Whether you use the unchained or “chained” version, the Summoner in 1e had perhaps the most capacity for shenanigans, both for power and flavor. You could fairly easily build a self-sustaining character that could solo many encounters, building an unstoppable killing machine while your character stands back and buffs it from the side lines. Things got especially unfair when you use the Synthesist or Master Summoner archetypes. Make a big scary buff monster that’s also a nasty spellcaster, or summon a ton of creatures to overwhelm the battlefield.
You can use all the various evolutions to customize just about anything. I took the trample, grab, and swallow whole evolutions on a summoner with evolution surge to make it large size; I ran around as the Prince from Katamari Damacy with a katamari eidolon. I ran a table with a quadruped eidolon with a swim speed, reach, and grab; he was the captain of the tiniest ship in the navy as it shot harpoons at enemies and reeled them in. The unchained version was much less break-able, but it was actually much more flavorful in that your eidolon had a base form like elemental, protean, and the like, giving bonus abilities as you level.
Summoner in 2e is a good deal less complex and overpowered than before. First and foremost, you share actions, hit points, and all penalties / bonuses between your summoner and eidolon. This alone makes the class a whole lot tamer. Secondly, summoners’ spellcasting tradition is variable like sorcerer and witch, this time depending on the nature of the eidolon. That’s super cool! I love how much more flavor this puts in the link. It’s pretty similar to the unchained version in 1e in that you get a base type (angel, beast, demon, etc.) that determines a lot of the eidolon’s abilities on top of what type of spells you get.
However, now you have to use class feats to add evolutions to the eidolon, forcing you to balance your character’s power with your eidolon’s. While the whole thing definitely feels more on par with other classes and pretty flavorful about how it approaches the link between the two creatures, it does sort of fall prey to one of the shortcomings of 1e’s summoner in that it can feel like you play an eidolon with a support caster rather than a caster with a battle pet. It also has the same problem that magus has with an abysmal amount of spellcasting. At least summoner has focus cantrips.
Action Economy? What Action Economy?
The old summoner broke the action economy. Not only did you and your eidolon get full turns, but summoner got haste early AND eidolons would frequently get an absurd number of attacks each round. Now, they are slaves to it like the rest of us mere mortals. Both halves of the character use the same action pool. Their new answer to this is “tandem” actions: spend the requisite actions, and both halves do stuff. All summoners get “Act Together” where you effectively make one half do a single action thing for free while the other uses however many actions they need. You can grab feats to give you a double-move or a double-attack ability, but a lot of summoners will just use act together most of the time. The two caveats are that act together is limited to once per round and cannot be used to enact another tandem action, so other tandem feats do have their uses. Also, it’s less likely that summoners themselves will be making a lot of melee attacks to use tandem strike.
Even with that additional tool, you’re going to have to be careful with how you spend your actions as a summoner. On any given turn, you will have to reposition both bodies, cast a spell, make an attack, buff the eidolon, protect the summoner… Point is, more than any other character class, it is a good idea to have a series of routines planned out that you can rely on. Things like “Act Together two-actions (boost eidolon and Dragon Breath), eidolon Strikes” or “Act Together two-actions (slow and eidolon Strike), Grab” are examples of action groups you are likely to take together frequently. For any character that can get as complicated as summoner, it’s helpful for everyone at the table if you have your stuff planned out.
For my first summoner on the blog, I’ve decided to mess a little bit with a base form to create something related to but distinct from the typical form. In honor of 1e’s ludicrous versatility, I’m taking a dragon eidolon, and rather than pick a standard issue dragon and build towards that, I’m going to turn it into a chimera.
Conceptually, Jel is a gladiator that never got very far with martial training but was an excellent performer in the ring due to their ability to master beasts put in the ring with them. I love the idea of gladiator adventurer’s, personally. You got someone who is trained to not only compete but to entertain while doing so, then you stick them in real combat situations. It gives you a lot of different ways to focus your character. Maybe they’re an expert at all sorts of weapons and fighting techniques. Maybe they’re much more experienced at identifying who or what they’re fighting against. Or, like Jel, maybe their expertise is more making a flashy show of things.
The chimera eidolon, which I’ve named “Spumoni” is itself a conglomerate of various beasts and monsters Jel fought. The exact method of how the eidolon came to be linked with Jel… I don’t really have a concrete idea of yet. One vague idea is the two of them escaped captivity together. Another is that Spumoni manifested to save Jel’s life at some point in the ring, and he was ejected because of it. In the end, the important thing is the character is a gladiator and arena-beast fighting alongside each other.
Traditionally, the bestiarii gladiators that fought animals only had a spear, knife, or small sword, so that’s all they’re using here. Ideally, Jel won’t attack too often and will let Spumoni take care of that, but they will have a decent chance if they have to. I also opted to give them an actual shield and the Shield Block feat so they can reduce damage more frequently than the shield cantrip.
Intimidation and athletics and the related skill feats are good fits for a gladiator and also allows for a lot of debuffing and control of the enemy. Beast lore is pretty vague, so I wouldn’t expect it to be much easier if at all than a regular nature check to Recall Knowledge, but it’s flavorful and will still help in some circumstances. The ancestry and general feats are actually not too important to the build, but I find half orc to be a solid choice a lot of times since they get two stat boosts of your choice, they can get darkvision at level 1, and the various ferocity feats make dangerous times more survivable. For summoners in particular, being able to refuse to fall over is a huge power boost since it prevents you from needing to re-manifest your eidolon.
To build a chimera, I start with the marauding dragon eidolon (the Strength option) with a piercing primary attack for the dragon’s jaws. The secondary attack is going to be a little weird; with the bonus 1st-level evolution feat, I’m using advanced weaponry to make the secondaries deal piercing or slashing. This way the secondary attack represents the lion jaws, goat horns, and claws, all at once. Strictly speaking, this is all one type of natural weapon, but mechanically it works just as if they were all separate.
The breath weapon can be any type of damage on the list really, but the shape is arguably more important. A 30-foot cone covers about twice the spaces of a 60-foot line (24-28 spaces compared to 10-12 spaces), so you might think cones are always better. However, if your party has multiple frontline combatants, line is usually safer due to being able to precisely hit or miss certain spaces. Damage-wise, poison and negative are probably the weakest due to how many things are completely immune, while piercing has next to no immunities but plenty of resistances. Overall I think acid is the least problematic type. My personal favorite is a line of lightning like a blue dragon would have, but the number of options here is great.
Other feats simply build into what a chimera is and does or fit what a gladiatorial spectacle beast might do. A chimera gets flight, scent, and attack of opportunity, so naturally we pick evolutions for them. While a chimera typically doesn’t have an intimidation ability, it absolutely makes sense for a gladiatorial show-beast with a lion head to have it, so skilled partner gives a lot of flavorful and useful material. Even better, both the summoner and the eidolon are able to Demoralize the same target even after it’s immune to the other’s attempts. Eidolon’s Wrath dealing sonic damage is meant to be a powerful roar that actually deals damage. Knockdown also isn’t standard-issue for chimeras, but once again it’s thematic for arena fighting and provides extra chances for attacks of opportunity when the enemy stands back up. I really wish I had room for the Lifelink Surge feat. The healing from it is very potent, and it would be very handy since both halves of this character could be in melee at the same time. Unfortunately, no matter what I’d replace it felt like it took away from the flavor too much.
Unfortunately, the way Act Together works makes it so both halves of the character can’t each use a 2-action ability. With the arcane list’s lack of 1-action cantrips (other than shield) and the eidolon’s breath weapon and draconic frenzy abilities each taking 2-actions, dragon summoners won’t be casting spells terribly often. The actions each turn depend largely on the eidolon’s placement and ability to use its breath weapon or eidolon’s wrath. Most turns the eidolon makes Strikes will start with boost eidolon. Any time both halves of the character are in a good position, turns usually break down in one of four ways. Here is my short list of routines:
- Act Together 2 (Boost eidolon, Draconic Frenzy), Raise Shield / Demoralize
- Act Together 2 (Cast a non-Attack Spell, Jaws Strike), Knockdown
- Act Together 2 (Demoralize, Breath Weapon / Eidolon’s Wrath), Spear Strike
- Act Together 1 (Boost eidolon, Demoralize), Jaws Strike, Knockdown
This breakdown makes it so only one part of the character does any Attack actions, meaning the multiple attack penalty won’t stack too high. They spend the remaining actions on tactical things like Demoralize, Raise Shield, aoe spells / effects, or just Striding.
Gear-wise, summoners really don’t need too much fancy stuff. I find boots of speed especially handy for getting both parts of the character in position. They should get some manner of armor runes over using mage armor so the eidolon gets the bonuses, and anything with item bonuses to relevant skills can be worthwhile. The one thing that is a little unusual for a spellcaster to prioritize would be a really strong weapon; since a summoner can Invest into a single weapon to share the runes with the eidolon, it’s important to get a weapon that can take the proper runes. For example, it’s pointless to Invest in a slashing weapon with a wounding rune if your eidolon only has bludgeoning attacks. Other than that, a couple good wands are worth considering to expand the summoner’s lackluster spell count.
For this character in particular, a strong shield for Shield Block goes a long way. Even though the returning rune doesn’t function on the eidolon (you know, that thing I said to make sure you don’t do), it’s important for single-action attacks when not in reach of a target. Anything that could potentially force the enemy to provoke eidolon’s opportunity is a good bet.
Spells, honestly, hardly matter for summoners most of the time. As seen above, you can get by with nothing but focus spells most of the time. Just like magus, summoners are going to rely on their cantrips a lot for filler. Scatter scree is a new cantrip in secrets of magic that can be useful for area control by creating difficult terrain, which in turn might force an enemy to provoke an attack of opportunity since they can’t Step through. Bullhorn, while not all that practical, is another fluff choice for the sake of being able to yell “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” loud enough for everyone in the arena to hear. For actual spells, it really comes down to preference. Since this build has a number of aoe options built into the eidolon, I find defensive / control spells like wall of force or uncontrollable dance more appealing. Even simply taking a summon spell to open combat with can be good, but this isn’t really the best build for that. Feats like boosted summons, effortless concentration, and ostentatious arrival make summoning considerably more viable.
Summoner in 2e has potentially the largest power gap compared to what it was in 1e, but that’s mostly because 1e’s version was obscene. It’s a bit less spell-starved than Magus since it has much better non-spell uses for its actions, be it link cantrips or eidolon actions. The customization is… good… but I definitely hope there are a lot more evolution feats in upcoming books.
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