What actually IS a familiar, speaking from a Lore point of view? I'm not asking what the use of a familiar is, or what kind of creatures can be a familiar- But in essence, what truly IS a familiar?

Is it an actual animal (Or other creature depending on the feats a character might have) that has, through the ritual to obtain your familiar, a magical bond with a particular spellcaster?

Is it (as I've been led to believe to be the case in 5e) an otherworldly spirit, summoned by and bound to a caster in the form of a regular animal (Or indeed other creature)?

Is it an inherent part of the caster's own being, made manifest in the form of a physical creature?

Is this kept purposefully vague and open to interpretation, making potentially all answers correct to different casters? Or is there something else entirely that I hadn't even conceived of while asking this question?


2 Answers 2


In 3/3.5e, a familiar is a once-normal animal magically summoned and bonded to a spellcaster by a ritual

This is spelled out pretty clearly in the text describing the familiar class feature (3.5e PHB pg. 52), emphasis mine:

A familiar is a normal animal that gains new powers and becomes a magical beast when summoned to service by a sorcerer or wizard. It retains the appearance, Hit Dice, base attack bonus, base save bonuses, skills, and feats of the normal animal it once was, but it is treated as a magical beast instead of an animal for the purpose of any effect that depends on its type. Only a normal, unmodified animal may become a familiar. An animal companion cannot also function as a familiar.

The text here is clear that a familiar was once a normal creature of its type, but it was summoned to service by the ritual performed by a spellcaster, and in doing so gained new magical properties. The two are linked by a magical bond - and indeed losing the familiar causes the master to lose XP, so you could fairly interpret that the familiar has been imbued with some portion of the master's power or essence by this process - but it was definitely originally a normal creature.

This was changed significantly in 5e, where the Find Familiar spell does indeed summon a spirit of some kind in the form of a physical creature.


A familiar in is:

... a normal animal that gains new powers and becomes a magical beast when summoned to service by a sorcerer or wizard.

The concept of a familiar is steeped in European folklore, as an assistant to a practitioner of magic either as agents of the devil or as fairy creatures.


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