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On further study of the shape water spell (from Elemental Evil), it says that you are able to freeze water as an action, so if you transform it into ice (expanding the water in the process), could you repeat use of it to slowly erode such things as locks or hinges, breaking them enough so they become inoperable?

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Purely at the permission of your GM. It's physically reasonable, but clearly outside the wording of the spell. Some GMs will look at that an say, "that's a clever idea, sure." others will look at it and say "that's clearly more powerful than the spell is intended to be, no." 5e gives a lot of latitude to the GM in terms of rule interpretation. So if it's not clearly covered by the spell description, it's up to the GM's interpretation.

As a comparison, Arcane Lock is a second level spells that locks doors and/or windows (with some other benefits) so you're talking about using a cantrip in place of a 2nd level spell, which a DM may say is over powered.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Arcane Lock allows you to also unlock things. Freezing locks/hinges so that they're inoperable is akin to nailing the door shut. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle W Nov 28 '16 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure what you two are talking about, Arcane Lock specifically says that you need a Knock spell to suppress it. Arcane Lock has no use that unlocks anything that I can see. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Nov 28 '16 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical, you are correct! I was going off the assumption that Kyle W was correct and I made an ass out of me. Deleting my comment. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 28 '16 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that Arcane Lock is a good comparison since that allows who you designate to pass unhindered. If you jam a door, regardless of the method, you can't get through any easier than those you are trying to prevent ingress or egress save the use of Dimension Door and the like. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Nov 28 '16 at 21:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think what Kyle W was saying was that with Arcane Lock, you're free to unlock it again. Using Shape Water to break the lock wouldn't be easily revertible. So the argument is that it's not quite as powerful as the equivalent 2nd level spell. \$\endgroup\$ – William Mariager Nov 28 '16 at 21:30
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If I were GM I'd point out that a key part of this spell is "the water unfreezes in one hour". This means that you'd need to wait for the water to unfreeze each "cycle" or find some other way to melt the water. In this way it sounds possible and probably more difficult than dealing with the problem manually (a big rock) which is about on par with a cantrip. It certainly sounds like a plan if your character was locked in a dungeon with no equipment for a few weeks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget it says on the end of the spell, "you can dismiss such an effect as an action." \$\endgroup\$ – Tobias Fizzlewig Nov 29 '16 at 14:37

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