View Full Version : Curious about the use of familiars...

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
04-18-2009, 08:24 PM
Okay everyone. I'm curious. Wizards Familiars: do you use them? Why or why not? When responding to this question, please specify edition if it applies.


My answer. I never used them with my magic users. I felt they brought more threat that promise.

04-18-2009, 08:28 PM
Well, I can really only speak for third edition, but for me it depends on the particular character. If there's a good variant for that concept, I'll usually take the variant (abrupt jaunt for a conjurer, the summoning one for a summoner, etc) however, familiars do have their uses and a mage that can't take great advantage of a variant is one that I tend to use a familiar with (especially generalists.)

One of the biggest uses is the use of the share spell feature, with it you can turn your familiar into a powerful ally. (Also imbuing a familiar with spell ability allows them to cast for you, letting the two of you pound out more punch per round in combat.) Note, a raven familiar can use your ranks in use magic device to cast wands.

04-18-2009, 11:00 PM
I'd say it depends on how trigger-happy the DM is; if they're the type that'll gun for a familiar if a player doesn't explicitly state protections, then yeah, they're not worth the inevitable penalties the poor critter's death instills. The "Us vs. the DM" mentality is less condusive for familiar lifespans.

On the other hand, if the DM isn't trying to counter any PC ability in any given encounter, then it might be a great tool; a specific NPC might get wise and remove the mage's birdy buddy* but it's a dramatic moment, rather than a stock-and-trade "hide the animal, lest I suffer" bit.

* R2, for example, could be taken as a space-fantasy familiar and was taken out of the climax fight in A New Hope, but got better. Even Empire had 3PO busted up, then fixed as drama allowed. Sure, Star Wars droids are not the first image for a magickal companion; what these demonstrate are methods for familiar negation, without utter destruction. Again, I think it's highly dependant on how the DM runs things, rather than what mechanical (dis-)advantages exist. Mileage, varying, yadda yadda.

04-19-2009, 02:55 AM
Never went near the Mage class in either 1e or 2e, but in 3/3.5 I dabbled but didn't get far. Too much "game falling apart due to people moving or longer having time" goes on. For the character I did get to play a bit as a wiz, I had a familiar. Both the advantages they can give, plus the excellent RP/flavor oppourtunities they come with. Also alwys wanted to try out some the intelligent weapon as a familiar option as well. Another type I also would like to try depending on the DM is almost forgotten until Eberron is the Homonculous.

As a DM I encourage them if the player doesn't overly exploit them or become too dependant on them as a crutch. In some of such cases I had to make the critter become NPCs for these reasons. In these rolls they can create wonderful plot twists. I'm not a Players-vs.-DM style DM, and never sought to constantly wipe the party or anyone's familiar. Story is always most important for me, from both sides of the equation.

04-20-2009, 03:19 PM
Familiars are too valuable to pass up. Deliver touch attack, not-so-invisible mage hand, adorable little spies...Yeah it hurts to lose one, but if the familiar is in danger of dying, it means the wizard has probably got too close to the dangers of melee, and is risking his own hide as well.

Besides, you have to have a familiar to be able to convert it to an elemental or undead familiar (for those more sinister mages).

04-20-2009, 06:40 PM
I have never used them in AD&D, but I think it might easily be a condition of little or ineffectual rules concerning them. I have played with them and ST'ed for players with them in other systems. My primary one was Mage the Ascension which had a glorious trove of useful things for them and Ars Magica which again did a superb job in making them very utilitarian and useful. Just my two cents, but if you are interested look up a copy of Forged by Dragon's Fire for MtA and the core book for Ars (Whichever edition you can find currently in 5th). I would be interested in seeing someone hack over some of the ideas and rules to D&D, it might make them much more interesting indeed.

04-20-2009, 07:29 PM
in our 1e game (as a mage) you had to have one for the hp boost. What was awesome was when people would roll a 15 and get the special familiar. Of course all of the bad guy mages had special familiars like a quasit or imp.

04-20-2009, 09:05 PM
I've had characters that had familiars, and those that didn't - it's all about flavor for me. I think one of my more memorable wizards had "pets." He kept Persian cats and rats and the like - and everybody KNEW he had a familiar, but in reality, he didn't.

As a DM, I've had enlightened NPC's that targeted familiars - but it was rare... they were usually more interested in the jerk tossing fireballs at them to worry about a little kitty.

In one very memorable situation, I had a guy that didn't really know how to play a spell-caster attempt to summon a familiar (against the rules at his level, according to his Order's rules). I granted him a talking, winged Rhesus monkey... named "Mastur." He knew he was wrong for trying to get it, but did anyway... then was crestfallen when he didn't succeed. He got home and found the beast lying on his bed, eating the rest of his rations...
It calmly told him that it knew of his transgressions, and if he REALLY wanted to release him, he could, but he would NEVER get another familiar - and ALL familiars in the multiverse would know that he had banished his familiar (I didn't say it couldn't LIE!!). When it told the PC his name, of course the guy heard, "Master," but that just added to the adventure.

With the use of that familiar, I taught the player what it was like to play a wizard... and now have a VERY cool NPC for my world. Eventually Mastur (pronounced "mass-TOOR") fessed up, and they now have a great relationship.

But - familiars are just flavor. Some use them, and others get used by them. Yeah, sweet dreams are made of this...

04-20-2009, 09:10 PM
DM Version:
In First Edition, the players I knew used familiars all the time, when they had them. Not everyone knew the spell, of course.
1st Edition: Use? - Yes; Why? - Because it sounded cool, and I was young!

I skipped Second Edition.

In Third Edition, everyone owned a familiar who could, just because. They saw action about 10% as often as "animal companions," which were used all the time. In terms of how I ran things, I let players keep track of their familiars, which occasionally resulted in one getting lost in somebody's pocket.
3rd Edition: Use? - Yes; Why? - Because I let the players do the recordkeeping, so it wasn't something I cared about.

Fourth edition appears to have dispensed with familiars. In the offline party I run, there's a warlock and a wizard. Frankly, I don't think either of them even notice that they don't get familiars anymore. I might include a familiar with an NPC or two, but in that case, I would treat it like a separate entity (if it's powerful), part of an event-based script (if it's like an extra pair of eyes and ears), or just as dressing (if it's an accessory).
4th Edition: Use? - Not for PCs; Why not? - It's not implemented and nobody seems to miss it.

Player Version:
1st Edition: My fighter/magic-user didn't know the spell, and the other magic-user in the party seemed to believe that sharing spells was a one-way operation. If the spell had fallen into my character's hands, my decision to use it would probably have depended upon which point in the campaign I was at. Sometimes, it took the utmost effort just to keep oneself alive, let alone a small animal.

3rd Edition: My sorcerer (3.0) had a hawk familiar and was all set to use it, but the game folded nearly as soon as it started. My second spellcaster (3.5) was made using the DM's alternate rules that didn't include familiars.

04-21-2009, 01:02 AM
i have used familiars of various stripes. when i was younger (1e/2e) i always gunned for the pseudo-dragon familiar. (of course)

recent (3e) familiars include an owl and a psicrystal. the owl was more thematically appropriate, than intended for real use, but mousehunter has saved the party's butt at least once. (for which bravery was granted the title lord mousehunter-only to discover that lord mousehunter is a girl... yes, for all his knowledge ranks, he never payed enough attention to his familiar to realize that she was a girl!)

typical uses to which lord mousehunter is put include: being buffed up with defenses and sent out to scout and or spy, flavor during in-party discussions, long distance communication when the party is split, tracking beings during the night, and almost killing the caster. (my own fault, i was stupid in my placement of the familiar and didn't realize the range on a spell that then snagged her, and i was down to single digits by then....)

the psicrystal "ii" managed to set the stage for some memorable party interaction as it first appeared resembling a crystalline spider, setting off some drow-phobic members of the soon-to-be party, and casting suspicion on my two characters. it was fun stuff. then the game fell apart as both dms disappeared. sigh.

04-21-2009, 02:10 PM
As a DM I find that very few players bother with familiars because in the past they have been unfairly picked on (by other DMs). I try not to pick on animal companions and familiars too much, but they are often the weakest and easiest things to hit ...

As a player I think that in a city campaign familiars can be incredibly useful for spying etc. However in dungeon crawls a normal familiar can be a drawback. However, as a player I would take improved familiar to get a more robust familiar and then make sure I use those shared buff spells.
<aside> Oh one thing I loath about the shared spell link is that a single cure spell heals the caster and the familiar ... grrr </aside>

04-24-2009, 01:06 AM
As written in the older editions is was a big expense and a big issue to get a small fragile critter than had a small benefit with a huge penalty if anything happened to it.

Cool idea, don't do it. Typical 1st-2nd TSR treatment.

Most of my players have never bothered with the idea. A few have had animals off and on, but mostly off. So thin is the interest I haven't even bothered to look at the d20 familiar rules.

04-25-2009, 09:13 PM
Being someone who likes to play wizards, I can say that I never took the option. I never felt/saw the need to have a critter follow me around, since they never were any good in combat and were just an XP penalty waiting to happen. My first DM had a habit of smushing things like familiars.

Except that one time that I heard about, which was before my time with the group, where the fat hamster familiar of the wizard turned out to be the herald of the storm/luck god/dess. Apparently when they found out that little tidbit it explained a whole lot of things from the campaign.

I never used a familiar, mostly due to the reasons above. However, after looking over material for the setting my new campaign is in (Scarred Lands), there's actually feats dedicated to familiars. All of which enhance the nature of the relationship between the spellcaster and the critter. There are also spells to use in conjunction with ones familiar, such as "Familiar Teleport" which teleports you to wherever your familiar is. And a prestige class for spellcasters that want to use familiars. And the icing on the cake is the fact that there's a class variant called "channeler" for channeling arcane power through ones familiar to increase his/her own power.

The only varient that I enjoyed, and allow my players to take, is that one from Unearthed Arcana that gives a necromancer the skeletal minion. It just made more sense to me that if you can raise skeletons to do your bidding, why couldn't you have that instead of a familiar. So one of my current players is using this varient for his neutral necromancer character.

Thats all I got. Oh, before I forget, I'm talking 3.5 D&D.

04-25-2009, 11:01 PM
As written in the older editions is was a big expense and a big issue to get a small fragile critter than had a small benefit with a huge penalty if anything happened to it.

Cool idea, don't do it. Typical 1st-2nd TSR treatment.


Had a very cool critter with an awesome name. Worked up nice background story for obtaining said critter. That sticky little rule that says your familiar has to be near you for you to take advantage of certain bonuses makes for too much trouble. An explosion nearly killed my character, and completely destroyed my familiar, which put my character over the edge.

Familiar = liability.