In campaigns in which I participate a familiar is controlled by the player in normal situations; the DM takes over the familiar if the PC orders his familiar to do something very dangerous, gives it a task it may not fully understand (or maybe even misunderstand), leaves the familiar behind, or sends it off on its own.

We always let a familar act "simultaneously" together with its master on a single (the master´s) initative count.

But considering that

  • a familiar can act independently
  • has - in most cases, because of it´s own dexterity score - a different initative modifier than its master
  • can use the "delay action" or the "ready action" which automatically leads to a new position in the inatative order

a familiar should rather have its own initative count.

The problem now is - assuming the familiar is not being carried, sitting on a shoulder, etc - that it cannot move together with its master, if it acts on its own initative count. Even if familiar and master act immediately one after another, someone has to move first.

If master and familiar want to stay together within 5 feet, the only way to accomplish that would be to move no more than 5 feet each round, because otherwise they would lose touch.

Especially concerning the familiar´s Share Spells ability this would have consequences.

Share Spells (PHB): ... If the spell or effect has a duration other than instantaneous, it stops affecting the familiar if it moves farther than 5 feet away and will not affect the familiar again even if it returns to the master before the duration expires. (emphasis mine)

  • \$\begingroup\$ You may be interested in answers to this question and this question. The question seems to make gameplay assumptions that need clarification. That is, it seems at your table a player controls the familiar directly instead of having it be, for example, a DM-controlled NPC ally of the master. That's totally okay, but you'll have to describe your gentlemen's agreement or house rules (not a pejorative!) that make that work if you want an answer beyond Familiars are NPCs. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alright, I see. Let me put it like this: at our table a familiar is treated as an NPC, but actually it is played and controlled by the player as far as all "normal" game situations are concerned. The DM only intervenes and "takes over", if the player orders his familiar to do something very dangerous, gives it a task it may not fully understand (or maybe even missunderstand) or if the familiar is left behind, sent around a corner to investigate on its own etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peregrin
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 18:59

1 Answer 1


Yes, it can act on its own.

First, let's cover some basics: since a familiar is a class feature, not an NPC, it should be completely under the player's control.

The primary source even states, and I quote, "... the familiar and master are one being. "

As such, the DM has no business taking over your familiar... unless that is a house rule your group has agreed upon.

As such, the actions of a familiar are supposed to be under the control of the character, and thus player, to dictate.

Next, as the familiar counts as a creature, it gets its own actions. It also has an initiative entry on the official character sheets for familiars, mounts, and cohorts, which can be different from it's master's initiative.

Since the character, and thus player, is or should be, in control of the familiar, they can instruct it to remain within 5', or move away for an action, with all the tactical consequences thereof.

Note that the higher initiative being can delay their action, thus changing their initiative count to match the slower one.

If you are working under a house rule where the DM controls the familiar, then request the familiar (DM) to synchronize movements with your character in order to take advantage of the ability.

Due to the increased intelligence and communication abilities of a familiar, you should be able to communicate this or even train together without too much fuss. There are also training mechanics and rules in source books that could represent this capability, if the DM insists.

Thus, you don't have to limit a move to only 5', so long as they both synchronize their actions, and possibly have one delay their action the first round of combat.

It is worth noting that it is a very commonly adopted house rule to have the familiar simply act on the master's turn.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ C'mon, man. Offer the quotation in its entirety: "In some sense, the familiar and the master are practically one being" (PH 52). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 6:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very good answer in my opinion; I just want to add one note about the 5-feet-away rule. Since all the rounds in the same round cycle happen simultaneously I would keep it simple and suppose that the familiar has not gone out of the ability range unless it is too far at the end of the round cycle. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ntakwetet
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 19:28

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