Chinese Dragon Familiar?!?!

One of the players in my game wants his Criamon magus to have a Chinese Dragon as a familiar. Here are the stats he proposed:

[tab]Characteristics: Int +2, Per +3, Pre +3, Com +2, Str 0, Stm +4, Dex -2, Qik +4
Magical Might: 16
Size: +2
Personality Traits: Enigmatic/Likes Riddles +2, Fascinated by the Mundane +3, Proud +2, Vain +3
Weapon/Attack: Bite : Init +0, Atk +5, Dfn +6, Dam +15
Claws : Init +4, Atk +5, Dfn +5, Dam +8
Soak: +6 (Iron Scales)
Fatigue: +2
Fatigue Levels: OK, 0, 0, -1, -3, -5, unconscious
Body Levels: OK, 0, 0, -1, -3, -5, incapacitated
Abilities: Awareness (Magic Presence) , Speak Latin (Ancient), Storytelling (Romances), Swim (Through Air) , Philosophae (Metaphysica), Enigmatic Wisdom (Twilight), Magic Theory (Vim), Area Lore (Ley Lines), Legend Lore (Celestial Court)
Incantation of Lighting (CrAu35)
Freedom From Earths Entanglement (ReTe35)
Peering into the Mortal Mind (IntMen30)
Vis: 12 pawns Terram in scales[/tab]

He calls it a "ley line dragon" because he hopes to find it in the "extra dimensional space" along ley lines, which is his specialty of study. I have two problems with this, but perhaps I'm overreacting:

  1. Isn't a dragon familiar for a young mage of a Spring Covenant WILDLY overpowered? Whatever happened to a cat or a raven?

  2. Isn't a Chinese dragon out of paradigm for Mythic EUROPE?

What would you tell a player who presented this to you and said, "Here's my proposed stats for my 'Chinese dragon familiar'?"

You might start a two person workshop with your player on the following things:
(1) To bind the familiar as it is, one needs an ArM5 p.104 Familiar Bonding Lab Total of 51. Does his magus have such scores already?
(2) The powers of his familiar each cost many Might points to operate - and it doesn't have that many of them. They also have no Penetration to speak of.
Then you can offer to build that familiar with him.

You either might build the familiar as a Spring character (RoP:M p.34), or free form. But even with RoP:M as a base, you should not let him do it alone.

Familiars with moderate Size (like +2) and Might (like 16) are unlikely to become overpowered in the course of a saga. As their MR and Soak are both limited, they need continuous attention by the magus. So you can give them colourful powers and background to compensate.

While a Faerie dragon feeling Chinese is easy to motivate, the background of a Magic 'Chinese' dragon needs work - but so do "ley lines".


I'd allow it, but I go high fantasy.

If it breaks the mood for you, just say "Look, this, out of character, breaks the mood for me."

Ley lines are not a thing, although faerie trods and lines of dragon force -are- things.

I'd argue Enigmatic Wisdom is for humans, much as faeries do not generally have Faerie Lore.

My one concern is that he seems more interesting than his magus. Is the player sure he doesn't just want to play the dragon? What's the dragon get out of this?

I find the power list looking too much like a grocery list of nice to have powers, but not fitting a theme:
Auram, Terram, Mentem... An offensive power, and two strong utility power, each from different forms. I assume Freedom From Earth Entanglement allows him to fly and he is affected by Terram as a earth dragon ?

If it is a dragon living in leyline, or where there is high concentration of Qi/Aura, then is power might be more aligned with it: detection of aura, viewing into other regio, opening passage to regio.
By the way, it is not because he is fascinated by Mundane that he has a power linked to them. I would even goes as far as saying that if he had such power, he might found human quite boring after observing them for a while: always driven by the same emotions (lust, greed, pride - just kidding, I am being sarcastic) :mrgreen:. Not having access to this power make human really an enigma worth studying.

Let's say, that I find this build too utilitarian and not enough within the theme.

Well, I would expect some excellent arguments fortified by extensive research research to even consider. Even then, some queries need be satisfied: What does a Cathayan Dragon want from his association with a barbaric practitioner of unclean sorcery? Why drove him away from his homeland (is he being punished for crimes against Heaven and exiled to the West?) Why would he want to be bound to a foreigner magus as his [i]famulus[/i] (servant)? Is this really a faerie under the guise of a [i]Lung[/i] (chinese dragon)? Worse yet, an adulteration? (inner shudder)? What stories does this choice create the potential of, and how is the saga served by the introduction of this story element (because this is a BFD -Big Fancy Dragon- from China in Mythic Europe, of course the are going to be stories created [i]and[/i] complicated by this choice)?
Hmm... A Cathayan Dragon hiding in a regio to avoid acclimation that is "found" (stumbled upon) a Criamon magus that has a common interest with said dragon in geomancy and  dragon lines? All kind of shenanigans could ensue, especially if the regio is part of a [b](Land) Regio Network[/b] (from Realms of Magic) than connects Mythic Europe and Mythic Cathay. The important question here, is this a story you want to tell?
That depends entirely upon the power level of the saga and how comfortable you are with this. It also depends on troupe discussion and approval. Bottom line, if you do not like this player choice, discuss it calmly with the player and/or flatly deny it. In life we do not always get what we want, and no the universe does not conspire to give us our heart's desire even if we "really, really want it". Perhaps offer a compromise  and accept him as a Magical Companion (and make the player pay with delicious stories). Or throw caution to the wind, let him have his exotic familiar and see how it goes from there. Remember, "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away...."
The dragon probably ate them.
Mythic Cathay has not been explored much (or at all) by the sourcebooks, so you are in terra incognita there, my friend. There are some articles in[i] Mythic Perspectives[/i] magazine penned by the esteemed Timothy Ferguson (using 4th Edition rules) that could be mined for ideas, though that would imply some extra work on your part. Perhaps some ties to Li-Jien could be considered: [url][/url], [url][/url]. A curious [i]lung[/i] exploring the legacy and ancestry of mercurian magi stranded with the roman legions in Mythic Cathay, perhaps? Again, if you feel it does not fit, do not allow it in your campaign. The role and workload of a storyguide is hard enough, do not burden yourself further than you have to.

EDIT: Much delayed response, post had to be approved.


If you don't want a Chinese Dragon in your ME, no. Of course, your player can simply relabel this as a dragon, which leaves your other issues.

If you don't like the power level, just say no. I'm fine with it, and even consider it pretty low powered, but your preference reigns here.

If ley lines exist in your saga, great. If they don't exist but are part of that character's (Criamon?) delusions, great too. Otherwise, it might be wise to let the player know. As with Chinese dragons, if you don't want them they don't get to be there. I admit a preference for something a little more Chinese than ley lines.

My nit with Enigmatic Wisdom is slightly different: I'm fine with non-humans having EW, understanding riddles and symbols and all that, but Twilight is purely a Hermetic thing. Why would anyone else care enough to concentrate in it, or why would it be part of a Chinese Dragon's nature?

Finally, and for me the biggest one is Timothy's point about what the dragon wants: It is also a character. It has desires and motivations and maybe even needs. If the player is not willing to represent this, feel free to play the thing yourself from time to time. Or recommend a cat, bat or other familiar.

(Parenthetically, earlier AM editions encouraged more ordinary familiars by subtracting Might from the Bond Score Total (fewer points to spend on Cord goodies) and by granting a magus a pool of points for special abilities... from which Might was also subtracted. Sure, that Might 30 familiar is awesome, but you could have had an extra Cord at 3 plus some cool abilities and/or virtues and/or Art score increases plus benefits to your familiar too had you gone with the ordinary raven that is barely aligned to Magic with no Might at all.)



I had noticed that ArM5 (the only one I'm actually knowledgeable about) makes high-powered, high-might familiars harder to bind as a threshold, but once you pass the threshold, it is just...better. in the math, is there actually any real reason to bind a talking rat with Might 10 instead of seeking out the might 25 fire-spitting ROUSs of Gelderland Lore, once you have the lab total?

In terms of pure math for the lab totals, no.
However, a might 50 creature should be significantly harder to find than a might 5 creature, i.e. require more stories.
And once found, it should probably be significantly harder to convince. Why would a creature on par with the titans want to become the familiar of a puny human? Yet more stories.
Finally, once bound, it probably has a much greater "weight" both mystical and mundane. Which can be both an asset, and a liability, but is mostly a source of - again - more stories.

Thus, ultimately, a might 50 creature should require more stories than a might 5 mouse - which is one of the currencies with which you pay for stuff in ArM5.
The magus who does not bind a might 50 dragon, but instead binds a might 5 mouse, will probably use "his" stories to become the head of his House, or to quest for the mythical staff of Uzdom.

As for the "Chinese" dragon in the original post, I'll echo some of the comments by other posters.

First, if it's "Chinese" as in "coming from China" keep in mind that China ("Serica", the land of silk) is a mythic place, probably a regio or part of faerie or something in ArM5. Though it's certainly ok to have something come from such a place, the dragon would probably need a fairly compelling reason to come all the way to mythic Europe. If it's "Chinese" as in "Chinese-looking", i.e. wingless and swimming through the air, possibly mustachioned or wolf-headed or whatever, then note that there are dragon-kin in mythic Europe (i.e. in european medieval folklore) that look like this. No need to involve China.

Second, a dragon is powerful, but if the troupe is ok with it, it does not "break" the ArM5 mechanics. Keep in mind that a powerful familiar is a source of more stories, however, and will probably more wilful than a low-might cat or raven.
A might 16 creature, however, is not that powerful. According to RoP:M, weak dragons have might in the range 21-30. Dragon-kin like serpents and worms and drakes tend to have lower might, so might 16 would be reasonable. Keep in mind that supernatural creatures can have powers whose equivalent spells exceed their might, but this should be somewhat exceptional, whereas all the powers of your Chinese dragon exceed its might!
In general, I'd second the suggestion of One Shot of trying to build the dragon using the suggestions from RoP:M if you have the book.

No "ley lines" in mythic Europe, though as Timothy Ferguson noted both faerie trods and dragon lines exist - and the "spaces between ley lines" sound like regiones to me.

Enigmatic wisdom should be restricted to hermetic magi in my opinion, or to those who have studied with them. It represents a very specific worldview. It should not be used to represent generic folks/creatures that match the wise-but-slightly-incomprehensible stereotype. I'd just use a personality trait for that, possibly a personality flaw and/or even the incomprehensible flaw.

Ultimately, it boils down to this. Such a creature breaks neither the mechanics, nor the setting of ArM5 per se. However the whole troupe should be ok with it!


In typical fashion, I offer some variant familiar rules. I suspect I've done this before, but now in greater detail. With these, I suspect your magi will less eager to bind high Might familiars!

  • It is completely legal to take a normal animal that is aligned to magic. The base stats for that animal are identical to a normal animal; it has no Might; other than Size, there is no effect on the Lab Total needed. (Yes, animal qualities are free.) With GM or Troupe permission, it is also fine to take the stats for one normal animal and declare that it is a different animal. For example, a GM might permit a maga who wants a shoulder dragon to take the stats for a raven and say "It's a cute little dragon," but decide that taking the stats for an elephant and saying "It's just a big puppy" is right out.

  • A normal animal taken as familiar gains experience points normally, since it has no Might.

  • Binding Score equals excess Lab Total beyond that needed to bind a familiar, plus 10 (or 30) points for every minor (or major) Flaw taken by both magus and familiar. Flaws taken by the magus/familiar should be related to the weaknesses of the familiar/magus, and should neither affect Might or xp gain or social status. The magus and familiar need not take the same flaws. Story and Personality Flaws are not permitted if they exceed the usual permissible norms.

  • A magus can spend points equal to the Binding Score on Cords. For example, a magus who can just barely bind a familar has no points to spend on Cords.

  • A magus also has a separate pool of points equal to the Binding Score, to spend on improvements. 10 (or 30) points allows both magus and familiar to get a minor (or major) virtue or (with GM permission) Quality that does not grant a Might Score or modify xp gain or grant a social status or otherwise be silly. Benefits taken by the magus/familiar should be related to the TeFo used to bind the familiar, or to the strengths of the familiar/magus. The magus and familiar do not have to take the same benefits.

  • When a magus spends a season reforging a familiar's Bonds, he and his familiar are not required to keep the same Cords, Flaws and benefits, but can choose to substitute new ones rather than just augment old ones.

  • The usual AM5 rules otherwise apply.

That ordinary Size -3 cat seems a lot more attractive now!

Example: Galahad of Flambeau is binding a destrier as familiar. Not optimal due to size, but Galahad doesn't care about that. He has a Binding Score of 13, which he decides to increase to 43 by imposing 30 points of flaws on both himself and his familiar. He takes one level of extra Fatigue from a Quality to reflect the horse's Tireless animal quality, the minor Virtue of Common Sense (horse sense :slight_smile: ), a Minor Magical Focus with horses, a Personal Vis Source from the horse's mystical poo, and a Major Proud personality flaw. He gives the destrier Magical Air, Improved Characteristics to boost the horse's Int, and Ways of the Land. Later on, after his Pride and the horse's Magical Air have caused too many problems (and after his Arts have improved), Galahad reforges the Bond, gets rid of these Flaws and reconsiders his relationship to his familiar as he chooses new benefits.

Example: Mathilda the Meek of Merinita binds a miniscule mouse. She doesn't bother with Flaws because her mouse is so itty bitty cute! She has an entire season to come up with ways to spend all those points.

Optional Rule: Some animals are intrinsically better as familiars, which is why they are traditional. Ordinary cats, owls, snakes and ravens get a +10 bonus to Binding Score. House Tremere has a special affinity with wolves, so get +5 bonus for both ordinary wolves and magical White Wolves.



I do like these rules, in particularly changing the familiar binding to excess points. I also like the idea of taking a normal animal and making it magical for binding. One of my players has an obnoxious, yappy dog they live to death, who's starting to get old.
There are spells to just make a normal animal aligned with magic, right? Just giving it intelligence or powers through rituals would likely do it.

Give it a Warping Point via CrVi.

There's precedent for that, regarding Merinita apprentices.

(Changing binding to excess points alone is a big nerf to familiars. The entire offered rule set both gives and takes. I like AM5's idea about enchanting abilities into the bond, but I miss the old-fashioned specials. The combined carrot and stick make small, ordinary familiars really shine. Restoring the old familiar specials rather than (or in addition to) my simplifying to virtues/flaws would further that even more.)