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After many discussions with an experienced GM, I know one thing : players don't have absolute control over their familiars and animal companions, they can be unhappy and may refuse to follow orders from an abusive or careless master.

There is a thing we're both unsure of : familiars and animal companions are magically bonded to their master's soul, and if one decides it had enough and leaves, can it sever that bond by itself ?

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The Ultimate Campaign book answers this, aswell as the Familiar entry on the Core Rulebook.

Ultimate Campaign

Sentient Companions: a sentient companion (a creature that can understand language and has an Intelligence score of at least 3) is considered your ally and obeys your suggestions and orders to the best of its ability. It won't necessarily blindly follow a suicidal order, but it has your interests at heart and does what it can to keep you alive. Paladin bonded mounts, familiars, and cohorts fall into this category, and are usually player-controlled companions.

...

An evil campaign where companions are unwilling slaves of the PCs creates a dynamic where the PCs are trying to exploit them as much as possible—perhaps even sacrificing and replacing them as needed—and treat them more like living tools than reluctant allies.

So, the ultimate campaign assumes that familiars and bound animals could become unwilling slaves to their masters and still be under their command and influence.

Finally, the CRB says, on Familiars:

If a familiar is dismissed, lost, or dies, it can be replaced ...

So, the only ways out of servitude are: death, be dismissed, or get lost.

What is lost is subjective. The text talks about the master losing his familiar, such as using it in combat and the familiar goes unconcious and is left behind, or his familiar is captured and they simply don't care about her.

So a familiar could fly away from it's master if you are really pushing it as a GM, but thats not the rules as written.

From my understanding, a familiar is lost whenever the master cannot answer where his familiar is actually located, which seems to be the intent of that rule. But do note that the master and her familiar share an Empathic Link:

Empathic Link (Su): The master has an empathic link with his familiar to a 1 mile distance. The master can communicate empathically with the familiar, but cannot see through its eyes. Because of the link's limited nature, only general emotions can be shared. The master has the same connection to an item or place that his familiar does.

So, they would need to be over 1 mile apart to be considered lost.

Keep in mind that dismissed is undefined aswell, it could go from the master telling her familiar to "go away" or "i release your from my command", to something else that's entirelly not covered by the rules.

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Just to clarify, the thing you are sure about is actually not always true. It really depends on your GM (and a bit on you too). The approach where a player completely controls the actions of his PC's familiar is completely valid, even if sometimes considered less interesting.

That said, the exact nature of the bond between the PC and the familiar is not always the same, and the nature of the familiar itself can change too. For example in the case of a tumor familiar it is an entity completely created by the PC that can even literally die for him, whereas the familiar of a chosen one paladin is his guide and rules-as-written leaves him if the PC falls.

Considering a typical wizard familiar, it is sentient but devoted to his master. That means it won't "had enough" of it's master. This can be explained as the sentience of the familiar comes from the master (if the master break the bond, the familiar looses its sentience). It seems fair to assume this kind of familiar can't break the bond by themselves.

In the case of an improved familiar, the situation is more complex as before being a familiar the creature was often already sentient. The rules states an alignment restriction, which suggests they have standards and don't just want to be the PC's thing. For these familiars to break the bond can be envisaged (for example if their master changes his alignment). Whether they have the power to do it or not depends on the GM's vision.

Anyways, severing the bond should not be that simple so one could easily suggest a familiar to do, unless the GM really wants that to be part of the universe.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. The aligment restriction from improved familiar is actually an exception to the familiar's bond rule and allows the GM to engineer another way for a familiar to leave his master on "his own will". Unless they are both lawful evil, the familiar will hardly accept complete slavery. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Aug 31 '16 at 14:33
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The only thing related to this question that I could find in the rules is this:

Nonsentient Companions: a nonsentient companion (one with animal-level intelligence) is loyal to you in the way a well-trained dog is—the creature is conditioned to obey your commands, but its behavior is limited by its intelligence and it can't make altruistic moral decisions—such as nobly sacrificing itself to save another. Animal companions, cavalier mounts, and purchased creatures (such as common horses and guard dogs) fall into this category. In general they're GM-controlled companions. You can direct them using the Handle Animal skill, but their specific behavior is up to the GM.

Sentient Companions: a sentient companion (a creature that can understand language and has an Intelligence score of at least 3) is considered your ally and obeys your suggestions and orders to the best of its ability. It won't necessarily blindly follow a suicidal order, but it has your interests at heart and does what it can to keep you alive. Paladin bonded mounts, familiars, and cohorts fall into this category, and are usually player-controlled companions.

Source (From the 'Ultimate Campaign' book)

Going by this, it seems that their loyalty is not 100%, but fairly close. Non-sentient Companions seem too dumb to disobey you unless you would do something like actively hurting them, and even then they would probably just try to run away for a while. A trained animal can get abused by their master and still be loyal, as many unfortunate dogs in our world already know. A simple animal simply does not 'decide' to pack it's bags and leave or take revenge on their master beyond instinctive reactions.

Familiars are usually smarter that a normal animal and have a magical bond with their master. They have the same goals and ideas about the world as their master as well so if you're a evil mage that likes to burn own towns that shouldn't be a problem to them. Their whole essence is based on the master that summoned them. But they're not bound to your commands and can indeed refuse to do things (or do them halfheartedly).

Personally, I don't think a familiar can 'decide' to sever it's bond. The magic comes from their master and they have very little power by themselves. That said, if your GM decides that it's possible it's fine. (as always :)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Familiars are sentient companions though, their minimum intelligence score is 6, meaning they can understand spoken language if trained in Linguistics. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Aug 30 '16 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's what I said, right? :) \$\endgroup\$ – Dennisch Aug 30 '16 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, i was more worried about the part that says: "But they're not bound to your commands and can indeed refuse to do things (or do them halfheartedly).", i dont think they can refuse an order (unless it's suicidal). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Aug 30 '16 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean, it's different from when an animal does not understand what is happening to him and still obbeys the master. The familiar understands what his master wants, but cannot do anything about it. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Aug 30 '16 at 21:01

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