Finding (and Using) Fantastical Familiars

Everyone needs a friend. Spellcasters are weird though and don’t like just any animal companion, they prefer familiars. Familiars are basically magical pets, but they have a few unique uses that make them a contributing member of any adventuring party.

Familiars come in all shapes and sizes. Some have a deep bond with their spellcasting master. Others simply see this as a job and will stick around until the position no longer benefits them. They can make for an interesting plot point for a DM to throw at their players.

Let’s take a look at the friend of all wizards, the familiar!

What’s a Familiar?

A familiar is a magical companion that a spellcaster bonds with or summons via the Find Familiar spell. These creatures form a telepathic bond with their master and may even grant unique abilities to them. There’s a fair bit of utility that familiars bring to the table.

Generally a familiar is between CR 0 and CR 1/4 but there are a few exceptions such as the imp or quasit that are CR 1 creatures.

Regardless, familiars are all magical creatures making them distinctly different from an animal companion. They have additional powers and features that they bring to the table than their mortal counterparts.

imp in wizard's study
Familiars are basically just unpaid interns. Credit: WotC.

A Quick Look At Find Familiar

Find Familiar is a 1st-level conjuration spell that is also a ritual. It requires at least one hour of time to cast and 10 gp of materials in order to complete the spell. Once you complete the spell your familiar appears in the form you’ve selected for it.

There are 15 forms in total. These forms are an assortment of aquatic, flying, and land beasts. However, they become a celestial, fiend, or fey when summoned.

Familiars act separately from you in combat, but they’ll obey your every command provided that you stay within 100 feet of them. They cannot attack, but they can take any other action in combat and make use of all of their regular traits and movement their statblock provides them.

One really cool thing you can do with a familiar is that you can use an action to see through your familiar’s eyes and hear what it hears. You’ll also gain any of the creature’s sensory-based traits, but you lose your own senses while you perform this action.

You can also use an action to dismiss your familiar into a pocket dimension. This is handy since if they die you’re going to have to cast Find Familiar again.

The crème de la crème of a familiar, in my opinion, is that you can use them to deliver your spells with the range of touch provided that they’re within 100 feet of you. This opens up so many new combat opportunities it’s not even funny.

This is a wizard spell, but there are other ways of picking up Find Familiar. For example, the Pact of the Chain Warlock gets Find Familiar as a free spell or you could grab the Magic Initiate (Wizard) feat and pick this up as your 1st-level spell.

How Can You Use Them?

There are many ways you can utilize your familiar, but here are some of the most iconic and useful ways to use them.

Proxy Spellcasting

One of the defining features of the familiar is that they can be used as a vessel to make touch attacks for you. No longer do you have to get within the enemy’s striking range to cast Shocking Grasp!

Essentially, as long as your familiar can touch the target, you can cast your spells with a range of touch through them. You do so by using your spellcasting modifier as well which is fantastic!

The range of this feature is 100 ft. just like the rest of the familiar’s features and abilities. You’ve effectively made your touch spells go from a range of 0 feet to just under Fire Bolt which is impressive, to say the least.

The only risky part of this maneuver is that your squishy familiar is an easy target for a creature to attack and probably kill. With that being said, it’s better to lose them than lose you so this is still a great tactic to utilize.

Assist Your Allies

I’ve already done a deep-dive on how the Help action works in 5e. In fact, I even talked about this specific usage of it, so I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail here. Regardless, it’s one of the best benefits that familiars bring to the table for the party so it deserves a mention.

A familiar can take any regular action in combat besides the Attack action. This means it can Dodge, Dash, and Disengage among other things, but most importantly, they can Help!

Taking the Help action allows your familiar to aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 ft. of your familiar. When they do this, the chosen ally’s first attack is made with advantage. Pretty great, right?

The downside to this, of course, is that it puts your familiar in imminent danger just like with proxy spellcasting. You’ll need to ensure that the reward outweighs the risk when performing this maneuver or else your furry, feathered, or scaled friend will perish!

pseudodragon monster manual familiars
Pseudodragons are probably my favorite of the variant familiars. Credit: WotC.

Safely Scout Ahead

There are a few cool things you can do by seeing through your familiar’s eyes. The most obvious of which is granting yourself temporary darkvision by seeing through your familiar’s eyes for a turn. Human wizards rejoice, you can see at night like everyone else once in a while!

This feature also allows you to use your familiar as a scout. They can move ahead of the party and as long as you’re within 100 ft. of them, you can see through their eyes and have a telepathic connection with them.

However, it’s totally possible to ask them to go further than 100 ft. and report back after X amount of time. You won’t have your telepathic connection or ability to use their senses, but if they don’t return you’ll at least know there’s a potential threat up ahead.

While you may be hesitant to step on the party rogue’s toes, they’ll probably be grateful. I mean, it’s your familiar that will take all the damage from scouting out a trapped room rather than them. Besides, it’s a lot less expensive to resummon your familiar than it is to revive a dead rogue!

You will have to be within 100 ft. of your familiar and keep using an action to have this sensory connection, but it’s well worth it.

But I Want Something Different!

It’s entirely possible to have a familiar other than the ones specified by the Find Familiar spell. Obviously, your DM could just reflavor one of the creatures to give you a more thematic companion. However, per the rules, you can also obtain new and more powerful familiars in your adventures.

A spellcaster can share a bond with creatures that have the Variant: Familiar trait in their statblock. Two notable examples are the imp and  the pseudodragon.

These familiars are much more powerful than a typical familiar. They have special traits and some of them, like the pseudodragon, can share these traits with their masters under certain conditions. For example, you gain Magic Resistance if you’re within 10 feet of your pseudodragon familiar.

The major downside to this type of familiar is that once they are slain, they’re actually dead. Other downsides are that you cannot resummon them, see through their eyes, use them to deliver touch attacks, or pop them into their pocket dimension.

However, generally speaking, the positives outweigh the negatives. Though I will admit losing the proxy touch attack feature does suck pretty hard.

For example, the pseudodragon grants you Magic Resistance if you’re within 10 feet of it, you gain a telepathic bond and can sense what they sense if they’re within one MILE of each other. You also never have to use the spell to summon them.

Oh also, since these are sentient magical creatures they can choose to end their familiar bond with you whenever they choose.

quasit monster manual art
Quasits are fiendishly adorable. Credit: WotC.

Pact of the Chain Warlock

If you’re a Pact of the Chain Warlock you can already summon a familiar in a special form (imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite) so there’s no need to embark on some quest or shell out cash to get a unique familiar.

These familiars can also attack by using one of your attacks made with the Attack action at the cost of their Reaction. This can be particularly useful since some creature, like the pseudodragon, can do things like poison the enemy with an attack.

They also function the same as a regular familiar meaning you can resummon them or pop them into their pocket dimension whenever you like.

Basically, if you’re interested in having your familiar be a major part of your character’s identity and kit I’d suggest a quick level dip into Pact of the Chain Warlock if not playing a warlock from the get-go!

Obtaining a Special Familiar

While bonding with these magical creatures is difficult enough, finding them is in many cases just as challenging.

If you desire a unique familiar such as a pseudodragon or an imp I’d urge you to express this to your DM. That way they can think up ways to give you the opportunity to meet one of these creatures.

Basically, if they don’t know you want to do this, they’re probably not going to plan for it. Speak up!

With that being said, here are a few scenarios I’ve thought up:

  1. Give the spellcaster an opportunity to seek out the familiar of their choice. They can read about their location in your world or ask the locals if they’ve spotted one of these fantastical creatures before.
  2. Let your spellcaster be a questgiver! They can hire a party of low-level adventurers to capture a familiar for them.
  3. Make a familiar the reward. The villain the party disposed of has been keeping this familiar captive. They agree to bond with the spellcaster as a show of their appreciation.
  4. Maybe your party is full of jerks. They can steal some other wizard’s familiar. The tricky part about this, though is convincing the familiar to serve them now!
  5. The familiar finds the party. They’ll bond with your spellcaster, but under one condition…

Conclusions

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of summoning and companions in D&D 5e. In my experience, it gets out of control quickly and puts a lot of extra work onto the DM. With that being said, familiars are the exception to the rule for me.

Familiars can be abundantly useful tools for spellcasters. They can provide support for their allies, give the spellcaster beneficial traits, act as a long-range scout for the party, and even act as a proxy to let the spellcaster cast touch attack spells from up to 100 ft. away.

Keep in mind that all of that is done without dipping into the spellcaster’s action economy.

Unique familiars such as imps, pseudodragons, sprites, or quasits can provide tons of new plot hooks for DMs to dish-out to the party. They’re one party amazing familiar and one part plot point for the DM a true win-win for the campaign.

Familiars are fun, have a lot of utility, and can provide a bit of flavor to your spellcaster. Use one with your next character and you’ll find out just how powerful and flavorful they can be!

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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1 Comment

  1. I was hoping for a bit more than just restating what familiars can do for this article. Maybe some ideas to expand upon. I like my players having pets, companions and familiars. It all adds to the flavour of their character and adds to the roleplaying and creative play. They can be useful and even powerful, and so I treat them somewhat like magic items.

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