Faery Tales, Mythology, and Fables are replete with stories of magic users who have creatures called Familiars.
These small animal friends are present in a Fantasy RPG like Pathfinder. Spellcasters in Pathfinder can choose to call on the services of Familiars to do a myriad of things including delivering touch spells at range, communicate telepathically with its master, and even allow it to be scryed upon!
Sometimes a regular familiar isn’t enough though, and you need to get things boosted. That is where the Improved Familiar feat comes in.
Familiars are generally the same flavor-wise between the two Pathfinder Editions. There are some big mechanical differences that merit approaching these rules differently.
It is important to look at these rules and know what the mechanics are for a Familiar before bringing up how Improved Familiars work.
Pathfinder First Edition Familiars
Who Gets a Familiar?
There are a surprising amount of ways to get a Familiar in Pathfinder 1e. The most common way is through the Wizard’s Arcane Bond ability they receive at first level. Sorcerers can also get a familiar through their Arcane Bloodline option.
What can a Familiar Do?
First off a basic familiar can offer a small bonus just for being bound to you. Each creature has a special ability that bestows on the master who bonds with it. That Special Ability changes based on the creature, and can vary in power.
Familiars are not just like normal creatures of their species. They have a few changes that come from the Arcane Bond with you:
“Hit Dice: For the purpose of effects related to number of Hit Dice, use the master’s character level or the familiar’s normal HD total, whichever is higher.
Hit Points: The familiar has half the master’s total hit points (not including temporary hit points), rounded down, regardless of its actual Hit Dice.
Attacks: Use the master’s base attack bonus, as calculated from all his classes. Use the familiar’s Dexterity or Strength modifier, whichever is greater, to calculate the familiar’s melee attack bonus with natural weapons. Damage equals that of a normal creature of the familiar’s kind.
Saving Throws: For each saving throw, use either the familiar’s base save bonus (Fortitude +2, Reflex +2, Will +0) or the master’s (as calculated from all his classes), whichever is better. The familiar uses its own ability modifiers to saves, and it doesn’t share any of the other bonuses that the master might have on saves.
Skills: For each skill in which either the master or the familiar has ranks, use either the normal skill ranks for an animal of that type or the master’s skill ranks, whichever is better. In either case, the familiar uses its own ability modifiers. Regardless of a familiar’s total skill modifiers, some skills may remain beyond the familiar’s ability to use. Familiars treat Acrobatics, Climb, Fly, Perception, Stealth, and Swim as class skills.”
Familiars also improve with every level, getting more powerful as you get more powerful. This way they can keep pace with you and the party as you grow.
|Master Class Level||Natural Armor Adj.||Intelligence||Special|
|1st–2nd||+1||6||Alertness, improved evasion, share spells, empathic link|
|3rd–4th||+2||7||Deliver touch spells|
|5th–6th||+3||8||Speak with master|
|7th–8th||+4||9||Speak with animals of its kind|
|13th–14th||+7||12||Scry on familiar|
Natural Armor Adj.: The number noted here is in addition to the familiar’s existing natural armor bonus.
Int: The familiar’s Intelligence score.
Improved Evasion (Ex): When subjected to an attack that normally allows a Reflex saving throw for half damage, a familiar takes no damage if it makes a successful saving throw and half damage even if the saving throw fails.
Share Spells: The wizard may cast a spell with a target of “You” on his familiar (as a touch spell) instead of on himself. A wizard may cast spells on his familiar even if the spells do not normally affect creatures of the familiar’s type (magical beast).
Empathic Link (Su): The master has an empathic link with his familiar to a 1 mile distance. The master can communicate empathically with the familiar, but cannot see through its eyes. Because of the link’s limited nature, only general emotions can be shared. The master has the same connection to an item or place that his familiar does.
Deliver Touch Spells (Su): If the master is 3rd level or higher, a familiar can deliver touch spells for him. If the master and the familiar are in contact at the time the master casts a touch spell, he can designate his familiar as the “toucher.”
The familiar can then deliver the touch spell just as the master would. As usual, if the master casts another spell before the touch is delivered, the touch spell dissipates.
Speak with Master (Ex): If the master is 5th level or higher, a familiar and the master can communicate verbally as if they were using a common language. Other creatures do not understand the communication without magical help.
Speak with Animals of Its Kind (Ex): If the master is 7th level or higher, a familiar can communicate with animals of approximately the same kind as itself (including dire varieties): bats with bats, cats with felines, hawks and owls and ravens with birds, lizards and snakes with reptiles, monkeys with other simians, rats with rodents, toads with amphibians, and weasels with ermines and minks. Such communication is limited by the Intelligence of the conversing creatures.
Spell Resistance (Ex): If the master is 11th level or higher, a familiar gains spell resistance equal to the master’s level + 5. To affect the familiar with a spell, another spellcaster must get a result on a caster level check (1d20 + caster level) that equals or exceeds the familiar’s spell resistance.
Scry on Familiar (Sp): If the master is 13th level or higher, he may scry on his familiar (as if casting the scrying spell) once per day.”
Pathfinder Second Edition
Who Gets a Familiar?
Like Pathfinder 1e, there are a few options to get a Familiar. Druids, Witches, and Wizards all get access to a familiar, as does the Archetype Familiar Master. Gnomes and Ratfolk have racial feats they can take to get a familiar as well, Animal Accomplice and Rat Familiar respectively.
How Do Familiars Work?
A Familiar in Pathfinder 2e is a creature magically bonded to you. It is typically a tiny animal, but the Druid’s Leshay Familiar is a small, mobile plant.
What makes a Familiar different is they have separate traits:
“Familiars have the minion trait, so during an encounter, they gain 2 actions in a round if you spend an action to command them. If your familiar dies, you can spend a week of downtime to replace it at no cost. You can have only one familiar at a time.
Your familiar’s save modifiers and AC are equal to yours before applying circumstance or status bonuses or penalties. Its Perception, Acrobatics, and Stealth modifiers are equal to your level plus your spellcasting ability modifier (Charisma if you don’t have one, unless otherwise specified). It can’t make Strikes, but it can use trained skill actions for skills for which it adds your spellcasting ability modifier. If it attempts an attack roll or other skill check, it uses your level as its modifier. It doesn’t have or use its own ability modifiers and can never benefit from item bonuses.
Your familiar has 5 Hit Points for each of your levels.
Your familiar is Tiny.
Your familiar has low-light vision and can gain additional senses from familiar abilities. It can communicate empathically with you as long as it’s within 1 mile of you, sharing emotions. It doesn’t understand or speak languages normally, but it can gain speech from a familiar ability.
Your familiar has either a Speed of 25 feet or a swim Speed of 25 feet (choose one upon gaining the familiar). It can gain other movement types from familiar abilities.
Each day, you channel your magic into two abilities, which can be either familiar or master abilities. If your familiar is an animal that naturally has one of these abilities (for instance, an owl has a fly Speed), you must select that ability. Your familiar can’t be an animal that naturally has more familiar abilities than your daily maximum familiar abilities.”
That last part is very important, because the Improved Familiar Feat affects that directly. To have a familiar, you need to be able to attune it with specific abilities to customize it. Specific Animals have required specific abilities that you have to attune to. Like if you select a Raven Familiar you have to give it Flier every day.
Some Feats such as Enhanced Familiar will allow you to expand how many abilities you can grant, therefore either improving your familiar with extra abilities, or allowing you to take Specific Familiars.
List of the Best Improved Familiars
Because the mechanical rules of familiars are different between editions, the Improved Familiar feat is different between both of them.
Pathfinder First Edition Improved Familiar
Improved Familiar in Pathfinder 1e allows you to “Upgrade” your familiar to a more complex or exotic animal or creature. Rather than having a normal bat or a rat, you could instead have a creature like an Elemental or a Small Dragon.
This does have some limitations though.
All of the creatures in the Improved Familiar list have a specific alignment. That Alignment can only be one step away from your personal alignment axis, i.e. Law vs Chaos and Good vs Evil.
You have to also have the requisite level for the Creature in question. For example, if you wanted an Imp as a familiar, you need to have an Arcane Spell Caster level of at least 7.
Improved Familiars are almost exactly like regular familiars, but their type does not change and they don’t automatically gain the ability to talk to other animals of their type. However most of these creatures can already communicate.
Unlike base creatures, the Improved Familiars to not offer special abilities, but they offset that with amazing abilities they can offer in combat.
If we look at the list on the Improved Familiar entry, we can see that the list is massive. To make things easier, I’m going to highlight a few that really stand out as good options.
|Creature Name||Alignment||Level||Recommendation Reasons|
|Agathion, Silvanshee||NG||7th||Great for Scouting with the massive Stealth Bonus. Truespeech allows it to translate almost anything. Pounce and Lay on Hands make for a good combat companion.|
|Asura, Tripurasura||LE||7th||Darkvision and Constant Detect Magic makes for a great passive Perception|
|Devil, Imp||LE||8th||Consular Specific. Flies and Debuffs enemies during combat.|
|Dragon, Faerie||Within One Step of CG||7th||Invisibility and Telepathic. Can scout even better than the Silvanshee. Can cast spells like a Sorcerer.|
|Pseudodragon||NG||7th||Flying with Poison, can scout or keep watch with Blindsense, Darkvision, or Low-Light Vision.|
|Psychopomp, Nosoi||N||7th||Great for scouting like the Silvanshee, plus their Haunting Melody ability scales with your HD.|
|Qlippoth, Cythnigot||CE||7th||Not great in combat, but has access to the Commune spell without the necessary components.|
|Rakshasa, Raktavarna||LE||7th||Infiltration master with its shape changing. Can also use Commune, and has a poison attack|
|Ratling||CE||7th||Amazing Scout like the Faerie Dragon. Comes with Commune, and a sneak attack. It can also use magical items like scrolls.|
Pathfinder Second Edition Improved Familiar
The Improved Familiar feat in Pathfinder 2e is much like the one in 1e, but this one offers options from a list called Specific Familiars.
Any character who has a familiar can have a Specific Familiar. To get a Specific Familiar you need to have the ability to grant it enough abilities that the creature individually comes with.
Example: the Aeon Wyrd requires 3 abilities to be granted per day. This is where feats like Enhanced Familiar come in handy.
However, the Improved Familiar Feat is the best for use with Specific Familiars, because it reduces the amount of abilities required by you by 2! Example, a Shadow Familiar requires 7 granted abilities for you to be able to attune to it. However, with Improved Familiar a Shadow Familiar would only need 5!
Like above, there is a large list of Specific Familiars to call on. So we are going to drop some recommendations below!
Faerie Dragon: Much like above 1e options, the Faerie dragon is a great option for use as a scout. The breath weapon can set up enemies for sneak attacks, especially if the targets have weak will saves.
Imp: This is the go to option if you can get over the evil devil part of it. The Invisibility option is amazing for scouting, but the best option overall is the Infernal Temptation ability. Risk your eternal soul, but get to roll twice on a saving throw to save your own life!