Shape water is my favorite spell in D&D, hands down. I have found so many different ways to use it, in part because of the many different ways it lets you manipulate water. You can move it, animate it, recolor it, or freeze it, and the effect lasts for 1 hour without needing concentration. Today I wanted to go over some of the more common situations I find myself busting out shape water for utility (or sometimes even combat) reasons.
There are three main ways to get the water you’ll be manipulating for the spell. The easiest is the environment, if you happen to be somewhere near a river or ocean. If not, your waterskin is always filled with 4 pints of available water. And lastly, the 1st-level spell create or destroy water is always an option so long as you’ve prepared it. Don’t be afraid to think ahead and give your character additional water sources if you can justify it; my druid is a robot pirate, so the GM lets me store several gallons of water in my ballast tank.
So now that we’ve got our water, let’s explore ways we can put it to use!
1. Make traps out of ice
A thin veneer of ice is practically invisible and fits perfectly into a 5-foot square. If you have time to manipulate the environment beforehand, creating a slip trap is a great way to wipe out an unsuspecting victim. If you’d rather your hazard be visible, icy ball bearings will dissuade anyone from entering a specific space, and animals/barefoot enemies won’t like icy caltrops.
2. Communication in Wildshape
One of my favorite uses is to communicate via ‘water charades’ by casting shape water right before shifting into animal form. You can’t speak while wildshaped, but you can animate the bubble of water to display information to your teammates. Point an arrow at the enemy you want them to focus on, point at yourself with a red cross if you need healing, worst-case scenario just morph the water into different letters. More esoteric messages will require creativity on your part, but that’s what being a druid is all about!
Ice balls are great for checking suspicious areas. Roll them down hallways to test for pressure plates, throw them ahead of you into new rooms, drop them down holes. If you actually find a trap, such as a blowdart in the wall, you can freeze the hole/trigger/mechanism shut with water to bypass it.
Fill the lock with water, then freeze it. The water will expand and shatter the lock. Don’t do this if you were planning on using that lock again, or if you don’t want leave evidence that somebody broke in!
5. Create pykrete
Pykrete is an ultra-durable material created from sawdust and ice. It’s stronger than concrete; at one point the real-world military debated creating warships out of it. Your druid can use it to create super-strong ice sculptures of things like bricks, domes, or barriers. The best place to get sawdust is taverns, as medieval taverns always had sawdust-covered floors.
6. Levitation Platform
Need a one-time elevator up a mountainside? Shape your water into a 5-foot hollow cube without a top, freeze it solid, and climb in. Assuming your GM accepts “hover in place” as a possible animation, you can now raise your ‘boat’ 5-feet every 6 seconds, letting you slowly ascend up to 3,000ft within the hour the spell lasts.
7. Create statues
This one makes use of the fact that you can change the water’s opacity. Shape it into something mono-color and then freeze it, creating a perfect-looking replica (unless they touch it and wonder why it’s freezing cold.) I almost always create piles of gold coins to distract or lure NPCs in a specific direction.
8. Bluff other liquids
It’s situational, but you can make a vial of water look like any liquid you like. Oil, acid, poison… This can be useful for either intimidation or theft (I once stole a heavily-guarded potion by swapping it with a vial of altered water). By the time it turns back into water an hour later, you’ll be long gone. Similarly, you can write your friends a note with soon-to-be-invisible ink, secure in the knowledge that the note will become unreadable after an hour.
9. Ice bridges
This works best if other people in the party also have shape water, as a 5-ft bridge won’t get you far. But you can create platforms for crossing things like rivers, lava, or holes. Most often useful if you have something like an elephant or wagon that can’t just jump across.
10. Shut down insect swarms
This is a very niche use, but you can block yourself from insect swarms by creating a 5×5 watery dome around yourself. Anything with gossamer wings (famously wasps) can’t fly when they get wet, so now you have an hour to plink at them with your ranged cantrips. (Or step on them if any are foolish enough to attempt to fly through.) Considering how common-yet-dangerous insect swarms can be, I appreciate having a way to counter them in particular.
10. Drop a 5×5 cube of ice on someone’s head
Mostly useful if you happen to be above your victim, though with time to burn you can combo this with the “floating platform” trick to hover the cube into place. Look out below!
11. Waterboard interrogation
It’s morbid, I know, but there are few interrogation methods better than temporarily trapping someone’s head in a floating water bubble. In a similar vein:
12. Breathing underwater
Shape the water into a bubble, creating an air pocket, and use it underwater to breathe. Can also work outside-of-water if traveling through an area filled with noxious gas.
13. Creating prisms
We had this come up when our barbarian shattered the prism we were supposed to use for a labyrinth puzzle. I realized I could use ice to create a new one of the proper shape. This probably won’t come up for you, but it’s a possibility!
14. Create ice weapons
You can make javelins/darts/throwing knives/etc out of ice. Maybe you didn’t bring the right weapon for the job, or you ran out during an inopportune time. (Or you need the murder projectile to melt after the kill, leaving no trace of its existence.) Perhaps you’re fighting vampires and want to make some out of holy water. Now you can!
I hope I’ve made my point. Shape water is such a multi-faceted utility cantrip, I can’t imagine playing a druid without it. I know Moon Druids are short on cantrips, and you have a ton of exciting options to choose from. But I cannot recommend enough that you find room to fit shape water in there somewhere.