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The cantrip Shape Water can freeze a 5' by 5' by 5' cube of water. The water unfreezes in 1 hour.

I've often read or hear that this can be used to make an ice bridge across water, by continuously freezing 5' of water.

However, the spell has stipulation:

If you cast this spell multiple times, you can have no more than two of its non-instantaneous effects active at a time.

To me this implies that the spell can at most make a 10' long bridge of ice.

Am I missing something, or is the cantrip Shape Water unable to build ice bridge longer than 10'?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you assuming the water is at rest? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 1 at 2:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells no, but that could be an interesting special case. \$\endgroup\$ – Guillaume F. Feb 1 at 2:38
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You can freeze at most 2 areas of water at a time.

The cantrips Control Flames, Mold Earth and Shape Water indicates that effects are instantaneous by

  1. Including the adjective "instantaneously" in the description of the effect:

You instantaneously expand the flame [...]

If you target an area of loose earth, you can instantaneously excavate it [...]

You instantaneously move or otherwise change the flow of the water [...]

  1. Instantaneous effects are listed before non-instantaneous effects for each cantrip.

  2. Non-instantaneous effects have a duration of 1 hour.

The freezing water effect, in isolation, could be either instantaneous or non-instantaneous. However, if we look at the broader context of the Control Flames, Mold Earth and Shape Water cantrips, we can see that

  1. Its description does not contain the word "instantaneously".
  2. It is listed last, after a non-instantaneous cantrip.
  3. Its effect is reverted after 1 hour.

Hence we can conclude that the freezing water effect is intended to be non-instantaneous, and as such only two such effects can be active at a time.

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Freezing water is instantaneous

The main argument is that the effect:

You freeze the water, provided that there are no creatures in it.

Is instantaneous. You instantly freeze the water, then it unfreezes over time naturally. You magically froze the water. "The water unfreezes in 1 hour." isn't a magical effect, it's advice on how long the ice takes to melt. There is no lingering effect to be canceled, casting the spell again won't turn the ice back into water.

You can make an ice bridge up to 60 * 10 * 5 ft long (60 minutes per hour, 10 turns per minute, 5 ft per turn = 3000 ft

If your GM says that ice melting is magical then...

There are three alternate options:

  • Have multiple people use Shape Water to make a longer bridge
  • If your GM rules that the ice unfreezes instantly: keep freezing the 5ft ahead and allow the last 5ft to unfreeze. This is less of a bridge and more of an iceberg raft.
  • If your GM rules that the ice begins to freeze instantly: You still have a long time until the ice is completely thawed.

Option 1 is easier but you need many people with shape water. Option 2 can be done alone, but your DM will probably throw some dex checks at you to stay balanced (I know I would)

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Could the downvoters please explain where they are seeing an issue? \$\endgroup\$ – pllpnakjlx Feb 1 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would argue that "The water unfreezes in 1 hour." is not just advice on how long it takes to melt. If you were in a hot springs location where the water is well above melting point, it will still unfreeze in an hour, not less, despite being in hotter conditions. It is magically frozen and the duration is 1 hour. \$\endgroup\$ – RallozarX Feb 1 at 2:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RallozarX I agree that ice should melt faster/slower based on the situation, obviously many rules in D&D vary based on the situation, and that is for the DM to determine. It depends on your interpretation of "unfreeze" too, but regardless that seems to be the main argument for making a long ice bridge. Even if the effect ends, you are still left with a 5ft cube of ice which would take a long time to thaw in most situations. \$\endgroup\$ – pllpnakjlx Feb 1 at 3:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had considered before this that when it "unfreezes" it just returns immediately to a liquid state, but you make a good point about that. It might just be when it starts to melt. However, I do still believe it cannot begin that process within the hour because it is being frozen magically for the duration, and it will only begin to able the laws of thermodynamics after that hour is up. Also, I'd like to point out that the spell specifies the duration of its effects as "Instantaneous[inst] or 1 hour", where it says in all the other points either inst or1 hour. If this was inst it would say \$\endgroup\$ – RallozarX Feb 1 at 7:14

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