Of the elements, water is arguably the most powerful. For one thing, it’s everywhere, in everything. Even if you can’t always take advantage of the fact, it’s undeniable that control over something so fundamental to the way the world works is power indeed.
So, it can be a little disappointing that D&D 5e has far more ways to take advantage of fire than it does of water.
But fewer ways isn’t the same as no ways, and Control Water is a spell designed to let you take advantage of the presence of water all around us.
However, it can be a bit of a confusing spell. It’s open-ended, which means it can be extremely powerful in the right situation, but that also means it can be difficult to interpret and know when to use.
That’s what I’m here to help with. This can be a pretty powerful spell in some campaigns, DM and setting dependent, so don’t miss out on it.
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 300 feet
- Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes
- School: Transmutation
- Class: Wizard, Cleric, Druid, Oath of the Open Sea Paladin, Fathomless Warlock, Genie Warlock
- Level: 4th
- Damage: 2d8
- Save: Strength, Strength (Athletics) check
- Components: V, S, and material (a drop of water and a pinch of dust)
This spell allows you to control a quantity of freestanding water that can fit within a 100-foot cube for the duration.
For the spell, control means something very specific. You can use your action on your turn to make the controlled water perform one of four options. Each option lasts a single round.
Until the spell ends, you control any freestanding water inside an area you choose that is a cube up to 100 feet on a side. You can choose from any of the following effects when you cast this spell: flood, part water, redirect flow, and whirlpool. Except for the last option, each effect continues until the spell duration ends or until you choose a different effect.
The whirlpool action contains no clause about continuing the action, so RAW that it dissipates after one round unless you spend more actions to keep it going.
Standing water in the area rises by 20 feet or less, flooding the surrounding area. If the area you select is part of a larger body of water than can fit in the area, a 20-foot tall wave is generated that travels across the full 100-foot cube. Huge and smaller vehicles are carried to the other side of the area with the wave and have a 25% chance of capsizing.
Using this to make a flood maintains the higher water levels for the whole duration, but if you make a wave, the wave simply repeats at the beginning of your turn every turn until you decide to use a different option.
This is the classic Moses ability. You create a trench in a body of water with walls formed from the water itself, as big as the 100-foot cube of the spell. The trench disappears over the course of the next round but slowly so that if any allies (or enemies) are still in the trench after your turn, they won’t be crushed by the water immediately.
This is my personal favorite option for Control Water. You can redirect the flow of water in an area in any direction you want. The water’s flow is in your total control, which means you can cause the water to flow in impossible directions, like into the air, over a wall, or maybe even in a spiral.
The only caveat is that the water can’t leave the cube — as soon as it does, you lose all control over it.
Finally, you can use Control Water to create a vortex that tries to drag anything around it into its heart. The whirlpool is 50 feet square, 25 feet deep, and 5 feet square at the bottom, and it requires a body of water at least that size to create the whirlpool.
Creatures or objects that enter or start their turn in the whirlpool are pulled 10 feet toward the center. Additionally, unless they make a Strength saving throw against your Spell Save DC, both objects and creatures take 2d8 bludgeoning damage. If they succeed, they take half damage and aren’t caught by the vortex.
Leaving the whirlpool takes an action to swim out and requires a Strength (Athletics) check. The creature or object has disadvantage on the check needed to swim away from the center if they failed the initial save. While it isn’t explicitly stated, it’s heavily implied that if a creature succeeded the initial save, they still require an action to swim out
Limits and Rules
Control water is a cool spell, but there are a few places in the text that are unclear. For example, what is freestanding water? The answer is not obvious with a simple definition of “an object standing without supporting structures.”
One good definition of freestanding water is water that is pure, or mostly pure, and in a contiguous body. That means that individual droplets of water, like rain, would not be eligible for the spell, and neither would the water in, for example, people.
This would also exclude the droplets of water that make up fog, but steam and ice might be eligible for the spell if your DM allows it. Controlling the flow of steam could be very powerful, and though it is a broader understanding of what D&D would call “water,” it is certainly “freestanding.”
Other ambiguities are more straightforward. For example, using the spell to create a flood doesn’t specify how the water level is raised (telekinesis perhaps?).
The best assumption is that it creates additional water in the area equal to the volume that would be needed to raise the water level by 20 feet if the area of the spell was in an enclosed container.
Lastly, the ability to control the flow of water makes no allowances for suspending the stream entirely in midair or creating complex paths for the water. I recommend being liberal with this ability since this is a 4th-level spell and ought to give a player lots of options for use (since it does almost no damage).
However, you may want to implement some kind of check, perhaps Arcana, to create particularly complex structures or structures that flaunt their ability to defy gravity, just to provide some limiting factor.
Applying Control Water
How can you use Control Water effectively? There are three main environments to use this spell: on land, underwater, and atop water. On land, the spell is best used for utility when water needs to be redirected or fire needs to be put out.
You could also use it for combat against fire-based enemies, though this is probably not as effective as just regular damage (1 point of cold damage against fire elementals for every gallon of water).
Finally, if you’re into using real-life physics in D&D, I recommend looking into the incompressibility of water as a possible exploit.
Despite these possible uses, Control Water is, obviously, most effective when there’s a lot of water around. Lakes, ponds, and barrels of water are all useful for this spell. Underwater, Control Water’s redirect flow can be extremely effective at forcing movement, and using part water can forcefully create an area of air.
However, this spell is most effective directly on the high seas (or a very large river). Naval combat can be extremely tactical, and in these environments, Control Water is even more effective. Redirect flow or the flood option will allow you to effectively arrange enemy ships exactly as you want (as long as they’re within 200 feet).
Using redirect flow or even whirlpool to send your enemy spinning away pretty much ruins any chance of them successfully targeting or boarding you. Whirlpool also provides an effective means of dealing damage to large enemy ships, which could be hard to sink otherwise.
Additionally, the part water option can drop a ship low enough to ground (if the water is shallow enough) or potentially flood the top of the ship when the walls of water collapse.
The takeaway is that Control Water can completely control your enemies in water and allow you to crush your water-based enemies.
Common Questions About Control Water
Before we wrap up, here are some common questions about this versatile spell.
Can Control Water Put Out Wall of Fire?
Wall of Fire is a higher-level spell, but using Control Water to put it out is a clever idea. There’s not an official ruling on this, but I recommend allowing this, if there’s enough water to go around. Perhaps you might try an explosion of steam that does half damage (a quarter on a save) to everyone in the area.
Does Control Water Work on Water Elementals?
Officially, Control Water does not work on Water Elementals. However, you could port over a rule from Pathfinder that makes a Water Elemental suffer the effects of the Slow spell.
Does Control Water Create Water?
There are no official rulings on this, but having Control Water create water for its flood effect makes the most sense. The alternative is some kind of telekinesis, which just isn’t elegant.
Can You Move a Ship With Control Water?
Yes! All of the options for this spell can move a ship in different ways, though they are limited to a particular area (so no using this spell for propelling a ship long distance).
Control Water can be a tricky spell. It’s a big block of text with a lot of ambiguous guidelines. Moreover, the spell’s uses are not obvious. On land, it’s mostly a utility spell, and there aren’t a lot of aquatic campaigns out there (unfortunately!).
All this combined in a 4th-level spell can discourage many from picking Control Water for one of their limited spell slots. Depending on your build, Control Water may actually be a bad choice, but for many spellcasters, you should definitely consider taking Control Water.
The spell has a lot of utility uses, and for aquatic campaigns, it is a must-have. Even if you’re not in an aquatic campaign, consider talking to your DM about any ideas you might have for implementing the spell.
Control Water is not a spell for dealing 8d6 fire damage to your enemies. It’s a spell for using your imagination and finding opportunities for turning this fundamental substance to your advantage.