It seems strange to me that my 1st level Wizard can't communicate with his familiar except via emotional urges and such. I can ask my group's Gnome to talk to him. If I knew a Druid, I could get him to convey my messages to my owl. But I can't. I could prepare Speak with Animals, but, alas, it is not on my spell list and therefore can't be in my book.
The best I can do, if my Gnome friend isn't around, or already used the ability today, is to cast Comprehend Languages on the owl, so that he at least can understand me.
Your familiar understands everything you say... and all the languages you can speak... he just can't answer back yet (unless he's a raven).
I prefer to think of it as your familiar understands your intentions regardless of the language you speak. Until he learns to speak though, the link does not allow you to understand the familiar's intentions through it's normal animal noises.
I see no problem with a wizard and his familiar developing a series of simples signs to relay information.
"Was the group ambushed?"
Cat nods it's head.
Cat moves head from side to side.
"Were they humanoid?"
Cat paws at ground 8 times.
I also see no reason why the empathic link cant convey concepts like; "Correct" "Incorrect" "Threat" "Friend"
Likewise, we have very strong emotional connections to certain people I would not see it beyond the possibility of the empathic link to convey the following.
Your familiar runs up to you paniced and frightened. You feel urgencey coming from him as well as fear an loss. You also get an overwelming sense of your good friend Marget.
"What happened to Margret?"
Sense of loss, fear and abscence. As well as a sense of fear of enemies.
"I she still alive?"
Sense of comfort but of fear and worry.
"She's alive but someone took her?"
Sense of agreement and a feeling of understanding.
How many times have you come home from work and without even speaking words were able to tell what kind of day your spouse had. You can even kind of get a sense of what might be bothering or troubling them. Heck and we arent even empathic and we can read close friends and loved ones pretty easily. Think of how easy it would be for a familiar and a wizard to convet concepts to each other with a direct empathic link as well as facial expressions and body language. Babies can be taught sign language so a familiar with 7 or 8 intellegnce should have much trouble learning a series of gestures or even the ability to convey a sentence or two response through movments and emotional projections.
I would have no problem with a caster communicating with their familiar in this manner I would simple make sure that the information conveyed was vague. Complex details could not be relayed but general and even some specific ideas and concepts would be easy.
At 1st level your familiar has an Intelligence of 6. If you can communicate with someone who has an Intelligence of 3, I don't see why you can't communicate with someone who is smarter than that. Your familiar can't vocalize its responses since it is unlikely to have vocal chords (with a few exceptions). This is the purpose behind the 5th level ability "Speak with Master." The "empathic link" is more than a simple communication tool. It's long distance. Your familiar can be up to a mile away and you can understand some basics that are going on nearby.
It seems strange to me that my 1st level Wizard can't communicate with his familiar except via emotional urges and such.
It's a cat. A frikking cat. Unless it's something else. But no matter what it is, it's an animal. Or almost-animal. The power to talk to it comes later, when you can do more than do one or two quite weak spells before you need a lie-down and a whole hour of reading a book.