There’s lots of cool things about playing a Magic-User. Unfortunately, one of those is not having a familiar. Let’s face it. Familiars suck. In Old-School games, the risk generally isn’t worth the reward. In newer (Pathfinder/3.x) games, you many get a little boost but once again I think it’s pretty damned lame. Think about. Master of the Arcane. Summoner of Demon Lords. Here’s my familiar. A Toad. Really? Yes, I know there’s historical precedence on familiars. But screw that. You want to be cool.
This is one of those things that’s just brewing in the back of my head and not yet a complete thought but we’ll see how it goes.
First, let’s ditch all the mundane animals as familiars. Let’s stick to some the more cool ones like the imp, quasit and pseudo-dragon. Brownie is a possibility too but personally, it just never clicked with me.
Here’s some more basic thoughts:
It is what it is. Familiars have all the special powers and abilities according to what they are.
Adviser & Spy: A Magic-User and familiar will have a telepathic bond. The Magic-User can perceived through the senses of the familiar. Familiars should grant a bonus for magical research and the like. Not only should a familiar be able to spy for the magic-user. The familiar will also keep tabs on the magic-user for a powerful demonic/supernatural entity.
Free Will: Familiars should have a bit a free will. Almost like a hireling or a henchman. That means they should also have a personality with their own unusual quirks. Plus they should have their extra spell casting abilities.
Hit Points: At higher levels, familiars tend to get squashed quickly. A quick and dirty method. Familiars have the same amount of HP as the Magic-User.
Losing a familiar: This is where things usually suck. Generally, it ends draining the Magic-User of HP, permanently. This really does nothing to encourage the acquisition of a familiar. Instead, it just gets harder and harder for a Magic-User to replace the familiar. And subsequent familiars become more and more free willed.
So that’s it. A few system-neutral quick thoughts. I’ve got a couple of other ideas rolling around in my head but those are for Part 2.
3 thoughts on “Familiars Shouldn’t Suck”
Spycraft, oddly enough, had a great twist on familiars. They aren’t living beings. They are spirits that take the form of living beings.
First, they help you cast spells. In D&D, maybe, they allow you treat your key ability as higher for purposes of bonus spells and/or save DC. After all, that is the reason they were used by witches and wizards in the lore.
Second, they act as spies and guardians. They never sleep, they never tire, they can communicate instantly with their bonded mage.
Third, they take on a form particular to the mage. Think patronus from Harry Potter. This may be an animal, or may be a demon, or may be an angel. The form has no actual effect on the benefits of the familiar.
Fourth, they cannot die. If they are hit with lethal damage, they discorporate, and the mage loses the benefits. They come back after 24 hours.
Similar to ancestral familiars, some intelligent creatures may be punished/cursed by powerful spell casters, extra planar creatures, or even the gods, and thus their spirit or soul is condemned or cursed and made to inhabit a lesser animal’s body for the rest of their natural life, or until certain conditions of atonement have been met. Such a cursed individual could be enlisted by a magic user to serve as a familiar for that magic user (but not for non-magic users, since that doesn’t work for some reason). If the magic user accepts or enlists the cursed individual, they will act just like an ancestral familiar, unless or until the conditions of atonement are met, at which time the familiar may revert to its normal form and the find familiar bond is broken. The magic user may seek another familiar a year after this bond is broken, or attempt to cleanse the magical residue as previously mentioned to shorten that waiting period.