Shape Water 5e

You choose an area of water that you can see within range and that fits within a 5-foot cube. You manipulate it in one of the following ways:

  • You instantaneously move or otherwise change the flow of the water as you direct, up to 5 feet in any direction. This movement doesn’t have enough force to cause damage.

  • You cause the water to form into simple shapes and animate at your direction. This change lasts for 1 hour.

  • You change the water’s color or opacity. The water must be changed in the same way throughout. This change lasts for 1 hour.

  • You freeze the water, provided that there are no creatures in it. The water unfreezes in 1 hour.

If you cast this spell multiple times, you can have no more than two of its non-instantaneous effects active at a time, and you can dismiss such an effect as an action.

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Components: S
Duration: Instantaneous or 1 hour (see below)
School: Transmutation cantrip

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, pg. 164

Shape Water 5e

Shape Water definitely ranks among DnD’s most versatile cantrips and is a player-favorite of the elemental cantrip bunch that came out with Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

And while dreaming up a thousand and one uses for low-power water-bending is a ton of fun, we will have to splash a bit of cold water on some ideas in our rules section.

Plus, since this is a spell that causes a lot of back-of-napkin physics sessions, we have some handy tips for DMs looking to run Shape Water in a fair, consistent way.

Who Can Cast Shape Water in 5e?

The following classes have Shape Water on their spell list:

No subclasses get Shape Water for free.

What Does Shape Water Do in 5e?

Shape Water causes one of four effects to an area of water that fits within a 5-foot cube:

  1. Move water. Move the water 5-feet in any direction or redirect the flow of water.

  2. Shape/animate water. Change the water into simple shapes that animate at your direction.

  3. Alter water. Change the water’s color or opacity (how transparent it is).

  4. Freeze water. Freeze water that is free of creatures.

Options 2, 3, and 4 last for 1 hour before ending and you cannot have more than two of these effects active at the same time. You can dismiss these effects as an action.

What Are the Rules for Shape Water in 5e?

The rules for Shape Water in DnD 5e are as follows:

  • Shape Water is intended for liquid water. Not ice, snow, or vapor (fog, mist, steam, etc.). I’m basing this ruling on a Sage Advice thread in which Jeremy Crawford states that “unless the rules explicitly expand, narrow, or completely redefine a word, that word retains the meaning it has in idiomatic English.”

    To me, that implies that “water” must be a liquid composed of 51%+ H2O that also isn’t easily identifiable as a non-water liquid to a non-scientist (e.g., Shape Water doesn’t work on blood, paint, syrup, booze, etc.). This isn’t a hard-and-fast “rule,” but it’s my best attempt to interpret the rules and rulings by the game’s developers.

  • You cannot lift water, freeze it, and drop it on a creature’s head in the same action. If you lift the water on your turn, it will immediately fall to the floor.

    A kind DM might allow you to animate a sheet of water into the top of its 5×5 cube. It can then stay animated in the air for a full hour as a continuous effect. On the following turn, the player could freeze that sheet of water with Shape Water. And then on the following turn, they could dismiss the animated effect so that the sheet of ice falls.

    In other words, the only way to use Shape Water to drop ice on a creature’s head is if that creature stays in one location for three consecutive turns. Which is totally possible if you use this trick on a sleeping or otherwise incapacitated target.

  • You can unfreeze water that you froze with Shape Water. While you can’t target ordinary ice, you can simply dismiss your “Freeze Water” continuous effect to unfreeze ice that you made using Shape Water.

  • Shape Water can’t push creatures, objects, etc. The spell’s description explicitly mentions that the movement of water lacks enough force to deal damage. We can also infer that it lacks any force, and so cannot be used to push things.

    However, a DM could easily rule that circumstances allow for Shape Water to effectively move objects around.

  • Shape Water can only create simple shapes. No intricate replica ice keys, portraits, etc.

  • “Animating” the water doesn’t move it from its original space. The animating effect all has to remain in the original 5×5 cube that the caster targets for the spell. If they want to move the water from this area, they have to use the first bullet of Shape Water’s effect.

  • Shape Water can shape water into a shape that doesn’t fit in a 5-foot cube. The spell’s only stipulation is that the initial water that you target must fit within a 5-foot cube. You can manipulate that water into whatever shape you want, like a 100-foot rope of water.

  • Shape Water can affect a pole up to 8 and 2/3 feet long. That’s the largest straight line possible that fits from corner to corner in a 5-foot cube.

  • Water that’s been frozen by Shape Water stays solid in a warm environment. Sage Advice confirmation that the magic of Shape Water defies normal melting time. However, DMs are free to rule differently depending on the circumstances.

dungeons & dragons dice and character sheet

How Do I Use Shape Water in 5e?

Here are a few ways to use Shape Water in DnD 5e:

Move Water

  1. Moving water you hope to shape and/or freeze to a more suitable location or container

  2. Throw boiling water at a creature

  3. Move water into suspected traps

  4. Move water into position to block a passageway (will also need to animate that water after it falls)

Shape/Animate Water

  1. Leave 1-hour, self-deleting messages behind

  2. Create shapes to freeze afterwards for things like ladders, bridges, walls, improvised weapons, tools, etc.

  3. Make symbols or letters for communication

  4. Plug a boat’s hole with water (freeze it after)

Alter Water

  1. Create deceptive-looking liquids like blood, alcohol, etc.

  2. Look through murky water

  3. Hide something in clear water by making it opaque

Freeze Water

  1. Make ice stepping stones over a body of water

  2. Freeze moving parts in a machine or vehicle

  3. Create hazardous terrain (slippery or ice spike traps)

  4. Freeze holy water into a weapon for attacking undead creatures

  5. Make an improvised raft

  6. Break open locks

  7. Plug a hole in a boat with ice

Other than that, a general tip is to try to get the magic item, the Decanter of Endless Water (DMG 161). It makes up to 30 gallons of water per turn, which is pretty handy indeed if you plan on using Shape Water a lot.

Kind of like that skin of water that Katara always carried with her and seemed to carry an endless supply of H20 for her water-bending.

Is Shape Water 5e a Good Spell?

Yes, Shape Water is a phenomenal spell. It’s versatile, fun to use, and rewards creative thinking — all great aspects of a DnD spell. That said, Shape Water is a cantrip, so you should expect cantrip-level utility out of it.

If you don’t try to do too much with it and enjoy the utility it often provides, you’ll find 101 uses for it throughout your campaign.

Shape Water 5e DM Tips

DMs running Shape Water are bound to run into some tricky physics questions and scenarios. My advice is to treat each scenario with your best common sense and to remain consistent in your rulings.

For my two cents, I think Shape Water should be restricted to liquid water, and things like gels, goos, and mud don’t fall into that category. I use the 51%+ rule and consider anything that’s obviously not “water” as untargetable — that seems to fit in the spirit of following “idiomatic English” as the DnD’s devs suggest.

Other than that, you may have to tamp down some player expectations around Shape Water’s combat utility. The “ice block on the head” trick is cute, but it really doesn’t work in 99% of scenarios.

There may be some times when manufactured ice spikes deal some piercing damage, a patch of ice causes an enemy to slip, or boiling water causes a bunch of fire damage to an unfortunate monster. But by and large, players should understand that they won’t be using Shape Water as a combat go-to.