Pathfinder - The Summoner Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The Summoner casts spells about as well as a Bard, but has a very strict emphasis on summoning and conjuration. The Summoner's big draw is the Eidolon, sort of an a la carte pet which you get to build with a system of points. Where the Hunter uses an Animal Companion and trains/buffs them to their liking, the Summoner gets to build their pet from the ground up, and it can be and do whatever you want. Despite being limited to 6th-level spells, the versatility of the Eidolon allows the Summoner to fill a huge variety of roles in the party.
Like any character with a pet, Summoners have excellent action economy. They can easily engage multiple targets or address multiple challenges at the same time. However, the Summoner's emphasis on the Eidolon often leaves the summoner fairly useless at the back of the field while the Eidolon does all of the fighting.
Summoner Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points is bad, but it's higher than any other back-row caster.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB for some reason.
Saves: Good Will saves, but little dependence on any ability which contributes to saves. You will need to make a point to buff your saves or you will be very vulnerable.
Proficiencies: Simple weapons and light armor. Expect to use a crossbow between spells.
Skills: 2+ skills and Intelligence is a dump stat, which is a shame because the Summoner gets access to all Knowledge skills for some reason.
Spells: Summoners are 2/3 spontaneous casters. Their spell list includes a lot of fantastic buffs and a few good utility options.
Cantrips: Fantastic and versatile.
Eidolon: The summoner's iconic feature. For help with your Eidolon, see my Practical Guide to Eidolons.
Life Link (Su): The first portion of the ability allows you to use your own hit points to keep your Eidolon alive. You don't want to need this frequently. It only works when your Eidolon takes enough damage to be killed, so it won't work if your Eidolon is knocked below 0 but not sent to its home plane. The second portion of the ability details how your Eidolon weakens as it moves away from you. Your Eidolon's current hit points and hit point maximum drop as it moves away from you, and even if it moves closer to you again your Eidolon does not regain any lost current hit points. Your Eidolon could move in and out of the 100 foot range on your turn and deplete its own hit points by half each time.
Summon Monster (Sp): The Summoner's Summon Monster ability gives them access to Summon Monster as though they were a full caster, but you can't use it while your Eidolon is summoned. The durations are extended to one minute per level instead of one round per level, making it easy for a summon to last through one of more encounters, even at relatively low level. Using this is a standard action, so you can do it during a surprise round and have your summons act immediately rather than spending a full round casting like everyone else.
Bond Senses (Su): This would be great if the duration weren't so pitifully short.
Shield Ally (Ex): This is excellent if you plan to ride your Eidolon, but you generally shouldn't be in melee with your Eidolon because the Summoner is very squishy.
Maker's Call (Ex): If you get ambushed, or if enemies get past your party's fron line, you can use this to bring your Eidolon over to murder the problem.
Transposition (Su): Similar to Maker's Call, but even better if your Eidolon is somewhere safe for you to be.
Aspect (Su): This is a cool way to get yourself some nice defenses or something. Unfortunately Fast Healing is out of reach.
Greater Shield Ally (Su): Nice if you have other melee characters in the party, or if you're letting someone else ride your Eidolon.
Life Bond (Su): This will save your life if you get yourself into a bad position.
Merge Forms (Su): Rarely useful, and the duration is very short.
Greater Aspect (Su): Time to get that fast healing!
Twin Eidolon (Su): Because you get to keep all of your own feats and class features, you are a better Eidolon than your Eidolon. Unfortunately you spent 19 levels building yourself to work while you weren't an Eidolon, so you probably won't get a lot of help from your own Feats.
The Summoner's abilities are very strange. Because the Eidolon dominates the Summoner's build, very little is actually important to the Summoner.
Str: Dump to 7.
Dex: Essential for AC, saves, and ranged attacks.
Con: Good for hit points, but not super important because you have a big scary Eidolon to stand in front of you.
Int: Only needed for skill ranks, and Summoners only get 2+, so you can dump to 7 and still only lose one skill rank. If you want to pick up Knowledge skills, invest a bit in Intelligence, but don't go too crazy. You're not a Wizard.
Wis: Only needed for saves, and Will is the Summoner's only good save.
Cha: The Summoner's spellcasting ability. With only 6th-level spells and very few spells which require saving throws, it's easy for the Summoner to get by on 16 Charisma. More will get you additional bonus spells, but as a spontaneous caster you already have a whole mess of spells per day.
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Charisma bonuses are nice but not strictly necessary. Because the Summoner should generally be in the back row avoiding attention, small size and bonuses to Dexterity are excellent.
Dwarf: The Charisma penalty is easy to overcome because the Summoner doesn't need a huge pile of Charisma, but the Dwarf's abilities are largely wasted by the Summoner. The Dwarf favored class bonus adds a bit of Natural Armor to your Eidolon, which can be a nice buff, but doesn't make the Dwarf any more appealing.
Elf: The Constitution penalty is annoying, but hardly a deal breaker. The Elf's bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence are both usable, and the Elf racial bonuses to spellcaster can both help the Summoner. The Elf favored class bonus allows you to reduce the Eidolon's one-minute summoning time, but doesn't specify what happens when you hit 0 rounds. In theory, you may be able to summon your Eidolon as a free action, which would be a fun trick in combat.
Gnome: Small, and bonuses to two of the Summoner's most important abilities. The Gnome's favored class bonus adds hit points to your Eidolon, which is especially nice if your Eidolon is serving as the party's Defender.
Half-Elf: The Half-Elf is the best Summoner entirely based on their favored class bonus, which adds additional Evolution points at 1/4 per level. This breaks the usual rule of 6 levels equaling one feat/talent, which means it's especially potent.
Half-Orc: The Flexible ability bonus is the only thing that the Half-Orc brings to the Summoner. The Half-Orc's favored class bonus adds hit points to your Eidolon, which is especially nice if your Eidolon is serving as the party's Defender, and you can take the Human favored class bonus to add skill ranks to Eidolon instead.
Halfling: Similar to the Gnome, but stealthier and the bonus to Dexterity places more emphasis on offense than survivability. The Halfling favored class bonus adds skill ranks to the Eidolon, but skills are rarely the Eidolon's strong suit. The Halfling's Outrider alternate racial trait makes them a good option if you plan to ride your Eidolon.
Human: Always a fantastic choice, and the bonus skill rank allows you to dump Intelligence to 7 and still get two ranks. The Human favored class bonus allows you to add hit points or skill ranks to Eidolon, offering some nice options.
- Loyalty across Lifetimes (Faith): This allows your Eidolon to bleed out for two more rounds before it's returned to its home plane. Except at low levels, 2 hit points is too small a window to be meaningful.
- Perpetual Companion (Faith): A trait that gives you +1 to Will saves will be considerably more effective.
- Greater Link (Magic): 10 extra feet may matter once in your character's whole career.
- Linked Surge (Magic): I can't think of a situation in which this would be more useful than having your Eidolon perform the check in your stead.
- Twinned Presence (Magic): Making your Eidolon big is a great idea, and making yourself small is a great idea. Normally that cuts into your Intimidate bonus, but now you can be tiny and your Eidolon can be big and scary for you.
- Destined Diplomat (Social): Too situational. Get a trait that gives you +1 to Diplomacy all the time.
- Fly (Dex): One rank is enough.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Worthless. Eidolons don't learn tricks.
- Knowledge (all) (Int): With only 2+ skill ranks and poor Intelligence, the Summoner has a lot of trouble making use of their access to all Knowledge skills. Put one rank in every important skill for the +3 bonus, then focus on one or two important ones.
- Linguistics (Int): Cast Tongues.
- Ride (Dex): Essential if you plan to ride your Eidolon.
- Spellcraft (Int): Great for identifying spells and magic items, but Summoners tend to have poor intelligence.
- Use Magic Device (Cha): With high Charisma and very few built-in combat options. UMD can offer the Summoner a lot of great ways to help in combat.
- Mounted Combat: If you plan to ride your Eidolon, the Mounted Combat tree can be very effective. However, you will need to spend feats to gain access to the Lance, and without bonus feats it will take a while for you to reach Spirited Charge.
- Spell Focus (Conjuration): Very few of the Summoner's spells require saving throws.
- Augment Summoning: This works for the Summoner's Summon Monster ability, so you can get a ton of value from it. Unfortunately, it doesn't affect the Eidolon.
- Light Crossbow: If you don't have a good spell to cast in a given rough, a Light Crossbow is a solid choice. Deadly Aim can add some nice damage, and you don't need Strength like you do with a bow.
- Lance: Essential for mounted charge builds, but you need t ospend a feat or take a class dip for proficiency.
- leather: Starting armor.
- Mithral Buckler: No ACP, no spell failure, and cheap to enchant. Every arcane spellcaster should have one.
- Chain Shirt: Your permanent armor.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
It's difficult to recommend specific staffs without knowing your individual character, so instead I want to make a general endorsement of the concept of magic staffs in Pathfinder. If you are a 3.5 native, go read Pathfinder's rules for staffs because they have improved dramatically.
Staffs are a reliable, rechargeable source of extra spellcasting that can give spellcasters easy and reliable access to spells from their spell list which they might not want to learn, or which they might like to use so frequently that they can't prepare the spell enough times in a given day. On days when you're not adventuring (traveling, resting, etc.) you can easily recharge any staff even if you can only cast one of the spells which the staff contains.