Homunculus in 5e: Better Familiars?

Last Updated on August 1, 2022

Homunculi are the archetypical little creature; even their name comes from roots that mean “little human.”

Homunculi find their origin in alchemy, as the term for a constructed human. D&D homunculi are a little different though, and they blend a variety of tropes together (such as the mythos of the Mandragora as well as alchemical homunculi) to create the version you might be familiar with: a small constructed creature created by a spellcaster to serve his wishes.

These creatures are tiny neutral constructs, D&D’s version of machines (albeit magical ones). There are a lot of constructs out there (if you’re interested in learning more about them we have an article here), but these particular creatures have a nice variety of uses.

Their primary value is in their utility. Homunculi have a powerful bond with their creator, though the nature of that bond can vary as there are two distinct types of homunculi in 5e. These are homunculi and homunculi servants. Taking advantage of each kind of bond is key to making the most out of a homunculus.

Creating Homunculi

Before we dive into homunculi stats and their uses, it’s worth knowing where they come from. The standard version of a homunculus can be found in the Monster Manual. These little creations aren’t very powerful, but they can boast about an extremely useful telepathic ability between themselves and their master. A given spellcaster is also limited to just one homunculus at a time. If they want a second construct, the first must die.

These homunculi can be created by the 6th-level wizard-only spell Create Homunculus (so you need to be 11th level to cast it). The spell requires material components: clay, ash, a mandrake root, and a jeweled dagger worth at least 5000 gp.

It takes an hour to cast and drains your maximum hit point maximum by an amount equal to the hit points of the homunculus, but at the end of it, you have a permanent new ally.

The second type of homunculus is a little better suited for combat, but it’s still not great at it. It does have the ability to deliver touch spells, however. So if your artificer is missing out on this aspect of familiars, the infusion Homunculus Servant is a good option. It’s also cheaper to make, only requiring a gem worth 100 gp. You can read more about it and other artificer infusions here.

Stats

Although the value of the homunculi does lie in their abilities and not their combat prowess, it’s always worth looking over their stats anyway. The stats of a standard homunculus are almost identical to those of the homunculus servant created by an artificer, so wherever the artificer’s homunculus’ stats differ I’ve included the alternate version in italics with several stats being based on the artificer’s proficiency bonus.

Homunculus Stats

STR 4 (-3), DEX 15 (+2), CON 11 (+0)/12 (+1), INT 10 (+0), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 7 (-2)

  • AC: 13 (natural armor)
  • Hit points: 2d4 (5 avg)/ 1 + the artificer’s Intelligence modifier + the artificer’s level
  • Saving Throw: PB to Dexterity
  • Speed: 20 ft., fly 40 ft./fly 30 ft.
  • Skills: Perception +0 plus PB x 2, Stealth +2 plus PB
  • Damage Immunities: Poison
  • Condition Immunities: Charmed, Poisoned (Exhaustion instead of Charmed)
  • Senses: 60 ft. of darkvision, and 10 passive Perception + 2xPB
  • Languages: Understands the languages of its creator but can’t speak
  • Challenge Rating: 0

The wizard’s version of a homunculus knows everything it’s creator knows when it is made, and its Telepathic Bond ability allows it to share its senses and communicate with its creator as long as both creatures are on the same plane of existence.

In combat, the homunculus can use a bite attack (+4 to hit, 1 piercing damage, DC 10 Constitution save, or be poisoned), but this is so ineffective that it’s more of a symbolic gesture than an actual attack.

The artificer version can deliver a ranged magical attack for 1d4 + PB force damage at a range of 30 feet and with your spell-attack modifier, making it a little more useful to pester enemies from afar. It also has Evasion (takes no damage when it succeeds on a Dexterity saving throw if it would take half, and it takes half if it fails) and can deliver your touch spells as long as it is within 120 feet.

Tactics

Generally, homunculi don’t engage in combat and will flee or dodge if left to their own devices. Artificer’s homunculi in particular will dodge by default unless the artificer uses their bonus action to give an order. However, there are a few tactics that a homunculus master should know about to take full advantage of their little man.

Combat Tactics

The standard homunculus is useless in combat. However, the artificer’s version can effectively attack from 30 feet in the air fairly safely; since it does such low damage, it’s usually not worth spending a ranged attack on. However, these little sources of damage are great for forcing death-save failures and for disrupting the concentration of enemy casters.

Utility Tactics

Touch spells at range can be pretty useful, like a sneaky Immovable Object cast at the right time.

The real utility though is found in the standard homunculus’ ability to instantly communicate with their master. That possibility of instant communication makes wizards with homunculi extremely valuable to a country that’s embroiled in a war or for communicating with spies. Familiars also have this ability, but they’re limited to a paltry 100 feet, which is peanuts to a homunculus.

While you could use a homunculus as a spy itself, it isn’t great at stealth and is pretty noticeable. Instead, it works better as a security camera, keeping an eye on a person or place in a prominent way to ensure that your wizard can have a social presence at distant locations even if they can’t be there in person.

11th-level wizards are pretty rare, and each one can only have one homunculus. That said, if you can get one or two dozen wizards with a homunculus, you can create an extremely efficient information web by pairing up homunculi with other wizards.

Remember that while homunculi can’t speak, there’s nothing stopping them from writing messages! With the ability to write or use sign language, a homunculus can be an effective radio in a world where instant communication is either limited by spell slots or simply doesn’t exist at all.

Think how effective Napoleon or Alexander the Great might have been if they could coordinate their forces via text message while everyone else still had to send physical people to ride an animal to some distant location. That’s the advantage a homunculus can provide.

If you really want to get wild with homebrew, consider removing the requirement that a wizard can only have a single homunculus at a time. You could very quickly set up a simple internet in a medieval fantasy world using wizards as servers, though the effect that would have on the world of 5e could be drastic indeed.

Player Countertactics

If you’re going up against a homunculus-wielding wizard, the information advantage can be tricky to beat. If your enemy is a wizard or a government with a wizard spymaster, you’ll have trouble figuring out your enemy’s plans more effectively than they can figure out yours.

Of course, in a fight, any party should have little trouble downing a homunculus, but their simple presence can complicate matters. Plus, the party might not be free to act against the construct.

The best countertactic to a wizard or wizards using these creatures is to capture one of them alive, being sure not to destroy them. The creatures are intelligent, and you can use spells like Detect Thoughts to interrogate them much more effectively than you might be able to get answers out of your actual adversary.

The homunculus at creation knows everything its creator knows and has probably learned considerably more besides since being created. While you may not get cutting-edge information, a well-placed Detect Thoughts can give you and your party a significant edge.

Final Thoughts

Homunculi are one of the more interesting constructs out there because they’re so accessible. There aren’t a lot of direct paths to creating golems, and they can be pretty expensive.

In contrast, pretty much any 11th-level wizard or artificer will have the resources to create a homunculus, and they can be a real game-changer in longer campaigns for wizards. If you’re playing a wizard character and have access to this spell, I highly recommend talking with your DM about how you can make the most of this extension of your senses.