“You may judge any spellcaster by their biggest spell, but you should judge a master by their cantrips.”
-Olaf Junier, Magic Instructor
5th edition embraces your group’s interpretation and rulings, allowing players to come up with new ideas for old things all the time. This needs to be balanced against dangerous, game-breaking precedents. This is part of a series ofpostings around Cantrips to help balance the player desire for cool ideas with the DM’s need to know what is possible before they are problems for their game.
Tips for the everyone at the table:
- Be clear and consistent in advance – Whenever possible, make rulings based on clear language and interpretations, not on the specific tricks. Also do it early so nobody has to discuss laws of physics in a critical battle.
- It is a game, but not just a game – The Rule of Cool balances the Rule of Reason. Or yet another way, players need to have fun but might want to ‘forget’ a good idea if it would disrupt an important plot point they know the DM is relying on.
- The DM can always change a ruling, but be fair about it – If an interpretation turns out to be too abusable, it can be changed. But the players may need to compensate accordingly so don’t do it in combat and/or disallow them to switch out cantrips they will no longer use.
This posting will go over an analysis of the cantrip, while the second goes into specific tricks/effects you can do and what rulings they may rely upon. I am hoping for even more ideas, and stories are welcome.
Affect water in a 5’ cube with one of the following effects:
- Freeze it for 1 hour
- Create ‘simple’ shapes and animate them for one hour
- Move it 5’
- Redirect the flow of water up to 5’ in ‘any direction’
- Change color or opacity for 1 hour (same color throughout)
Limitation: movement doesn’t have enough force to cause damage
Limitation: only two non-instant effects can be in effect at a time
Multiple effects, but basically move water in an area and freeze it.
Full disclosure: This is my favorite cantrip by far. It is both thematic and can do so many things that I’m constantly finding new options for it.
Pros and Cons
- Pro –Water is common and can (should!) be carried around anyhow
- Pro – Water comes in multiple forms – vapor, liquid, or solid
- Pro – Somatic only makes it stealthy when needed
- Pro – Decent number of effects in the same spell
- Pro – High elves and Water genasi can get this as a racial freebie
- Pro – If you create a shape and it gets destroyed but not disintegrated, just recreate it next round.
- Both – Only two non-instantaneous effects at a time
- Con – You need water around, but the spell doesn’t supply that for you
- Con – We’re playing with physics. Rule decisions may have unintended ramifications later as a result and makes some DMs distrust the spell or rule out otherwise fair options. (it’s why this posting exists – to help with that discussion)
- Con – the power of the spell doesn’t improve with levels. Silver lining - house rules could leverage this by ruling some things are possible only at level X
- Con - Re-directing water every round takes an action – so no rerouting the waterfall for the entire party with one action
Rulings that Apply:
There’s a lot, so I broke this down into sub-categories
- Gaps in casting - At-will effectively means ‘permanent if you keep spending actions’ but your DM may rule that there is a ‘gap’ between castings so that shape may buckle for a moment between castings
- Help actions – Assisting others through a spell makes sense, but expect to explain how you help in detail.
- Can you shape and freeze in the same action? – by RAW, no. Some DMs may allow this for simplicity or if you constantly use this spell
- Can I affect water bound or mixed with other things? (ex. mud, solutions, plant life) – Answers across the board, but you can argue a higher level character could do more. I will assume below that you can manipulate anything that is 50% water or more, but anything bound up in the water could be dropped if you don’t try to keep it there.
Crating Shapes and Animation:
- Complexity – ‘Simple’ is relative. A sculptor PCs should be better than average, but proficiencies and skill checks would apply for anything complex.
- Hardness – Ice is hard, but water could either be hard due to magic or soft as a puddle of water. I will assume it is ‘soft’ so you go slip through it at slow speeds, but it can be HARD at high speeds.
- Can you animate and/or re-shape ice? – Makes sense, but not explicitly stated. It would make ‘hard’ shapes much more useful.
- Can shapes hover or ‘fly’? – A floating ball of water is very thematic, but flight always changes things. A compromise could be a 5’ max height or something.
- Movement speed – DMs will likely rule on the spot here. ‘Animation’ could mean it stays in the same square or use the speed of an Animated Object (per spell). Also check if there a difference between the speed of water and ice shapes.
- What actions could an animated shape do? – Most DMs would only allow pre-programmed, ‘dumb’ motions like walking in one direction or repetitive actions. They may allow action/bonus actions through the object on your round or even autonomy like the Animated Objects spell (but not likely)
- Can my animated object attack? – Explicitly it doesn’t allow damage but it could splash onto enemies as a help action or be a delivery mechanism (ex. acid flask). Expect it to take your attack action to accomplish.
- Can shapes go outside the spell range? – Awesome if they can, but this could be reserved as a limitation to prevent abuse. A DM may rule they stay in a given shape but can’t be animated outside this range or at least can’t move outside it willingly.
- Can moving ice push people around? – Logically yes, but the spell states movement ’doesn’t cause damage’. The DM may allow push or trips using your casting ability score.
Managing Ice and Vapor
- Can you thaw ice too? –Possible oversight in the write up, as thawing anything you can freeze is pretty minor.
- What else can melt that ice? – The write up states it melts only after an hour, so magic keeps it that way. Dragonfire probably melts it too, but can you place it in a bonfire or does it melt slowly with a candle?
- Can you change the water’s temperature? –Ice is cold by definition, so you can cool it. But if you can thaw water, what temp would it be thawed to and can you control that? 33 degrees or room temperature may be important
- Can I encase willing creatures in ice? – It explicitly doesn’t allow you to encase unwilling creatures (good call - no paralysis or suffocation), but could I make bindings when they are asleep?
- Can I affect water vapor? – Not explicit, but reasonable for those cases you have a lot flying around. You will want to follow up with ‘can I condense the water out of the air’. If you can’t, the only way to get liquid water out of the air would be to freeze it and melt it later. Either way, this is a way to find water when you don’t have any.
- Does freezing ice expand? – Either the freezing ice just ‘solidifies’ or it expands like normal ice does. The second one implies the DM expects some ‘normal physics’ to work in his mind and opens up a lot of options. If it doesn’t, you can more freely make ice shapes without worrying about all the details.
Tricks and Useful Details
- Water weighs 8.34lbs per gallon and there are 7.48 gallons per square foot. A 5’ cube of water is therefore 935 gallons and 7798lbs. Remember movement you create through the cantrip cannot cause damage.
- A human-sized shape is roughly 17-18 gallons of water and weighs the same amount.
- Carry water with you. It doesn’t need to be much for most things.
- Other cantrips affect water too - notably Presdigitation or Druidcraft. For instance, they can also thaw ice and/or warm it up in small quantities if this spell doesn’t.