[RPG] For a Pact of the Chain warlock, is choosing to have their familiar attack generally the worse option for the warlock’s action


I have a warlock who has chosen Pact of the Chain. This gives me the find familiar spell, which states:

You gain the service of a familiar, a spirit that takes an animal form you choose: bat, cat, crab, frog (toad), hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish (quipper), rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel. Appearing in an unoccupied space within range, the familiar has the statistics of the chosen form, though it is a celestial, fey, or fiend (your choice) instead of a beast.

Pact of the Chain allows a few extra forms for my familiar to take, as per the following:

When you cast the spell, you can choose one of the normal forms for your familiar or one of the following special forms: imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite.

The part I'm interested in is where Pact of the Chain says:

Additionally, when you take the Attack action, you can forgo one of your own attacks to allow your familiar to make one attack of its own with its reaction.

Given how much damage a warlock can output with eldritch blast or similar, it seems fairly suboptimal to have your familiar attack instead of you (if we assume no multiclassing to give access to Extra Attack, and of course as a Pact of the Chain warlock I don't have access to Thirsting Blade).

I'm not sure why a warlock would choose to have their familiar attack instead of just casting eldritch blast or similar. I've listed all of the various forms the familiar can take above in case there's a specific form that has an advantage that another form would not, but nothing is jumping out at me. I'm not asking about the various other ways that familiars can be helpful besides attacking, this is just about having it attack instead of you.

The only reasons I can think of/have found, all of which seem pretty situational:

My question is not "what is every scenario in which it would be useful for your familiar to attack instead of you" (I mean, originally, it kinda was at first, but then half way through writing this out I realised that that's probably an unbounded list or something, and would attract answers along the lines of "What about this scenario…", which the stack doesn't do so well with).

Instead, my question is:

Is my assumption correct that having your familiar attack instead of you is generally the worse option (ignoring situational cases like my bullet list above)? Or am I overlooking something that makes this more useful than I suspect (even if that's simply because there are a lot of situational cases that I'm overlooking, which doesn't require an answer to iterate them all)?

Best Answer

At low levels the imp is better

Consider a third-level Warlock who has just gotten their familiar. Suppose the familiar is an imp.

If the warlock has chosen Agonizing Blast, they can deal 1d10+3 damage (average 8.5) at +5 to hit.

If they attack with their imp instead, it deals 1d4+3 damage (average 5.5), plus an additional 3d6 poison damage (average 7.5 when you consider around a 50% chance the target will make its save) for a total of 13 damage.

But it's actually better than this, because the imp can turn itself invisible. So the warlock can alternate: (turn 1) eldritch blast and imp goes invisible, (turn 2) imp attacks with advantage.

(Or, more likely: (turn 1) cast a damage spell and imp goes invisible, (turn 2) imp attacks with advantage.)

If the warlock has taken Agonizing Blast, their damage will outpace the imp's starting at level 5. At that point, the warlock's damage is 2d10+8 for two beams (average 19) versus the imp's 13. The imp is likely to get advantage on its attack but that doesn't make up the difference.

At level 11, the warlock gets a third damage die, and their attack bonus is now significantly higher than the imp's (+9 vs +5), so even a warlock without Agonizing Blast will stop using the imp to attack at this point.

Note that one hazard of this approach is that a monster might attack the imp and kill it, and then the warlock would need an hour to resummon it.

Creatures other than the imp deal less poison damage, but some of them inflict the poisoned condition, which may be worth it for the group even though it's less immediate damage.

Also: even though this question asked about whether it's worth it to use the warlock's action to have the familiar attack, note that the new Investment of the Chain Master invocation allows a warlock to have their familiar attack with their bonus action. This might be worth it even if spending the warlock's action on attacking is not worth it.