DnD 5e - Practical Guide to Summoning Spells
Last Updated: December 31st, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
Magically conjuring a creature to do your bidding is a long-standing trope in fantasy stories, and spells to summon creatures have existed in Dungeons and Dragons throughout its storied history. And, while these options have always been both powerful and fun, they have also always been complicated. While 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons is the simplest edition to play, summoning spells in 5th edition remain a frustrating and confusing part of the game.
In this article, we'll explore summoning spells not just from a character optimization perspective (how do I make this effective?), but also from a practical perspective (how do I make this fun?) so that you can use summoning spells at your table without constantly thumbing through the Monster Manual for just the right creature to suit your needs.
In some ways, this page may also serve as a quick reference document, offering suggestions for when and where you might summon any given type of creature both to fit your surroundings (no underwater badgers, please) and to suit your tactial needs. If you can avoid searching the Monster Manual to find the creature you want, I'll consider this article a success.
The Three Types of Summon Spells
The available spells to summon creatures can be divided into three categories, each of which I'll address in detail in separate sections below.
- Conjure Creature Spells: Published in the Player's Handbook and Xanathar's Guide to Everything, these options always use the word "Conjure" in their names, and feature several shared mechanics, most notable of which is that the player doesn't get to choose what they summon.
- Summon Creature Spells: Published in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, these spells can be quickly identified because their names start with "Summon" (though Summon Lesser Demos and Summon Greater Demon are exceptions). I'm aware that "Conjure" and "Summon" are synonyms, but I didn't name the spells. Spells in this category always summon a single creature.
- Other Summoning Spells: These summon options are typically much more involved and complex than the sort of spell which you'll cast in combat, and have many external considerations beyond conjuring up a creature to fight monsters for you. These spells include options like Find Steed and Gate.
Conjure Creature Spells
Published in the Player's Handbook, the original Conjure Creature spells shared a lot of common design elements. Understanding one spell gives you a full understanding of the rules of every other spell in this category. With an hour-long duration, these spells are great ways to get a useful creature either in or out of combat.
All Conjure Creature Spells can be upcast to improve their effects, but the benefits are split into two camps: roughly half of the spells will allow you to summon higher-CR creatures, while the other half allow you to summon more creatures from the same CR range which the default level of the spell allows. These spells are usally paired, with one low-level spell to summon numerous small creatures and one higher-level spell to summon powerful single creatures.
Nearly every spell in this category has a 1-minute casting time (Conjure Animals and Conjure Woodland Beings are exceptions), which makes them impossible to cast in combat. This casting time was an intentional design choice to prevent players from breaking out the Monster Manual mid-combat, thereby causing combat to grind to a halt. This means that if you want to summon a creature for combat purposes, you need to do it ahead of time. I don't know why Conjure Animals and Conjure Woodland Beings are exceptions since they have the same issues with creature selection as every other spell in this category.
Casting these spells at a higher spell level allows the spellcaster to summon creatures of a higher Challenge Rating, allowing spellcasters access to a huge list of potential summons. However, you don't necessarily need to rush to cast these spells at the highest level possible. Due to 5e's relatively flat math, even low-CR creatures can be impactful across the full level range (though their hit points might not keep them around long).
Probably the biggest problem with these spells is that the Dungeon Master is responsible for selecting the specific creature which you summon. This is often time-consuming, and the DM needs to choose a creature that's going to be helpful (but not too helpful), and likely wants to avoid upsetting their players by giving them something which they don't want. The DM can let the player pick, but players will pick something that will cause problems (intentionally or otherwise), or they'll spend the next hour of play time scrutinizing monster stats to figure out which thing they want to summon and feed to the next monster they encounter, only to start fresh a few minutes later.
Providing a fixed list of creatures to choose from would go a long way to improve these spells, but tragically only Conjure Animals includes such a list, and even then the DM is left to decide which creatures appear with nearly no guidance on how to do so.
Conjure Animals (3rd level)PHB
Beasts make surprisingly effective combatants, despite remaining primarily in low single-digit CR ranges (dinosaurs being an exception). Many can serve as mounts, scouts, or trackers, but most often you're going to summon animals to take up space on the battle field. Some options (frog) are outright useless, but even some CR 0 options like the Hyena and the Flying Snake can make decent combatants. Higher-CR creatures will have more capabilities in combat and will be more durable, but don't make the mistake of ignoring low-CR options simply due to their CR.
Upcasting Conjure Animals allows you to summon additional creatures. Conjure Animals is one of the two spells in this category with a 1 Action casting time. This is important because it allows you to summon creatures in the middle of combat. However, since Conjure Animals faces the same creature selection challenges that other spells in the category face, your DM needs to select suitable creatures on the fly. I encourage you to use the table below for quick reference.
The table below is arranged to sort creatures roughly by habitat. I'm not a zoologist and my knowledge of animal habitats isn't going to win me any prizes, so I won't be offended if you disagree with me and email me with corrections. The added presence of fictional creatures with scant or no ecological information (like the giant weasel) doesn't help, either.
The table below has several gaps where there weren't CR-appropriate creatures to for a given biome. In those cases, consider reskinning a creature from a different biome. For example, if you're in a coastal region and want to summon birds, you could use stats for the Raven and call them seagulls.
Grassland / Prairie / Savanah
Marsh / Swamp
Subterranean / Cave
Grassland / Prairie / Savanah
Marsh / Swamp
|1/4 or Lower||8|| |
Grassland / Prairie / Savanah
Marsh / Swamp
Grassland / Prairie / Savanah
Marsh / Swamp
Grassland / Prairie / Savanah
Marsh / Swamp
Grassland / Prairie / Savanah
Marsh / Swamp
Conjure Celestial (7th level)PHB
Heavily hampered by the pitifully small number of published celestials which fit into the spell's CR range, but Couatls are pretty amazing so if that's all that you ever summon I'd still consider this a decent spell.
If your DM is willing to let you choose to summon a Couatl consistently, you'll be fine. If they pick at random you have a 50% chance of getting a cool magical snake and an equal chance of summoning a flying horse whose only useful feature is that it's a flying horse.
Upcasting Conjure Celestial allows you to summon higher-CR creatures.
Unfortunately, the Player's Handbook's only suggestion for a celestial to summon is the Pegasus, which is frustrating because a CR 2 monster as the only example for a spell which summons up to CR 4 by default isn't a great example of the spell's capabilities. Of course, there are only two suitable creatures in the Monster Manual, so it was generous for WotC to list alhf of them.
The table below omits setting-specific creatures. Mystical Odysseys of Theros adds several new suitable creatures, but your DM may choose not to allow them.
Conjure Elemental (5th level)PHB
Conjure Elemental is primarily useful as a 5th-level spell because the classic elementals (air elemental, etc.) are CR 5 creatures. Until we see more elementals published, Conjure Elemental's capabilities are heavily limited by this lack of options. The CR 5 options are good, but the fact that there aren't enough options to choose from at other CRs makes it frustrating to spend resources to learn the spell when you know that it's less versatile than many other summoning spells.
There are no elementals at CR 7 or 8 outside of the stat blocks published in specific adventures, so check with your DM to see if they'll allow you to summon creatures like elemental myrmidons from Princes of the Apocalypse or the Big Xorn from Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Adding those options put Conjure Elemental in line with other spells in the Conjure Creature Spells group.
Like other spells in the category, Conjure Elemental can be really good if your DM lets you pick the creature summoned or if they pick something useful for you, but if they pick at random or pick something unhelpful it's a waste of a spell slot most of the time. You may be able to convince your DM to pick an elemental based on where you target the spell (a water elemental from a source of water, and air elemental in mid-air, etc.), but talk to your DM to see if they're willing to let that work before you assume that they will or you're going to conjure fire elementals underwater and be sad about it.
Upcasting Conjure Elemental allows you to summon higher-CR creatures.
The table below omits setting-specific creatures, creatures specific to adventures, and creatures below CR 5. Since you only get one creature and can't choose what kind of creature you get, there is very little reason to choose a CR below the CR 5.
|Spell Lvl||CR||Creature Name|
|7||7||None at this level.|
|8||8||None at this level.|
Conjure Fey (6th level)PHB
Conjure Fey uniquely allows you to summon both fey and beasts, making it the only spell in this group which can summon creatures of more than one creatue type. Fey are especially tempting because many of them have powerful special abilities or can cast spells. However, they're also intelligent and won't obey orders which go against their alignment (which the DM is free to interpret as they see fit), so they may be difficult to command.
A weird quirk of the spell: Despite being published in the Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual contains no Fey at CR 6, 7, 8, or 9, so the primary use case of the spell when it was published was just to summon high-CR beasts.
There are few options in Conjure Fey which are situational to the point that it's a problem. Most of them are combat monsters for the most part, and aside from size problems (try squeezing a Brontosaurus into a 5-foot wide dungeon hallway), they'll serve you just fine in nearly any circumstance. There are some uniquely appealing options like the Green Hag and the Korred which make the spell more powerful if you can pick those options, but most of the time you can expect to summon a combat monster with minimal complications.
Upcasting Conjure Fey allows you to summon higher-CR creatures. If you lose Concentration, the creature remains but becomes hostile toward you.
The table below omits setting-specific creatures, creatures specific to adventures, and creatures below CR 5. Since you only get one creature and can't choose what kind of creature you get, there is very little reason to choose a CR below the CR 6, but CR 5 creatures are included because there are some interesting options.
|Spell Lvl||CR||Creature Name|
|9||9||None at this level.|
Conjure Minor Elementals (4th level)PHB
Not much utility due to the limited options, but you can summon a bunch of low-CR combat monsters. Mephits are great if you need a swarm of nuisances to grab items, cause trouble, spam breath weapons to force Concentration checks and saves against status conditions, or generally cause trouble but little actual damage. If you want damage, try for magmin and set everything on fire. If you want a tank, try for gargoyles.
While none of the options on Conjure Minor Elementals are outright bad, the inability to pick what you get makes it very difficult to use the spell effectively. If you try for low-CR mephits you're probably going to be fine with whatever you get. But if you want magmin, there are other options at the same CR and if your DM picks mephits you're going to be disappointed. If you need a flying tank and get two azers, you've wasted a spell slot on two creatures with no built-in counter to flying enemies (maybe you could give them javelins?).
Upcasting Conjure Minor Elementals allows you to summon additional creatures.
|1/4 or Lower||8|
Conjure Woodland Beings (4th level)PHB
Most spells in the Conjure Creatures Spells group come in pairs: One low-level option to summon multiple low-CR creatures (Conjure Minor Elementals) and one high-level option to summon high-CR creatures (Conjure Elemental). Conjure Animals and Conjure Woodland beings split this low-level function with the same high-level analog in Conjure Fey Creature.
Conjure Woodland Beings works best when summoning low-CR creatures. All of the low-CR options have some ridiculous special ability that's way too good for their CR, and when used by 8 creatures of the same type they immediately become a big problem for your enemies. Up to CR 1/4 you can get a squad of combat monsters. Beyond that things get disappointing.
This is one spell in the group where I don't think you need permission from the DM to pick or influence what creatures you summon. If you stick to CR 1/4, 1/2, and 1, picking at random gets you good options that will work in most situations (except for blink dogs, so CR 1/4 does have one trap option in it), and some of them are powerful enough that as a DM I probably wouldn't allow you to pick them without making some changes (seriouosly, why can pixies cast Polymorph?).
Upcasting Conjure Woodland Beings allows you to summon additional creatures Conjure Woodland Beings is one of the two spells in this category with a 1 Action casting time. This is important because it allows you to summon creatures in the middle of combat. However, since Conjure Woodland Beings faces the same creature selection challenges that other spells in the category face, your DM needs to select suitable creatures on the fly. I encourage you to use the table below for quick reference..
|1/4 or Lower||8|| |
Summon Creature Spells
Introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, these spells were an answer to the challenges of the Conjure Creature Spells, seeking to provide both a way to summon a creature during combat and to provide a solution to the "Monster Manual as menu" problem. Each of these spells, rather than drawing upon a deep and growing pool of possible summoned creatures, provides a handful of generic stat blocks intended to represent a broad range of potential creatures. These stat blocks are diverse enough that Summon Creature Spells offer useful tactical options within the same spell, but any interaction with the Monster Manual is totally removed.
While the spell level you use doesn't determine the creatures available to you, it is still hugely impactful for Summon Creature Spells. Creatures add the spell level to their AC and damage, and the creature's hit points are a multiple of the spell's level (plus a flat number depending on the creature). Perhaps most impactful, the creatures make a number of attacks equal to half the spell's level. This means that even-numbered spell slot levels are often the most efficient use of resources, and since creatures summoned by these spells attack with your Spell Attack Modifier, even low-level spell slots can produce a creature capable of hitting reliably. It also means that your summoned creature can often make a number of attacks matching the Fighter, possibly even exceeding their damage output.
One problem which summoned creatures often face is that their attacks usually aren't considered magic unless the Action specifies that they are or that the attack is specifically described as a Spell Attack (according Jeremy Crawford). This means that creatures which rely on things like claws and teeth can run into issues with resistance or immunity to damage from non-magical attacks, which is a common resistance as you gain levels. In these cases, players will normally take up magic items or use spells to make their weapons magical, but spending spells to buff your summon is typically a bad use of resources and often runs into issues with Concentration. Instead, plan to replace your summoned creature if necessary.
Summoned creatures notably have no saving throw proficiencies. That makes them highly susceptible to spells and special abilities, even if their AC and hit points would normally make them very durable.
Like Conjure Creature Spells, Summon Creature Spells have a 1-hour duration and require Concentration. Your summoned creature may not last the full duration, but a pet fighter for up to an hour is well worth the cost. Since the summoned creature's attacks will be reliable, it's often a good idea to summon a creature which attacks at range and keep them behind your party's Defender (who is almost certianly more durable than your summoned creature) and think of them more like a portable source of damage output than a temporary member of the party.
Spells in this category also have an expensive material component, typically costing several hundred gp. By the time you gain access to the spell you should be able to comfortably afford the component, but if you rely heavily on summoning the total cost of several of these components can be a problem.
Summon Aberration (4th-level)PHB
Diverse, effective, and efficient combat options. Most of the damage is psychic (though not all of it), so avoid using this against mindless creatures.
The summoned spirit speaks Deep Speech, allowing you to communicate with it more easily than some other summons. This helps if you need to use your summoned creature as a scout or a lookout.
There's some contest between Summon Aberration and Summon Undead, but both are great so pick whichever you like more rather than trying to divine which is slightly more powerful. Undead have more immunities so they can be more durable, but the special abilities of aberrations can be powerful enough that they may be more appealing.
With 16 Strength and medium size, your beholderkin may be able to carry you through the air, especially if you're small. : Flight, hover, and ranged psychic damage. Basically a flying machine gun. If all you need is damage output, this is a great option. It competes for space somewhat with the Skeletal Undead since they're both ranged attacks with little other utility. The differences boil down to flight and psychic damage or a bunch of immunities and necrotic damage. Both are good, so choose what works for you and your party.
- : Not very flashy, but if you need a melee combat monster it's hard to go wrong. The regeneration will keep your slaad alive without feeling the need to spend spells to heal it or re-cast Summon Aberration, making it an easy choice when all you need is something to throw into melee. However, it's the only abberration option that worries about resistance to weapon damage types, which are fairly common.
- : Less durable than the slaad, but much more lethal. The Starpawn's attacks deal psychic damage which will be more reliable than the Slaad's claws, and the damage aura will deal reasonably reliable damage even if you cast Summon Aberration using a low-level spell slot. Of course, throwing a low-level aberration into melee to capitalize on its aura is likely going to result in your aberration dying quickly, but even then it's drawing fire away from your allies and that's one of the best things that you can get from a summoned creature.
Summon Beast (2nd-level)TCoE
The lowest-level Summon spell introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of everything, Summon Beast is an excellent spell. With a 1-hour duration you can get a ton of mileage out of a low-level spell slot, and the beasts are very effective in combat. If you have other melee allies, throwing one of the beasts with Pack Tactics alongside them can yield a lot of consistent, reliable damage. The Air beast has Flyby, which is appealing if you need a more durable version of the owl familiar's hit-and-run Help trick, but won't be as effective offensively as the Land and Water options.
- : Hit and run attacks will keep it around longer, but its damage output will be slower than other options.
- : Your go-to option. Consistent and reliable, even if it's not very flashy.
- : Only use it underwater. The grapple effect is tempting, but with 5 ft. land speed unless you spend another spell or something to buff it, enemies can walk around it with little concern.
Summon Celestial (5th-level)TCoE
Flight, resistance to radiant damage, and a once per day heal. The healing isn't much, but it'll save a dying ally. Both summons are good, staple options that will work well in any combat situation.
The summoned spirit speaks Celestial, allowing you to communicate with it more easily than some other summons. This helps if you need to use your summoned creature as a scout or a lookout.
With 16 Strength and medium size, your summoned celestial may be able to carry you through the air, especially if you're small.
- : Flying and radiant damage at range. Not especially exciting, but very effective.
- : Tied with summoned constructs for the highest AC of any creature in the Summon Creature Spells category (13+), its attacks deal radiant damage, and on a hit it can give targets temporary hit points. There's no usage limit on the temporary hp, so if your defender is making numerous attacks you may be able to distribute temporary hit points several times per turn. With the temporary hit points, the Defender can keep itself alive much longer than its hit points indicate, allowing it to serve as a front-line Defender (the party role, not the type of celestial) almost as well as real fighter.
Summon Construct (4th-level)TCoE
Constructs are the most durable summon, having the highest AC at 13+ (most get 11+ with a few at 12+), and an impressive 15 hp per spell level above the default. They also enjoy 7 condition immunities and resistance to poison, so they're both difficult to attack and difficult to disable with status conditions, though they are still vulnerable to damage which requires saving throws like every other summoned creature (remember: they have no saving throw proficiencies).
Tragically, Summon Construct's creatures don't share all of the capabilities of the golems for which they are named. Your summoned clay construct can't solo the Tarrasque.
- : If you need a big angry combat monster and all that you care about is that it's going to hit stuff and soak up damage, the Clay Construct is a great choice. Berserk Lashing punishes enemies for damaging the golem, and weirdly it doesn't require that it be damaged by an attack so even if something breaths fire on your golem it's still going to get its free attack. Just be sure that your allies are never adjacent to it.
- : Too much overlap with clay. Iron's Heated Body feature will only be better in cases where the golem is being attacked by numerous enemies in melee at the same time.
- : Stone Lethargy is the primary appeal. It's very similar to the Depair Shadowspawn's slow effect, but Stone Lethargy is more effective for fast enemies, has a larger radius, and prevents Reactions. Unfortunately, it allows a saving throw, but that seems like a fair trade for a better effect.
Summon Elemental (4th-level)TCoE
With the possible exception of the earth elemental, Summon Elemental does very little to expand on the capabilities of other spells like Summon Undead. Elementals get some damage resistances which we haven't seen on on lower-level summon spells, but unless you're consistently facing enemies which deal those damage tpyes I don't think that's enough to justify Summon Elemental being higher level than Summon Undead.
The summoned spirit speaks Primordial, allowing you to communicate with it more easily than some other summons. This helps if you need to use your summoned creature as a scout or a lookout.
- : Good flight, two damage resistances on top of the elementals' damage/condition immunities, and a slam attack. Summon Undead's Ghost is similar in many ways and uses a better damage type, though the Air Elemental may be more udrable thans to its damage resistances.
- : 40 ft. burrow speed, resistance to the two most common weapon damage types, and a mostly unremarkable slam attack. Be careful with the burrow speed: if your elemental can't hear your verbal commands it might just sit underground and Dodge until the spell ends. Still, if you need something to stand in front of you and exchange blows in melee, this is a solid choice. For prolonged usage you might prefer Summon Aberration's Slaad due to its Regeneration, but the Earth Elemental is still a solid choice.
- : Immune to fire and it does fire damage, so it can get around resistance to weapon damage types, but fire damage is one of the most common damage resistances/immunities, so you trade one problem for another.
- : Works underwater and has acid resistance. Unless you're underwater or facing enemies which deal acid damage, earth is better.
Summon Fey (3rd-level)TCoE
If all you want is a pet that's going to deal damage, look elsewhere. Summon Fey's options are more unique and situational, and you'll need to look for specific situations which make your fey effective before you bring it into play. That may make it difficult to capitalize on Summon Fey's hour-long duration.
The summoned spirit speaks Sylvan, allowing you to communicate with it more easily than some other summons. This helps if you need to use your summoned creature as a scout or a lookout.
To use Summon Fey to its full effects, you'll need to master Fey Step. The fun part of the spell only works after your fey teleports, so don't expect to leave them standing still and waving their sword about.
Because the summoned fey relies on attacking with a short sword, you may be able to improve its attacks by providing it with a better weapon. An adamantine short sword or a magical short sword will help address damage resistances, and may also improve your fey's attacks in other ways depending on the weapon. Your DM may allow your fey to use other weapons, but since other proficiencies aren't listed your DM may decide that your fey is only proficient with short swords.
- : The Advantage effect only applies to one attack. That makes it difficult to justify upcasting the spell to get more attacks.
The charm effect may be especially useful outside of combat. Targets aren't aware that they've been charmed (like they are with spells like Friends), so your fey may be able to dance around gradually charm numerous creatures in social situations. However, just as the target isn't aware that they're charmed, neither are you. : Charm resistance/immunity are common, but against creatures without those defenses you can gradually prevent every enemy in an encounter from being able to attack you and your summoned fey. However, the creatures break the effect if they take damage which can become a problem for your allies.
- : You could use the darkness effect to protect yourself, but unless you can see in magical darkness that's often as much a problem for you as it is for your enemies. You can use it to force enemies to move or to protect allies who need a turn to cast buffs or healing spells. You may be able to block line of sight partially, but it's pretty easy to see around a single 5-foot square.
Summon Fiend (6th-level)TCoE
The highest-level option in the Summon Creature Spells category. Fiends have good AC at 12+, good hit points at +15 per extra spell level, and magic resistance so they're better at saving throws than other summoned creatures from the same category of spells. Unfortunately, their attacks and offensive abilities are unremarkable.
- : A climb speed, necrotic damage, and it explodes when it dies. Neat, but there are plenty of better options on other spells if you need a better melee monsters.
- : A very solid ranged attacked with both flight and the ability to see in magical darkness. If you can't see in magical darkness, you can command this thing to lead you through it safely or to deal with whatever is causing it. Unfortunately, its attacks are fire damage and fire is one of the most common resistances/immunities in the game.
- : Teleporting this frequently usually doesn't help much. You may be able to chain the teleports to get your summon into melee with a distant, weak enemy like a wizard, but those situations are rare. Most of the time you'll teleport your yugoloth into place then leave it there.
Summon Shadowspawn (3rd-level)TCoE
Shadowspan share resistance to necrotic damage and immunity to fear, making them effective at standing up to undead. Their attacks deal cold damage, which is great for getting around resistance to weapon damage types, but undead also commonly have resistance to cold damage so shadowspawn aren't a perfect solution to every encounter with undead. In general, the shadowspawn is a fine combatant with some interesting tactical options.
Unfortunately for Summon Shadowspan, it's the same spell level as Summon Undead, it's on the same spell lists, and Summon Undead has better creatures.
- : An ambush predator with little reason to hide on any ongoing basis. Your shadowspan could repeatedly hide and attack, but that doesn't get them much and letting your summoned creature draw attacks instead of your allies is arguably the best part of summoning creatures.
- : This capitalizes on the Shadowspawn's once per day Dreadful Scream ability. Used in conjunction that's very powerful. However, that will get you through one encounter and then you have a shadowspawn for 59 minutes with no built-in way to scare your enemies. If you use this, expect to invest in other spells that also frighten creatures. If you can make fear work reliably, Fury can become a terrifyingly effective combat option.
- : There is no save on this. 30 ft. is pretty normal for speed, so for many creatures this is a huge debuff. Your shadowspawn notably has 40 ft. speed, so they're easily capable of following an enemy around even if the enemy dashes or has high speed. A creature would need a base speed of more than 60 ft. to outrun your shadowspan, and even then if they're wasting their time running from your summoned creature they're not spending that time killing you.
Summon Undead (3rd-level)TCoE
All of the options are good in most combat encounters. With a good lists of immunities, great offensive options, and powerful crowd control options, this is an easy go-to summon option.
Summon undead is notably the only Necromancy spell in the Summon Creature Spells category. If you've been waiting to play a necromancer until you could summon undead pets into battle, that day has finally come.
- : Flight, better speed than the other undead options, and its attacks make the target Frightened. The ghostly undead can move through walls and such, but since it works based on verbal commands issued every round, it's difficult to send it through walls to scout or surprise your enemies.
- : The poison effect is excellent, and since it uses your spell save DC you can summon a putrid undead with a low-level spell slot and get the same effect out of it (while the undead survives). The Putrid Undead's claws can paralyze foes, but that requires failing a Constitution save, getting hit with an attack, then failing a second Constitution save. Con
- : When I think "skeletal undead" I think skeletons, not necrotic lasers. But at 150 ft. range, I'm not going to complain. This thing is basically a pet warlock spamming Eldritch Blast every turn. Sure, necrotic damage isn't quite as good as force damage, but it's pretty close. There's very little complexity here, so if you want anything except ranged damage you're not going to get it here.
Other Summoning Spells
Each of the spells in this category is unique. With some exception, no two of these spells work the same way so it's difficult to offer broad guidance for them as a category. When you cast any of these spells, expect to put some thought into them rather than pulling them out in combat and hoping things work out.
Find Familiar (1st level)PHB
A staple for wizards, but honestly just a great spell all around. Your choices of familiar are extremely limited, unfortunately.
The best option without question is the owl. It's sneaky, has darkvision, can fly, and has flyby. This makes it an excellent scout, but it also lets you send your familiar into combat to use the Help option in order to help you and your allies with your attacks. Thanks to flyby, your owl can fly in and out of reach with minimal risk, allowing it to repeat this trick until your DM gets annoyed enough to shoot your familiar.
Find Greater Steed (4th level)PHB
Find Steed gave the Paladin access to the only mount option in the core rules that stayed viable once the warhorse stops being durable enough to take on adventures. However, once flight becomes common Find Steed becomes less useful, and Find Steed only solves the durability issue by making your mount easily replaceable. Find Greater Steed addresses both problems by allowing access to flight and by giving you stronger creatures with larger pools of hit points.
Find Greater Steed also introduces options which are already Intelligent and which have an alignment. Weirdly, you still get to make your mount a celestial, fey, or fiend. This doesn't explicitly change your mount's alignment, so you can have a chaotic-good fiend pegasus. I think that's an oversight in the rules text, so make sure that you discuss it with your DM before you find yourself arguing morality and philosophy between your chaotic-evil oathbreaker paladin and your chaotic-good fiendish mount or our lawful-good vengeance paladin and your chaotic-evil celestial peryton.
Many of the Find Greater Steed options have good attacks, and at CR 2 they're more dangerous than the options provided by Find Steed. But keep in mind that it's a mount first, and by the time you get this a CR 2 is not going to win fights for you by attacking. However, if you're not riding your mount for some reason they'll still be able to attack and defend themselves, and in some situations you might even prefer to fight alongside them rather than while riding them.
While there are adequate options available, there's a ton of room to expand this list. Hippogriffs (even though they're basically worse griffons), nightmares (likely with Confer Fire Resistance and Ethereal Stride removed), and a number of other interesting creatures could be added to diversify the options. Sadly, we're not likely to see that from WotC so if you want something more unique talk to your DM about what another suitable creature of CR 2 or lower.
If you do plan to explore mounted combat, see my Practical Guide to Mounted Combat. For information on Find Steed, see below.
- : Large size, 50 ft. speed, keen hearing and smell, pack tactics, and its attacks can knock targets prone if they fail a Strength save. The best non-flying option in terms of attacks, but Pack Tactics and the trip effect aren't good enough to give up flight.
- : Large size, 30 ft. speed, 80 ft. flight, Darkvision, Keen Sight. Basically the generic flying mount option. Nothing complicated, but it works everywhere (except underwater) for any player.
As the only mount option with any saving throw proficiencies and the mount with the best speed both in the air and on the ground, the Pegasus is the go-to option. : Large size, 60 ft. speed, 90 ft. flight, three saving throw proficinecies, and it's already Intelligent and understands (but can't speak) several languages so it can communicate with creatures other than you in a limited fashion. Chaotic-good alignment.
Resistance to non-magic weapon damage types is extremely useful if you don't have the Mounted Combatant feat. Even with a larger pool of hit points than the Warhorse, your mount is still frail compared to you and your party members. The Mounted Combatant feat makes that less important since you can redirect attacks toward yourself.
The Peryton's biggest function is hit-and-run attacks, with or without you riding it. Use Flyby to keep your peryton out of reach as much as possible, and if you're not riding it be sure to use Dive Attack. : Medium size, 60 ft. fly speed, resistance to nonmagical weapon damage types, flyby, keen sight and smell. It's already Intelligent and understands (but can't speak) several languages so it can communicate with creatures other than you in a limited fashion. Flyby is the biggest selling point, allowing you to perform flying hit-and-run attacks. Chaotic-evil alignment.
- : Large size, 40 ft. speed, and its charge ability knocks targets prone if they fail a Strength save. Somehow the least durable option and also tied with the Sabre-Toothed Tiger as the slowest.
- : Large size, 40 ft. speed, keen smell, and its pounce ability knocks targets prone if they fail a Strength save. Not quite as good at knocking creatures prone as the Rhinoceros, but the extra durability may be worth the trade.
Find Steed (2nd level)PHB
A paladin exclusive, Find Steed offers a way to get an intelligent mount for any character who might enjoy riding one. You don't necessarily need to ride your mount into combat, but having a (mildly) intelligent creature with which you can communicate telepathically from a mile away is really nice when your legs get tired and you need to call Uber, your magical pony.
If you're building for mounted combat, this is only slightly better than just buying a trained animal. The telepathy and intelligence are nice, but your steed is no more durable than a mundane animal so they're still completely vulnerable to even tiny amounts of damage. The most durable steed option is the warhorse at just 19 hit points, so by the time you can cast this a typical fireball can take your warhorse from full hp to 0 on a roll well below average damage. Even with the Mounted Combatant feat, it doesn't take much to kill your mount. Expect to recast Find Steed on a regular basis and hope that Aura of Protection is enough to let your mount succeed on a Dexterity saving throw once in a while.
If you do plan to explore mounted combat, see my Practical Guide to Mounted Combat. For information on Find Greater Steed, see above.
- : Literally just a worse warhorse. None of the camel's real-world abilities to survive in arid environments made it into the stat block.
- : Similar in many ways to the Warhorse, the Elk trades some of the Warhorse's speed and hit points for a better charge option.
- : The go-to option for small riders, the Mastiff has the same speed as the pony but with better senses and attacks.
- : Slightly better hp and Strength than the Mastiff, but that's not enough to make it the better choice.
- : The go-to option for medium riders, at 60 ft. speed the warhorse will double the speed of most humanoids. On top of that, it has excellent attacks include Trampling Charge.
Infernal Calling (5th level)XGtE
Infernal Calling is has a 1-minute casting time, and at a glance resembles the spells in the Conjure Creature Spells category. However, it has several key differences. You do not control the creature: you need to convince it to do what you want with a Charisma check unless you can control it by other means like the spell Planar Binding. If you lose Concentration or choose to end the spell, the devil does not disappear: it gets 3d6 minutes to do what it pleases. You can summon creatures one CR above the spell level that you use, or possibly two if you have a specific devil's talisman and summon that devil (finding such a talisman is far beyond the scope of this article).
Fortunately, you do get to choose the type of devil which helps a great deal. This allows you to select a devil with a low Insight bonus, increasing your chances of commanding it successfully. Your devil will still try to convine you to make a pact with it, but you can basically ignore it. Let it pitch you their warlock power pyramid scheme or whatever, order them to kill stuff or whatever else you need, and hope that you come out on top.
Perhaps the most limiting part of this spell is who can cast it. Warlock get it on their spell list, but can't cast it past 5th level. Wizards also get it, but won't have the Charisma to make the Charisma checks to command the creatures reliably. The spell itself is really good, but no one is good at casting it.
Upcasting Infernal Calling allows you to summon higher-CR creatures.
The table below omits setting-specific creatures, creatures specific to adventures, and creatures below CR 6.
|Spell Lvl||CR||Creature Name|
|6 (5 with talisman)||7|| |
|7 (6 with talisman)||8|| |
|8 (7 with talisman)||9|| |
|9 (8 with talisman)||10|| |
|9 (only with talisman)||11|| |
Planar Ally (6th level)PHB
This spell's description is intentionally vague and open-ended, which makes me nervous. If you cast this, expect to spend some time negotiating with an outsider over what service you need and how they'll be compensated. The suggested prices for service are very high, so don't use this on a regular basis.
Planar Binding (5th level)PHB
This is not a spell for the casual player. This is a complicated, dangerous, unpredictable mechanical roulette wheel. If it works, you can get a powerful ally for a duration long enough to complete an adventure or two. If it doesn't work, you've wasted 1,000gp. Forewarned is forearmed. Learn the spell very carefully before you cast it.
Planar Binding in appealing spelling on top of your other summoning spells which allows you to extend the duration of your summoning spells from one hour to as much as a year and a day. On top of that, it gives you more control over the summoned creature, allowing you better control over creatures like those summoned with Infernal Calling and Summon Greater Demon.
However, Planar Binding full of mechanical traps which are easy to overlook and which make the spells extremely difficult to rely upon.
The first challenge is picking a spell to use to summon your creature. This is more complex than you might think because you need to pick a spell where the creature remains even if you break Concentration. Once you start casting a spell with a casting time longer than 1 Action, you need to maintain Concentration on that spell, which forces you to break Concentration on anything else. This creates a huge rules problem because not one of the published summoning spells (except Gate and Planar Ally) will keep the creature around long enough to finish casting Planar Binding. At this point, RAW, Planar Binding is unusable most summoning spells. Hopefully your DM will bend the rules a little to make this workable, otherwise the only options are Conjure Elemental or Conjure Fey, and I can't imagine that WotC intended for a spell this complex to be so incredibly limited.
You might be able to use Planar Ally here, but it's not clear if the creature will wait around while you cast Planar Binding so you may need to negotiate and pay it to willingly be subject to Planar Binding, and that seems so laughably unlikely that I don't think any creature intellectually capable of negotiating would say "sure, I'll accept payment for one hour of standing around to then be your magical slave for up to a year."
Once you pick a spell, you need to find a place to perform the casting. You'll need to be somewhere safe for a long period of time (up to 2 hours most likely) without interruptions that could break concentration like inclement weather or enemies attacking you. Wherever you cast the spell also sets the location to which the summoned creature will return when they've completed their current orders, so make it somewhere easy for you to get to. A permanent base is an obvious choice, though not the only one.
Next you need to keep the target in place for the full 1-hour casting time of Planar Binding. Typical combat summon spells will have 1-hour durations, so you need to start casting Planar Binding immediately after you finish summoning the creature. That leaves no time for you to issue commands to the creature, and there's room to argue that the duration of the summon spell ends on the turn before you finish casting Planar Binding. Hopefully your DM will be lenient enough to let you issue one command ("stand still") and let the durations like up enough because if your DM doesn't allow that to happen Planar Binding is unusable with any summoning spell short of Gate unless you can extend the duration by some other means.
Magic Circle is an important tool here. Creatures like demons and devils aren't obligated to follow your orders if they're summoned with Infernal Calling or Summon Greater Demon, and using Magic Circle with its effects reversed can keep the summoned creature inside for the duration. However, it too has a 1-hour duration and a one-minute casting time.
Unless you have help, you'll need to cast Magic Circle at 4th level or higher to increase the duration. You'll also need to avoid summoning a creature which can teleport, and you'll need a way to prevent the creature from attacking you while you cast Planar Binding. They'll be at Disadvantage, but a full hour is 600 rounds and that's plenty of time to shoot at you while you're busy casting spells.
Try to get some amount of cover without breaking line of sight, and stay at the maximum range of 60 feet to stay out of range of things like breath weapons and other short-range abilities. Invisibility's 1-hour duration will keep you invisibile for most of the time you'll be casting spells, though in your best-case scenario it will expire one minute before you finish Planar Binding, at which point you'll need to rely on whatever other countermeasures are in place (cover, mage armor, Magic Circle, etc.). Your best bet is to have another ally handy who can refresh Invisibility for you, and to keep you and your ally behind a sturdy wall with an arrow slit or a small observation window through which you can maintain line of sight while benefiting from three-quarters cover.
Once you have successfully set up countermeasures, summoned the creature, and cast Planar Binding, you need to get the creature to fail their saving throw. Your best bet is to summon a creature with poor Charisma saves (see my accompanying tables for summoning spells in this article, some of which specify the creature's Charisma saves when it's relevant to that spell), but if you can you should also look for ways to hamper the creature's save, though you'll need an ally to provide them unless you can do it yourself as a Bonus Action.
Mind Sliver will apply a -1d4 penalty, as will the spell Bane. Bestow Curse can impose Disadvantage on the save, but since it's permanent you may not want to go that route unless Planar Binding is going to make the summoning last long enough that you can comfortably cast Remove Curse without it being a problem. It's hard to overstate how important it is to get this part of the spell right because if the creatures succeeds on their save you've spent a bunch of time and effort to set up and plan only to waste the 1,000gp material component.
Did I mention the 1,000gp material component which the spell consumes? Yeah, that's a thing. It's there to keep players from abusing this. Cast at 5th level, Planar Binding extends your summon's duration to 24 hours (from the end of casting Planar Binding, not from the end of casting Summon Whatever), so you're spending 1,000gp to have an ornery pet for one day. That's not worth the price. If you go to the trouble to use Planar Binding, I recommend using at least a 7th-level spell slot.
At this point, you have your creature summoned and Planar Binding is in effect. Let's discuss what happens and how things work at this stage.
First, Concentration is gone. You broke Concentration when you started casting Planar Binding, so you're free to go back to concentrating on other stuff like summoning other creatures.
Second, the method to control your summoned creature is determined entirely by Planar Binding. Creatures will follow verbal orders, but if they're hostile to you (and many will be when you break Concentration on the spell which summoned them), they're going to be a pain about it. Think "malicious compliance". The best way to handle it is to give specific but concise orders, but be concious of obvious loopholes. "Kill that creature as quickly as possible" might lead your summoned creature to collapse your house on top of the creature because it's marginally faster than stabbing them repeatedly.
Now that you've read all of that, compare the text it took me to clarify the exact workings of Planar Ally to the length of the text of the spell. That is how much complexity it buried here. Again: forewarned is forearmed.
Summon Greater Demon (4th level)XGtE
Summon Greater Demon is the high-level analog of Summon Lesser Demons, allowing you to summon a single high-CR demon. It is somehow both better and worse than Summon Lesser Demons. Unique among other spells, your summoned demon gets to make a Charisma save at the end of each of its turn to break free of your control. If it gets free, it remains for 1d6 rounds and is hostile to you.
Fortunately, you do get to choose the type of demon which helps a great deal. This allows you to select a demon with low Charisma saves, increasing your chances of maintaining control. You also notably get to choose a demon of a CR one above the spell level that you use. Of course, the high-level summon options also have high Charisma saving throw bonuses so this benefit doesn't matter as much as you might hope.
Upcasting Summon Greater Demon allows you to summon higher-CR creatures.
The table below omits setting-specific creatures, creatures specific to adventures, and creatures below CR 5.
|Spell Lvl||CR||Creature Name|
Summon Lesser Demons (3rd level)XGtE
Summon Lesser Demons falls somewhere between Conjure Creatures Spells and Summon Creatures Spells, but doesn't follow the rules of either. You don't get to choose a CR: the CR is determined at random. You don't get to issue orders to the demons: they're hostile toward you. Picking creatures is handled by the DM in the same way as Conjure Creatures Spells, but with a 1-Action casting time you can call this up in combat just like Summon Creature Spells.
Since you're going to cast this in combat (there is rarely a reason to do otherwise), and since you can't control the demons, you're casting the spell to add a third faction to any given encounter and hope that they're more harmful to your enemies than to your friends.
Upcasting Summon Lesser Demons allows you to summon additional creatures.
|1/4 or Lower||8|| |
|1/2||4x||None at this level, so if you roll this you just get fewer CR 1/4 creatures. Welcome to summoning demons.|