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Generating my first Shaman character for Pathfinder and I am a bit confused about the Spirit Animal. Is the Spirit Animal a single, living animal that must be with the Shaman when the commune each day? Since it has a process for if the "spirit animal is slain" that would lead me to believe it is an individual animal.

So if the Shaman is unable to have their Spirit Animal with them does that mean they are unable to have any spells for the day? Does that make it an Animal Companion like for a Druid? Does that mean the Spirit Animal can attack during combat or perform other game related tasks?

It never talks about the Spirit Animal in the same way a Druid's Animal Companion is discussed, which is why I am unsure.

Or is the Spirit Animal just any animal of the selected type? Or maybe it is an actual spirit of that animal?

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Be careful not to confuse the two entities shamans work with: one is a spirit, the other is a living animal representing that spirit in the physical world.

First, no, the spirit animal is not an animal companion. It is a living creature that mostly works like a wizard's familiar:

[The Spirit Animal] ability uses the same rules as the wizard's arcane bond class feature and [the spirit animal] is treated as a familiar, except as noted below.

So it can only fight for you as much as a familiar normally can, using its natural abilities. It doesn't advance like a druid's animal companion, and if it's killed you're hooped for spellcasting for at least a little bit.

Yes, you need to have your spirit animal with you to prepare spells, as it is the conduit to the source of the shaman's spells:

A shaman must commune with her spirit animal each day to prepare her spells.

So, a concrete example might help. If you have a bond with the Spirit of Otters, you would commune with that spirit via a living otter, which is called your spirit animal. If the otter is slain, a new otter would have to be found to serve as a conduit to the Spirit of Otters. The otter can fight for you, but that's risky and otters are not great fighters, nor will the otter ever become a great fighter.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, kind of what I was thinking, but that means that the Shaman must keep their Otter with them during their adventure if they are going to be one more than one day if they want to cast spells after the first day. \$\endgroup\$ – Jim McKeeth Jul 2 '15 at 3:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JimMcKeeth Completely right. Well, unless they're really careful with their spells. If the spells they prepared before they left last them the entire trip... still a lot safer to keep a small spirit animal in a pocket or have a larger one trail behind the group. Rear guard and traveling spell altar all in one! \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Jul 2 '15 at 3:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that shamans can take Improved Familiar for their spirit animal. Improved familiars are still somewhat lacking in the “great fighter” department (and the pain a shaman goes through if without their spirit animal makes it quite a risk to try), but it would make things somewhat better. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 22 '18 at 3:37
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PFSRD:

By communing with the incredible powers of her spirit, the shaman forges a cherished bond with one specific servant of that spirit—known as a spirit animal. A spirit animal is a creature chosen by a shaman to serve as a conduit, allowing her to more fully access the magic of her spirit on a daily basis. The shaman's spirit animal also grants her special powers. This ability uses the same rules as the wizard's arcane bond class feature and is treated as a familiar, except as noted below.

From this we can see the Spirit Animal follows the rules for a Wizard's Familiar, except where the Shaman class description says otherwise (such as the Spirit ability, which enhances the Spirit Animal in a way unique to the chosen Spirit - Mammoth Spirits grant the Familiar more Strength, while Life Spirits grant it fast healing instead, for examples.)

The same page indicates that yes, preparing spells requires the presence of the spirit animal. Rather than an animal companion, a spirit animal works a lot like a witch's familiar - it's just that a shaman is a divine caster, so rather than being the witch's 'spellbook' that holds her spells, the spirit animal is more like the altar at which the shaman prays for spells each day.

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The Spirit Animal of a Mammoth or Nature Shaman of at least 16th level, or a 20th level shaman choosing Mammoth or Nature for the True Wandering Spirit ability, is indeed an Animal Companion. It's still a Spirit Animal.

Spirit animals are not, in general, animal companions, though, and obey their own special rules mostly based off the rules for the witch's familiar, shaman being a witch/oracle hybrid.

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