For the summon monster spell, which monster should be selected at each level for

  1. pure dps potential
  2. tanking ability


Related: What is the full list of monsters that can be summoned with the Summon Monster spells?


Speaking as an experienced summoner, this misses the point of summoning completely.

The beauty of summon spells is that you can choose what to summon on the fly.

Listen closely to this secret of D&D - there is no such thing in the game as "straight DPS."

If you want to calculate average damage against some imaginary AC assuming full attacks, go to all the summon monster statblocks and do it yourself, it's self explanatory, you don't need us to do it for you. What Summon Monster 1 creature has the highest DPS? The eagle. Best tanking (assuming you define that as hp)? The pony. Best combination? The dolphin. Of course, the dolphin isn't of much use on the land, and a pony doesn't tank worth crap against flying opponents. And thus you have the crux of the problem.

Most "best DPS" and other such optimization discussions are based on artificial scenarios that have jack to do with real adventuring situations. The strength of a summoner is in bringing the right thing to the battle at hand. You'll want that fire beetle when there's something mind-affecting around. For every situation there are more optimal movement types, attack types, etc. Many choices are effective DPS zero or tanking ineffective in many circumstances regardless of the exercise of taking the average of their damage dice.

Therefore any answer to this question that lists a monster is frankly not only wrong but is causing you to play your character in a sucky way. Don't do it. You have to know ALL the summons at a given level and use the one whose strengths and weaknesses fit the situation.

Allow me to cite the time I was fighting an invisible flying lich behind a wall of force (Caution, spoilers for Rise of the Runelords). I summoned one of the objectively crappiest monsters possible at that level, a musteval guardinal. But as a burrowing critter than can see invisible and fire magic missiles, it could get to him, see him, and damage him, and designate him as a target for the rest of the group. DPS by the stat block about 2.5; DPS in reality "dead lich in one round." DPSing with summoning is like being Doctor Who and deciding your sonic screwdriver is a mace and you're going to try to smack people with it. It misses the point by somewhere around a mile.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for expressing the point of summoning: "Well, I can't help in this situation, but I know someone who could..." \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Oct 2 '12 at 4:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 wonderfully put. It wasn't until I played a decent thaumaturgist that I really grasped the versatility of the summoner and quit viewing the stat blocks in Summon Monster as useful/useless. They have so much more value than min/max, it's situational. \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Oct 2 '12 at 6:32

This is a very open-ended question. I honestly think the best you'll get are links like the one from @mXyzplk.

Having done some basic summoning, the biggest problem with DPS/tanking, is that summoned creatures are a couple of levels weaker than the caster / party. This means they tend to be useless against the party and often under-powered against the party enemies.

At 9th-level, you can summon a Large Elemental (Summon V). But that's only a CR5 monster. In other words, that's a monster that can easily be handled by a party of 5th-level characters. But you're 9th level and your opponents are CR9s.

For perspective, that's equivalent to summoning a Large Air Elemental with 68 hp into a fight where your opponents are a small group of Greater Air Elementals with 123 hp. Your guy has to roll a 17 just to hit and if he's lucky he gets 1d8+4 damage against a monster with 123 hp and DR / 10. In other words, he can basically be ignored.

Honestly, this is the pattern for most of the summon spells. The creatures you summon are generally no good at DPS or tanking. Their attack rolls and HP and relatively minimal. If you just want more creatures on the board, they can basically act a meat shields and eat up some combat actions and get in the way.

The real key for summoning is to bring in something useful for the situation. Maybe you summon a wind elemental to interfere with vision or screw up somatic components of a spell. Maybe you bring in a lion to scare the local indigenous tribe, maybe you summon a couple of small creatures to give flanking to your Inquisitor or cover for you Rogue, etc.

But don't count on summoned creatures being dominant in combat. Especially when Protection from Evil/Good/Law/Chaos become readily available on cheap wands.


Well, as others have already pointed out, this isn't the best question, but take a look at the Lantern Archon, for an example of why: It has 2 1d6 attacks per round, for an average of 7 damage if they hit. It hits on ranged touch at a +3.

But assuming someone throws down some bardic music for +4, and throws down this as a level 4 spell? You suddenly got a lot of low level attacks, that now has +7 to hit, and +4 to their damage. And SM IV gives you d3 of them. That means that you will get on average 4 attacks, and they will do on average d6+4 for 7.5, or 30 dmg/rnd if they hit.

Oh, and they have DR10/evil, and can teleport at will.

Yet, if you're a Bard and can throw down that spell, you should consider getting d4+1 eagles instead, since they each get 3 attacks. Or going for wolves. Perhaps you're a caster cleric and a Hound Archon would be better suited instead? Casting it nets you a decent level 5 fighter and a free aura of menace and a circle of protection from evil, as well as something with scent and darkvision if that's necessary.

Those along with crocodiles and wolves are the standard go-to monsters if you don't need anything spectacular.

But really, you should go through the summons list yourself and pick a few favourites, and take your Bestiary down to your library to photocopy those pages. Your GM will thank you for that a hundredfold.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Your answer, while interesting, doesn't seem to specifically address this question. Would you edit it to discuss tanking ability and pure dps potential? \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Mar 18 '13 at 17:45

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