Languages for familiars


Rules Questions


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

It says in the rules that the raven and thrush familiars know one single language of their master's AS A SUPERNATURAL ABILITY. It also says they can use their master's skill level in a skill if it exceeds their own. Does this mean if the master spends a point in linguistics the bird learns that new language too, or is linguistics one of those skills that familiars cannot use?

Our GM ruled that the familiar could use the languages but I disagree since it is a supernatural ability, not a skill, that they can speak at all. I'm curious as to what the real ruling is.

Silver Crusade

They only get one language regardless of your ranks in Linguistics. As a GM I would let you change the language your familiar can speak if you learn a new language. But that is a GM discretionary call.


You learn languages when you put a rank in Linguistics. Familiars never put ranks in their Linguistics skill, they simply use the master's ranks in Linguistics when they make a Linguistics check.

So, if you have 10 ranks in Linguistics, your Raven can't learn 10 languages, but it can detect forgeries moderately well.


mplindustries wrote:
Familiars never put ranks in their Linguistics skill, they simply use the master's ranks in Linguistics when they make a Linguistics check.

I must beg to differ.

PRD wrote:
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.

No mention is made of skill checks, only of skill ranks. So my conclusion is that Familiars have actual skill ranks, and can use them any way their body shape permits. So Ravens, Thrushes and Parrots can indeed learn multiple languages.


"Whenever you put a rank into this skill, you learn to speak and read a new language."

Even if the Raven can use their master's skill ranks, they never put ranks into the skill. Their master puts ranks into the skill, and they are able to use them.

Shadow Lodge

VRMH wrote:
No mention is made of skill checks, only of skill ranks. So my conclusion is that Familiars have actual skill ranks, and can use them any way their body shape permits. So Ravens, Thrushes and Parrots can indeed learn multiple languages.

The one has no bearing on the other. Even if the Raven, Thrush, or Parrot has 10 ranks in Linguistics it still cannot speak. The Raven, Thrush, or Parrot can speak one language that it's master knows as a specific class ability. It has nothing to do with linguistics, it's magic.


mplindustries wrote:
they never put ranks into the skill. Their master puts ranks into the skill

I can see your point, though I think you read too much in the way the ability is formulated.

Mystic Lemur wrote:
Even if the Raven, Thrush, or Parrot has 10 ranks in Linguistics it still cannot speak.

Yes they can. They have the vocal chords, they have the skill points... so they can speak.

Quote:
It has nothing to do with linguistics, it's magic.

Technically it's supernatural, but I see your point.

The basic problem is that the rules for skills assume you actually gained the skillpoints you have. Which Familiars didn't, they sort of borrow them. That causes confusion in the case of Linguistics, but also when dealing with skills that need to be "trained" to use to their fullest. My take on the matter is that Familiars act as if they took the skills themselves. Not because that's what the rules specifically say (they don't), but because that's what causes the fewest issues further down the line.

Even though that can make your Thrush a cunning linguist.

Shadow Lodge

VRMH wrote:
Yes they can. They have the vocal chords, they have the skill points... so they can speak.

So if I was a druid with a bear animal companion, and I put his 4th level ability increase into Intelligence and he put a rank in Linguistics you would let him speak? Bears have vocal chords. Let's take it a step further. If druids know a language, why are they specifically called out as not being able to speak in animal form even if they take the form of a parrot or other bird that can mimic speech?

Getting a parrot to mimic speech would be an application of the Perform trick, not the linguistics skill. The reason a parrot/raven/thrush familiar can speak is because they gain a supernatural ability to do so, and it's limited to one language.


Well, no, corvids really can speak (and can do so with their mouths full, too). They have language, as we define it, even dialects and accents. They can make human words and sounds, and understand what they are saying.

But that doesn't matter at all, because the rules don't allow them to speak a language except through supernatural means.


Ravens and crows are crazy awesome.

That old Spider-Man villain had it right all along!


Don"t be mean you know perfectly well what he ment by vocal cords.

NO bears and such can not speak. Apes have no vocal cords but can still talk through sign. the loss of spell casting is not only because of a lack of speach but arms/hand for somatic, and with no pockets where are the components.

A druid in parrot form can talk.

The bird gains one language that it's wizard knows(supernatural). They can also take skills, as it has a human int. and the ability to speak none magicaly It should be allowed to learn languages, but I would not give it the languages learned by the wizard, it would have to be skill points the bird spent, he just gets the rank level of the wizard not the bonus lanuages.


Sorry missed the parrot druid can't speak, but that is for the druid and has nothing to do with familiars or animal companions.


Nevan Oaks wrote:
They can also take skills, as it has a human int.

Familiars cannot take skills because they never gain levels, and thus never gain skill points to spend.

Familiars have the default skills listed for their animal type and from then on can use their own ranks or their master's ranks, and that's it.


The familiars do gain skill points when they get INT bonuses. Once your familiar hits a 12 INT he gets bonus skill points.


Nevan Oaks wrote:
The familiars do gain skill points when they get INT bonuses. Once your familiar hits a 12 INT he gets bonus skill points.

Hmm. Interesting.

I guess I've never seen someone get to a level such that their familiar had 12 Int without them taking an Improved Familiar.

Silver Crusade

Familiars don’t take class levels. You only get new skill points when you level up. Familiars won’t level to get skill points.

Also temporary bonuses don’t give you skill points. As the base creature only maintains the increased Int while a familiar and looses it if it is ever dismissed the bonus is temporary and does not gain skill points.

If the int increase did grant skill points it would grant them at level one, when the int goes from 2 to 6, thus lessening the penalty to the int modifier. (Acctually they might not get it at int 6 because the penalty could still be high enough to cancel out the skills, but my point that they could get hypothetical skill ranks before 12 is still valid.)

The special note on the raven entry says ONE LANGUAGE as a supernatural ability. Because it gains this as a supernatural ability it doesn’t rely on skill ranks anyway.

Familiars never gain skill points. They can use the masters’ skill points, but because they did not take a rank in Linguistics themselves they do not gain a language.


TimrehIX wrote:
You only get new skill points when you level up.

If INT bonuses give skill points retroactively (and I'm not sure if they do) the bird would get the skills immediately upon gaining a positive INT modifier (which incidentally would be when the wizard levels up, so it isn't like this is a major distraction to the flow of the game)

TimrehIX wrote:


Also temporary bonuses don’t give you skill points. As the base creature only maintains the increased Int while a familiar and looses it if it is ever dismissed the bonus is temporary and does not gain skill points.

as long as the INT bonus stays for more than 24 hours it applies as 'permanent' for rules purposes.

I've never seen someone do this (use INT bonus to gain a language), but Ruleswise, I don't see a solid argument to disallow it, and it certainly isn't game-breaking.


A few interesting points have been raised thus far. Maybe we should just make a complete list, start a new thread and FAQ that.

  1. Can Familiars learn (additional) languages?
  2. Do Familiars gain skill points from an Intelligence bonus?
    and I'll add:
  3. Are Familiars considered "trained" in the skills their master has ranks in?

Anything else while we're at it?


My own judgement would be that the Familiar knows the languages learned by it's master, but may only SPEAK one language, chosen when the familiar is first gained. The idea that it can detect forgeries written in a language it can't read, or even understand, is to say the least bizarre. Especially when you consider how good it might be at WRITING them (Bird Feather quill puns and jokes about a Mouse's ability with cut and paste notwithstanding)

Oh, and the Parrot thing is IMO an obvious example of Balance over realism/players' thinking. Basically if you're a druid you need to use a feat for Natural Spell. (or three for Still/Silent Spell & Eschew Components)

The idea that, as a parrot known for making human-like sounds, you're unable to speak is to me laughable. Even more so with the RAW idea that a Parrot, already trained to speak, would suddenly lose that ability if it was taken for a familiar or a wild-shaped druid could be 'trained' by the party ranger to speak, but is completely unable to figure out how to do so on his own. So say 'I'm not speaking in Common, I'm making sounds that exactly imitate the sound of Common Speech. The sounds that exactly imitiate the phrase 'The Goblins are holed up in the split to the left, the Warg-riders are gone and I don't know where they are.' But, of course those sounds, which I can make, aren't speech, so I couldn't use them to say command words or cast spells.'


1 person marked this as FAQ candidate. 1 person marked this as a favorite.

This is an issue that has come up in some of our games, so after looking into it I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject.

The primary argument against familiars gaining the bonus languages from the master’s linguistics ranks seems to be that the ranks gained from the master do not count as “real” ranks for the familiar because they are only “borrowed” from the master rather than gained by the familiar through the course of leveling up. Although the CRB never makes a functional distinction between ranks gained through “level up” versus the ranks borrowed by the familiar, and it likewise does not allow for partial skills (the 28int wizard with 1 rank in linguistics gains 1 language from the skill, as does the 6int barbarian with 1 rank), some people are reading the linguistics entry where it states “whenever you put a rank into this skill, you learn to speak and read a new language” and creating a functional distinction where there is only one of origin. I would suggest that a close inspection of the rules does not support any functional difference in skill points, regardless of their origin.

Firstly, in the skills entry under the familiar heading we find the rules detailing the skill rank “borrowing”, but what I focus on here is the following list of familiar class skills. Since familiars do not level up and therefore never gain skill points to put into those class skills there is absolutely no reason to list class skills here. In this case I can only make the assumption that the author’s intent was to allow the familiar to benefit from a +3 bonus to said class skills, provided that:

A. The familiar has not already gained the bonus from its prior life as an animal
B. It gains a rank in the skill from its master by “using ranks of master”

Now, if you look at the skills chapter in CRB (p86, left column, 1st paragraph under acquiring skills heading) you will see that the +3 bonus can ONLY be gained by “putting ranks into” a skill, the same language that we find regarding the language gain from linguistics. Specifically, “You gain a +3 bonus on all class skills that you put ranks into.” Because the written language is the same we can’t apply it in one instance but not the other. If the familiar is, in fact, granted any +3 class skill bonus to any class skill based on a skill rank “borrowed” from its master, then that skill is considered by CRB to have had ranks “put into it” and it must also be granted any languages that the master has learned from the linguistics skill. The alternative would be a familiar that did not gain additional languages and could literally never gain a class skill bonus by any means other than one that it may have begun life with as a natural animal.

Based on this, I can only judge that the skill points gained by a familiar from its master do not and are not intended to function any differently than a skill point that it acquired on its own.

Next, for a more concrete example, I refer you to the “Borrow Skill” spell in APG. This is a very specific example of a borrowed skill and it does grant the +3 bonus if the borrowed skill is a class skill for the borrower. By allowing the borrowed skill ranks to grant the +3 class bonus, the skill is clearly considered by CRB to have had ranks “put into it”, in this case for the duration of the spell. By extension, if the skill in question here is linguistics, the borrowed ranks have been “put into” the linguistics skill by the borrower and therefore according to the language of the linguistics skill, the borrower gains all of the languages known (due to linguistics ranks) by the one from whom the skill was borrowed.

As a third and final point, keep in mind that other things would be affected as well. In this case the most obvious example is the headband of vast intelligence that is keyed to the linguistics skill. As the player is only “borrowing” those skill ranks from the headband, there will be no associated languages gained.

We have two clear examples of borrowed skill ranks functioning identically to a level gained skill rank, the first based on a widely made assumption that familiars can gain class skill bonuses, the second taken directly from the text of APG. With that much given to us, and the absence of any rules that detail how an individual skill rank may function differently from another depending on where it came from, it seems clear that the distinction between “putting skill points into” versus “using ranks of master” and in a broader sense, the differentiation of how individual skill points may vary in function based on their origin is not a distinction that the writers had originally intended.

As a final note, I would rule that the familiar could never speak the languages, but with appropriate sensory input (eyes or ears) could read and understand, hear and understand, or both. Yes, the raven too.

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