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The feat Improved Familiar (DMG 200) says that

Improved familiars otherwise use the rules on page 52 of the Player’s Handbook, with two exceptions: If the creature’s type is something other than animal, its type does not change; and improved familiars do not gain the ability to speak with other creatures of their kind (although many of them already have the ability to communicate).

However, the rules on Player's Handbook page 52 (also here)—the rules that describe what a familiar gains as its master advances in sorcerer and wizards levels—on Intelligence simply says

The familiar’s Intelligence score. Familiars are as smart as people, though not necessarily as smart as smart people.

...The chart and its key making no mention of what happens if a familiar already has an Intelligence score higher than the chart lists.

So can an improved familiar suffer a reduced Intelligence score because of its new position as an improved familiar? For example, does a level 7 arcanist that gains as an improved familiar an Int 10 imp, pseudodragon, or quasit see his improved familiar's Int reduced from 10 to 9?

Likewise, can becoming an improved familiar of a sufficiently high-level arcanist reduce a creature's extant spell resistance? (Honestly, I don't think this is even a concern except in the case of a house ruled improved familiar, but it's the other example that's nonetheless vaguely possible.)

In short, does an improved familiar retain a feature even if a feature would normally be replaced by becoming a familiar?

I'd prefer a rules-as-written answer. It's possible a Sage Advice column or other source answers this question specifically, and I just haven't happened upon it (I can't believe this went unaddressed throughout the game's run). However, if such an official source is unavailable or untrustworthy, interpretations of existing texts and examinations of published creatures with improved familiars are acceptable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think what you are talking about is the supplied table used to calculate your familiars intelligence, as well as a natural armor modifier. If so you should make that more clear. Specifically, that would imply that an imp would lose 1 int point and become dumber. Otherwise, if the table did not apply, than normal familiars would outclass improved familiars in intelligence at high levels. So, you are right, it is just a really weird rule to deal with. \$\endgroup\$ – Jonathon Nov 1 '15 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Off Topic: Is 'stupider' a grammatical word? I have always heard and used 'more stupid.' \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Nov 2 '15 at 3:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ruut -- I tried editing that and it got rolled back laughs \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Nov 2 '15 at 4:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ruut Stupider is acceptable. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 2 '15 at 6:42
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The rules as written do seem unclear. It's also narratively ambiguous. While it would seem weird for becoming a familiar to make a creature stupider, it could also be explained as "only particularly stupid imps/pseudodragons/etc are inclined to become familiars to magic users of such low level that their intelligence score ought to be lower than base for their species."

On the other hand, it makes equally good sense to read the intelligence-at-level column for familiars as an endowment only and never a penalty. If it were intended to ever function as a penalty rather than a bonus, it seems there'd be a line about the possibility in the text of the rules and there simply isn't.

It's important to note that the improved familiar feat is an afterthought to the familiar mechanics more generally. In the base case of familiars, this question never comes up, it is only an issue when the improved familiar feat is applied. It would be unusual, at least, to override the improved familiar's base stats to its detriment according to the rules defining base familiars.

RAW is unclear, but I think available evidence points to authorial intent that familiarhood should only ever increase a creature's intelligence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. I did consider the possibility that only stupid creatures become improved familiars (perhaps an imp's bumper sticker?), except that becoming a familiar makes the creature dumber instead of the creature starting dumber. Either way, thank you for your participation and for trying to help strangers. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 1 '15 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Int scores for species with above-animal intelligence are averages, not universal. (Else, according to SRD, NPC humans would all have Int 10. dandwiki.com/wiki/SRD:Human.) So, if your GM is particularly minutia-minded, imps will have as great a range of intelligence scores as level 1 humans have. Find familiar doesn't give you a particular creature as a familiar, it just calls one of a type for you. If you call for an imp at level 7, no imps with intelligence above 9 would answer the call. Of course, they can get smarter on joining you/as you level, but that's not news \$\endgroup\$ – SudoSedWinifred Nov 1 '15 at 23:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I get that, but problems arise from A) arbitrary and unpredictable monster ability scores tilting things in the monsters' favor and PCs typically having enough problems already, and B) Challenge Rating being a factor in an improved familiar's initial availability (different improved familiars, for example, are supposed to be the "same general size and power" (emphasis mine) of those presented alongside the feat) (also Ability Scores (MM 290)). So, while that wide, natural variance is a thing in theory, I can't worry that into a standard practice that fills this rules gap. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 2 '15 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Very true, if you want to keep creatures true to CR diligent random variation is certainly the enemy. Still, when summoning a creature from the ether you can appeal to such variation even if it hardly ever is observed in normal gameplay. \$\endgroup\$ – SudoSedWinifred Nov 2 '15 at 0:44
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No creature finds its Intelligence or spell resistance reduced by becoming a familiar

Although written for Dungeons and Dragons, Third Edition, Tome and Blood nonetheless contains a large amount of information about familiars that was never contradicted nor updated by later sources. This includes two slightly expanded descriptions:

Intelligence: The familiar’s Intelligence score increases according to your level, but it uses its own if that is the higher score.…

Spell Resistance: If you are 11th level or higher, the familiar gains spell resistance equal to your level +5. Some improved familiars already have spell resistance. In this case, the two don’t stack—the familiar uses the higher number. (11)

Tome and Blood also mentions that a master can share his spell-like abilities and supernatural abilities with its familiar as long as the master's ability targets the master… which is pretty crazy but good to know.

To be clear, Tome and Blood remains a source for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 information according to Why a Revision? (DMG (2003) 4).

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