There is a classic trope of spellcasters having some sort of animal companion, from a witch’s black cat to a wizard’s owl. Stemming from a long history in European folklore, this idea of an animal servant – or, more correctly, a servant masquerading as an animal – has been engrained in popular culture in general and in fantasy (and fantasy RPG’s) in particular.
So, let’s take a closer look at this idea of spellcaster’s little sidekicks – what they can and can’t be, and can and can’t do. Here is a DnD 5e familiar guide.
Familiars in Mythology
The basic notion of familiars extends back into the ancient era – Greeks spoke of daimons, or personal spirits that aided them. Romans had similar beings in their households (the word “familiar”, in fact, likely comes from the Latin famulus, or “servant”). And an 11th Century Arabic text translated into Latin makes explicit mention of someone having a familiar.
In these early depictions, familiars were spirits that were sometimes in the form of an animal, though in a number of cases they might look like tiny humans or stranger, arcane creatures. These forms were also rarely fixed, allowing the familiar to change frequently.
Commonly assumed to be either demons (in the case of witches) or fairies (in the case of more benign practitioners), familiars were often credited with teaching their masters magic or other secrets or detecting and diagnosing medical problems. They also, of course, could be used as spies or sentries.
Typical animal forms included the cat, the hare, and the dog, but animal forms from a butterfly to a tiny (apparently cat-sized) horse also appear in the accounts. In some cases, they could take on not only a human appearance, but come with a name and a unique identity as well (e.g., “Tom Reid from Scotland”).
Familiars in these stories were rarely summoned. Usually, they were encountered seemingly at random, though in some cases the familiar simply appeared and introduced itself at the person’s time of need. In a few cases, familiars might be inherited from a relative or acquaintance.
Find Familiar Spell Earlier Editions
Find Familiar has evolved a good bit from 1st Edition D&D. That version’s find familiar spell could only be cast once per year and had about a 25% chance of producing nothing at all! The wizard had no control over what they received if they did get a familiar, though the options were similar to part of the list of familiars in 5E: cat, crow, hawk, owl, toad, or weasel.
One interesting detail of this version was the small chance that the wizard could get a special familiar on a 5% chance (a roll of exactly 15 on the die). This could give the wizard an imp, pseudodragon, brownie, or quasit (basically the modern list for warlocks in 5E, if you substitute the sprite for the brownie).
Later editions of D&D tweaked the concept of familiars in various ways – some better, some worse. Some editions dropped the spell entirely and replaced it with a Summon Familiar ability.
5E Find Familiar
In 5E, the Find Familiar spell is a little more reasonable – a ritual spell taking an hour, it doesn’t have the original limits (or any limits) on how often it can be cast. And unlike in some earlier versions, you select the specific form your companion takes in 5E, from a list of “bat, cat, crab, frog (toad), hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish (quipper), rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel”.
This chosen form isn’t an actual animal – rather, a familiar is a fey, fiend, or celestial spirit shaped into this likeness to be your servant (though it will have the regular stats of its form). Note that you can only have one familiar at a time, however – but casting the spell a second time lets you change your familiar’s chosen form, a potentially useful ability for specific situations when you have the time to cast the spell.
This familiar, once summoned, acts on its own though it obeys all your commands. Within 100 ft, you can communicate with it telepathically and use its senses when you choose (though this leaves you blind and deaf in your own body). This makes familiars excellent scouts, especially given the sharp senses of some of the potential forms.
How to Use Your Familiar
Familiars cannot attack. They can, however, do any number of other actions – most notably a Help action to give allies advantage. They can also search areas or use items to the best of their ability, as well as use any of their chosen animal form’s non-combat abilities (such as the Camouflage ability of the octopus).
This makes familiars a potentially very useful extra set of hands (or paws), able to rummage your pack for a particular item, retrieve something from across the room (if they can carry it), operate levers or other simple controls, and just about anything else you could reasonably allow a creature in that form to do. Remember, it’s not an animal – it’s a spirit-creature of some kind, and more intelligent than a normal cat or bird, so don’t be fooled by those natural limitations.
Maximizing Your Familiar
One of the best uses of familiars, however, may be in spellcasting. A wizard can use their action to cast a “touch” spell and effectively store it in their familiar, using the familiar’s reaction to deliver the spell to a target they can’t (or are unwilling) to reach themselves. In other words, a wizard could cast shocking grasp against an enemy across the room, if his rat familiar got close enough to touch them (though of course this allows an attack of opportunity against the familiar).
Wizards can “store” their familiar safely in a pocket dimension by spending an action. It remains here until the wizard brings it back with another action (it will appear within 30 feet of the wizard). They can likewise permanently dismiss their familiar, requiring a second casting of the spell to summon a new one.
DnD 5e Familiar List Ranked
Below is a description of the 5E familiar stats for familiars from the default list for the Find Familiar Wizard spell.
Top Tier Familiars
Owl – AC: 11, HP: 1, Move: 5 ft / 60 ft Fly, Passive Perception: 13 – This is a great option. A fast flyer with 120’ darkvision and advantage on both sight- and hearing-based Perception checks would be reason enough to select an owl, though they have another trick that makes them even more appealing – the flyby. When using the familiar to deliver a touch spell, the owl’s ability to sweep through without provoking an attack of opportunity makes the owl a top choice.
Bat – AC: 12, HP: 1, Move: 5 ft / 30 ft Fly, Passive Perception: 11 – Blindsight with a 60’ radius is no joke, and they have advantage on hearing-based Perception checks. Bats are a great choice, especially for nocturnal or underground adventures where the darkness plays to their strengths
Hawk – AC: 13, HP: 1, Move: 10 ft / 60 ft Fly, Passive Perception: 14 – These are fast flyers with great vision (advantage on sight-based Perception checks). What the bat is to the night, the hawk is to the day – a pretty great flying scout.
Middle Tier Familiars
Raven – AC: 12, HP: 1, Move: 10 ft / 50 ft Fly, Passive Perception: 13 – A good flyer, the raven’s mimicry ability has some potential uses, but it’s not a really convincing trick – only a DC 10 Wisdom (Insight) roll -so it’s usefulness might be limited.
Spider – AC: 12, HP: 1, Move: 20 ft / 20 ft Climb, Passive Perception: 10 – There’s not much to say about the spider. It has Darkvision (30 ft) and naturally wouldn’t have an issue if you come across webs.
Cat – AC: 12, HP: 2, Move: 40 ft / 30 ft Climb, Passive Perception: 13 – One of the classics from folklore, cats have good speed, climbing ability (the fastest climbers, of the base list), and advantage on smell-based Perception checks, making them a worthwhile option.
Weasel – AC: 13, HP: 1, Move: 30 ft, Passive Perception: 13 – Weasels have keen senses, with advantage on both smell- and hearing-based Perception checks. A decent choice.
Bottom Tier Familiars
Snake – AC: 13, HP: 2, Move: 30 ft / 30ft Swim, Passive Perception: 13 – They have decent speed, both on land and in water, plus Blindsight (but only 10 ft).
Crab – AC: 11, HP: 2, Move: 20 ft / 20 ft Swim, Passive Perception: 9 – Though their speed is relatively slow, crabs can move freely underwater, since they don’t need to come up for air. And they can live up to 24 hours out of the water, so long as they keep their gills from drying out, so they’re one of the more versatile options. Blindsight (30 ft) adds to their appeal.
Frog – AC: 10, HP: 1, Move: 20 ft / 20 ft Swim, Passive Perception: 11 – It has Darkvision (30 ft) and can leap 10 ft horizontally or 5 ft vertically if you find yourself in a situation where that’s helpful.
Lizard – AC: 10, HP: 1, Move: 20 ft / 20 ft Climb, Passive Perception: 9 – The climbing can be handy for scouting, and it does have Darkvision (30 ft).
Rat – AC: 10, HP: 1, Move: 20 ft, Passive Perception: 10 – Rats are so common they’ll never get a second look when you send them scouting, and with Darkvision (30 ft) and a keen sense of smell (advantage on smell-based perception), they’re pretty good at it.
Octopus – AC: 12, HP: 3, Move: 5ft / 30ft Swim, Passive Perception: 12 – if you’re headed into an underwater campaign, it makes perfect sense to take your familiar in the form of an octopus. Relatively quick and stealthy creatures (their Camouflage ability gives them advantage on Stealth checks) with the added bonus of Darkvision (30 ft), it’s probably the best pick for below the waves.
Quipper – AC: 13, HP: 1, Move: 40ft Swim, Passive Perception: 8 – A relatively fast swimmer with Darkvision (60 ft), this isn’t a terrible choice for underwater adventuring. Depending on how you read the rules, the quipper’s Blood Frenzy ability could also provide advantage on delivering touch spells.
Seahorse – AC: 11, HP: 1, Move: 20ft Swim, Passive Perception: 10 – Slow with unremarkable senses, unless you need your familiar to infiltrate the Citadel of the Sea Horse Emperor, there’s just no good reason for this pick
Find Familiar 5e Options – Extended
Historically, familiars could be a range of animals. And though cats, who are on the approved list, were common familiars in folklore so were dogs and hares, who are not. So, what about these, or other possible options for Find Familiar in 5E, such as the raccoon, marmoset, or platypus?
Well, of course you can always consult with your DM about a homebrew familiar. As long as an animal has roughly equivalent stats to something on the list (i.e., similar in movement speed, hit points and general abilities), there’s no reason the specific type of beast can’t be switched out for flavor purposes. A few likely creatures are below:
Badger – AC: 10, HP: 3, Move: 20 ft / 5 ft Burrow, Passive Perception: 11 – Advantage on smell-based Perception checks, a burrowing movement and 30’ Darkvision make this an interesting alternative.
Dog (Tiny) – AC: 12, HP: 2, Move: 40 ft, Passive Perception: 13 – Basically a small terrier version, as most larger dog species run outside the parameters for familiars, this has good speed, advantage on smell-based Perception and the potential for “Toto” jokes in your campaign.
Rabbit – AC: 11, HP: 1, Move: 35 ft / 5 ft Burrow, Passive Perception: 13 – A fast runner who can burrow, rabbits also get advantage on hearing-based Perception.
Otter – AC: 13, HP: 2, Move: 30 ft / 30 ft Swim, Passive Perception: 13 – Unlike the weasel, it can swim well. Also unlike the weasel, it doesn’t get advantage on Perception checks.
Platypus – AC: 11, HP: 1, Move: 10 ft / 40 ft Swim, Passive Perception: 11 – A platypus has 30’ Blindsight due to electrolocation, though it only works underwater and only detects animals (it senses the nerve impulses running their muscles as a way of finding prey).
There are also several weird alternative familiars to be found in various books. The almiraj or the flying monkey (Tomb of Annihilation), the tressym (Storm King’s Thunder), and the abyssal chicken (Descent into Avernus) are all official alternate familiars, as well as the more conventional hare and fox (Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden), though you should still consult with your DM before trying to summon one.
The Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide to Monsters also lists a set of alternate familiars, including the crawling claw and gazer, though these are meant as options for NPC’s, and seem out of balance in terms of power and ability with the standard options. The Anvilwrought Raptor, from Mythic Odyssey of Theros is another such option.
And lastly, note that “Wizard” familiars aren’t solely for wizards. The Eldritch Knight subclass can take Find Familiar as one of the Wizard spells it collects at 3rd level, and the Arcane Trickster subclass can do the same. While the utility of a small animal companion to a knight can be questionable, there are any number of scenarios in which having a rat, weasel, raven, or the like as a second set of eyes could be useful to a rogue (the Help action, alone, would be useful in giving the rogue perpetual sneak attack damage).
Warlock Familiars: The Pact of the Chain
In 5th Edition D&D, familiars are not just limited to the Wizard spell. Warlocks, if they take the Pact of the Chain boon at 3rd level, learn their own version of the Find Familiar spell – though there are some key differences.
Warlock familiars do not take the form of garden-variety animals. Rather, the options come from a small range of magical creatures – the imp, pseudodragon, quasit, and sprite.
Secondly – and perhaps more critically – a warlock’s familiar can make an attack under the right circumstances. The warlock must sacrifice one of their own attacks in the same round for the familiar to attack with its reaction, but that’s still a big upgrade over a wizard’s familiar.
Like wizards, warlocks can use their familiars as vessels for casting touch spells – though unlike wizards, warlocks have no such spells that can do damage. In other respects – i.e., non-combat actions, etc., warlock familiars operate under the same rules as those of wizards.
Warlock Familiars: The Core List
Warlock familiars do, however, tend to have more impressive abilities. A comparison of the stats of these familiars shows even the weakest of them has magical abilities that could be an asset in a number of situations in and out of combat, even leaving aside their ability to attack:
Imp – AC: 13, HP 10, Move: 20 ft / 40 ft Fly, Passive Perception: 11 – With advantage on saving throws versus spells and other magical effects, the ability to turn invisible, Darkvision up to 120’, and last but not least a Polymorph ability that can make it a Swiss Army Knife of the regular wizard familiar options (and more), it’s hard to argue for a better option than this one.
Pseudodragon – AC: 13, HP 7, Move: 15 ft / 60 ft Fly, Passive Perception: 13 – The pseudodragon has the same magic resistance as the imp, in addition to advantage on sight-, hearing-, or smell-based Perception checks, 10 ft Blindsight and 60 ft Darkvision. It also has limited telepathy with creatures within 100’ (other than its master, of course).
Sprite – AC: 15, HP 2, Move: 10 ft / 40 ft Fly, Passive Perception: 13 – The best AC, but the lowest hit points of any of the warlock’s options make this perhaps the weakest choice – though it does have a ranged attack with its bow, can discern emotions and even alignments with its Heart Sight ability and can turn invisible.
Quasit – AC: 13, HP 7, Move: 40 ft, Passive Perception: 10 – This creature has Invisibility and 120’ Darkvision like the imp, and can Polymorph as well. Slightly weaker in combat beyond that, it does have a Scare ability that can be quite useful.
Warlock Familiars: Beyond the Basics
As with wizards, there is always a possibility for a homebrew substitution for the warlock’s core list. This is a particularly good way to add flavor by aligning the familiar type with the warlock’s patron (for example, a gazer for a warlock of the Great Old One).
The basic rule would be something small- or tiny-sized and not of the humanoid type. They should have generally about 15 hp, a typical CR of 1, and not be able to cast spells of their own. Some ideas for alternate warlock familiars for 5E would include the following, though as always with homebrew options, the DM has the final say:
Crawling Claw – AC: 12, HP: 2, Move: 20 ft / 20 ft Climb, Passive Perception: 10 – Not the strongest option (and with only 30’ Blindsight), but a perfect fit for a warlock of the Undying.
Flying Sword – AC: 17 HP: 17, Move: 0 ft / 50 ft Fly (and can hover), Passive Perception: 7 – Based on AC and HP, this seems a tad overpowered for a familiar, though it’s obviously limited in its actions with no actual limbs of any kind and blind beyond its 60’ Blindsight radius.
Oblex Spawn – AC: 13, HP: 18, Move: 20 ft, Passive Perception: 12 – The Oblex Spawn has 60’ Blindsight, though it can’t sense anything beyond that. It can, however, move through incredibly tight spaces and is immune to a number of conditions included blinded, exhausted, and charmed. It is, however, vulnerable to fire.
Twig Blight – AC: 13, HP: 4, Move: 20 ft, Passive Perception: 9 – Slow and completely blind beyond its 60’ Blindsight, the twig blight at least has the advantage of being indistinguishable from a dead plant when standing still.
Enjoy Your 5e Familiars!
The official rules on familiars offer a fair amount of specificity, while still leaving enough grey areas to let you think outside of the box. Can your weasel familiar pour a healing potion down a fallen ally’s throat if you tell it to? Why not? Can a warlock’s imp activate a wand? That’s trickier.
But even without a lot of debate, familiars potentially have a lot of uses for spellcasters in and out of combat. And used creatively, they can add quite a bit of flavor to the game.
Thankfully, your familiar will last just about forever, or until they get killed which means they will temporarily disappear until you resummon them.