I have a warlock who has chosen Pact of the Chain. This gives me the find familiar spell, which states:

You gain the service of a familiar, a spirit that takes an animal form you choose: bat, cat, crab, frog (toad), hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish (quipper), rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel. Appearing in an unoccupied space within range, the familiar has the statistics of the chosen form, though it is a celestial, fey, or fiend (your choice) instead of a beast.

Pact of the Chain allows a few extra forms for my familiar to take, as per the following:

When you cast the spell, you can choose one of the normal forms for your familiar or one of the following special forms: imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite.

The part I'm interested in is where Pact of the Chain says:

Additionally, when you take the Attack action, you can forgo one of your own attacks to allow your familiar to make one attack of its own with its reaction.

Given how much damage a warlock can output with eldritch blast or similar, it seems fairly suboptimal to have your familiar attack instead of you (if we assume no multiclassing to give access to Extra Attack, and of course as a Pact of the Chain warlock I don't have access to Thirsting Blade).

I'm not sure why a warlock would choose to have their familiar attack instead of just casting eldritch blast or similar. I've listed all of the various forms the familiar can take above in case there's a specific form that has an advantage that another form would not, but nothing is jumping out at me. I'm not asking about the various other ways that familiars can be helpful besides attacking, this is just about having it attack instead of you.

The only reasons I can think of/have found, all of which seem pretty situational:

My question is not "what is every scenario in which it would be useful for your familiar to attack instead of you" (I mean, originally, it kinda was at first, but then half way through writing this out I realised that that's probably an unbounded list or something, and would attract answers along the lines of "What about this scenario...", which the stack doesn't do so well with).

Instead, my question is:

Is my assumption correct that having your familiar attack instead of you is generally the worse option (ignoring situational cases like my bullet list above)? Or am I overlooking something that makes this more useful than I suspect (even if that's simply because there are a lot of situational cases that I'm overlooking, which doesn't require an answer to iterate them all)?

  • \$\begingroup\$ For the purposes of answering this should we assume a relatively optimized eldritch blast Warlock? Does the Warlock even have to have EB at all? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jun 17 '20 at 13:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I suppose it doesn't really matter whether it's EB or not, it just seems like a simple enough comparison. And yes, if we are going with EB, we can assume something like 16 CHA (because apparently I once said it should be 16 by default) with Agonizing Blast. But even a Hexblade using a weapon would still outclass a familiar I imagine... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jun 17 '20 at 13:38

At low levels the imp is better

Consider a third-level Warlock who has just gotten their familiar. Suppose the familiar is an imp.

If the warlock has chosen Agonizing Blast, they can deal 1d10+3 damage (average 8.5) at +5 to hit.

If they attack with their imp instead, it deals 1d4+3 damage (average 5.5), plus an additional 3d6 poison damage (average 7.5 when you consider around a 50% chance the target will make its save) for a total of 13 damage.

But it's actually better than this, because the imp can turn itself invisible. So the warlock can alternate: (turn 1) eldritch blast and imp goes invisible, (turn 2) imp attacks with advantage.

(Or, more likely: (turn 1) cast a damage spell and imp goes invisible, (turn 2) imp attacks with advantage.)

If the warlock has taken Agonizing Blast, their damage will outpace the imp's starting at level 5. At that point, the warlock's damage is 2d10+8 for two beams (average 19) versus the imp's 13. The imp is likely to get advantage on its attack but that doesn't make up the difference.

At level 11, the warlock gets a third damage die, and their attack bonus is now significantly higher than the imp's (+9 vs +5), so even a warlock without Agonizing Blast will stop using the imp to attack at this point.

Note that one hazard of this approach is that a monster might attack the imp and kill it, and then the warlock would need an hour to resummon it.

Creatures other than the imp deal less poison damage, but some of them inflict the poisoned condition, which may be worth it for the group even though it's less immediate damage.


In a completely blank scenario with nothing going on, I would agree that it's never useful to let your familiar attack instead of deploying Eldritch Blast. (Except maybe if you didn't pick up Agonizing Blast or don't have the best Charisma and aren't 5th level yet)

That said, there are considerably more trivial reasons to consider letting your familiar attack someone over Eldritch Blasting them. The kind of thing that could up relatively easily, perhaps not every encounter, but likely at least a few times per adventure.

  • You have Disadvantage on your Eldritch Blast. Your familiar has Advantage on its attack. This one can be as simple as "you are in melee. your invisible imp is sitting on your shoulder."

  • You can't cast Eldritch Blast at all. You need to be able to see your target; if they're behind a wall and so is your familiar, they'll be the only one able to attack. You can't cast if you're holding on to something with both hands. Or are in a zone of Silence. All of these still leave your familiar free to attack.

Oh and finally, but it depends a bit on which Familiar you pick, 3 out of the 4 special familiars can poison enemies if they fail a Con save. Being poisoned is no joke; it cripples many monsters. The Sprite can do it for one minute at range, while the Pseudodragon's melee sting can poison for 1 hour with no extra saves.

Poisoning someone trying to melee with your Warlock can be the difference between life and death.

(Eventually, all of these will become less and less relevant. Once you're level 17 and cast 4 Eldritch beams, probably your Disadvantage is better than their Advantage. But come on, it's a minor extra effect of a level 3 ability, at that point it shouldn't be a surprise that it's not doing much anymore =)


It is generally worse

Depending on the familiar and on the level of the Warlock, the damage output will usually be vastly inferior using the familiar except for situational appearances.

Movement and position can be relevant

One aspect that encompasses a lot of possibly relevant situations is that the warlock might be unable to reach any target or the preferred target with their superior attacks while the familiar can. This can happen due to a combination of distance, cover, combatant positions, battlefield layout and other factors. Reasons that the familiar can potentially reach the target include different movement modes (flying, swimming), small size (access through small openings) and the simple but very important fact that the familiar can occupy a distinct location up to 100 feet away. The probability of any such a situation arising is obviously dependent on the battlefield layout. This will not happen in a flat open battlefield.


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