Conjuration! It’s for more than just overhyped movies starring likable leads but with predictable ghost plots.
In Pathfinder it is a powerful spell for bringing in reinforcements when the time is right, or controlling the battlefield in just the way you want. Specifically today we are going to look at the Summon Monster Spell from Pathfinder 1st Edition.
The Mechanics of Summoning
Summoning Mechanics start with a very simple concept and build on that with potency and options. On the Caster’s turn he summons a creature using magic, typically of extraplanar origin, but not always.
First Edition Pathfinder SRD has their Summon Monster spell specifically grouped together. That is a good thing because each level increases the potency possible for a summon.
When you cast the spell, the creature appears in the space you designate (or closest to it if it can’t fit). Once summoned, the creature is under your control for the duration of the spell (one round/caster level). It becomes another creature on the table, and acts according to its own nature.
Running on its own initiative and has its own stat block taken right of the Bestiary. The creature takes the actions it sees fit while also following the caster’s instructions.
There is always a question over who is really in control of the creature, because it is supposed to follow instructions to the best of its capabilities. By normal rules as written, the GM is in charge of the monster’s actions.
However, most GMs already have enough on their plate and will often let the summoner take control of their summoned creature.
There are limitations on what the summoned creature can do, however. They cannot summon other creatures themselves, and they cannot use spells or spell-like abilities with expensive material components.
Some monsters are special and will match your alignment when you summon them. Certain monsters will also take on templates to match: Celestial if you are good, Entropic if you are chaotic, Fiendish if you are evil, and Resolute if you are lawful. If you are neutral you can take any one you choose.
As you can also see from the entry in the SRD, as you rank up in summon spells, you start to unlock the ability to summon more than one entity. As an example, as early as Summon Monster II, we can see the entry letting us summon either a level 2 creature or 1d3 of the same creature from Summon Monster I.
Summon Monster III allows us to summon 1 creature from the level 3 list OR we can summon 1d3 monsters from the level 2 list OR we can summon 1d4+1 creatures from the level 1 list.
When Summoning Unlocks
It is worth noting when Summon Monster unlocks for the classes that have the ability to use it. For players who wish to use Summon Monster often, this can help to know when they get access to the spells.
Below are gathered some of the best options for Pathfinder 1st Edition. While no option is truly terrible, there are some options which would be more helpful than others. Summoning a pack of celestial elk is not necessarily as helpful as perhaps an Angel.
For Pathfinder 1st Edition, we can break these down into options at every spell level. It is also generally a more efficient option to use the 1d3 option or 1d4 options to create more reinforcements, but situations are always better considered on a case by case basis.
Summon Monster I
- Dolphin: Best and only Aquatic option at this level. Best way to RP Aquaman.
- Eagle: Good Aerial Attacker. More sturdy than most of the larger birds. Fast as well
Summon Monster II
- Ant, Giant (Worker): Fast ground speed, and a poison. Good for locking down squishier enemies.
- Elemental, Small: Good option, but keep in mind your situation. Play into the elemental’s strength.
- Giant Frog: Best All Around option at the level. Ranged Grab that can get almost anyone in a grapple.
- Hyena: Bite attack and a trip ability. Not the best, but not bad in a pinch.
- Octopus: Better option for Aquatic setting. It has a good grab and a decent poison effect.
Summon Monster III
- Auroch (Herd Animal): Trample! Save this for when you can summon a whole mess of them and send them charging!
- Constrictor Snake: Good option for Ambush fights. The Climb Speed plus the Grapple are really the selling points, but the Snake is slow.
- Crocodile: The Better alternative to the snake if you don’t have the need to climb. Grab them, death roll, move on to the next target.
- Lantern Archon: First Celestial Option. The Lantern Archon is a stand out from a Damage standpoint, especially if you summon a flock. Fast flight with perfect maneuverability lets them get in and out of combat easily and rain destruction. They also have Truespeak, and are intelligent, so they may translate anything without the need for a Comprehend Languages spell.
- Leopard (Cat): Another absolutely powerful option in the Damage output. Three attacks a round with Pounce and Rake. Just let them off the leash and watch them maul your enemies.
Summon Monster IV
- Ant, Giant (Drone): The grab from the Worker Ant, but now with flight!
- Bison (Herd Animal): Like the Aurochs, but their Trample is much more likely to avoid now.
- Dire Ape: Like the Leopard, this guy hits hard with multiple attacks per round. He can also climb for a decent ambush! AC is low though, so be prepared for him to drop fast if he goes charging in.
- Elemental (Medium): AC is a great deal better than the smaller option, so they will last longer. Again, watch the battlefield for exactly which effects you need.
- Giant Scorpion: Absolute Beast Mode. Scorpion comes with a nice grab attack that is bound to hit as their poison ability takes its toll.
- Grizzly Bear: Basically the Scorpion without the poison. They do not call them Bear Hugs for nothing.
- Hound Archon: Much of the same benefits as the Lantern Archon, but without the flight. Really great option for the Buffs it brings to the table. Who can say no to a big red pupper?
Summon Monster V
- Ankylosaurus (Dinosaur): Decent AC and a whopping great stun attack they can use every round. This option can absolutely dominate almost any battlefield.
- Babau (Demon): At-Will Dispel Magic. Summon one and then slam them into one magical obstacle after another.
- Elemental (Large): This is the point where Elementals get their second slam attack, meaning Fire Elementals can burn twice now for the Damage over Time. Though the Whirlwind attack from the Air Elemental is the superior option for locking down and dealing with Foes.
- Giant Moray Eel: THE aquatic option for this level. Giant Moray Eels are excellent grapplers. Their Gnaw ability also allows for a powerful secondary attack.
- Kyton: Four attacks a round is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately the damage output is lower than one might hope for.
- Salamander: Another grappler option, but one that does a significant amount of damage if it can hit. The Fire effects will literally melt opponents where they stand.
- Wooly Rhinoceros: Upgraded Aurochs! Charge with the herd and then start in with the Trample!
Summon Monster VI
- Dire Tiger: The Damage Option for this level. Multiple attacks with Rake. Can put out a great deal of damage very quickly.
- Elemental (Huge): Small improvement to Elementals, but the Air Elemental is still better with its Whirlwind.
- Elephant: Another Trample option. Like the Wooly Rhino, but with a better DC.
- Erinyes (devil): Fear spam! Even if your opponent succeeds, they are still shaken. Make use of the options to summon more than one and create overlapping fear effects.
- Giant Octopus: Like the Giant Scorpion from before with more grapple potential. The Strength poison will make sure no one can break out.
- Lillend Azata: Pocket Bard! Summon them and put them in your back line to buff the party. Keep around afterward to heal the party.
- Shadow Demon: Like the Dire Tiger above. This one is best for fighting armored opponents. Powerful touch attacks. Fast so it can get into and out of melee quickly.
- Succubus (Demon): Not the best for combat, but can be useful outside of combat if you need a charmed person.
- Triceratops (Dinosaur): Scalier and Stronger version of a Wooly Rhino. Hits somewhat harder, but not that much of an upgrade.
Summon Monster VII
- Bebelith: The Rot is the selling point here. Hard to save against and useful for just melting their armor to nothing.
- Bone Devil: Four words: WALL OF ICE SPAM. Just summon on and let them throw up the Ice Wall at will.
- Brachiosaurus: Another Trample Upgrade. The High DC is almost unbeatable.
- Dire Crocodile: +30 Combat Maneuver Bonus for Grappling. You can easily lock down most opponents.
- Dire Shark: Underwater, this is the best option. Swallow Hole can knock out a combatant quickly.
- Elemental (Greater): Whirlwind just keeps getting better and better.
- Fire Giant: The Best Direct Damage option at this level.
- bNot really the best option at the level solo. If you can call in multiple Vrocks that have a very powerful AOE that will “Vrock” the house.
Summon Monster VIII
- Barbed Devil: Not the best option for direct melee combat, but if you have it stand back and spam it’s Scorching Ray, the Barbed Devil can lay waste.
- Elemental (Elder): Situational at best. Whirlwind is itself the best option again.
Summon Monster IX
- Astral Deva (Angel): Stun Lock Angel. Have them fly over your enemies and keep them all stunned while you do the work.
- Ice Devil: Like the Bone Devil except this time with a nice Cone. Not as powerful as the Barbed Devil Ice Wall spam.
- Nalfeshnee: Like the Babau, this one can Greater Dispel At Will, but also lock down enemies with Feeblemind and Unholy Aura.
- Trumpet Archon: If the Lillend is a Pocket Bard, Trumpet Archons are pocket Clerics. They can Heal and buff all over the place.