Guide to Familiars in Pathfinder

The familiar is, well, familiar to most Dungeons & Dragons players, and so when the 3.5 edition of the game got shunted over into the new Pathfinder model, familiars went with it. A good thing, too, since familiars can be really handy.

Familiars are tiny creatures – typically, anyway – that accompany a magic user. They share a mystic bond with their master, much closer than any animal companion that accompanies Druids or Rangers, to the point that they can actually share spells with their master. This makes familiars really handy creatures to have.

Familiars can serve a number of roles in a Pathfinder campaign:

– They can be outright companions, useful for roleplaying purposes

– They can perform scouting functions, as their bond allows them to communicate with their masters

– They can help flank with enemies, though this is not recommended

– Perhaps most useful, they can deliver touch attacks on behalf of their master, which is extremely good if the master doesn’t want to risk getting injured

All this makes the familiar sound like an ideal tool for a magic user, especially since the familiar gets more powerful as the magic user does. Are there any disadvantages to this partnership?

Yes, of course there are:

– Familiars do not grow much in any physical capacity, and thus are not good at fighting

– More, if a familiar dies for any reason, the magic user usually can’t summon a new one for quite a while, often more than a year

– In some cases, notably the Witch, the familiar carries the spells – so if the familiar dies, the spells go with it (though to be fair, the Witch’s familiar can be summoned back considerably quicker)

– Familiars can only go so far from their masters, somewhat limiting their capacity for scouting

When using a familiar, it’s best to take the Improved Familiar feat to bolster your familiar’s capabilities, then keep it out of battle whenever it’s nor performing a specific task. Have land-based creatures hide while air-based take flight and stay that way for the duration. Don’t allow your familiar to attack, it won’t work out to your advantage.

Familiars aren’t always the greatest idea. They need to be fed and taken care of, duties many magic users won’t wish to perform. If you’re counted among these ranks, take an alternative class ability (there’s pretty much always something else you can take) and forget about the familiar.