#RPGaDay2019: Familiar

In 3rd Edition, familiars were basically a free Skill Focus or Toughness feat. Not risk free, as the familiar's death would cost you 200 XP per level, or half if you succeeded on a Fortitude save but, hey, saves you a feat (and since they don't actually give you the feat you can always double down on the bonus).

At higher levels they could do more stuff, like talk to you and cast certain spells, but that required you to stick with either sorcerer or wizard and, well, what with all the prestige classes offering more interesting and useful class feature along with a full spellcasting progression? Yeah, people were prestiging out so fast they were going the multiclassing version of ludicrous speed.

4th Edition made familiars pretty damned cool. Mostly. There was a pretty stupid restriction about not being able to pick up stuff, and I'd say you could just ignore it without breaking anything, except a few familiars had special abilities that let them do just that. Were I to play 4th Edition again, and a player chose an arcane class, and they also took the familiar feat I'd let them pick up and mess with stuff anyway, and just increase the weight limitation for the ones that already had it.

As mentioned, getting a familiar took a feat, and any "arcane" class could choose it, which meant not just sorcerers and wizards, but bards, warlocks, and even swordmages. There were a dozen familiars to choose from in Arcane Power (the book that originally introduced them): you had commonplace stuff like a cat, raven, rat, and spider, but could also pick an imp or homunculus, and one or more issues of the online version of Dragon added options like a tiny gelatinous cube.

Each familiar type granted some sort of constant benefit. Yeah, most were skill bonuses like what you had in 3rd Edition (for example, bats granted a +2 bonus to your Perception and Stealth checks), but there was some variety: the bound demon let you speak Abyssal, and the falcon granted you a bonus against opportunity attacks.

Your familiar was always in passive or active mode. In passive mode they were hunkered down on your person somewhere, making them immune to attacks. This was nice even considering the fact that you didn't lose XP if they were destroyed. Instead of animals modified by magic, they were made of magic energy, so you could just will them back into existence over the course of a short rest.

In active mode they could do something else, at the risk of being attacked and destroyed. Spiders could lasso small objects and drag them about, book imps could turn invisible and spy, and the homunculus imposed a penalty against enemies when you used alchemical items against them.

All in all, much more interesting and useful than a one-time skill bonus or HP bump, even though some were probably not as good or useful as you might think (like the cat being able to move any distance from you, and let you reduce falling damage via Acrobatics if you didn't have the skill).

I'm surprised to find that I think 5th Edition's take is also pretty good, and not just because, despite all the other mechanical rollbacks, you aren't stuck waiting and hoping for your familiar to actually become useful at some point: you can communicate with it telepathically right away, dismiss and summon it whenever you want, and it can deliver touch spells for you.

As with 4th Edition it's not an animal transformed by magic, but a spirit that adopts the form of an animal. This is more inline with mythological familiars (an added plus in my book), and like 4th Edition if it dies nothing bad happens to you, though re-summoning it is a bit more of a pain because you have to cast find familiar all over again (which uses up a 1st-level spell slot).

In Dungeons & Delvers, talents don't often give you a passive bonus to a skill, and which skills get them varies by class. For example, rogues can get a passive +1 to Stealth checks via Skulker, while fighters get squat. Wizards likewise don't get passive bonuses to skills, though they can choose talents that let them use Intelligence for other skills (ie, Enchanter lets you use Intelligence for Charisma-based checks).

So I don't want to let familiars be a free floating +1 to essentially whatever skill you want. I also don't want familiars to be primarily useful in combat, or even necessarily at all. Maybe a talent or effect that builds on that, but I think for a baseline effect it's fine just making them generally useful to the wizard, and in this case I think 5th Edition is largely the way to go. Here's what I got for a quick and dirty Conjurer talent:

Prerequisite: Conjurer
Sustain: 2
Using this talent requires performing a ritual that takes 10 minutes, during which you attract the attention of a spirit that agrees to assist you in exchange for a physical form (which requires effort on your part to maintain, hence the Sustain cost): most commonly a familiar spirit assumes the shape of a Tiny animal, such as a cat, rat, or raven.

Your familiar is not required to obey you, but generally will so long as it is treated well. It can speak and read any languages you know, and you can communicate with it via telepathy while it is within 100 feet of you. In addition, while it is within range you can even transfer your senses to it, seeing and hearing as it does (though you have no control over it).

A familiar can also attack: regardless of its form it inflicts 1d4 damage, and your Magic Focus bonus is added to its attack and damage rolls. Its Armor Class is 11 + your Intelligence, but it has no DR. Due to its connection with you, any damage inflicted upon it is instead applied to you, ignoring your resistances and DR.

If you stop Sustaining this talent, your familiar immediately vanishes. It can be restored using another 10 minute ritual, retaining its memories and personality. You can instead use this talent to attract a different familiar spirit if you wish.
  • +2 Sustain: Your familiar can use whatever wizard talents you can while it is within 100 feet of you, though it draws from your Willpower pool.
  • +2 Sustain: The range of its telepathy is increased to 1,000 feet. Within this range, you can also transfer your senses, and it can use your talents so long as you've increased the Sustain cost to permit it to do that.
  • +2 Sustain: Your familiar benefits from any wizard talents you've used on yourself, such as Abjurer, Disguise Self, and Invisibility.
  • +2 Sustain: Your familiar's attacks inflict an additional 1d4 damage for every five wizard levels you possess.
Would also want to include a table of random personalities, so you're never sure what you're going to get. Actually, there's a table for that in Red Book so you could just roll on that.

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