[RPG] Clarifying the benefits of the Alert feat over Find Familiar


After reading around as a new player, I've discovered how powerful the Find Familiar spell can be for creative players—albeit it's possible I've misunderstood the leeway Find Familiar affords.

For example, one thing I read is that certain familiar forms like the Owl, Bat, or Weasel can detect hidden enemies for you. It can also be used to scout ahead and prevent ambushes.

I then compared this to the feat Alert (PHB 165):

Always on the lookout for danger, you gain the following benefits:

  • You gain a +5 bonus to initiative.
  • You can't be surprised while you are conscious.
  • Other creatures don't gain advantage on attack rolls against you as a result of being hidden from you.

Alert also "prevents" ambushes, at least the surprise element, although it's inferior in that your team presumably still isn't well positioned.

Alert also prevents the advantage from being hidden. Although again, one might argue it's inferior in that actually being aware preemptively of a hidden target's presence would be better.

Barring the +5 initiative, this makes it seem like Find Familiar is a reasonable if not better substitute for the Alert feat's benefits.

My problem that needs solving: character build.

My first non-tutorial campaign begins in 2-4 weeks.
The Party: 4 PCs that include my Fighter(EK), Bard(Lore), Rogue(Thief) & undecided non-tank.
My plan is to play a XGTE EK; with my free level 1 Wizard spell as Find Familiar. I am the only tank in my party and plan on walking at the front line; is Alert necessary?
The initiative bonus seems so good I may still take it and leave FF scouting to others, but I would lose the great flavor of FF. If half of Alert's bonuses are redundant, I might be inclined to forego the Initiative benefit.
I'm very MAD and trying to squeeze resources including spell slots. Feats: WarC, Mag In(Hex), Resilient(Wisdom).


In what ways are the last 2 bullets from Alert not obviated by Find Familiar (or in what ways have I misjudged Find Familiar)?

Best Answer

Alert is always active and infallible. Familiars are not.

Surprise is not always about hiding.

The party can surprise a foe or be surprised by an encounter without the enemies being hidden. E.g. a ball or gala where some of the guests are disguised assassins. They're not hiding. They're disguised. When their coordinated attack is launched, the character with alert will not be surprised, while a familiar will be just as surprised as a character.

Familiar does not prevent hiding. Alert mitigates the advantage regardless.

A sufficiently stealthy enemy is likely able to sneak up on you in the presence of your familiar as easily as without it. The familiar is an additional set of eyes and is not everywhere at once. E.g. is your familiar scouting ahead for an ambush, or watching one of your flanks, or tailing the party to guard the rear?

Familiars don't mitigate attack bonus from unseeable enemies. Alert does.

Familiars do not grant the ability to see invisible enemies nor the ability to see in darkness beyond 60'. Attacks from beyond the ability of the character to see will still have advantage despite a familiar. Alert mitigates attacker advantage even when the attacker is unseen.

The errata for the feat reads:

Alert (p. 165). The third benefit now reads, “Other creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you as a result of being unseen by you.”

Familiars can get killed. The alert feat cannot be killed.

Sending a weak creature ahead even stealthily or invisible is likely to get it killed in a hostile environment. It costs an hour and 10gp worth of specific materials to re-obtain a familiar. Alert cannot be inactivated and does not require casting.