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The Summon Monster and Summon Nature's Ally spells mention:

If you can communicate with the creature, you can direct it not to attack, to attack particular enemies, or to perform other actions.

In that situation, what exactly is "communicate"? Do you need to speak the same language? If the summons is intelligent enough, can you use gestures (e.g. pointing toward a specific enemy you want it to attack) or similar nonverbal communication? Can you use someone else as a translator?

An answer from RAW would be appreciated, or at least something as RAW as possible.

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Of interest: here and here. –  Hey I Can Chan Jun 28 '14 at 18:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

You are right that the key word here is "communicate," but unfortunately, because that word has no specially-chosen meaning in the RAW,

The answer varies depending on the creature summoned, and may not be covered clearly by RAW alone.

However, here are cases clearly covered by the RAW:

  • Obviously, summoned creatures obey commands given in any language they can understand (listed in the Languages section of their stat blocks).
  • Summoned creatures with Intelligence 2 or 1 can be commanded by using Handle Animal normally. The check is DC 25 (30 for non-animals), and requires a full-round action. (Because there is no evidence that summoned creatures are trained as an attack dog would be, you must use the "push" option from the skill.)
  • Numerous special abilities and spells may be helpful, such as Speak with Animals.

The GM's intepretation of the RAW may permit other options:

  • Commands may possibly be obeyed via Diplomacy, but only if the creature can "understand" you, has intelligence higher than 3, and "generally" only outside of combat. "Understand" and "generally" are also not clearly defined, so good luck.
  • As a last resort, a Charisma (scroll to the bottom) ability check may be permitted when nothing else applies; discussions of RAW often miss the basics, but the basics are there for a reason: "You apply your character's Charisma modifier to . . . Checks that represent attempts to influence others."

I don't mention the Charisma check as a joke: Simple commands like "Attack that guy" can be implied well enough with two or three words and some pointing. Anybody can memorize two or three key phrases in several different languages. But that kind of thing is subject to GM interpretation.

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The rules as written are written in a special code called "English", which is literally part of the rules as written, so all these notes that some words are undefined in RAW is kind of unnecessary bordering on silly. Just because they're not special jargon technical terms redefined by RAW doesn't mean they're unclear; if that were true, RAW would be impossible to comprehend. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 2 '14 at 14:21
@SevenSidedDie I would argue that RAW supersedes the normal English meaning :) Attack, run, feat, all mean something in English, but something different (or rather, more specific) in the context of Pathfinder. Hence the tendency/need to check whether a common English word is defined in the context of RAW or not –  Cristol.GdM Jul 3 '14 at 13:27
@Scrollmaster Of course, ignoring the technical uses of words in the rules would be equally silly. But saying a word is unclear because it's not a technical term is nonsense. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 3 '14 at 16:43
@SevenSidedDie So how does a beginner know which words or phrases are technical terms? There is no comprehensive glossary or guide that I know of, which is why pointing out which is which, I think, has merit. –  tex Jul 3 '14 at 20:53
@tex Yeah, pointing them out has merit, to avoid looking in vain for a special meaning in the text. But perpetuating the myth that, once identified as being non-technical terms, they are somehow hard to understand, is... misleading? –  SevenSidedDie Jul 3 '14 at 23:21

As in the rules statement you copied in, communicate means communication. Either verbal (intelligent summons), handle animal (animals), or some other way. If you can't think of a way to communicate, then your summons just follow you around and attack stuff. An exception is the Summoner class's Eidolon special ability Link (Ex), which allows them to communicate at all times. I've also heard of house rules allowing Summoners to communicate to their normal summoned monsters even if they wouldn't normally be able to, but again that's a house rule.

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This answer would be much improved if you could offer some basis for your assertions. Particularly the “possible exception” for summoners: what makes you think they might get an exception, and moreover why is it merely a “possibility”? –  KRyan Jun 2 at 18:58
@KRyan edited for clarity. –  GreySage Jun 2 at 19:35
All right, I’ve upvoted, but I still think the answer could be improved if the statement that, basically, summons are not special and can only be communicated with exactly as other representatives of their type was backed up with some rule or developer statement or something. It seems reasonable to suspect that summons might be special in this regard (after all, the question was asked), and the goal of this answer should be establishing whether or not they are. –  KRyan Jun 2 at 19:43

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