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My objective is to have a Familiar do a very simple movement (jumping) upon seeing something rather simple in its field of view (the end of a visual task by an Unseen Servant) in order to trigger an Alarm placed on top of its head. The main goal is to give some sort of indirect "I'm done !" function to an Unseen Servant.

I know that, for example, an Owl Familiar has an Intelligence score of 2 (which is pretty low), but seems to be smart (and docile) enough to unconditionally obey your orders. My question here is : can you give a (rather simple) delayed order to a Familiar, like "when you start to see something move in this room, jump as soon as it stops moving", and more importantly, will the Familiar understand it ?

If the above order would be too complicated for a Familiar, what would be the extent of its (delayed) capabilities ?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It very much seems like you've got an idea for a non-traditional use for Unseen Servant. Clarifying the rules is a good thing, but a lot of what you're asking is going to end up falling under the decision by your DM. Talk to him/her :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ You've asked a string of questions that amount to asking how you can kitbash a Turing machine out of D&D spells. However, this looks like a classic case of the XY Problem: asking for help with X while failing to disclose what actual problem Y you're trying to solve with all this Rube Goldbergery. This is a dysfunctional approach for RPG.se questions. I urge you to carefully consider your end goal and ask about solving that instead of whether further spell-programming ideas work. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Sorry for that. I'm a bit of a goof-head sometimes (but I have other qualities). Next time I have a goal in mind, I'll ask for the goal itself instead of each step separately. I'll make further efforts to respect how the website works. Good day ! \$\endgroup\$
    – Gael L
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ is there a reason you need to use a dumb familiar? There are tons of familiars out there that have peasant-or-above intellect. Pseudodragon, Imp, Tressym (with DM approval). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ also how hard is to know the US has finished the task if it is always at most 18m from you? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 19:45

3 Answers 3

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You may assume a familiar is smarter than the average pet, and as obedient and independent as the smarter pets. If you can command a dog to "wait here until i get back", they will, to the best of their ability, do so. I don't think you will find any problem assuming your familiar is as intelligent as a very well trained pet. Some pets have been known to do amazing things. If you can find examples of pets acting like a contingency spell, then you are golden.

FWIW, in researching this question, I saw a cat answer the telephone while the master was sleeping.

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Ready Action

Find Familiar States (PHB, 240)

Your familiar acts independently of you, but it always obeys your commands.

This gives you the ability to tell it to do something like your example. However, combining this with Unseen Servant Rules leads to a weird interaction and may give you a false positive (if the servant requires an additional command before completing their 15' move + task). But otherwise, RAW allows for "Ready", which is exactly what you're wanting the Familiar to do.

Ready Action, PHB pp 193

Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular cicumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn so that you can act later in the round using your reaction...

First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your [the familiar's] reaction. Then, you choose the the action you will take in response to that trigger.

This would mean that each round you'd need to Ready the Familiar's action again using it's reaction. As long as you can maintain your communication with it, it should be fine.

Hey, I'm waitin' here!

This also effectively means that your Familiar has no actions it can take while it is using "Ready" and it also has no Reactions to take.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to be sure, can the Readied action take more than a turn (6 seconds) to be activated ? I.e. if the trigger happens 20 seconds after the readying, does it still work (or is it expired) ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Gael L
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 20:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GaelL Updated my answer for you. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alright... So... As long as I refresh my Familiar's order to jump when a certain activity starts/ends, and that an Alarm is set on top of the Familiar's head, I can remotely know exactly at which moment that activity starts/ends. Paired with Unseen Servant, all of this results in the possibility to do remote cooking, and other complex things a Servant wouldn't be able to do without receiving several tasks. Excellent ! \$\endgroup\$
    – Gael L
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GaelL Um...bear in mind that your Unseen Servant ceases to exist if it ever moves more than 60' away from you. (Often interpreted to mean "if it is ever more than 60' away from you for any reason) Remote anything with an Unseen Servant is a touchy proposition at best. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically, you can take any action at any time you can act. Rounds are typically only used during combat, but the things you can do on your turn in rounds are things you can do in general. In theory you could keep everyone in rounds all the time -- it would painful to play some things like that, but you could, and without violating any rules as written. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 15:43
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Yes, you can give them the order.

Will they follow/understand the order or be capable of carrying it out it is going to be at the discretion of your DM. After looking through the books and briefly prodding the Internet, I found no cannon linking ability scores to plain language understandings of what they represent, so the answer to your question will vary by the person running the game.

My personal ruling would be that any form of delayed reaction would be too complicated for a familiar. I think of familiars as pets that sympathize with you at a supernatural level. They don't understand the words coming out of your mouth, but often they don't need to because they understand so well your tone and your body language. Under this description, commands like "attack", "defend", "stay", or even something like "go check that out" seem viable. But something like "jump when you see a man" isn't something they can emotionally react to; it requires a basic intellectual understanding to carry out, and thus feels (to me at least) like it's outside the scope of something a creature with an Int of 2 could be expected to do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What would be the minimum Intelligence score to understand such a thing ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Gael L
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seemed reasonable to me for sentient creatures: dmingwithcharisma.com/2011/10/dd-stats-in-simple-language But I don't know how I'd adjust it for creatures that inherently can't speak/understand speech. \$\endgroup\$
    – Euch
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ To directly answer your question, let's reiterate that I am giving pure opinions at this point - I'd personally rule that if your familiar got up to a score of 6 or maybe 8 and you worked with them on it (setting up an exercise where a party member would stop walking and then you'd jump and repeat that so they can kind of get a sense of what you're going for): that feels about right for me. But again - highly subjective. These are the RAI as interpreted by me - nothing more. \$\endgroup\$
    – Euch
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Familiars are (fey/celestial/demonic) spirits coerced into an animal form. They are not real animals \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 4:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin So, smarter than an animal, then ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Gael L
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 18:55

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