D&D Monster Monday: Water Elemental

A torrent of water smashes into you. You feel a pain in your chest as a few ribs are broken by the impact. You look up to see an enormous, filth-covered water elemental glaring down at you. Perhaps crawling through the city’s abandoned sewage system wasn’t the smartest idea.

My original intention was to showcase the upgraded version of the water elemental, the water elemental myrmidon. However, I realized while doing some research that I did the same thing for the fire elemental.

So instead, we’re going back to the basics and doing the o.g. water elemental. Plus, I’ve concluded that I’ve been writing Dungeon Solvers for too long.

The water elemental is a classic and reliable creature. I’ve leaned on it and the other elementals many, many times in my campaigns. They’re just so flexible flavor-wise. You can change a few things about their appearance or lore and come up with tons of different plot hooks or match the theme of any dungeon.

Not to mention that they’re effective fighters as well. The water elemental boasts plentiful control, lightning-fast swim speed, and respectable damage.

Let’s dive into the Monster Manual and see if we can observe this majestic elemental in the depths of the ocean.

a water elemental taking on a sort-of humanoid shape without any defining features aside from a head and arms
The 5e artwork is the only one that makes the water elemental look cool. Credit: WotC.

Water Elemental Lore

An elemental is an incarnation of the elements that make up the universe. In the case of the water elemental, it’s the living incarnation of water.

Elementals aren’t native to the Material Plane. Each elemental originates in its respective elemental plane. That’s the Elemental Plane of Water in the water elemental’s case.

On their home planes, elementals are considered a “bodiless life force”. They exist as a spirit of elemental force that has no desires or needs. They simply wander around their plane with little sense of self.

Honestly, they sound like shitty bugs, but at least bugs have desires and goals.

However, all of that changes when an elemental is brought to the Material Plane. This is often done by conjuration magic where an elemental is pulled from their plane of existence and bound to the magic-user that summoned them.

Alternatively, an elemental spirit can also be brought into the Material Plane by being bound to a material template. In this scenario, the elemental is bound to a form that may give them unique usages for their abilities.

No matter how you slice it, elementals clearly pulled the shortest straw from the bunch. Either they aimlessly wander around at home or they’re forced to do the bidding of some magic-user.

Water Elemental Stats and Abilities

You can find the water elemental statblock on page 125 of the Monster Manual.

Stats

Size: Large elemental
AC: 14 (natural armor)
HP: 114 (12d10 + 48)
Speed: 30 ft., swim 90 ft.
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 18 (+4)
INT: 5 (-3)
WIS: 10 (+0)
CHA: 8 (-1)

Size is a trait that you should always keep track of, especially when playing on a grid. However, I rarely bring it up in Monster Monday assessments. It’s essential that you accurately portray the water elemental’s size when running it as its crowd control is tied to its respective size. TL;DR large size good.

14 AC is o.k. especially for a creature that isn’t wearing any armor. Its 114 HP, however, is fantastic and makes the water elemental a beefy tank. Shout-out to that 18 Constitution!

30 ft. of speed is perfectly average in comparison to most medium-sized adventurers, but that swim speed though! You DO NOT want to be in the water with one of these. In fact, you’re better off taking your chances against a shark.

They have overall pretty decent common saving throw abilities. A 0, +2, +4 spread is decent. Though, their condition immunities make it so that you won’t have to lean on this spread too often.

Oh and that +4 modifier to Strength is the good stuff.

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Damage Resistances: acid; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
Damage Immunities: poison
Condition Immunities: exhaustion, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, unconscious
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages: Aquan
CR: 5 (1,800 XP)

You know, I’m surprised water elementals aren’t resistant to fire damage. I mean, I’ll take all those nice resistances and immunity to poison damage, but it’s just surprising to me. Especially since the lore talks about how water elementals “engulf creatures that stand against it, filling their mouths and lungs as easily as it smothers flame.”

There’s no use dwelling on that though, not when we can ogle at the huge list of condition immunities. These elementals are tough to crowd control!

Their passive Perception is nothing to write home about, but at least they have darkvision. They’re not the greatest guards in this form, but at least they don’t have to eat, sleep, or breathe so they’re cost-effective.

CR 5 is pretty fair. They rely heavily on landing Whelm effectively to output a high amount of damage. When played well, or if the party has a ton of unlucky rolls the water elemental can become a huge menace, but most of their base power is in their defenses. They’re strong, but not too strong.

Traits and Abilities

Freeze. If the elemental takes cold damage, it partially freezes; its speed is reduced by 20 feet until the end of its next turn.

Water Form. The elemental can enter a hostile creature’s space and stop there. It can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.

Freeze is a nasty trait. Especially if the party has a caster that leans heavily on Ray of Frost which would immobilize the poor water elemental all for the price of a single Cantrip. So… for free.

This makes Whelm difficult to utilize as the water elemental will be in a tough spot to move into a creature’s space if they’re slowed and kited around with the party’s cold-based spells.

Water Form alleviates this issue a smidge. You can use pipes, cracks in the walls, or other small spaces to have your water elementals get the jump on the party and Whelm them from the start of combat thanks to a potential surprise round. 

Actions

Multiattack. The elemental makes two slam attacks.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 13 (2d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage.

Whelm (Recharge 4–6). Each creature in the elemental’s space must make a DC 15 Strength saving throw. On a failure, a target takes 13 (2d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage. If it is Large or smaller, it is also grappled (escape DC 14). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained and unable to breathe unless it can breathe water. If the saving throw is successful, the target is pushed out of the elemental’s space.
The elemental can grapple one Large creature or up to two Medium or smaller creatures at one time. At the start of each of the elemental’s turns, each target grappled by it takes 13 (2d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage. A creature within 5 feet of the elemental can pull a creature or object out of it by taking an action to make a DC 14 Strength check and succeeding.

The water elemental boasts a standard two-attack Multiattack which hits for an average of 26 bludgeoning damage. It’s a bit low for a typical CR 5 creature, but that’s because Whelm can boost its damage output significantly.

Whelm is the big-ticket item on the water elemental’s statblock. Any creature that’s in the water elemental’s space has to make a DC 15 Strength save or be grappled, restrained, and unable to breathe. On top of that, they’ll take an average of 13 bludgeoning damage on the start of the water elemental’s turn.

That’s a ton of passive damage, and considering that it can grapple up to two medium-sized creatures, the water elemental can potentially dish out 26 extra bludgeoning damage without using an action.

Keep in mind that Whelm does have a recharge so it can’t be spammed every turn. However, it’s got a 50% shot at recharging after use so you’ve got a good chance of using it a couple of times throughout an encounter.

Water Elemental Strengths

Overflowing Crowd Control

Whelm allows the water elemental to grapple and restrain up to two medium-sized creatures per turn. That’s anywhere from 1/2 to 1/3 of a typical adventuring party!

Plus, Whelm calls for a Strength saving throw, which is one of the lesser-used saving throw options and it’s often a dump stat for PCs that don’t use strength-based attacks.

Ergo, there’s a solid chance that Whelm can swallow up a fair number of the party. This then cascades into forcing the party to waste actions either breaking the grapple on themselves or ripping their drowning comrades out of the water elemental’s clutches.

It’s a huge potential problem.

All four elementals striking a pose except for water which is just a wave
See what I mean? Every elemental looks badass, except for the water elemental which is just a wave. Credit: WotC.

High Potential Damage

As I said previously, Multiattack’s 26 bludgeoning damage per turn isn’t impressive. However, there’s a ton of potential within their statblock thanks again to Whelm.

One restrained creature makes their average damage output to be 39 bludgeoning damage per turn. Two restrained creatures further increase this to 52 bludgeoning damage per turn. Either of these options is well above-average for a CR 5 creature, especially one that’s so defensively gifted.

We should think about renaming the ability to Overwhelm because this is some powerful stuff!

Stalwart Defences

While their AC is nothing to write home about, the water elemental’s defenses are still impressive.

114 HP is a huge pool of health to work with. They can soak up a ton of damage which gives their weak AC a pass. It becomes even more impressive when you slap on a few common damage resistances and an immunity to poison damage.

The water elemental also has a respectable spread of common saving throw abilities. It’s a decent perk, but they won’t need to lean on it often due to their plethora of condition immunities.

While they’re certainly not unstoppable, their defenses make it unlikely that a fight with a water elemental is a quick one.

Water Elemental Weaknesses

Easily Kitable on Land Due to Freeze

Freeze is undoubtedly the glaring Achille’s Heel of the water elemental’s statblock. Any cold damage will reduce the water elemental’s speed by 20 ft. until the end of its turn. While this isn’t a stacking reduction, it does reduce their land movement to 10 ft. per turn which is abysmal.

The party can swap to ranged attacks and demolish this creature’s low AC from afar without ever worrying about Whelm.

While this does hinder the water elemental’s swim speed, they’ll still have 60-70 ft. of swim speed while slowed. It’s a noticeable reduction, but it’s certainly not enough to outpace them.

How to Play a Water Elemental

Use Your Environment!

Water Form is a phenomenal tool that gives the water elemental the ability to squeeze through tight crevices or sit in the same space as an enemy. These additional positioning options add up quickly to alleviate the woes of Freeze‘s movement reduction.

Use pipes, crevices, cracks in the walls, and other tiny openings to flood the encounter with your water elemental(s). While the potential surprise round is a fantastic perk. The ability to drop the water elemental right into melee range of their target is much more valuable as it prevents the water elemental from being kited around.

Also, make use of any bodies of water available on the battlefield. That 90 ft. of swim speed is no joke and should be used whenever!

A water elemental that looks like a baby wave with a face trying to give you a hug
I feel like if I was an adventurer and I saw this pop out of the floor I’d just start laughing. Credit: WotC.

Swallow Up the Competition!

Whelm is the most important feature to use in the water elemental’s kit. Use it whenever possible as the 50% recharge rate gives you excellent odds for it to be available within the next two rounds after use.

Its damage is on-par with its Multiattack when used on two creatures, but even if it’s not, the crowd control and potential free damage each round is too good to pass up.

Plus, a successful Whelm can force the party to waste multiple actions attempting to rip themselves or their allies free of the water elemental’s grasp.

It’s a powerful ability and should be leaned on whenever possible.

5 Water Elemental Plot Hooks

  1. DON’T Call a Plumber! – A family’s plumbing has been acting up, and they claim to hear weird sloshing noises from within the pipes.
  2. Freedom! – A circle of druids has a plan for freeing an evil wizard’s army of eleemntals from his control and returning them to their rightful home planes. They’re just missing some firepower to help kick down the door.
  3. Elemental Workshop – Legends tell of a secret workshop that harnessed the power of elementals to smith some of the finest magical armor in the land. However, no one knows where this hidden workshop is located or how you access it.
  4. Disappearing Swimmers – A popular summer watering hole has become the source of multiple disappearances in recent weeks.
  5. Trouble in the Sewers – Gray oozes have maintained the city’s sewage system for decades. Recently, something has scared the oozes off as they have been avoiding a sector of the sewage system. The sewage is piling up and city officials fear that the entire system may be at risk if this continues!

Conclusions

Water elementals are big, bad, tanks that can swallow adventurers whole. They’re beefy units that pair well with glass cannon types as Whelm gives them the tools to run interference on any melee PCs that try to rush their backline allies.

Their quick swim speed and Water Form make for interesting positioning options for the water elemental. They’re a creature that needs to stick onto a target to be effective, so having these unique movement options is a great way to set them up for success.

Elementals are flexible creatures. Their lore is super easy to tweak and modify as you desire. Even the official lore gives the DM plenty of openings to weave their story into the creature’s backgrounds. They’re a great choice if you need a blank slate!

Previous Monster Monday – Giant Turkey

Next Monster Monday –  Hobgoblin

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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