I'm running a D&D Next Campaign and it does seem that there must be some kind of mechanic that would in-game handle these problems, but I just don't know where to look. I've gone into a few forums and no one seems to know what might work. I haven't found any tables or random effects lists that deal with this.

What I want to know is simply this: does this have to be something which is accounted for and, if so, how should I go about doing it other than simply saying "you can't shoot into water, kid."?

So, I'm totally over thinking this, I guess, but, what I'm imagining I have to account for is this scenario... Ranged fighter shoots into water and two things happen:

  1. Immediate reduction in speed, force and efficacy of the projectile.
  2. The vector of the initial impact is changed, so the course of the projectile veers off target – this is exaggerated in flowing water.

So, the question is this: beyond just saying, "You missed and the arrow fell to the bottom, arrowhead first," what could I do? I mean, I could just create a table for random outcomes, but I wondered if anyone had ever encountered this before.


5 Answers 5


This is outside the current scope of the playtest from what I've seen of it. That means that there is no rule to govern it.

However, generally in D&D the kinds of simulation aspects you've asked about are governed by attack and damage penalties.

In D&D 4e's math scheme, this would be modeled with a -2 penalty to attacks with no penalty to damage (the overall reduction in average damage covers both the accuracy issue and the damage issue).

However, Next has largely done away with static situational bonuses in favor of the advantage/disadvantage system. This provides a similar bonus to attacks (the math works out to close to a +/- 4 in most D&D situations). That means that a good model for shooting into water would be to simply apply disadvantage to the attack.

The advantage system was designed to make these kinds of things simple and abstract, no need to layer complicated rules on it

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with using advantage / disadvantage here. But, out of curiosity, can you provide a source for, "the math works out to close to a +/- 2 in most D&D situations"?--maybe I did my math wrong, or we're looking at this from different angles, but it looks to me like applying advantage or disadvantage is roughly equivalent to +/- 4. \$\endgroup\$
    – GamerJosh
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GamerJosh It depends on where you're looking on the curve, since (dis)advantage has a greater effect in the middle DCs and lesser at the ends. It varies between ±0 for DC 1, ±5 for DC 11, and ±1 for DC 20. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GamerJosh you're correct. +/- 4 is closer for more of the (dis)advantage spectrum in that 40-75% range where D&D lives. I don't think that really changes my answer much though. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, it definitely doesn't change the answer. Thank you for the clarification! \$\endgroup\$
    – GamerJosh
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 18:35

All of the previous answers appear to predate the release of the PHB, which specifically addresses Underwater Combat on page 198.

Melee Weapon

Attack rolls have disadvantage, unless either:

  • The creature has a swim speed (natural or magical)
  • The weapon is a dagger, javelin, shortsword, spear, or trident

Ranged Weapon

Attack rolls automatically miss beyond base range.

They suffer disadvantage within base range, unless the weapon is a crossbow, net, or thrown like a javelin (spear, trident, dart, etc).


Creatures and objects that are fully immersed in water have resistance to fire damage. Other than that, there is no change in damage dealt by attacks.


Melee and ranged spell attack rolls are not addressed. As there is no specific rule to override the general rule, no disadvantage is imposed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer, but references rules that apply when both the attacker and the target are underwater - while the question specifically asks about shooting into water. I think I would mostly agree with you that a reasonable ruling says basically the same thing here as if the attacker was underwater - except maybe the automatic miss beyond normal range. What if an attacker shoots at a target 205 feet away (which is outside their normal range), where 200ft of the distance is outside water, and the last 5 feet are in water? Should that really be ruled as an automatic miss? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vigil
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 15:43
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Vigil I make no value judgement on the quality or realism of the rules, just cite what they are. That said, I see no reason not to apply them in full. If we were to get into the physics of your example (which we shouldn't, because D&D is not a physics simulator), at 200 feet away shooting from outside the water to inside the water, you're either talking a very shallow shot or a perfectly arced shot - you want it to stay out of the water for most of the distance, then plunge in at the last moment. That sounds nearly impossible to me. On the scale combat happens, auto-miss is quick to resolve. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 15:52

I'd say that while disadvantage is a good place to start, there are a few considerations that would change the potential results in ways that could be more fun. I don't think over-the-top physics-yness is necessary, more just some common sense and some extrapolation of existing mechanics.

First, can the fighter see the target? Water's pretty good at hiding things that are underneath it, especially if the water is murky or the target is far away. The farther away, the more water is in between the archer and target, and the more reflection off of the surface. So depending on those factors (as you deem appropriate) the target would be one of: visible, lightly obscured, heavily obscured or functionally invisible. If invisible, require a difficult Intelligence (Search) check to locate signs of passing.

Second, how far under water is the target? If deep enough underwater, even if the target is visible, there would be no reasonable path for the projectile to take and still do damage. At lesser depths, it may slow the projectile. I'd personally treat a deep target as having total cover, giving the projectile no chance of inflicting damage. For a shallow target, I'd confer resistance to piercing and immunity to slashing and bludgeoning. For a target close enough to the surface (say within 5 feet) I'd confer no resistance to piercing and resistance to slashing & bludgeoning.

(For fun, you could add in immunity to nonmagical fire, resistance to magical fire and vulnerability to lightning damage.)

Third, how skilled of a swimmer is the target? If he's floundering in the water, give advantage on the attack rolls. If the target has a natural swim speed, you can assume this is not the case. Note that a target that is drowning is restrained which also confers advantage.

Fourth, does the vantage confer a benefit to the archer? This is a judgment call: shooting straight down at someone underwater might be considered a very easy shot. I'd personally apply advantage if the shot is point blank, sort of like with a prone target.

Fifth, are there extraordinary abilities or magical powers at play that might influence the results? DM's call of course, but maybe the Archery Master feat could negate a disadvantage. It is all about making the shots that are otherwise impossible, after all.

So say some fleeing ruffian jumps in the water to hide, and your fighter whips out a bow to take pot shots at him as he swims away. Your fighter is on a dock, aiming straight downwards at the ruffian who's just below the surface, and has a clear shot. Maybe the ruffian is just an adequate swimmer, and is reasonably impeded or disoriented by being in the water. You might even say that in this circumstance the ruffian is a sitting duck, and confer advantage on the shot.

Next round, the ruffian puts some distance, but is still right near the surface. Your fighter takes a few more pot shots. Treat the target as being lightly obscured. If there are other factors at play, like mist rolling over the water, maybe heavily obscured (with disadvantage). So maybe for this one, with the ruffian 30 feet away from having hustled, getting 15 feet on the move and 15 more on the hustle, with half speed for swimming, the vantage is no longer advantageous. If you deem the obscuring to be just light, then that's also not a disadvantage.

Next round, the ruffian, with two arrows sticking out of various uncomfortable places, takes a gasp of air and dives deeper to try to avoid further injury. He's deeper now, and harder to see. The fighter loses sight of the target, drat! Not knowing where he is, he fires blindly and wastes an arrow.

Next round, the rogue points out the spot (assisting a Search check with his action) enabling the fighter to locate his victim. He makes a long-odds shot with disadvantage and resistance. It's a hit! Bubbles float to the surface as the ruffian falls unconscious, drowning. If the party needed information from him, quick action will be necessary, or some means of talking to a soggy corpse!

Note: Some types of arrows float.


I'm running a DnD Next Campaign and it does seem that there must be some kind of mechanic that would in game simulate these problems.

(emphasis mine)

This is your mistake right here. Even the oldest editions of D&D never tried to really simulate reality, and every successive edition has moved away from realism/simulationism and into more abstract actions. Any attempt to map realistic physics into D&D will fail, and open up several other cans of worms. To resolve those, you'll have eventually abandoned D&D altogether.

So to answer your question, you're unlikely to find any official rules for shooting-into-water, since this isn't what D&D is trying to be. You might find houserules for it around the 'net, but for something this specific, and for a system that doesn't have a lot of community around it (not being officially published yet), odds are you'll have to write your own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D 3.5: "A completely submerged creature has total cover against opponents on land." \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 14:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ To pick a nit, OD&D → AD&D significantly increased simulation elements, especially with supplements like the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and Wilderness Survival Guide. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 16:36

A skilled archer would know to account for the very problems you describe (and what you describe is similar to the difficulties encountered in real-world spearfishing). A skilled character is -- in part -- represented by a higher bonus to his attack.

You might increase the DC to hit an underwater target if you want to increase the realism, but the player should still make the attack roll as normal, and if they hit the DC, they hit the target, simple as that. An adventurer should not have trouble hitting a fish in a stream, though, so if you are increasing the DC for underwater targets, I wouldn't recommend increasing it by much (+1 or +2). Or you could simply apply disadvantage to the attack roll.

It's true that an arrow in the real world hitting the water would reduce its speed and alter its angle. However, the reduction in speed would not be enough to make the shot nonlethal (assuming we're not talking about a toy bow), and the angle alteration would be accounted for by the archer's skill. An arrow is not traveling fast enough to be destroyed by hitting the water, either (unlike a bullet).

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, to simplify, you're saying "treat it like having cover"? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie, Were I the GM, I wouldn't make modifications at all, but then I prefer games over simulations. (A point of contention between myself and a friend when it comes to 3.5 vs. 4.0 D&D.) BESW's comment on lisardggY's answer cites treating it as total cover in 3.5, though, so that is certainly a good starting point. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 16:37
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that 4e even makes a modification for attacking in water. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 17:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Your point about how the game handles it is obscured by talk about how archers operate (which in D&D is not hugely consequential, but interesting). Do go ahead and talk about the latter, but don't let it obscure your point and the answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 8:34

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