5 Tips for Playing Better Summoners
A 'Pathfinder' RPG Guide
The conjurer's art is the folding of worlds. They can instantly traverse impossible distances with a step, and they can open doorways between the planes with the right words, and a circle of salt. There are some, though, whose mastery of calling creatures from the furthest planes is unsurpassed. Those who can call an army to their side with the wave of a hand, and who have formed an impossible bond with an outsider. Summoners are just as feared for the powers they can command as they are envied for them, however, if you're having trouble stretching into the boundless possibilities the class offers, here are some tips worth thinking about.
If you're new to this ongoing series, I've already covered 5 Tips For Playing Better Core Classes (the original list that has everything from barbarians to wizards on it) and I recently assembled 5 Tips For Playing Better Alchemists. If you're looking for other handy gaming insights, tips, and tricks, you should also consider stopping by my gaming blog Improved Initiative.
Tip #1: Who is your summoner?
This might sound obvious, but it is a step that a lot of players overlook when it comes to their summoner. They get so caught up in the eidolon, that they forget the six-legged, fire-breathing crab the size of a double-decker bus is not, in fact, their PC. It's the person who opens the breach between worlds, and who is bonded to that outsider.
So, start at the beginning when it comes to your summoner. Who are they, and where are they from? What is their profession, who is their family, what are their goals? What motivates them? Once you have the summoner completely fleshed-out as a character and a person that's just as complete as their eidolon, you've got a firm foundation to build on.
Tip #2: Who is your eidolon?
Most people who play summoners know what their eidolon is. It's an outsider that takes on a specific form when summoned to the PC's side, and as the summoner grows in level and power the eidolon can take on new and unique characteristics. However, it's a good idea to stop and ask who the eidolon is, since it is also a character in its own right.
Given that the eidolon is an outsider, the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to concepts and weirdness (I talked about some of this in The Weird and Wild World of Outsiders in relation to tieflings and aasimar). Is your eidolon a forgotten god that was once worshiped by ancient serpent people, and whom you found adrift in the void? Is it a minor angel or devil looking to use the summoner as a way to experience the material realm in new and different ways? Is it young or old, does it have a gender or sex, and does the appearance it chooses to assume in the material realm bear any resemblance to what it might normally look like? Most importantly, what are the eidolon's needs, goals, motivations, and wants? It should be a separate person from the summoner, even if they work together.
Tip #3: How did they bond?
Most assume that a summoner was a learned practitioner who reached out into the void, and purposefully sought a particular outsider in order to bond with it. And while there's nothing wrong with that setup, it's only one of a myriad of ways it could have happened.
For example, your summoner might have been a child who was in danger. If the outsider could cross the gap to whisper to that child, and get them to agree to being bound, then it could have manifested as an eidolon. Maybe it's a benevolent spirit who helped their summoner grow, similar to Pete's Dragon. Maybe it was an insidious force taking advantage of a young mind who didn't know any better. Alternatively, your summoner might have tried to seek out one type of outsider, but accidentally bonded with another. This could create a kind of magical odd couple who have to figure out how to work together. An eidolon might be something that's handed down through a family, passing onto a new summoner when an old one dies. It might be considered a manifestation of a tribal protector, or thought of as a spirit totem.
There are all sorts of directions you could go, so don't feel restrained when figuring this part out.
Tip #4: Why does your eidolon change?
As a summoner grows in power, so too does their eidolon. Mechanically, this makes sense... but what is it about this particular outsider that allows it to manifest new abilities, or change its form as its summoner gains levels? Is it that the eidolon is growing as well, and becoming stronger? Or is it something else?
As an example, go back to the forgotten god example. In this case, the outsider may only be able to fit a tiny portion of itself into the material plane via the inexperienced summoner. As their bond grows, and the summoner's mastery of conjuration increases, the outsider could channel more of itself through that conduit. So what was originally little more than a fingertip of its power is now the equivalent of a hand, or even more. Alternatively, the outsider may choose to take on new or different forms, experimenting with having a physical, material body as it learns it can do and be much more than it was. The summoner might make alterations to the summoning ritual, working with the eidolon to create different manifestations.
There's no one right answer in this instance, but it is something that bears thinking about since eidolons have the capacity to change a lot over the time they adventure with their summoners.
Tip #5: What does your eidolon want?
It's pretty obvious what the summoner gets out of this deal... but what does the eidolon get? Is it the thrill of being able to come to the material plane? Is it discharging a sacred duty in protecting the summoner, or in the two of them fighting against sworn foes? Is it the thrill of battle? Or is the eidolon an unwilling participant who, though they agreed to this setup, is regretting their choice of partner?
A summoner is one half of a partnership when it comes to their eidolon, so ask what's in it for the other half? Also, keep in mind that even if both the summoner and the eidolon have similar goals, they may have wildly different methods or ideas about how they should be achieved. Especially if an infernal-type outsider wants to eat their enemies' livers, but the summoner is trying to curb his partner's more blasphemous instincts.