that means most monsters are incredibly vulnerable to touch attacks.
For example, look at the complete dragon stat blocks in the PF Bestiary, and compare the monster’s touch AC to the expected AC for its CR. You’ll see that the monster’s touch AC is very much worse than the expected AC. In order from dragon with the lowest CR to the highest, the difference is:
- young white (7 worse)
- young black (8 worse)
- young green (11 worse)
- young blue (13 worse)
- young red (14 worse)
- adult white (14 worse)
- adult black (15 worse)
- adult green (19 worse)
- adult blue (20 worse)
- adult red (21 worse)
- ancient white (22 worse)
- ancient black (23 worse)
- ancient green (27 worse)
- ancient blue (28 worse)
- ancient red (29 worse)
In other words, as monsters rely more and more on high natural armor bonuses to get their normal AC to the right ballpark for their CR, you create a system where the touch AC falls farther and farther behind that ballpark value. You quickly get to the point where a monster’s touch AC is trivial, or something you miss only with a natural 1. Which means the best way to defeat the monster is either through a touch-attack spell or a splash weapon.
With that in mind, I don’t think the 3E/PF touch AC mechanic is good for the game. There has to be a better way of handling this idea–a way that accepts the idea of a touch attack being easier than a regular attack, but still allowing some contribution from your armor to your AC.
Obviously, I don’t like cluttered stat blocks. Having to include touch AC in a monster’s stat block is one extra piece of info cluttering up the page. If you had a new touch AC mechanic that didn’t require you to include that specific touch AC, you’d reduce the page clutter… but it would have to be something simple enough that the GM could easily do it “on the fly.” Or it could be something that the acting player does instead of putting the burden on the GM.
Something like “when making a touch attack, add +5 to your attack roll.” Which is what Five Moons RPG is using.
In using this rule for touch attacks,
1) A touch attack is still easier to perform than a normal attack, so using a touch attack is still an advantage compared to a normal attack, but not necessarily a no-brainer advantage.
2) The target’s armor still provides some protective value against the attack; no longer is a person in full plate merely AC 10 against touch attacks.
3) The burden is on the acting player to remember the attack bonus (the GM doesn’t have to keep track of or look up a separate “touch AC” statistic).
4) The difference between normal AC and touch AC remains consistent at all character levels and monster CRs, and regardless of what type of bonus your armor comes from (so you don’t end up with high-CR monsters whose normal ACs are appropriate but their touch ACs are trivial).
5) It’s simple… “add +5” is an easy rule to remember, and 5 is a common value for special attack modifiers in the game.
Overall, I want to reduce the number of touch attack effects in the game. But for those that remain, this +5 rule should make things simpler and easier to play.
Update: Some readers have expressed concern about wizards being able to hit opponents with their spells if their spells aren’t touch attacks. I’ve already factored that into the game: wizards get +5 on attack rolls with spells, just like how warriors get a +5 on attack rolls with weapons. You can see this “spell attack” square on the prototype wizard character sheet… prototype-Octavius has a +6 spell attack bonus, which is +1 from his Int and +5 from his wizard spell attack bonus.
Thanks again for everyone who backed the Five Moons RPG kickstarter. 🙂
 Hi, I’m a fake footnote.
 Or added an attack-roll requirement to a classic spell, like disintegrate, which didn’t have an attack roll in 1E or 2E.
 In particular, heavy armor–which is almost exclusively used by martial characters such as the cavalier and fighter–is useless against touch attacks. Which is yet another punch in the face to martial characters.
 Bestiary, Table 1–1: Monster Statistics by CR, page 291.
 Seriously, the ancient red dragon’s touch AC is 29 worse than its normal AC. What’s up with that???
 Yet another punch in the face to martial characters.
 Keep in mind that the PF stat block doesn’t include a separate AC listing for “flat-footed touch,” so it could actually be more cluttered than it is. Phew!