What's the deal with animal familiars doing negative damage?


Rules Questions


A lot of the familiars do things like "1d2 -4" damage, such that they can't actually do any damage since even a max roll will get reduced to 0 or below. What's the point of this?
Example: http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monster-listings/animals/cat


If I remember correctly, they always do a minimum of 1. They give full stats like that in case stats, buffs or something changes so you can adjust. The creatures you are looking at most likely have really low strength which is why the dmg looks like that.


If the damage gets reduced to below one, then they do one point of non-lethal damage.


A few thoughts:

-You can augment those natural attacks eventually. They may still not be worth it, but if they don't have them at all, then the augmentation option isn't even on the table.

-Anytime that you hit with an attack that would do negative damage, you automatically deal 1 point of nonlethal damage, so even in the above scenario you're doing some damage.

-Tossing your familiar into combat without having some sort of advanced familiar is a bad idea; perhaps it's a deterrent so people don't think that their familiar is secretly a battle cat that can help them take down an enemy?


You could cast greater magic fang on your cat and start doing a whopping 1d2+1 points of real damage! :)

Something a toad can never aspire to.

The Exchange

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Xaratherus wrote:
...Tossing your familiar into combat without having some sort of advanced familiar is a bad idea...

Except, of course, the tortoise familiar, whom I estimate would do 1d4 bludgeoning damage (modified by Strength, of course.) You'd want the Throw Anything feat for that, of course. And if you're a generalist, you should probably use Hand of the Apprentice rather than relying on your Dexterity modifier.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

And if it's enlarged, it's die types increase to that of its new size, and its Str increases, too.


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Lincoln Hills wrote:
Xaratherus wrote:
...Tossing your familiar into combat without having some sort of advanced familiar is a bad idea...
Except, of course, the tortoise familiar, whom I estimate would do 1d4 bludgeoning damage (modified by Strength, of course.) You'd want the Throw Anything feat for that, of course. And if you're a generalist, you should probably use Hand of the Apprentice rather than relying on your Dexterity modifier.

1. Place tortoise familiar in sling.

2. Cast Shocking Grasp on tortoise familiar, having it hold charge.
3. Here's the wind up...
4. ?????
5. Profitzap!


From the Core Rulebook near the beginning of the chapter on Combat:

"Minimum Damage: If penalties reduce the damage result to less than 1, a hit still deals 1 point of nonlethal damage."

So, if the big bad fighter ends up disabling the enemy, quickly send your cat in for the knockout!

The Exchange

Xaratherus wrote:
...1. Place tortoise familiar in sling...

No, no! If he's* thrown by hand, you're safe, but if you use him as ammunition, there's a 50% chance that he'll break if you miss. Don't risk it!

* Or her. I'm told they come in both genders, but I've never been bored enough to attempt to confirm these reports.


How does casting spells on your own familiars work? I'm able to play an arcane bloodline sorcerer and I have no idea how I'm supposed to use my familiar...

Silver Crusade

paladinguy wrote:
How does casting spells on your own familiars work? I'm able to play an arcane bloodline sorcerer and I have no idea how I'm supposed to use my familiar...

Mainly as an initiative bonus and an additional perception roll.


Lincoln Hills wrote:
Xaratherus wrote:
...1. Place tortoise familiar in sling...

No, no! If he's* thrown by hand, you're safe, but if you use him as ammunition, there's a 50% chance that he'll break if you miss. Don't risk it!

* Or her. I'm told they come in both genders, but I've never been bored enough to attempt to confirm these reports.

The males have concave bellies for...er,...obvious reasons. And, you would not believe the size of their <censored>!


Bigdaddyjug wrote:
paladinguy wrote:
How does casting spells on your own familiars work? I'm able to play an arcane bloodline sorcerer and I have no idea how I'm supposed to use my familiar...
Mainly as an initiative bonus and an additional perception roll.

Haha, that's what they turn into unfortunately. I always liked them because I think its cool to wear a snake on my arm, a scorpion as jewelry, or a raven on my shoulder. Furry friends are great accessories!

Anyways, here's some things about casting spells on/through your familiar. I mean, you can cast any spell on them that would normally affect them, but here's some special rules for them.

D20PFSRD wrote:

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).

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.[/quote


How does casting spells on familiars work?
Like casting on any other creature, modified by the Share Spells and Deliver Touch Spells abilities.

I like using Dimension Door, with the Familiar delivering the touches and/or counting as 'you',
so you don't necessarily even have to go for the ride yourself, taking allies into melee range,
or the familiar's movement getting it to allies in combat to rescue them, etc.

If they have 5'+ Reach, they can be Flanking and Aid Anothering to any ally.
Also the normal usage is delivering Touch spells for you (Dimension Door is one unusual example, otherwise read up on Touch spells),
which keeps you out of danger when using offensive touch spells, and they probably have a higher to-hit than you.
They can also potentially be retrieving items from packs, opening/closing doors,
using mundane/alchemical items like tanglefoot bags (if they have hands), not to mention using UMD/wands/potions/etc.
They normally have their own Init, but Delay can synchronize the Init with you.
In general, they can act as scouts/spies, although your communication is limited to 'empathy' until you can speak to it at 5th level.

Basically you just have to understand what the rules let you do with it,
and get creative as to the useful things that you pull off with those.

Or you can ignore those possibilities, forget it exists, and just gain the passive bonuses.


paladinguy wrote:

A lot of the familiars do things like "1d2 -4" damage, such that they can't actually do any damage since even a max roll will get reduced to 0 or below. What's the point of this?

Example: http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monster-listings/animals/cat

For healing party members, of course.

The Exchange

One quick note: I've introduced at least one NPC who, realizing the potential vulnerability of his raven familiar, exploited its "speak with own kind" ability and a few Handle Animal checks to maintain an entire unkindness of ravens (that's the technical term for "a whole mess of ravens.") It made him fairly memorable, since when the PCs approached his cottage it looked like a scene from The Birds.

Back to damage. Small animals like the familiars have terrible damage-dealing abilities - usually amounting, as has been noted, to 1 point of nonlethal damage per hit - because 1st-level human commoners are incredibly weak in this system, and yet they can kill most of the animals that spellcasters use as familiars without feeling endangered. Being unable to do more than 1 point of damage per hit kinda goes with a Challenge Rating of 1/6.


It seems silly to list "1d2-4" when they could just say "1 non-lethal" since that is all they will ever roll.

What nobody mentioned yet is those negative damages are mathematically derived.

Certain kinds of attacks (bite, for example), do a set amount of damage at a specific size of creature. Yes, some creatures have more or less because it's not an unbreakable rule. But generally, a creature of medium size will deal 1d6 with a bite (e.g. Wolf). It also gets a STR modifier to this damage, so a wolf with STR 13 bites for 1d6+1.

Now if you shrink that creature, the dice get smaller. A small wolf would do a d4 and a tiny wolf would do a d2, just like a tiny cat. Also, when you shrink them, their STR is lower. A tiny cat only has a STR of 3, so it takes a -4 on damage rolls with its bite.

This is why the cat does 1d2-4; it's all calculated mathematically.

And, as others have mentioned, it's very easy to enlarge the cat (or anything else) and instantly recalculate its damage, or simply buff it (e.g. Bull's Strength) and instantly recalculate its damage since these silly negative damages all use the standard formula.


Lincoln Hills wrote:
One quick note - I've introduced at least one NPC who, realizing the potential vulnerability of his raven familiar, exploited its "speak with own kind" ability and a few Handle Animal checks to maintain an entire unkindness of ravens (that's the technical term for "a whole mess of ravens.")

I prefer a "conspiracy" of ravens. Though both terms are actually obsolete, as most people just uses the generic term flock. Plus, everyone knows what a flock of ravens is. Not everyone knows what you mean when you say a conspiracy or unkindness of ravens.

The Exchange

Pat McManus once wrote a fun article on group names. He pointed out that although a large assembly of bears is technically a 'sloth' of bears, nobody has ever stopped to correct the speech of somebody who screams, "Run for your lives! There's a whole mess of bears a-coming right at us!"

Silver Crusade

I prefer Crows... nothing like a good Murder of Crows.

DM Blake said:
"It seems silly to list "1d2-4" when they could just say "1 non-lethal" since that is all they will ever roll."

The values are given as is because, as SKR pointed out, things can change the stats (increased damage dice, str bonus, magic bonus, etc) so knowing the baseline is necessary.


Tempestorm wrote:

DM Blake said:

"It seems silly to list "1d2-4" when they could just say "1 non-lethal" since that is all they will ever roll."

The values are given as is because, as SKR pointed out, things can change the stats (increased damage dice, str bonus, magic bonus, etc) so knowing the baseline is necessary.

You didn't even read my post, did you?

I actually went on to explain exactly why they list it that way. You're preaching to the choir.

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