I started a new campaign and the DM started me with an egg, which I just discovered contains a homunculus. (egg, whatever). I looked up its stats and it seems...awful. The create homunculus spell from XGtE is 6th-level, while the find familiar spell is 1st-level. Is there something I'm missing here? What makes the homunculus 5 spell levels better than other familiars?
A Homunculus offers a primarily utility-focused benefit...but it's big thing is the Telepathic Bond.
With a normal, summoned familiar, you must be within 100 feet of it to communicate with it, and must use an Action to see through its senses, rendering you blind and deaf in the process. Thus, using a normal familiar, it's effective range is mostly limited to 100 feet.
With a Homunculus, you have an always-on sensory link with it that applies as long as you're on the same plane. Everything it senses, you get live updates as if you sensed those things yourself. Thus, it is a familiar with unlimited effective range, and you DON'T have to blind and deafen yourself to perceive what your familiar is perceiving.
With a normal familiar, it doesn't learn any new languages. Most familiars (per the Find Familiar spell) can't necessarily understand spoken languages. Therefore, unless you are hijacking your familiar's senses, it can't serve to listen in on conversations because it won't understand what is being said.
With a Homunculus, it understands every language you do. So even if you aren't paying attention to the Homunculus at the moment, you can have it go spy on something and then just report back to you what it overheard...allowing it to work as a detached agent without your direct involvement
A typical summoned familiar is an animal. Find Familiar does not actually increase the creature's intelligence. A Familiar cannot carry out complex instructions any more than an animal could. A Homunculus is as intelligent as an average humanoid. They can handle much more complicated instructions than a summoned familiar could. And, coupled with the fact that they understand all the languages you do, you can give them tasks that require more thought.
So, just as a nice example of implementing this: with a strength of 4 and being tiny, it can lift a max of 30 lbs. That's more than enough to pick up most books, and those little hands look reasonably dexterous. So you could turn your Homunculus loose in a library with instructions to research something, and it can go pull down books and read them--dumping all that information straight into your head while you're off doing whatever it is you're doing. And, in response, you can just give it updated instructions based on whatever you've just learned through it, or ask it to go look something else up that you need to know (say you just failed a History check or something).
The other creatures in the Monster Manual with the Variant: Familiar tag are more combat-useful than a Homunculus is. However...they are not necessarily magically bonded to you (You do NOT get the 'Variant: Familiar' bonus if you're a Warlock who summons one of those creatures). They work with you because they choose to, and if you don't end up doing the things they like, they may move on and go find someone else to be the familiar of. A Homunculus' mind-link is permanent...they are perfectly loyal to you.
Additionally, if you have access to both spells, you can have both a Familiar and a Homunculus. You don't have to pick one or the other, both can be active at the same time.
There are three downsides with regard to a Homunculus vs a normal familiar, however.
- If your homunculus is killed, the process to make a new one is a little more arduous than the process to resummon a Familiar. Find Familiar is a Ritual, and a 1st level spell. Craft Homunculus is 6th level and not a Ritual
- A Homunculus cannot be bumped off to a pocket dimension when not needed. This means it is always present, and thus always vulnerable to assault.
- A Homunculus cannot serve as a Touch-range Spell conduit. That is a feature exclusive to Find Familiar.
So, in short...other familiars have combat utilities and the like. A Homunculus effectively allows you to be in two places at once, working on two things at once, where one copy of you is a Tiny, flying squirrel-like creature. It's just a little easier for it to end up in danger, and a bigger deal to replace if it gets killed. So, maybe leave it behind when you go into a fight...or at least let it provide a second set of eyes from a distance so it stays out of trouble (and AoEs)
Game designer and rules authority Jeremy Crawford addresses this in this interview:
And the reason is you can have a homunculus in addition to a familiar, but the other reason is when you have this homunculus companion, you can see through its eyes, and you can do so no matter where the homunculus is on your current plane of existence. In other words, it's like an always-on Scry. And so when we made it, at first ... and this was a spell I wrote. At first, I had it much lower level. And then, I suddenly realized, "Oh my God, this is basically an always-on Scry." And so it's like, this needs to at least be as high level as Scrying.
- It's something you can have next to your familiar, and doubling-up things is rare in 5E.
- The game designers consider the see-through-its-eyes-anywhere to be a very powerful ability.
Yes, Homunculi are Great
Homunculi have their own initiative and can use/attune to magic items. They can also concentrate on their own spells (say, if you have a Ring of Spell Storing). They are insanely useful.
- As smart as an average human (10 Intelligence) with opposible digits.
- Decent Fly Speed.
- Doesn't use concentration or a spell slot.
- Doesn't take an action or bonus action to command and fully autonomous on its own initiative and its own turn.
- Summoner can communicate with it over any distance.
- Summoner can see through it's eyes over any distance.
- There are no restrictions on its actions.
- It can attune to and use an additional 3 magical items.
- Tiny size(i.e. - can fit into a pack or a Handy Haversack or Bag of Holding).
- Good physical stats for its size
- Costs a bit of gold to summon.
- Takes some time to cast.
- Takes up a spell known.
- Require magic items to be used to their full potential for purposes other than scouting, long-distance communication, research, etc.
I love the spell and often find myself taking it once I hit level 12 or so. It's kind of game-breaking to have extra actions, even without extra stats.
I've had my homunculus use a Cube of Force that it was attuned to before and after my turn to protect myself and my party. I've had it cast/concentrate on Haste and Polymorph from a Ring of Spell Storing. I've had it fire Magic Missiles on off-turns from a wand.
Or just use it to deliver potions while invisible.
Best thing is, you get a turn for yourself, a turn for your familiar, a turn for your Homunculus, a turn for your Simulacrum (and potentially a turn for Their summon, familiar, and summon) AND potentially a turn for your summon. Action economy out the wazoo.