I have been having a discussion regarding the Shape Water cantrip from the Elemental Evil Player's Companion. A friend and I are trying to come to an accurate view of how this spell actually functions.

Some example questions:

  • Must the targeted water be within a 5 foot cube area, or does it need to be of a volume not exceeding 125 cubic feet?
  • If you shape water that is within a 5 foot cube, can the final shape you animate it to extend outside the cube?
  • Can you cause the shaping to affect ice and snow, or only liquid water?
  • Would you be able to carry a globe of water alongside you over distances?

Really, there are two parts:

  • What can be targeted by the spell?
  • What are the limitations on the 'shape and animate' portion of the spell?

The answer I am looking for, if possible, would use the language of the spell, possibly with precedent from other game text, to clearly define the limitations of this cantrip.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, this question is multiple questions framed under one broad question. "What can be targeted" is significantly different from "What are the limitations on the shape and animate portion of the spell" part of the question, but the user makes it clear that both answers are desired. I know it's kind of late to close it, but just making sure this is pointed out so people don't think this is a good way to model future questions. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 26, 2019 at 15:39

5 Answers 5


The water must fit within a 5 foot cube, per the first sentence of the spell description. it's not 125 cubic feet in any shape, it's a bounding box.

This only determines the water you affect with the spell. It does not say anything about the spell effects being limited to this 5-foot cube, only the water you can cast the spell upon. You can stretch it out into ribbons if you like, since that's a simple shape permitted by the second bullet.

You can't take it with you. “Animate” doesn't cover moving it (think of animation as just a succession of new shapings in-place), and there is an explicit limit of 5 feet in the first bullet for how far you can move the water.

It can't affect ice or snow, only the colloquial, common, non-chemistry meaning of “water” that means the liquid phase. You can see this colloquial meaning used in the last bullet where it talks about how you can “freeze the water”. (Wouldn't make much sense to substitute “ice” into that bullet point, would it?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I noticed that the Mold Earth cantrip also uses the 'area of [substance] that fits within a 5 foot cube.' I think that settles the targeted amount question! The distinction between 'animate' and 'move' is a little tricky to make, though they clearly are different concepts, due to having 2 different bullet points. Any thoughts on the difference between the two? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 14, 2015 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lost_in_Hyrule I added a parenthetical on how I understand the difference. Does that do it for you? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 14, 2015 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ To think it through entirely too much, animate probably maintains the same center of gravity, more or less. Your explanations definitely seem complete to me! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 14, 2015 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Khazidhea Mist and steam are also water by that logic, but the spell text can't reasonably be interpreted to include control of things like mist anymore than of ice. Since D&D 5e is written in "natural language", if it meant "liquid water, ice, and mist," it would just… say that. Plus the alternative has absurd results. For example, if you interpret Shape Water to include all Earth-physics phases of H₂O, then you equally have to interpret Control Water to include ice and cloud, and it's not reasonable for Control Water to create tornados, and an "ice whirlpool" is nonsensical. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2020 at 18:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie deleted one of my above comments and have transformed it into a full answer, as I can see now that this comment section may not be the best place to have an extended discussion. And expanded on my view of natural language, as that seems to be the core difference between our viewpoints. And thanks for your assistance, though we might disagree I happily welcome trying to better convey and debate such topics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Khazidhea
    Oct 13, 2020 at 5:25

SevenSidedDie's answer is pretty good, but I'd like to debate just the dot point on ice and snow (which might be better if I could instead answer the specific question Does the Shape Water cantrip work on snow or ice?, but that is closed and redirects back here).

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

Water comes in multiple forms: vapour, liquid, or solid. Ice and snow (and steam and mist, etc) are water, so they can be targetted. If they can be targetted, then any of the dot points of the cantrip are applicable even if they work against our preconceptions of what's plausible (because magic). Case closed.

Well not so fast. While the above might be sufficient if you happen to agree with me already, from scouring the internet I can see that this is surprisingly controversial and it all comes down to language.

When it comes to rules Jeremy Crawford has said: "Unless the rules explicitly expand, narrow, or completely redefine a word, that word retains the meaning it has in idiomatic English". I confess that the term idiomatic isn't actually idiomatic itself for me, so I'm going to go with 'natural' instead, as with this particular definition (first one I found) from the Cambridge dictionary: Idiomatic also means natural in expression, correct without being too formal.

I think differing understandings of 'natural language' form the crux of most disagreements people might have over the usage of Shape Water. It may be that the most natural interpretation when using the term water without context would be liquid water, a usage with a narrow scope. But it would not then follow that this particular interpretation must then apply, especially if there are other natural ways that the term can be used, such as 'water' being used more categorically, a usage with a broad scope. Less natural does not equal unnatural.

But I'll go a step further and argue that we naturally use the term water categorically, most often. We have specific terms for water in its frozen and evaporated states: ice and steam, so a reasonable arguement might be that if the designers meant other forms of water to be targettable then the designers would have written those other forms into the description (ignoring that the corresponding counterpoint works just as well, that the designers could have added in 'liquid' to the description). Water is incredibly common so we have many different terms for it beyond just state change, and listing what is an acceptable target would take days: dew, ocean, puddle, geyser, rain, lake, marsh, reservoir, river, boiling, ice-cold. Water that is big, small, moving, collected naturally, collected for a purpose, at varying temperatures, and on and on. All specific terms that we use naturally over the generic'water', but none that I can imagine any would argue don't naturally fall under the category of water, or that would raise any concern if targetted with by the cantrip Shape Water. So why has the state of water been focussed on, is there anything in the spell that singles out form?

If we instead looked at unnatural usages, we could start by considering another spell: Shape Stone. We wouldn't think that it targets ice (with the reasoning being in some circumstances ice can be classed as a mineral and minerals are stones)(my science on this is much less certain, but my arguement doesn't hinge on getting the science right). Likewise we don't think that the spell Water Breathing would work in all situations simply if we held a waterskin over our head, but only when underwater by submersion. Or if you wanted a glass of water and received a glass of ice you would reasonably consider your request unfulfilled. Not because you didn't literally receive a glass of water, but because that request has a clear and exclusive intention in idiomatic English: water for the purpose of drinking.

These examples either require a narrow, technical interpretation that uses specialised knowledge (or going to wikipedia); or they twist a term into something it doesn't mean; or they have one clear meaning (even if RAW they could be interpreted otherwise separate to context). That's not the case with the shape water spell.

So there are multiple factors that go into how we use language naturally. But I can only conclude that if ice and snow are water, and if the term water can naturally be used categorically to include state changes, and if the distinction for separating out ice and snow is only arbitrary, then Shape Water can be used on ice and snow. If I paraphrased JC's quote from above into my own terms to support this, it would be as so: "Unless the rules explicitly narrow the usage of the term water, water retains the [full breadth of] meaning it has in [natural] English".

Thanks for reading this far. Outside the language discussion above, here are a few other factors that support or otherwise don't contradict allowing Shape Water to be usable on ice or snow (etc).

  • All the above can be discarded if in 5e there are discrete game terms such as Water(TM), Ice(TM), Snow(TM) that have specific meanings and can't be used interchangeably, or grouped together under the category of water. To my knowledge no such restriction applies.
  • Sometimes rules trump logic, or science. But in their absence there is no reason to believe that real world physics are suspended unless explicitly confirmed to exist.
  • And if we look at other spells clarity is given (or attempted) by the provision of lists of terms or modifiers added to the term water. Walk on Water includes the term 'liquid' (and can be used on snow). Control water has 'freestanding' water, 'standing' water, 'flowing' water, and 'body of' water. These might not actually make things easier to interpret but it's more than the generic term water that we have to go off here. Destroy Water clarifies that it can be used on fog (there's no reason to think it couldn't otherwise, but the dot point also increases the area of effect).
  • RAI, I actually expect that the designers might have meant liquid water. However RAW is not RAI, so without errata RAI is superflous for RAW based games.
  • I've seen mud and blood brought up often as counter-arguements, but I view this mostly as a distraction. Mud and blood aren't water; while they contain water they're a separate substance. This is not the case for ice etc (not all water is ice, but all ice is water).
  • And not a great arguement but we actually have ice being referred to as water in this spell with the wording "the water unfreezes" in the last dot point. (And on this dot point ice remains a valid target, as freezing gives an extra effect: it can't then be unfrozen for the next hour).
  • And introducing restrictions based off state might have further complications, if taken to absurd extremes. Do spells that target creatures have variable effects or simply not work depending on the state of the creature (with elementals coming in Air (vapour), Water (liquid), Earth (solid), and Fire (none of the above) forms)? Or what if a monster changes state, do different rules suddenly apply (like a vampire assuming a Misty Form)?
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent points and discussion. Further structure and a clear conclusion would make this a great answer, and might convince the people down voting this to change their vote. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Oct 12, 2020 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I changed your opening text because relative answer locations, and even accepted answers, can change over time \$\endgroup\$ Aug 14, 2023 at 1:44

I think that Shape Water can both target and affect liquid water and solid water, including snow, but we’ll get to that later.

The targeting area is a 5’ cube, but you can animate that into any shape you want so long as it doesn’t travel more than 5’ per casting. This animation lasts one hour, so you can shape it (like in the name) all you want in the meantime, including outside of the 5’ cube you initially selected because:

• you can animate the selected volume of water that fits into a 5’ targeting cube

• you can animate that into a sphere

• water is incompressible, so the sphere would have the same volume as your water in the target cube

• because this volume of water is animated into whatever shape you want for an hour and does not require your concentration, it does not have to fight gravity and can hold its own shape

• the spell also states clearly that you can change the shape to animate at your direction. As you have already cast this spell, and the animation lasts for an hour, the verbal and somatic components are done with the casting and now unnecessary, so we can agree this is mental and all else is flavor

• you can, as an instantaneous effect of casting this cantrip, move this volume of water up to 5’

• it is not stated that this spell teleports the water, so we can reasonably assume that the water moves continuously up to 5’ IN ANY DIRECTION (sorry, I’m on my phone and don’t know how to bold on this version of the website)

• because you can direct the water to hold its shape, you can move a 5’ cube of water within the shape even if it is the full 125ft^3 and move the entire volume because the animation and it following your direction is a persistent effect that does not require verbal or somatic components past the casting that initiated it, so this direction function that does not require concentration can not interfere with the casting to move the volume as a whole.

I believe you can target ice and snow with this spell because one of the listed effects is that you can freeze water that fits within the 5’ targeting cube, and this water remains frozen for an hour. It states plainly that the frozen water, or ice, is still water. Snow, sleet, hail, etc are all just ice in different sizes and crystalline structures, and are therefore also water by this spell’s own definitions. The spell also specifies in the targeting section that you can choose an entire “area” (volume) of a 5’ cube when casting this, meaning it doesn’t all have to be one discrete volume of water like only water in one glass at the table, so this could naturally apply to every snowflake or sleet crystal within a specified shape or volume you choose that fits within the targeting cube’s limit of 5’ because it doesn’t even have to be a cube.

Given the targeting language, I’d argue you could select a whole 5’ cube of snow, animate it into a cube for an hour, recast to move that cube or whatever simple 125ft^3 shape you made it into an entire 5’ up, and even direct it to change shapes and animate while you’re moving the volume, even while recasting to move the volume up to 5’ in any direction.

It’s basically water bending from ATLA except you have a maximum target of a 5’ cube, you can’t move selected volumes of water more than 5’ per casting, you can’t melt ice you didn’t make with this spell, but you can change its color and opacity. (Blood and swamp bending are different, levelled spells, unless you count Druidcraft.)

TL;RD — Yes, you can select up to 125ft^3 of water (including ice, snow, sleet, hail, fog, dew, steam, etc.), so long as it fits within a 5’ targeting cube, animate the volume targeted past the bounds of the targeting cube as part of your animation directions that last the entire hour, and move the volume animated up to 5’ per round in any direction as a separate casting at any point during the animation’s duration. You could reasonably use this spell to pick up a 5’ cube of water from a fountain, animate it into a simple shape, move it around at a speed of up to 5’ per casting, freeze up to a 5’ cube of it, and, if you have Aspect of the Moon or a friend with this spell, too, who can take over while you sleep, trek it hovering through the blazing hot air or along the burning sands across a desert continent with breaks to unfreeze it at will and refreeze it since you can’t freeze ice and the ice produced can only melt all at once either at the end of the hour or when you want.

*caveat: if your DM wants to be strict, you have to direct the animation back into a 5’ cube to be targeted for a recasting to prolong your animation over this water if you intend to not lose any that would be outside of the targeting cube or have it splash all over the floor at the end of the hour.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome, it would be good if you format in such a way that it makes distinct what here is based on what reading and what of your answer is conjecture :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Sep 2, 2021 at 11:39

The Shapewater spell often confuses players and DM's alike. Before we jump in I'd like to tackle just the first sentence: "You choose an area of water that you can see within range that fits within a five-foot cube."

  • Area of Water: Any water in sight.
  • Within Range: Within 30 feet.
  • Fits Within a Five-Foot Cube: The total volume chosen must fit within a five-foot cube, or equaling 125 cubic feet.

Some players misinterpret this. They think you can only manipulate water in a strict five-foot cubic area. If that were the intention, the spell would specifically state, "You choose water within five-foot cubic feet." It doesn't say that and would be a negative and limiting interpretation of the text for no reason.

What the text actually allows is choosing any area of water you can see within 30ft range, up to the volume that fits within a five-foot cube (125 cubic feet). It's not about being restricted to just water within a five-foot cube area.

To exegete this further to make sure we are on the same page: "You choose an area of water that you can see within range that fits within a five-foot cube."

"You choose an area of water": This portion grants agency to the player, allowing them to select a specific portion of water. The area of selection is not defined yet, only that it's water.

"that you can see": This clause introduces a limitation to the chosen area, specifying that it must be within the player's line of sight. It ensures that the player must have visual access to the water they wish to affect.

"within range": This adds another layer of restriction, stating that the chosen area must be within a specific distance, often defined elsewhere in the spell's description (e.g., within 30 feet).

"that fits within a five-foot cube": This final part specifies the volume limitation of the spell, equating to 125 cubic feet. The chosen area must be a volume that can be contained within a five-foot cube, setting a clear physical boundary for the spell's effect. Note that this is a description of volume. If it was not about volume then it would have been moved up to the object description, rather then being a volume constraint.

The reason I spent so much time on the first part is because it heavily impacts all of the other questions. And so, moving on:

If you shape water that is within a 5 foot cube, can the final shape you animate it to extend outside the cube?

According to the first text of the spell, the water you are shaping is not bound within a 5ft cube, therefore is is not constrained to that limit during animation or shaping.

Can you cause the shaping to affect ice and snow, or only liquid water? Ice and snow are ice and snow. The presumption of the text is that when they say water that we know the actual state of water they are talking about, which is in its liquid form. All matter is reducible and changeable, which is why we have different names for the different states. The state of matter which the authors are talking about in this text is water in its liquid form.

Would you be able to carry a globe of water alongside you over distances? The shaping process is considered instantaneous and not bound by the 5ft movement rule. But, if the only function within the text that you are utilizing is the movement clause, then you are bound by the 5ft of movement rule. So yes, you could carry a globe of water at a speed of 5ft per 6seconds over a long distance...which will take a very long time.

Really, there are two parts: What can be targeted by the spell?

Water that you can see within 30ft of you.

What are the limitations on the 'shape and animate' portion of the spell?

In the text it says "You cause the water to form into simple shapes and animate at your direction. This change lasts for 1 hour."

This means that:

  • It can form into a simple shape. Dictionary definiton of simple is "plain, basic, or uncomplicated in form, nature, or design; without much decoration or ornamentation." This means basic designs, no working parts or automation. At my table it'd stop you at your 2nd paragraph if you are having to explain the design.

  • You can cause the simple shape that you created to have movement. It'll move like you want.

Proper interpretation of the cantrip allows far greater functionality, making it on par with the other cantrips.


  • Yes, you could make a thin ice bridge over a 30ft stream. (might need a Dex save though)
  • In a few turns an igloo is doable.
  • Layer of ice over a 30ft radius is doable.

Is this overpowered? No. It all requires a good amount of water, is circumstantial, and requires creativity. If you are making up rules needlessly then you are often killing the creativity that was baked into the game. Keep in mind that some cantrips could destroy a bus at higher levels, so I don't think making an ice bridge or a slippery situation should break your game.

Like most spells it is shaped by the creativity of the players and the wisdom of the DM's. I hope it helps!


My opinion on animating the water would be you can create amorphous shapes.. maybe even blobby humanoids and animate them to move around. But with the clear limit of 5 feet per round movement. See Animate Object spell.

I personally also allow the caster to create a tangible water shape. She can then move and carry it, just as if it were an objects.

Wowing the crowd by contact juggling water balls.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to get a feel for this site's format. This site isn't a forum, so it isn't soliciting opinions. This Q&A site is about providing supportable, researched, and substantive answers to questions based on a modicum of expertise in role playing games. Your answer will be improved by supporting your points with game rules, experience in play with this spell, or play tested house rules (5e has room for that). Please also respect the final sentence of the question on what makes a good answer. Once again Welcome! and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 9, 2016 at 22:11

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