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The 2019 UA artificer's alchemical homunculus is described with a list of actions it can perform, most of which require the artificer to use a bonus action to issue the order. The actions listed are Dodge (the default when no order is issued), Dash, Disengage, Help, Acidic Spitle, and Alchemical Salve. In particular, the description makes it sound kind of like these are the only actions the homunculus can be ordered to perform:

In combat, the homunculus shares your initiative count, but it takes its turn immediately after yours. The only action it takes on its turn is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take one of the actions in its stat block or to take the Dash, Disengage, or Help action.

The description never explicitly says that the homunculus cannot perform other actions, but if we take the wording literally, it seems that ordering it to perform any other action is not possible, at least not in combat - doing so will just cause it to take the Dodge action.

To add another complication, the homunculus may not be physically capable of performing certain actions. The examples given for the homunculus' appearance do not include hands, for example (emphasis added):

You determine the homunculus’s appearance, which includes wings and bits of alchemical equipment. Some alchemists prefer mechanical-looking birds, whereas others like winged vials or miniature cauldrons.

In addition, the languages section of its stat block says "understands the languages you speak", which implies that it can't speak.

So, considering both its physical capabilities and the mechanics of issuing orders to it, what other actions, if any, can the alchemical homunculus be made to perform? The "normal" actions listed in the basic rules that don't appear in the alchemical homunculus' description include: Attack (presumably an unarmed strike), Hide, Ready, Search, Use an Object, and of course improvising an action. In addition, some magic items require an action to activate (which is separate from the normal Use an Object action), or a command word. If the homunculus can perform any or all of these actions (and can be ordered to perform them), does it matter whether or not it is in combat? Are there any actions that the homunculus can take without needing an order, such as feeding a potion of healing to its master when they are knocked out (and therefore unable to give the order)?

Also, while the homunculus on its own has no bonus actions it can perform, it could conceivably be given a magic item that is activated with a bonus action. In this case, would the homunculus be able to activate the item (and again, can it be ordered to do so)?


Note: Another similar question has previously addressed the issue of the mental capabilities of the homunculus, but the answers there do not address its physical abilities or the possible limitations of the order-issuing mechanics.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've added the "animal-companions" tag to this question, since the mechanical issues are similar to companions that are actually animals, but feel free to remove the tag and/or add a better one if that's wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jul 22 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would argue in this context that the animal-companions tag is wrong, if only because the Homonculus rules expressly do not conform to those of any other Animal Companion mechanic in the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Jul 22 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Xirema Is there a better tag? Familiar doesn't really work either, for the same reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jul 22 at 21:59
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No: A Homunculus may only take actions that are specifically described for it

There are two actions listed for the Homunculus' Statblock, which it is allowed to take:

Acidic Spittle. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 30 ft., one target you can see. Hit: 1d6 + 2 acid damage.

Alchemical Salve (3/Day). The homunculus produces a salve and touches one creature you designate. The target receives one of the following magical benefits of your choice:

[...]

Alchemical Homunculus, Unearthed Arcana: the Artificer Returns, 2019-05-14

Then, in addition, there are the actions permitted by the feature itself, listed above in your post.

So in total, the actions the Homunculus may take are:

  • Dodge (Taken if no other action is specified)
  • Dash
  • Disengage
  • Help
  • Acidic Spittle
  • Alchemical Salve

Anything else requires houseruling from the DM. Since the Artificer is playtest material, it wouldn't be outlandish for a DM to houserule a feature like this, but that is what it is capable of.

The "normal" actions listed in the basic rules that don't appear in the alchemical homunculus' description include: Attack (presumably an unarmed strike), Hide, Ready, Search, Use an Object, and of course improvising an action. In addition, some magic items require an action to activate (which is separate from the normal Use an Object action), or a command word. If the homunculus can perform any or all of these actions (and can be ordered to perform them), does it matter whether or not it is in combat? Are there any actions that the homunculus can take without needing an order, such as feeding a potion of healing to its master when they are knocked out (and therefore unable to give the order)?

Nominally speaking, the Homunculus may perform none of these actions (again; without DM houseruling). Some of these might seem strange—Hide, for example, seems like a conspicuous omission given that the creature is stated to have proficiency in Stealth—but until the playtest material is changed to indicate otherwise, these actions are not permitted.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What about the "in combat" part? Does that mean the limitation doesn't apply out of combat? Also, is there any limitation on what actions it can help with? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jul 22 at 21:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ (I think one reason the "in combat" thing seems weird and hard to interpret is that I'm not sure if 5e actually gives a definition for "in combat". You could say it's roughly synonymous with "in initiative", but not exactly. But I suppose that the design of 5e doesn't necessarily require it to have a proper definition.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jul 22 at 22:10
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General Rules Apply

Unless overridden by a specific rule, which isn't the case except in combat (see bellow), the general rules apply. The section of the the rules on Monster's Actions reads:

When a monster takes its action, it can choose from the options in the Actions section of its stat block or use one of the Actions available to all creatures, such as the Dash or Hide action.

The Actions section lists those available to all creature:

  • Attack (Unarmed strike is option for all creatures)
  • Cast a Spell (for spell casters)
  • Dash
  • Disengage
  • Dodge
  • Help
  • Hide
  • Ready
  • Search
  • Use an Object

Specific Rule Override

The Unearthed Arcana reads a specific exception:

In combat, the homunculus shares your initiative count, but it takes its turn immediately after yours. The only action it takes on its turn is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take one of the actions in its stat block or to take the Dash, Disengage, or Help action

So the list above is limited while in actual combat. Outside of combat, you may order your Homunculus to do more than that list.

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