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The spell control water says:

Until the spell ends, you control any freestanding water inside an area you choose that is a cube up to 100 feet on a side.

I understand what "standing water" is:

any body of stagnant water, including puddles, ponds, rainwater, drain water, reservoirs etc — Collins English Dictionary

and I understand what "freestanding" means:

standing apart; not attached to or supported by another object — Collins English Dictionary

but I have no idea what "freestanding water" is supposed to be. If you search for the phrase, you mainly will find...

look! it's standing *and* it is free!

... "freestanding water coolers", which I'm rather certain isn't the intent.

Basically, the sense of the word "standing" in the word "freestanding" is not the same as the sense in "standing water" — in fact, water can't be "standing" in that sense at all unless it is frozen, or otherwise already magically shaped.

So, is this odd wording meant to indicate:

  • water not in a container,
  • a self-contained body of water,
  • water which is not flowing,
  • or something else entirely?

If it's "must be self-contained", how self contained? Like, must it fit entirely within the 100-foot cube area limit of the spell? That seems contradicted by the Flood option, which says "If you choose an area in a large body of water...".

And "it must be standing water" can't be it, because Redirect Flow directly contradicts that idea, with "You cause flowing water in the area to move...".

Given that, I'm inclined to guess "not in a container" (or, you know, "not part of the blood and stuff comprising a creature"). But if that's the case, what about a large bowl or basin? Does "freestanding" mean "not in a closed container"? That seems like the only logical thing left in context, but doesn't exactly emerge from just reading the words.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ ♦ Reminder: We do not support answers in comments because comments do not support features like proper voting and the wiki-style editing that allow us to vet, correct, and improve the content. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 2 '17 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ For whatever it's worth (30 internet nerd points?), this is inspired by comments on this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Nov 2 '17 at 23:38
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It means not combined with anything else, i.e. able to move and not chemically bonded. Water trapped within the interlayer in clay is not freestanding, and neither is most of the water in the body (but some of it is, like if you just drank some water, for example, and in your urine but not your blood). 'Extra' water in mud or clay or whatever would be freestanding, though.

This usage comes from the second definition of 'freestanding', according to Webster's Dictionary: 'independent'. It's a little unusual, but you do see this used to mean 'not chemically bonded with' in common parlance on occasion:

"Scientists Use Oxygen "Scissors" to Create Freestanding Single-Atom Silicon Layer" isn't talking about sheets that can support their own weight but rather sheets that aren't chemically bonded to their substrate (previously creating such sheets was possible, but they couldn't be subsequently separated from their substrate for practical use).

"The stability of free-standing germanane in oxygen: First-principles investigation" refers, again, not to a block of germanane that's self-supporting, but rather to germanane which isn't chemically bonded to oxygen atoms or O2 molecules, nor dissolved into a gaseous solution.

In practice, this means you can't ever actually move all the water in most situations-- if you part the Red Sea the seafloor is still gonna be wet, it just won't have any 'extra' water on/in it at all. When you redirect a flow, you technically can only redirect the freestanding water part of the flow, but that doesn't mean that the solutes won't be pulled along too, just like someone swimming in it would be.

Note that applying chemistry to D&D stuff in this way is generally not a good idea, though water-based spells have a bit of a history of doing that (as parodied in 4th edition Hackmaster's Freeze spell, which suggests the caster's player should consult a Physics textbook to calculate the total thermal energy of water affected, and the resultant temperature and state).

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Definition of freestanding: not relying on or linked to anything else; independent.

Therefore freestanding water comes from natural water sources. Examples:

  1. Rivers
  2. Puddles
  3. Ponds
  4. Lakes
  5. Swamp/Marsh
  6. Ocean
  7. Waterfall
  8. Fog

At the end of the day, this is a common sense answer. It's a 4th level spell meant to control a volume of water. Talk to your DM about what they consider to be the limitations of these spells and work out an agreement that suits you both.

Water created by magical sources would be case by case. For instance, Create Water spell has duration instantaneous, so the water created just exists now, it's not magical. Would this apply to decanter of endless water? Maybe. Could you control it as it's firing? No, because it's contingent on the decanter to be firing. After the fact? Again, up to your DM.

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