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Related:How is shooting into water handled? But that's for D&D Next, not 5e, and is for shooting into a presumably fairly deep body of water.

A subquestion of: How does animated water work?

When attacking through a wall that is composed of water (for example a mundane waterfall or the effects of the Shape Water spell's first or second bullet points), what sort of penalty applies? Can water provide cover? What type of cover? Does it apply disadvantage? Does it matter how thick the wall is? Does it matter how fast it is flowing (e.g. Shape Water often results in thick, static walls of water)?

I realize cover determinations are up to the DM. I am the DM. How do I decide this?

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Two things in the rules describe how water interacts with stuff

Below are just some places throughout the rules that may provide you with guidance for how to deal with your given situation:

  1. The "Underwater Combat" section includes the following:

    [...] When making a melee weapon attack, a creature that doesn't have a swimming speed (either natural or granted by magic) has disadvantage on the attack roll unless the weapon is a dagger, javelin, shortsword, spear, or trident.

    A ranged weapon attack automatically misses a target beyond the weapon's normal range. Even against a target within normal range, the attack roll has disadvantage unless the weapon is a crossbow, a net, or a weapon that is thrown like a javelin (including a spear, trident, or dart) [...]

  2. The wall of water spell includes the following:

    [...] Any ranged weapon attack that enters the wall’s space has disadvantage on the attack roll, and fire damage is halved if the fire effect passes through the wall to reach its target [...]


Besides these, how water may or may not provide things such as obscurement or cover it going to be up to the GM. When the books describe cover they refer to solid objects and not things like water so using those rules for water is certainly in the realm of homebrew/houserule.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Another good guideline: Shape Water is a cantrip, and while creative use should be rewarded it should not be able to routinely outclass higher level spells which produce similar effects at more than zero cost. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Nov 14 at 16:16
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The DM decides what covers or obscures you, there are no hard rules.

There are plenty of examples of what cover is, but they are all solid objects. These are not rules, but examples. There is nothing in the rules about hiding behind water or how water blocks line of sight.

A large body of water would probably be cover. Several feet of water probably stops arrows, attacks, and most spells. This would give somewhere between half and full cover.

A thin layer of water will probably lightly obscure someone, but wouldn't offer much in the way of cover. Thicker water may obscure more.

Here are some recommendations for you: 1ft of water: half cover 5ft of water: 3/4 cover 10ft of water: full cover

water isn't moving: doesn't obscure slow water: lightly obscures fast water: heavily obscures

Think about how it would work in real life and apply it to your game, this will give your players an intuitive understanding of what will happen. For example your players probably think a fireball can't make it through 5ft of water, and that a fast flowing waterfall will make it difficult to shoot an arrow through.

You will have to make a lot of calls and decisions. If you are uncomfortable with that you should let someone else DM.

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