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I've seen at least one online character optimization guide suggesting that low-level alchemists should acquire a familiar for action efficiency with crossbows - specifically that you could have the familiar reload your crossbow for you, thus allowing you to consistently get off two shots per turn (you command, you fire, familiar reloads, you fire, familiar reloads). This seems dubious to me, but I realize that my grasp of the rules is still imperfect. Does this work?

For the core of the question... the familiar does share space with me, and due to his familiar abilities, he is able to take manipulate actions from that space. Is he able to take a manipulate action to reload the weapon that I'm holding at the time?

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This doesn't work like that

The Command (a minion) action gives a Minion two actions to use immediately*. Specifically,

A creature with this trait can use only 2 actions per turn and can’t use reactions. Your minion acts on your turn in combat, once per turn, when you spend an action to issue it commands.

It must perform its action(s) when the Command is given, so it cannot intersperse them with your Strike actions.

However, the Reload action doesn't provide any requirement that you are wielding the weapon (it was probably written with siege weaponry in mind), so there's no reason a familiar couldn't reload your crossbow once on your turn and do something else with its second action. Furthermore, the action economy to take an item from a willing creature is the same as retrieving your own items, so the familiar can (most likely) draw your bolts and put them in the crossbow as long as it is within the Familiar's reach.

*The Valet Familiar ability alters this, but not in a way that allows you to reload the crossbow with its actions


As with all things, some GM's may allow a more lenient ruling so you may ask if they disagree. However, while you're at it, make sure they're ok with the cognitive dissonance of a tiny creature reloading a crossbow.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah! but you could still see gains if the familiar was independent. Excellent. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 2 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ would be improved by adding (and referencing) @Ranewan's point about the familiar needing to have their own supply of bolts. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 2 at 22:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden this would also potentially allow for a heavy crossbow to be reloaded once per turn if the familiar spends both its actions to do so (and the GM accepts it of course) \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 3 at 0:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden I actually disagree with Ranewan's conclusion because my method does not use the Valet Familiar at all (because it doesn't really help the situation). I've updated my answer to reflect what I understand to be the correct ruling. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Feb 3 at 18:25
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My impression is that whether it's you or the familiar, the action economy is the same.

From Reload on PHB-279:

While all weapons need some amount of time to get into position, many ranged weapons also need to be loaded and reloaded. This entry indicates how many Interact actions it takes to reload such weapons.

So the Interact action is specifically for loading the bolt into the crossbow and getting it ready to fire.

Now for the familiar:
Even if you are sharing a space, you and your familiar are two different creatures. Rules for drawing items are in Table 6-2 on PHB-273.

Pass an item to or take an item from a willing creature(2): Interact.
2: A creature must have a hand free for someone to pass an item to them, and they might then need to change their grip if they receive an item requiring two hands to wield or use.

This is a little weird because you would technically need to hand the bolt to the familiar, but the Advanced Players Guide fixed this with Valet (APG-147):

Valet: You can command your familiar to deliver you items more efficiently. Your familiar doesn’t use its 2 actions immediately upon your command. Instead, up to twice before the end of your turn, you can have your familiar Interact to retrieve an item of light or negligible Bulk you are wearing and place it into one of your free hands. The familiar can’t use this ability to retrieve stowed items. If the familiar has a different number of actions, it can retrieve one item for each action it has when commanded this way.

Valet specifically says "place it into one of your free hands" but sure a nice GM will let the familiar deliver to the crossbow instead.
But even with the bolt there, the crossbow is not reloaded. The interact action is to draw back the bowstring and load it to be fired again. Giving your familiar Manual Dexterity (PHB-218) to perform manipulate actions gives it the ability to Interact with the crossbow to load it.

Putting these together:
The familiar uses its first Interact action from Valet to fetch the bolt from you. Then its second Manipulate action to actually load the crossbow. This means that your action economy is still either [Attack, Reload, Attack] or [Attack, Command (valet + reload), Attack]. The next round will need to start with Reloading either way.

For Alchemist in particular, Valet may be a way to draw bombs or thrown weapons more efficiently, but it doesn't look like it helps with crossbows.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ but does anything stop you from strapping a tiny quiver onto your familiar so that he already has the ammo on hand? I hadn't really been thinking about the valet action to begin with. Still, an important point. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 2 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose that would work, but giving the familiar their own Tiny bolts would only be compatible with a Tiny crossbow. Which leaves the questions: can you put a tiny quiver on a familiar in the first place? and can a Small / Medium creature even use a Tiny weapon? There are rules for using a Large weapon but I haven't seen rules about using a Tiny one. (my guess is you can't) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ranewan
    Feb 3 at 0:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ "tiny" in this sense wasn't meant as the size of the quiver or bolts, though I can see the source of the confusion. The point was rather to find some way of allowing the familiar to carry some number of normal-sized bolts. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 3 at 7:00

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