Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Summon Nature's Ally
Last Updated: April 13th, 2018
I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.
Summon Nature's Ally is the druid's version of Summon Monster, and it's clearly the weaker of the two sets of spells. Summon Monster gets better, more diverse options, and it has received a gradually expanding list of options over time. Summon Nature's got nothing of the sort, so the core rules present the summon options in their entirety. The bulk of the options are animals, but the list also includes vermin, elementals, and a handful of fey.
Because most of the creatures are animals, it may be important to understand the Handle Animal skill. If you want the animal to do something other than attack, you may need to use the "Push an Animal" option to make the animal go somewhere or retrieve something.
Each level of Summon Nature's Ally is addressed below. The tables serve as a reference for the available summon options, a compilation of links to the creatures' stat blocks, and a quick reference for the creature's type, which is omitted form the original tables listed on the official SRD.
Summon Nature's Ally I
Options at this level are weak, and at any level are likely to die to a single attack. Using them as a serious combat threat is largely impossible, but that doesn't make these options useless. Once you have a few levels under your belt to make the duration meaningful, these options can help you and your allies flank, and they serve as excellent canon fodder for triggering traps.
If you need something to flank with, consider the dire rate, giant centipede, or eagle. If you want to kill stuff, giant centipede's poison might work if you can summon several of them, but summoning a group of stirges will be more reliable. If you need a scout or fodder for traps, summon a Mite.
Small, quick, with decent AC for its CR and both swim and climb speeds. Dire rats can get around easily to scout and retrieve things.
Largely the same as the dire rat, but without the movement types.
The only aquatic option at this level.
At small size with three attacks and the ability to fly, eagles are the closest thing you'll get to a combat option at this level. However, their maneuverability requires that they make Fly checks to hover (+10 bonus against DC 15), which can make it hard for them to remain in flanking position while aloft.
Fast with an impressive climb speed and poison with a passable DC, the giant centipede outpaces the dire rat while climbing and has more reliable poison that the viper. At medium size they may face issues fitting into small spaces, but they're also great for blocking enemy movement.
Terrible at combat and isn't subjetc to Handle Animal.
Mites have several fantastic advantages over other options at this level. They are notably the only option at this level which speaks a language, and they are the only option with Intelligence higher than 3. This means that you can command it to do something other than attacking. Unfortunately it only speaks Undercommon, so you'll need to learn Undercommon is you plan to use this. Mites also have humanoid hands, so they can do things like open doors or retrieve items. They are also small (and can therefore flank), have 120 ft. Darkvision, low-light vision, and scent. This combination of senses makes them excellent scouts, and might even help you to pinpoint invisible foes.
The poison does not have a high enough DC to make it meaningful. However, Pathfinder's rules for poison state that applying the poison multiple times increases the save DC by +2. So if you summon a whole bunch of frogs and several of them manage to hit the same creature, the DC might become high enough to actually do something. Constitution damage is always scary, but even if you summon 1d4+1 frogs you're probably still not going to do much.
Terrible all around, and the duration of Summon Nature's Ally isn't long enough to make this a meaningful mount.
Too small to flank, but their "Attach" attack is made as a touch attack with an impressive +7 to hit. Even at high levels that high enough to reliably attach to a foe and drain a few points of Constitution. If you summon several of them you can do quite a bit of Constitution damage to troublesome foes, and force the unfortunate victim to either spend their turn addressing the stirges instead of your allies or suffer ongoing Constitution damage.
Faster than the poisonous frog and they add a climb speed, but worse poison DC.
Summon Nature's Ally II
Summon Nature's Ally II brings creatures up to CR 1, but that's a tiny increase. The options here aren't significantly better than those of Summon Nature's Ally I, so your best bet will frequently be to summon 1d3 creatures from the Nature's Ally I list.
If you need something to flank with, and air elemental is a good choice for their mobility and their decent AC. If you want to kill stuff, summon 1d3 stirges. If you need a scout or trap fodder, summon 1d3 mites.
|Ant, Giant (Worker)||Vermin||1||Stats||CRB|
|Elemental (Small)||Outsider (Elemental)||1||Stats||CRB|
Ant, Giant (Worker)
Fast, but the attacks are worthless. Giant spider is better if you need something with a climb speed.
Fast and versatile with a variety of movement types available, but their attacks aren't very good.
Medium size, a swim speed, and decent grappling. This could be a good way to lock down single foes like enemy spellcasters. The frog's tongue is used as a touch attack, which means it can reliably grapple many foes despite high AC.
Decent speed and a climb speed, but the giant spider's attacks are weak and the poison doesn't do enough damage to make it worthwhile.
Pitiful attacks and damage, and the save DC on Allergic Reaction is terrible.
The duration is too short to use this as a mount, and the horse's attacks are terrible.
Strictly better than the wolf, the hyena gets +3 to its attacks and CMB, but is otherwise largely identical. Unfortunately that's still not very good.
Smaller, weaker, and slower than the squid. The octopus's only advantage is its mediocre poison. Octopi can move around on land, unlike squids, but if you're on land you should find something better than an octopus. If you need a summon which can quickly move between water and land, consider the giant frog.
Your go-to underwater option, the squid is a decent grappler despite its relatively poor stats.
Despite its CR, the wolf is really underwhelming. +2 to its only attack roll is very unreliable, and its +2 CMB will mean that it will nearly never succeed at tripping.
Summon Nature's Ally III
Summon Nature's Ally increases the CR of creatures to CR 2. At this stage the options start to become more diverse and interesting, and they become more useful as actual combat threats.
For direct damage, go for Leopard. Crocodile is your best grappler, but 1d3 squids may be more effective in the water. 1d4+1 stirges remains a tempting option, especially against enemies with a ton of AC and hit points.
|Ant, Giant (Soldier)||Animal||2||Stats||CRB|
|Aurochs (Herd Animal)||Animal||2||Stats||CRB|
Ant, Giant (Soldier)
Adding poison doesn't do enough to make the giant ant a meaningful combat threat. Worker ants weren't scary with Summon Nature's Ally II, and their attack bonuses don't change when they become a soldier ant, so they will face additional challenges trying to hit enemies which are now stronger and more resilient.
Despite their size and strength, apes are weak. Their attack bonus is just +3, and their CMB is worse than that of the Giant Frog. They have the advantage of human-like hands, but if you need something with hands you'll be better served by 1d4+1 mites.
Aurochs (Herd Animal)
Aurochs are good because of Trample. That is all that you need from them.
Boars are dangerous because of their Ferocity trait, but combining their negative hit points with their normal hit point pool makes them only slightly more durable than the options on the Summon Monster I list. Their attacks and AC are both weak, so the boar won't even work as a passable combat threat.
Fast with three attacks and trip. Not a terrible option, but summoning 1d3 hyenas may be more likely to trip foes simply because they can make more CMB attempts.
Slow, but with both climb and swim speeds. Constrictor snakes are good grapplers, and their constrict damage is threatening. However, if you don't need the climb speed a crocodile has better numbers for similar tricks.
Crocodiles are great at grabbing one foe and locking them down. Their attack bonus is good and their damage is decent, and with Grab and Death Roll they can really take control of a grapple and keep enemies from escaping.
Blindsense will allow the dire bat to locate invisible foes, which might be helpful, but otherwise it's unremarkable.
Even in the water this is terrible.
Comparable to the crocodile, but it gets two chances to grab rather than one. I think the crocodile's better damage output is the better of the two options.
If you just want to kill something, the leopard is your best bet at this level. Three attacks, pounce, and rake will produce impressive damage output.
The poison isn't meaningful because of the long onset, and crocodiles will do better at grappling.
Decent damage, but that's about it. 1d3 squids will do comparable damage and can easily grapple foes to keep them from counter-attacking.
Decent damage once rage starts, but the leopard does comparable damage without needing to take damage first.
Summon Nature's Ally IV
For the first time since Summon Nature's Ally I, there is some variation in the CR of your summon options.
The first fey we've seen in a while, satyrs are without a doubt the best option on the list for Summon Nature's Ally IV. Pipes provides an area-effect save-or-suck effect from a list diverse enough to cover most foes, complemented by the satyr's spell-like abilities. If those options aren't appealing, you have a variety of excellent combat options. In the air, Griffons are your go-to option. Medium air elementals can lift enemies off the ground and drop them, but due to the low DC your may be best-served by reserving that option for encounters with numerous weak foes. On the ground, giant scorpions, grizzly bears, owlbears, and tigers all make excellent melee combatants with interesting tradeoffs allowing you to select an option which suits the encounter.
|Ant, Giant (Drone)||Vermin||3||Stats||CRB|
|Bison (herd animal)||Animal||4||Stats||CRB|
|Elemental (Medium)||Outsider (Elemental)||3||Stats||CRB|
|Giant Stage Beetle||Vermin||4||Stats||CRB|
|Mephit (Any)||Outsider (Varies)||3||Stats||CRB|
Giant Ant, Drone
Adding flight and improved stats makes the giant ant a decent threat. The combination of grab and flight means that it can lift enemies into the air and drop them, or fly over other enemies to reach vulnerable foes fighting at a distance.
Bison (Herd Animal)
Much like the aurochs, bison are good for their Trample ability. The DC is 3 higher than that of the Aurochs, and it's unlikely that enemies have increased their save bonuses by 3 in the levels it took you to go from Summon Nature's Ally III to IV.
With four attacks and pounce, the deinonychus is a decent combat options. However, the Griffon has similar damage output, better attack bonuses, and can fly, making the deinonychus redundant.
Three decent attacks, large size, rend, and a climb speed. A good option to throw between you an something scary, though their AC is poor so their hit points will drop quickly.
A big pile of hit points, especially when supplemented by Ferocity. At large size with one big attack, the Dire Boar is a good tank and their opportunity attacks are decent. However, their AC is poor and all that they can do offensively is damage so they're not versatile in the slightest.
I was really hoping that the Dire Wolf would be a decent way to trip stuff, but with just +8 CMB they're not especially reliable. You also need to hit with the dire wolf's single mediocre attack to trigger Trip. Overall you're getting very little damage with an unreliable chance of tripping things.
At this level elementals' abilities have a decent DC which some creatures might actually fail. Air elements can use their Whirlwind to lift enemies into the air and drop them, while fire elementals can inflict ongoing damage with Burn.
Giant scorpions are horrifying combat monsters. Two claw attacks with a good CMB being Grab, and their poison DC is high enough to actually matter. The Strength damage will reduce enemies' CMB and CMD, which means that the scorpion will gradually overcome enemies in a grapple as their Strength gradually fails.
Giant Stag Beetle
I have no idea how this thing is CR 4. The dire boar is largely the same thing, but the giant stag beetle doesn't have Ferocity so its total pool of hitpoints os smaller.
Despite its better sting damage and higher poison DC, the giant wasp is actually worse than the giant ant drone.
A flying pounce monster, griffons have decent attacks with good damage. If you just want to hit stuff and kill it in a hurry, griffon is a great option.
Thanks to grab, the grizzly bear mostly competes with the Giant Scorpion in terms of their combat function. Their stat lines are so similar that I can't figure out why Grizzly Bear is CR 4 but the Giant Scorpion is only CR 3. For your purposes, the question becomes whether you want the base numerical advantage of the bear (+1 CMB compared to the scorpion and 5 more hit points) of you want the poison damage on the scorpion's sting.
Basically just a worse version of the tiger.
Mephits are mostly terrible. THeir breath weapons are weak, and their fast healing won't matter because the duration of Summon Nature's Ally is so short. The big draw of Mephits is their spell-like abilities, which can get you access to some useful spells which you may not have prepared or which aren't on your spell list. Unfortunately these spells tend to be at most 2nd-level, so buying some scrolls is probably a better choice.
The owlbear and the grizzly bear are mostly identical with some numbers shuffled around. Owlbears have better attack bonus and CMB, but grizzly bears deal more damage. The choice between the two mostly comes down to personal preference.
I have no idea how these are CR 3. They're terrible.
You'll get better damage out of a charge from a tiger or griffon, and after the charge your tiger or griffon will continue to be scary.
I'm not sure if you get to summon the Satyr with their pipes, but I think that you do because the pipes are part of their stat block and therefore their CR. If that's the case, satyrs are without question the best option at this level. They speak Common, which means that you can issue commands verbally. You can command them to use their pipes round one, then follow up on subsequent rounds with their spell-like abilities. If the pipes didn't work, they can cast Summon Nature's Ally III to get you a bunch of stirges.
Compared to the grizzly bear, the tiger trades some durability for improved damage output via Rake. Compared to the griffon, the tiger trades the ability to fly to get Grab. Combining Grab and Rake is powerful, and if you can do without the Griffon's mobility the tiger is a great option.
Summon Nature's Ally V
This level adds access to giants. It's tempting to use big strong humanoids, especially because you can speak to them to issue commands, but their stats generally put them behind comparable animals.
The ankylosaurus stands out as a perfect tank, and holds that distinction for a long time. In the water, the giant moray eel comes to the forefront. For straight damage the woolly rhinoceros is decent, but you may still prefer 1d3 things from the previous list. Satyrs still win out as a magical option for a one-shot save-or-suck, and having 1d3 of them means 1d3 attempts to put enemies to sleep.
|Elemental (Large)||Outsider (Elemental)||5||Stats||CRB|
|Giant Moray Eel||Animal||5||Stats||CRB|
|Woolly Rhinoceros||Magical Beast||6||Stats||CRB|
A single attack with a good attack bonus and decent damage, but the real appeal of the ankylosaurus is as crowd control. Their Stun ability (which dazes foes rather than stunning them) is devastating. It's as effective as Power Word Stun and has a startling high DC of 23. And they can do it on every attack, including attacks of opportunity. At huge size with 15 ft. reach they can lock down huge sections of a battlefield and keep at least one enemy dazed perpetually until you get around to killing it. On top of all of that, the ankylosaurus has a decent AC and a big pool of hit points so it can keep on fighting for a long time.
It's super weird that giants are optiions on this list. The cyclops doesn't really do anything that you need. Its stats aren't great and it doesn't have any cool special abilities. The only case where I would consider it useful is if you need something that is both large and humanoid, but at that point you can drink a cheap potion of Enlarge Person and do it yourself.
A linear improvement on the lion and the tiger, dire lion doesn't add much additonal damage, but adds a bunch of extra attack bonus and hit points.
120 ft. blindsight is great for finding hidden foes, but orcas are aquatic, their attacks are mediocre, and they don't speak, so at best they can find a hidden enemy and chomp at them impotently until you decide what else to do about them.
Large elementals gain a second slam attack, making fire elementals a considerably more useful option because they now have twice as much opportunity to trigger Burn for ongoing damage against difficult foes. Air elementals remain the most relevant option for their ability to use Whirlwind to lift enemies into the air and drop them.
Thanks its total of four flail attacks, the ettin has decent damage output. You could reasonably even tell the ettin to trip or disarm enemies. But with relatively low AC and hit points the ettin may go down quickly if enemies decide that the ettin is a problem.
Giant Moray Eel
Excellent in the water, the giant moray eel is a fantastic grappler. Grab and Gnaw provide excellent damage output while grappling, and Gnaw allows the eel to make an additional secondary bit for a little bit more damage.
Passable damage thanks to its numerous attacks, but it needs to hit with all four claw attacks to rend, and the individual damage on each attack isn't great.
The manticore's biggest trick is its ability to launch spikes. But the spikes don't do a ton of damage and the attack bonus isn't great. Instead of summoning a mediocre archer, why not summon creatures closer to whatever you're fighting?
Combining the benefits of the rhinoceros and the aurochs, the woolly rhinoceros does a does a file of damage on a charge, then follows it up on successive rounds by using Trample to knock foes prone and back away.
Summon Nature's Ally VI
This levels adds nothing conceptually new, but options continue to improve.
The giant octopus outpaces the giant moray eel in the water. The stegosaurus arguably gives the ankylosaurus a run for its money, but 1d3 ankylosaurus stuns will probably be more effective than just knocking enemies prone. For straight damage, the dire tiger is nice and murdery.
|Elemental (Huge)||Elemental (Outsider)||7||Stats||CRB|
|Hill Giant||Humanoid (Giant)||Stats||CRB|
|Stone Giant||Humanoid (Giant)||8||Stats||CRB|
The burrow speed looks tempting, but since you can't directly command the bulette there's no guarantee that you can use it meaningfully. Leap is neat but not very effective. Dire Tiger will likely work better.
Dire tiger has all of the same attacks, but has better attack bonuses and damage, and adds pounce and rake.
Your go-to murder machine. All of the appeal of the tiger, but bigger and with more damage.
A huge bag of hitpoints, but underwhelming damage. Summoning 1d3 Giant Moray Eels will almost certainly work better.
Another linear improvement to elementals. The air elemental's whirlwind continues to be a good option, but other elementals lag behind other comparable options.
Another vehicle for Trample. The damage isn't any better than the Woolly Rhinoceros, but the DC is better.
A fantastic grappler, the giant octopus applies grab on 8 tentacle attacks, making it largely guaranteed that the octopus will be able to start a grapple. The octopus's poison does Strength damage, so any protracted fight against the octopus will lead to the target gradually losing its ability to fight of the octopus's grapple.
The only interesting thing that the hill giant can do for you is throw rocks, which the stone giant can do better.
Decent damage on a single attack, and impressive +19 CMB behind Trip.
The only interesting thing that the hill giant can do for you is throw rocks, which isn't very useful.
A bigger, scalier version of the woolly rhinoceros, the triceratops adds more damage but uses all of the same tricks.
Summon Nature's Ally VII
In the water your best option is the dire shark. On land, 1d4+1 ankylosauri and 1d3 stegosauri continue to be great options, but the dire crocodile outpaces everything available as a grappler. For straight damage, consider 1d3 dire tigers or a fire giant.
|Elemental (Greater)||Outsider (Elemental)||9||Stats||CRB|
|Fire Giant||Humanoid (Giant)||10||Stats||CRB|
|Frost Giant||Humanoid (Giant)||9||Stats||CRB|
Yet another trample vehicle, with a DC of 32 almost nothing is going to avoid the brachiosaurus's trample.
Though its direct damage isn't great for this level, the dire crocodile's grab and impressive +30 CMB while grappling makes it a fantastic grappler.
Grab and swallow whole make a great combination. Nothing you can summon can compete with the dire dark in the water.
The air elemental continues to be useful due to Whirlwind.
The fire giant has the best straight damage output of the options available to you at this level, but the dire crocodile's ability to grapple will likely make it a more meaningful addition to combat.
Fire giant is strictly better unless immunity to cold or fire matters.
While it's not a bad option on its own, the dire shark is a better grappler and will do more damage than the giant squid can.
Yet another trample vehicle, but the brachiosaurus's DC and damage are higher.
Flight and grab, combined with gargantuan size, mean that the roc can pick up enemies, carry them into the air, and drop them. Usually you want to use an air elemental to do this because they can do it to a group, but the roc may work better against small foes with good savingt throws.
The dire crocodile fills largely the same role, and the addition of Death Roll makes it a better option.
Summon Nature's Ally VIII
Purple worm beats out the dire crocodile as a grappler, and the cloud giant outpaces the fire giant's damage output, but summoning 1d3 of anything from the Summon Nature's Ally VII list is usually going to be a better option solely due to the volume of attacks.
|Cloud Giant||Humanoid (Giant)||11||Stats||CRB|
|Elemental (Elder)||Outsider (Elemental)||11||Stats||CRB|
|Purple Worm||Magical Beast||12||Stats||CRB|
In terms of straight damage, the cloud giant is your best option at this level. If you need your summon to tackle multiple foes, this is your best bet.
The biggest DC jump we've seen in a while, the air elemental's Whirlwind DC caps at 27.
A fantastic grappler with the addition of swallow whole and Strength poison.
Summon Nature's Ally IX
Storm Giant is the only meaningful addition at this level, and 1d3 cloud giants will frequently be more effective due to the additional volume of attacks. In many cases 1d4+1 things from the Summon Nature's Ally VII list will be your best bet.
|Pixie (w/irresistible dance and sleep arrows)||Fey||4||Stats||CRB|
|Storm Giant||Humanoid (Giant)||13||Stats||CRB|
Pixie (w/irresistible dance and sleep arrows)
At this level the pixie's attack bonus won't hit anything and the saving throw on irresistible dance won't affect anything.
An excellent combatant, but the ability to summon multiple cloud giants likely makes the storm giant irrelevant.