Last Updated: June 20, 2021
Originally a pet for Sorcerers and Wizards, familiars have become great utility and combat options easily on par with Animal Companions. This article also includes a comprehensive list of available familiar options, including those from feats like Improved Familiar.
Table of Contents
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which tend to be more consistent than 3.5 handbooks. Because so little of 3.5 is available on the SRD, I will attempt to tag items with a superscript indicating their book of origin. For help identifying sourcebook abbreviations, see my Sourcebook Abbreviations Guide.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
It’s important to note that I generally omit campaign-setting specific content. I am of the opinion that those options are intended to be limited to campaigns run in those settings, and as such they don’t really apply to a generic campaign. Those options also tend to be wildly unbalanced and rarely receive errata. I also omit the use of “Flaws” since they allow a massive increase in power with essentially no cost to the character.
Familiars in the Party
Because Familiars determine their abilities based on their master’s hit points, BAB, and skills, familiars can fill many roles in the party as well as or sometimes better than their master.
Common among Sorcerers and Wizards who make no effort to capitalize on their Familiars, a basic Familiar is still an excellent tool. They can serve as a delivery mechanism for touch spells, and because of their small size and good Dexterity they are often excellent at Hide and Move Silently, allowing them to move into position to attack before the party kicks in the door. They can also act as couriers for Exploding Runes and Sepia Snake Sigil, or for delivering messages non-magically to nearby recipients.
If your GM allows it, your Familiar may be able to use magic items, especially if you have Use Magic Device. This can make your familiar extremely useful if you hand them wands of Lesser Vigor, or scrolls/wands offensive spells which don’t allow saving throws, like Grease. Remember that Spell Trigger items like wands and Command Word items both require that the user be able to speak.
Especially useful if they have opposable digits, familiars can serve as Scouts nearly as well a Rogue. They lack Trapfinding, and can’t get the ability from their master, so be wary of traps.
The exact mechanics of other skills are somewhat suspect. A wizard’s familiar gets the same modifier to Knowledge skills, but I don’t think any reasonable DM would allow a familiar to make a Knowledge check. Similarly, if your familiar can speak you might be able to use your familiar as the party’s Face if your Dm allows it. You might also let your familiar make spot/listen/search checks by itself, but the ability to provide the Alertness feat seems to be intended to reflect your familiar aiding you.
The biggest reason to pick up Improved Familiar (or any of the other special familiar feats) is because you want to turn your familiar into a fighting animal. There is a fantastically long list of wonderful options (see “Expanded Familiar Options”, below), many of which can be very capable combatants. Because familiars use their master’s BAB and calculate their HP based on their masters, combat familiars generally work best for combat classes like Duskblade and Hexblade.
- PHB2: Allows you or your familiar to save each other’s life. Hopefully you never need it.
- BoED: The lantern archon and musteval guardinal are absolutely fantastic options as both support and light damage output, which makes them fantastic for conventional casters, but not useful for combat casters.
- PHB2: Good for casters who like to deliver touch spells through their familiar, but not helpful for combat familiars.
- Dr: It’s important to note that Dragon Familiar uses a different familiar ability progression. This delays the lowest-level familiar abilities a bit, but because dragons can already speak you skip the speech abilities, and pick up Spell Resistance and Scry on Familiar a few levels late. Despite these issues, Dragons are a great choice of familiar; they can fly, they can speak, they’re intelligent, they have opposable digits, and they have breath weapons. Because their breath weapon damage will be terrible as wyrmlings, you want a dragon with a save or suck breath weapon. Familiars are treated as using their master’s character level for effects related to hit dice, including ability progression like the DCs of breath weapons. This makes breath weapons with status effects (especially save or suck effects) extremely potent, as they can keep pace with their master’s highest DC spells and can be used every 1d4+1 rounds. Because only metallic dragons get status effect breath weapons, chromatic dragons are worthless.
- CAr: Opens up familiars for arcane caster who don’t usually get them like Duskblades.
- LM: Turns your familiar into an undead creature. Very situational, and based on the wording it probably doesn’t work with feats which grant additional familiar options.
- PHB2: I have never heard of an enemy standing next to a spellcaster and choosing to attack their familiar instead. Why would you? If it ever becomes a problem, send your familiar to hide in a corner or something.
- PHB2: Imbue Familiar with Spell Ability is strictly better, and allows your familiar to use your full caster level. You could combine the two, but that seems like a lot of investment for a minor aspect of your build.
- CW: The bonuses are fantastic, but because the spell’s duration is Concentration it prohibits you from doing anything interesting while you run the spell. As cool as your familiar may be, you are still the character, and a spellcaster should have much cooler options than whatever their familiar can do.
- CAr: Absolutely essential for combat familiars. Hours/level duration so you can run it all day.
- CAr: Amusing, but almost never matters. Go buy a bag of holding and put your familiar in it.
- CM: Interesting as a swift action. You might be able to come up with some very handy uses for this, but don’t expect it to be a go-to option.
- CAr: Great for combat familiars, but not quite as essential as Enhance Familiar. Hours/level duration so you can run it all day on top of Enhance Familiar, but remember that the temporary hit points only last for an hour.
- CAr: Turn your Familiar into a tiny Wizard! Give it buff spells to enhance your allies while you’re doing something more important, or give it attack spells for extra damage output. Low-level spells with no save like the lesser elemental orb spells are good options because they do decent damage, and with a Familiar’s size and typically high dexterity they may be better at touch attacks than you are. At high levels this is a fantastic way to improve your action economy.
- MIC: Heal your familiar for 50 once per. It doesn’t list an action to activate, which means that it takes a Standard Action, and wasting a Standard Action on healing in combat is generally not a good idea. 50 hit points looks tempting, even out of combat, but for the 5000 gp price you can buy 6 wands of Lesser Vigor, and still have a pile of gold left over.
- CM: Unless you really like delivering touch attacks with your familiar, this is worthless.
- CM: An interesting option, but rarely worth the cost.
Basic Familiar Options
Basic familiar options are available to Sorcerers, Wizards, and any character who takes the Acquire FamiliarCAr feat.
|Albatross||Any||Sw||Master gains a +1 bonus on Spot checks|
|Arctic Fox||Any||FrB||Master gains +3 bonus on Move Silently checks|
|Bat||Any||PHB||Master gains a +3 bonus on Listen checks|
|Cat||Any||PHB||Master gains a +3 bonus on Move Silently checks|
|Dire Rat||Any||Huge or larger||DMG||Master gains a +2 bonus on Fortitude saves|
|Eel||Any||Sw||Master gains a +3 bonus on Escape Artist checks|
|Ferret||Any||Tiny or smaller||DMG||Master gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves|
|Fish Owl (Owl)||Any||Sw||Master gains a +3 bonus on Spot checks in shadows|
|Gyrfalcon (Hawk)||Any||FrB||Master gains +3 bonus on Spot checks|
|Hawk||Any||PHB||Master gains a +3 bonus on Spot checks in bright light|
|Hedgehog||Any||Tiny or smaller||DMG||Master gains a +1 natural armor bonus|
|Huitzil||Any||Dr||Master gains a +3 bonus on Sleight of Hand checks when the master and familiar are within 1 mile of each other.|
|Lemming (Rat)||Any||FrB||Master gains +2 bonus on Listen and Spot checks|
|Leopard||Any||Huge or larger||DMG||Master gains a +2 bonus on Move Silently checks|
|Lizard||Any||PHB||Master gains a +3 bonus on Climb checks|
|Monitor Lizard||Any||Huge or larger||DMG||Master gains +3 hit points|
|Mouse||Any||Tiny or smaller||DMG||Master gains a +2 bonus on Move Silently checks|
|Octopus||Any||Sw||Master gains a +3 bonus on grapple checks|
|Owl||Any||PHB||Master gains a +3 bonus on Spot checks in shadows|
|Owl (Medium)||Any||Huge or larger||DMG||Master gains a +2 bonus on Move Silently checks|
|Parrot (Raven)||Any||Sw||Raven Master gains a +3 bonus on Appraise checks. A parrot familiar can speak a language of its master’s choice as a supernatural ability.|
|Penguin||Any||FrB||Master gains +2 bonus on Fortitude saves|
|Puffin (Raven)||Any||FrB||Master gains +2 bonus on Swim and Survival checks|
|Rat||Any||PHB||Master gains a +2 bonus on Fortitude saves|
|Raven||Any||PHB||Master gains a +3 bonus on Appraise checks. A raven familiar can speak one language of its master’s choice as a supernatural ability.|
|Raven (Small)||Any||Huge or larger||DMG||Speaks one language|
|Screech Owl||Any||Tiny or smaller||DMG||Master gains a +2 bonus on Move Silently checks|
|Sea Snake||Any||Sw||Master gains a +3 bonus on Bluff checks|
|Snake||Any||PHB||Tiny viper. Master gains a +3 bonus on Bluff checks|
|Snowy Owl (Owl)||Any||FrB||Has low-light vision; master gains +3 bonus on Move Silently checks|
|Thrush||Any||Tiny or smaller||DMG||Speaks one language|
|Toad||Any||PHB||Master gains +3 hit points|
|Viper Snake, Medium||Any||Huge or larger||DMG|
|Weasel||Any||PHB||Master gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves|
|Wolverine||Any||Huge or larger||DMG||Master gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves|
The albatross is unusually large for a Familiar, which makes it a very big target for enemies. It flies, but no better than a Hawk, Owl, or Raven. The only potential benefit is that it might be able to carry a Tiny rider.
The arctic fox has nothing interesting except Scent, which plenty of better options also get.
Basically an underwater weasel. Unless you’re in an underwater campaign, the eel will never be a good option.
FerretOnly available to Tiny or smaller masters. No stats are provided for ferrets. As a DM, I would likely use a Diminutive weasel.
HedgehogOnly available to Tiny or smaller masters. No stats are provided for hedgehogs. I don’t even know what you could convert into a hedgehog. A weaker version of the horned lizard’s spikes attached to a diminutive rat might be a good start.
The horned lizard can spray blood from its eyes, and deals a puny amount of damage if attacked with natural weapons. The horned lizard also gets a burrow speed, but a spellcaster can get a lot more from other options.
The Huitzil flies, and appears to have opposable digits. It gets a racial bonus to Sleight of Hand and Search checks, which make it a good fit for Rogue/Caster hybrids. The Distract ability is also amusing, but certainly dangerous to use.
MouseNo stats are provided for mice, so I’m not sure what to do with this. As a DM, I would just make a Diminutive version of the Rat.
The penguin has a good swim speed, and can hold its breath for a very long time, but for aquatic campaigns you want something that can live in the water, and for land campaigns you want something that has a decent move speed.
Screech OwlOnly available to Tiny or smaller masters. No stats are provided for screech owls. As a DM, I would likely use a Diminutive owl.
Nearly identical to the snake, but with a higher poison DC, and a better swim speed than its land speed.
ThrushOnly available to Tiny or smaller masters, no stats are provided for the Thrush. As a DM, I would probably make a diminutive version of the Raven.
Expanded Familiar Options
|Air Elemental, Small||Any||5th||Air Subtype||Improved||DMG|
|Air Elemental, Small||N||5th||Planar||PH|
|Anarchic Animal||Any C||3rd||Planar||PH||Apply the template to any animal from the standard familiar list. Unlike other improved familiars, these creatures grant their masters the standard benefits for having an animal familiar of that type.|
|Axiomatic Animal||Any L||3rd||Planar||PH||Apply the template to any animal from the standard familiar list. Unlike other improved familiars, these creatures grant their masters the standard benefits for having an animal familiar of that type.|
|Black Dragon||N, NE, CE||8th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Blade Guardian||Any||11th||Improved||CW||Costs gold to create body, and gets reduce familiar abilities. See Complete Warrior.|
|Blink Dog||LG||5th||+5 BAB||Improved||CW|
|Blue Dragon||LN, LE, NE||10th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Brass Dragon||NG, CG, CN||9th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Bronze Dragon||LG, LN, N||11th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Celestial Animal||Any G||3rd||Celestial||BoeD||Apply the celestial template to any animal from the standard familiar list. Unlike other celestial familiars, a celestial animal grants its master the standard benefit for having an animal familiar of that type.|
|Celestial Animal||Any Good||3rd||Good Subtype||Improved||DMG||Apply the celestial template to any animal from the standard familiar list. Unlike other celestial familiars, a celestial animal grants its master the standard benefit for having an animal familiar of that type.|
|Celestial Animal||Any G||3rd||Planar||PH||Apply the template to any animal from the standard familiar list. Unlike other improved familiars, these creatures grant their masters the standard benefits for having an animal familiar of that type.|
|Copper Dragon||CG, N, CN||10th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Earth Elemental, Small||Any||5th||Earth Subtype||Improved||DMG|
|Earth Elemental, Small||N||5th||Planar||PH|
|Fiendish Animal||Any Evil||3rd||Evil Subtype||Improved||DMG||Apply the fiendish template to any animal from the standard familiar list. Unlike other celestial familiars, a fiendish animal grants its master the standard benefit for having an animal familiar of that type.|
|Fiendish Animal||Any E||3rd||Planar||PH|
|Fire Elemental, Small||Any||5th||Fire Subtype||Improved||DMG|
|Fire Elemental, Small||N||5th||Planar||PH|
|Gauntlet Guardian||Any||9th||Improved||CW||Costs gold to create body, and gets reduce familiar abilities. See Complete Warrior.|
|Gold Dragon||LG, NG, LN||14th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Green Dragon||N, LE, NE||9th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Hell Hound||LE||5th||+5 BAB||Improved||CW|
|Homunculus||Any||Undead||Improved||DMG||The master must first create the homunculus, substituting ichor or another part of the master’s body for blood if necessary.|
|Imp||LE||7th||Planar||PH||Standard only. If you are using the Fiend Folio, you may use a filth imp instead.|
|Mephit (Any)||Any||Matching subtype||Improved||DMG|
|Monstrous Centipede, Small||N||2nd||Improved||CS|
|Monstrous Scorpion, Small||N||3rd||Improved||CS|
|Monstrous Spider, Small||N||4th||Improved||CS|
|Red Dragon||CN, CE, NE||12th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Shocker Lizard||Any||5th||Elecricity Subtype||Improved||DMG|
|Silver Dragon||LG, NG, N||12th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Spark Guardian||Any||7th||Improved||CW||Costs gold to create body, and gets reduce familiar abilities. See Complete Warrior.|
|Vargouille||NE||6th||Improved||CS||Vargouilles summoned as familiars do not possess the Kiss supernatural ability.|
|Water Elemental, Small||Any||5th||Water Subtype||Improved||DMG|
|Water Elemental, Small||N||5th||Planar||PH|
|White Dragon||N, CN, CE||7th||Dragon||Dr||Uses special Familiar ability progression; see Draconomicon.|
|Winter Wolf||NE||7th||+7 BAB||Improved||CW|
The aligned creature templates is a decent template, but none of the base familiar options are viable in combat, the templates are largely wasted.
The aligned creature templates is a decent template, but none of the base familiar options are viable in combat, the templates are largely wasted.
The Blade Guardian is a higher level and more expensive equivalent to the Gauntlet Guardian. Despite the increased cost, it is not notably more durable, and it actually does less damage.
The coure eladrin matches the Lantern Archon’s magic circle against evil, and has many of the same spell-like abilities as the musteval guardinal, but can only cast magic missile 3/day before running out of offensive options.
The gauntlet guardian is reasonably durable with DR 5/- and fast healing 1, but its attack are pitiful, leaving it to fall into the classic tank dilemma: if no one can hurt you, and you can’t hurt them, why should they try to hurt you?
- : Breath weapon only does damage (and only 1d8), and their best spell-like ability is Gust of Wind.
- : The breath weapon debuff is decent, but the DC is terrible. Wind Wall is very situational.
- : Useless breath weapon, and Soften Earth and Stone is useless. Earth mephits can increase their size to medium once per hour, but I’m not certain why they would do so.
- : All it can do is damage, and even then not very much.
- : The breath weapon applies a nice debuff, but dust mephits have better spell-like abilities.
- : The breath weapon applies a nice debuff, but the special abilities are garbage.
- : The breath weapon applies a nice debuff, and the spell-like abilities aren’t totally worthless.
- : The breath weapon applies a nice debuff, and glitterdust is a great way to handle invisible enemies. The ability to suck moisture out of the air is interesting, but the damage is pitiful.
- : The breath weapon applies a nice debuff, but the spell-like abilities are useless.
- : The same spell-like abilities as the ooze mephit, but with a worse breath weapon.