Differences / Leveling up w / Familiars vs Animal Companions

Rules Questions

So I'm making my first Witch in PF1e and I'm re-reading over what my familiar gives me, but my most recent character is a Slayer who has an animal companion.

One of the things I've learned is that classes that get animal companions tend to have the animal 'upgrade' at a certain level where their stat block gets updates, and the companion gets feats and skills and levels up similar to like a slightly-lesser character.

I know that a familiar gives my Witch a bonus based on the familiar itself as well as spells, but I'm really confused on the differences between the two at character creation as well as at level up. Will the familiar's stat block go up at certain levels?

Basically, what differences so I have to account for at character creation, and how do they function differently from one another both in session and out of session with progression? I tried looking it up via other websites and I didn't quite find what I was looking for.

I think the cause for your confusion is that you're thinking of Animal Companions and Familiars as being mechanically equivalent, and they're not. They serve somewhat similar purposes, but have entire different rule sets. Those are explained in and under their respective tables. Your Familiar gets what is indicated in the page linked above and the table shown there. That's it. Nothing that is shown under the Companion page linked above pertains to the Familiar unless it is also specifically in the Familiar page(s).

For example, the hit dice of Animal Companions scale off a Player Character's level. Familiars, however, use their master's character level "for the purpose of effects related to number of Hit Dice," or their own HD if they're higher.

Thus, if your Witch had an Animal Companion, if she went up a level she'd check the Companion table to see how her creature scaled up. With a Familiar, however, when your Witch goes up a level her Familiar treats that as its own HD (if its higher than its actual HD).

Likewise, Animal Companion HP is based off their HD rolls. If your Witch is 10th level, her Animal Companion would have 9d8 worth of HP, plus its Constitution modifier (if any) for each d8. The Familiar, however, will have half your Witch's HP, rounded down. That's true no matter what level your Witch is.

The same holds for other basic statistics. As you can see, an Animal Companion's BAB would advance as its master gained levels. A 10th level PC's Animal Companion would have a BAB of +6 no matter what class the PC was. A Familiar, however, has the same BAB as its master.

Animal Companions gain an advancement at 4th level because that's specifically written in for them in their Companion entries. Familiars gain no such thing.

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I have to disagree about animal companions and familiars serving similar purposes. Animal companions are more for boosting up your characters combat ability and are significantly stronger in combat than a familiar. Familiars are designed to aid the caster in other ways. In a fight between an animal companion and a familiar the familiar will lose every time even if they are the same base animal. For example if you have a 12th level druid with a hawk companion and a 12th level wizard with a hawk familiar the hawk familiar will be significantly weaker. For example the companion will have a 16 STR and 19 DEX and have 2 stat boosts available so it will probably have a 20 DEX. The familiar will have a 6 STR and 17 DEX. The familiar will have a 11 INT compared to the 2 of the companion. The companion will also have 5 feats available to boost up his combat ability, so can easily pick up weapon finesse. The companion will have 3 attacks (1 bite and two talons) doing 1d4+3 damage, the familiar will have 2 talons doing 1d4-2 damage. The companion will have a +13 (with weapon fineness) to hit, where the familiar will be +11. The companion will have about 65 HP and an AC of 25, vs the familiars 43 (half the wizards) HP and an AC of 21.

The familiar will be able to deliver touch spells for the wizard and will have spell resistance of 17. It will also have the higher of its own or its master’s skill rank in each skill. It uses its own ability modifier for the skill. So, if the wizard has 12 ranks in spell craft and knowledge arcana the familiar will have +12 in both. The familiar can use the aid other to boost his master's skill rolls for anything he can make a roll for. Since you only need a 10 to grant the bonus and skills do not automatically fail on a 1 that means if the familiar has at least a +9 they can always give their master a +2 bonus on that skill.

In combat the companion will tear apart the familiar, but the familiar will be of more use out of combat to the wizard. The higher INT will allow the familiar to act on its own a lot better than the companion. The empathic link can also communicate somewhat with the familiar even when it cannot be seen.

I used the example of a hawk because it is a legitimate choice for both an animal companion and a familiar. Combat wise hawks are not that good. Most other animal companions would be a lot stronger.

MS, I’m not saying the animal companions and familiars are the same. I offered that they serve somewhat similar purposes. That is, on a broad and general level, they are companion creatures that aid the player character they belong to. I’m certainly not trying to argue that familiars and animal companions are equivalent in power, or that the former can best the latter in regular combat. Point of fact, I don’t think that’s part of the OP’s calculus at all. He’s just interested in how familiars grow in power, and how this differs from how animal companions do—that’s all I’ve tried to present to him.

PA, I think understand what you meant, but though your post did not really convey what I though you meant. You covered the game mechanics perfectly but the impression I got from your post is they served a similar purpose. That is what I disagreed with.

I would say that an animal companion and a familiar have s superficial resemblance to each other instead of similar purpose. An animal companion is a straight up combat boost for the character, often acting as a protector. The only real function the familiar has in combat is to act as an extension by delivering touch spells and in some cases, they give the master a small boost in combat. The real purpose of the familiar is to boost its master. The druids spell list also has a lot of spells that can further boost the animal companions combat ability.

The familiar is also a lot better at skills than the animal companion. Since the familiar gains the masters ranks in skills but uses its own modifiers their skills are considerably better. Wizards may only get 2 ranks per level, but INT is their main stat, so they usually have a lot of extra skill points. Wizards may not get perception as a class skill but will probably have the points to max it out, they can also spare a few points to put into stealth so should be able to have at least 5 points in stealth. The do have fly as a class skill so probably have at least 5 there by 12th level. If the wizard buys those skills the familiar will have a +15 flight, +25 perception and a +19 stealth. The master gains alertness while the familiar is within 1 mile so the wizard gains +16 perception for the 12 points and gets an additional +3 for sight-based perception rolls in bright light. The animal companion gets a total of 10 skill points so figure they put 4 into flight and 3 each into perception and stealth. That gives the companion a +14 flight, +8 perception and a +15 stealth.

ForsakenM wrote:
... Basically, what differences so I have to account for at character creation, and how do they function differently from one another both in session and out of session with progression? I tried looking it up via other websites and I didn't quite find what I was looking for.

Paizo like any good cook does not publicly disclose their exact design criteria for their creations but it is pretty well known as they reworked DnD3.5 AND they publish basic rules to create monsters.

The two (Animal Companions and Familiars) serve different roles. Animal Companions are considered active combat participants and Familiars are not, so the rules reflect that. Wizards are powerful enough so lessening their "liability" by increasing its ability scores, HD, and feats as wizard class levels are gained went contrary to the design effort. Note that Familiars gain information gathering & skill competence.
For witches, the familiar is both a physical (representation &) agent for their (mysterious) patron and a liability. With wizards it is just an issue of the pocketbook and a bigger loss if they equip their familiar with magic items and such (which they do). Both wizards and witches have options to ditch the familiar and if you expect the game to go past 12th level I'd ditch it as you are dumping the liability at higher levels and that is worth it.
Blood Sentinel:T3 gives you a way to get a temporary familiar. My wizards purchase several stuffed toys/carvings for variation in choice when using the spell.

Mysterious Stranger wrote:
The real purpose of the familiar is to boost its master.

Kind of? Without spending feats or Class Abilities like Domains or Magus Arcana on it, PCs that start w/a Familiar are Wizard and Witch. That's it.

They're not skill-based classes. They'll get extra ranks for high Int, sure, but every rank they're spending on Perception and Stealth is a rank they're NOT spending on a Knowledge skill so that the party is identifying less monsters.

Aid Another is hit or miss, depending on how the GM interprets the empathic link and if they allow non-verbal communication. Familiars may not be able to physically perform the skills in order to aid with them, or if they CAN perform them the familiars may have no way of giving feedback to the PC in order to communicate that aid.

Scouting is dicey. Send your familiar, with half your HP, into uncharted territory to scout around. Their ACs are ok but their saves are whatever they started with or yours and there might not always be Cover or Concealment for their Stealth checks. Situational, but probably as helpful as having a PC in the party do the same thing. Here again though you run into the complication of how your GM does the empathic link and non-verbal communication, so at low levels this might be a non-starter.

But if we're looking at Witch and Wizard, look at what the basic familiar gets at L3 and then at L13: Deliver Touch Spells and Scry on Familiar. These are things an AC DOESN'T get and are unique to this class ability. There's just one little catch: basic familiars are basically made of glass.

Consider a 3rd level familiar trying to deliver a Touch spell: the creature is between Diminutive and Small size, with most being Tiny. Firstly the familiar needs to receive the Touch spell from the PC, so the creature needs to begin the round adjacent to the PC. It then has to travel to the foe; such movement may trigger AoOs. If the familiar has no natural Reach it needs to enter the square of the foe it's trying to touch, triggering an AoO. If, after all that, your 3rd level familiar hasn't been squished like a bug it has a decent chance at hitting with the Touch attack, but now it is out in the middle of melee and a potential target for attacks.

The 13th level familiar will have much better defenses, likely from spells cast on it or magic items the PC has made/purchased for it, but CR13 or higher encounters can be extremely deadly. If you've placed your familiar somewhere in order to scry on it and thus your enemies in the same area, if that familiar is detected and attacked it has whatever spells/items you've got on it... plus half your HP and your saves. Period. A CL13 Scorching Ray, if the creature isn't immune/resistant to Fire, can reduce the familiar to ash.

No, I would argue that the benefit of a familiar is in what specialized function you can modify it to perform. By that I mean, there are a LOT of situational types of familiars you can make by spending your PC's feats, choosing archetypes, or even retraining the familiar's feat (with GM approval).

Using specific builds you can have flanking buddies, ways to earn more money and craft expensive items faster, Use Magic Device specialists, even a creature specifically designed to take damage for you. You can also trade out the animal-shaped familiars for unique Improved Familiars to further enhance a couple of these singular roles. You can get a lot of mileage out of your familiar as more than just spies and Touch Spell delivery systems, but it takes time, resources and system knowledge to get there.

Pro-Familiar side of things (commentary)
As PF is a RPG, storytelling is part of that. Familiars play a bigger part in that effort as they are intelligent helpers rather than tamed beasties. Familiars can also act as proxies. They give the master options in those areas.
A Bonded Object isn't animated or active and doesn't have the story potential of a sidekick.
Improved Familiars can cast spells on the master and actively help out with support (so invest a Feat)(I think it's a must for witches otherwise Tattoo is a good way to go). They can also target opponents. A Faerie Dragon armed with a Wand of Enervation is a serious threat and if he has a Wand of True Strike somebody is gonna get HIT!
Tiny size, nat'l AC, Evasion does help the familiar.
HD/HP is the point of contention as wizards are known for low HPs and their Familiar has half of that! It's also complicated when the master plays tricks with spells (duplicate the familiar, possesses his familiar, body games with Magic Jar, etc). Wizards can share their tricksy spells with their Familiar (imagine a Shadow Projection Faerie Dragon...).
Combat. This is another area where Familiar's don't excel. Their best bet is to Stealth in and out and not be targeted.
Lastly, if the master "falls down" the (good or neutral) familiar can assist with healing/potions/actions to keep the master going. We know what Imps are gonna do - it's in their "contract".

my personal experience with Familiars within PFS is good as it's a safe arena for the most part. Wayang with shadow feats with Faerie Dragon disguised as shadow dragon type (notice the story tie-in). A varisian tattooed caster with a soul-bound doll to work with children. I think a Silvaenshee has a hand up on healing and any humanoid form is desirable due to magic item body slots. Notice that while I don't think it's the best long term option, I do it for story reasons as you want to have fun and it is a game. There are threads on Familiar choices.

Tiny size, Natural AC and Improved Evasion are indeed helpful. Ranged Touch attacks are truly the bane of all familiars.

A faerie dragon can first be obtained at L7. A witch 7 with a faerie dragon has a familiar with a 16 Touch AC. A CR7 enemy NPC spellcaster could be a Sorcerer 8; Dex 18 (14 per NPC rules, +4 for having a PC class), BAB +4, for a Ranged Touch attack of +8.

A Human Witch 7 with a 13 Con has 7d6+14 HP, an average of 38, meaning the familiar has 19. A CR7 enemy sorcerer has 2 rays when casting a Scorching Ray; that's potentially 8d6 Fire damage, average 28. If the enemy sorcerer can see the familiar and decides that's the best target of their spell, there is a strong possibility that the familiar is a pile of ash.

Of course, all familiars have this liability. If the PC's HP are low, the familiar's are half that so, even lower. Touch AC is an easy target for enemies to hit so damaging Touch attacks are scary for familiars. There are however lots of spells to protect your lil' buddy and having lots of scrolls of those spells helps.

As far as narrative uses for a familiar, a lot of that depends on the GM and Player, not the mechanics.

I had an owl familiar in a vanilla home game whom my character called Mr Nails with her cockney accent. The game only lasted 3 levels but Mr Nails was a surly type; the "muscle" to the Universalist (Arcane Crafter) mistress he served.

He wore a bowler cap, chomped the butt of a cigar, had the owl equivalent of a 3-piece, pinstriped suit and white spats on his talons. Out of combat he lurked and glowered a lot. If the campaign had lasted longer the goal was to develop Mr Nails for the Intimidate skill.

Basically, unless you're going with the Mauler archetype for your familiar, you might not want to send it into melee. An animal companion has way better HP and AC than a familiar does. It's an attacking creature. The familiar can attack, but you should always be prepared for it to go SPLAT!

One of my characters has a familiar with an ability to attack on a charge without provoking an AoO for getting into the opponent's square. And I bulked it up with spells and magic items to increase AC. So it's a little harder to hit.

Another character I'm working on is a witch with a dragonfly familiar. That has Flyby Attack. So it can start next to the witch to get the spell, move in close and cast the spell, then go back to the witch. Once again, I will be loading up on defensive items for it.

At 5th level a familiar gains speak with master which allows them to verbally communicate with its master. At that point the familiar does not need empathic communication to use aid other or to report details to his master. This does require the familiar be within speaking distance so empathic communication can still be used for limited long-range communication between the two. What can be communicated over empathic communication is limited but is better than nothing. Aid another may not work on all skills, but it should work on the majority of them.
One thing it will work on is knowledge skills. If the familiars master is putting a decent number of points to them the familiar gains a good roll, which they can use to boost the master's roll. Once the familiar's bonus is high enough it can use aid other to help the master identify the abilities of the enemy. This can allow the master to spend fewer points to free up for other skills. It only takes 6 knowledge skills to identify monsters. By 12th level the master probably has enough ranks that the familiar can make the DC 10 knowledge check to gain a +2 on aid another. At this point the wizard can spend 12 points on other skills and still have the same chance of identifying monster's abilities.

Most characters put a decent number of points into perception and wizards are no exception. Perception has been called the most important skill in the game for a reason. Even if the does not normally max it out they will be putting some points into it. With a familiar getting the number of points to 10 gains them and extra +2 on both perception and sense motive. The wizard that does not act in the surprise round because he failed his perception roll is screwed. Putting a few skill points into some non-class skills to give the familiar a larger bonus is a smart thing to do. Putting a single point into stealth can raise the cat familiar’s stealth roll from 14 to 18. The wizard can also use spells to boost the familiar’s skill even further. Instead of casting invisibly on himself or the party rogue the wizard can cast it on his familiar. Now instead of having +18 stealth the cat has a +38 stealth.

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