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Can I, say, take an area of soil and use the moisture from it for the spell? Since technically, I can see mud, thereby seeing the moisture.

So, can you cast shape water without an obvious pool of water?

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No

The shape water spell description states:

You choose an area of water that you can see within range and that fits within a 5-foot cube.

It says area of water. Not area of mud, or area that is damp.

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You can cast it; it just wastes your action without doing anything.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 85) says the following about what occurs if you cast a spell without a valid target:

If you cast a spell on someone or something that can’t be affected by the spell, nothing happens to that target, but if you used a spell slot to cast the spell, the slot is still expended. If the spell normally has no effect on a target that succeeds on a saving throw, the invalid target appears to have succeeded on its saving throw, even though it didn’t attempt one (giving no hint that the creature is in fact an invalid target). Otherwise, you perceive that the spell did nothing to the target.

Shape Water is a cantrip, so it doesn't use a spell slot regardless.

As a result, if you cast Shape Water on an area that lacks a suitable supply of water, nothing will happen, your action will be wasted, and you'll be able to tell that the spell did nothing.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Nick, isn't shape water a cantrip? Being pedantic here, but no spell slot for a cantrip. :) (an otherwise fine answer) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 7 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast: yes, it is. What are the limitations to using the Shape Water cantrip for cheating and forgery? happens to quote the spell description in the question. Still upvoted for quoting the rule that covers the general case of this kind of question. So a character can at least waste an action trying, instead of automatically knowing it won't work and being able to try something else. (But remember your character can see the world and knows how their cantrips work, so in most cases they probably will just know it won't work.) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jul 7 at 21:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes I upvoted it too. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 7 at 22:32
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Probably not, but ask your DM.

The wording of Shape Water states:

You choose an area of water that you can see within range and that fits within a 5-foot cube.

There's a great deal of gray area here but the clause specifies that the water must be visible. Depending on how saturated the soil is, there may or not be patches of standing water that are visible.

I think the fact that the water area must be visible precludes the use of the spell on simply damp soil. However, any given DM is free to interpret where that threshold falls.

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