Familiars and Learning

Salvete Sodales,

In the middle of a read-through of the whole product-line in preparation for a coming Saga, when I came across a little passage in Realms of Power: Magic that I had never noticed before.

Apparently a character with Magic Might must subtract his Might from any study totals before he can spend experience, meaning that they progress verrrrrrrry sloooooooooowly.

My question is - does this apply to Familiars, too? I don't see a specific exception mentioned, but if this were true, it would seem that if one wants a Familiar that can one day make a competent lab assistant, one HAS to aim small, even pathetically so, on the Might scale. (Are there any Might 1 cats hanging around?)

If by the RAW it does apply to Familiars, would you see any drawback on a house rule that says that a familiar's Might score is ignored whenever it is being taught directly by its master magus? (Something about the bond facilitates a 'purer' learning, yadda yadda yadda.)

As an addendum - I am aware of, but not satisfied by, the Vis rule. That is a LOT of vis...

Well, you can always choose to take a familiar that doesn't possess any Might. If you don't find that option appealing, you might be able to reduce the prospective familiar's Might via Perdo Vim effects though the pain and sense of violation felt by the familiar would probably prohibit the emotional bonding necessary for the ritual anyway...

That is always a possibility, I suppose. It just seems to me that the familiar of an Archimagus ought to be able to be both a potent magical being AND a formidably learned creature.

But maybe they get that way by consuming rook after rook of raw vis. Something to wrestle with.

You could Houserule that Familiars get 3 Favoured Abilities which are not subject to the Might penalty.
This would be similar to the existing rule for traditions when learning Supernatural Abilities.

I'm starting a new saga soon as well, and I was concerned about this myself, when one of my players asked about familiars.

I haven't decided what I'm going to do just yet, but I see four options, for myself.

1: Use the rules for advancement from RoP:M.
2: Use the rules for advancement from RoP:M only when the familiar is taught by someone other than its master.
3: Since there is no mention of familiars having difficulty learning in the core rulebook, simply waive the vis cost altogether.
4: A compromise between the above. Count the familiar as having consumed the total number of pawns of vis used in the bond each time his master teaches him something directly. Alternatively, subtract some function of the bond score from the familiar's Might (perhaps 1/5th) for the purpose of determining the advancement penalty. If someone other than its master teaches it, use the rules from RoP:M.

I'm at an impasse. I don't want my players scared away by the vis cost. It seems like a lot of magi have familiars; would there really be so many if it cost somewhere around a rook of vis per season to teach a familiar? But then the benefits of a familiar with a good score in Magic Theory are huge.


1st choice.

2nd choice.


Due to their link with a magus ,
Familiars are actually leaching the vis they need , to learn , directly from magical auras.
This is why auras are in decline and vis is proving harder to find.

Now that's an interesting plot thread...

I think I'm inclined to rule that the process of binding a Hermetic familiar forms a Harmony between the beast's Magical nature and the Mundane, using the Magus's Gift as a conduit. This is another facet of the effect which causes familiars to be immune to "mundanizing" if they spend too long outside of magical places (I can't remember the exact term and I don't have the book on hand).

As a result, a Familiar is able to learn in much the same way that a mortal is - but the familiar inherits any Ability Blocks or other flaws which impact his master's learning, too.

(If I feel like I need to make a token concession to 'the other side' I might say that a Familiar's learning is penalized by the magnitude of their might, instead of by their Might.)

Well, creatures with Magic Might are immortal. To become a familiar is to knowingly give that up. It seems to me that they do that because becoming "dynamic" is a pearl of great price, worth sacrificing immortality for. Dynamic creatures learn and grow by definition.

Or, in strict game rules terms, the Mage is the Mystagogue for the familiar, who gets the virtue, mortal, by sacrificing it's virtue, immortality. Once a secret script, it has long since become common knowledge to the Order as a whole, to the point where it's origin has been forgotten.....

Yeah, I'm with Saxonous on this. That was a good way of putting it.

The difficult advancement system seems to be made for 'free-range' magical beings.

What people fail to realise , is that Familiars are not individual entities.
They are all Aspects.
The Daimonic Aspect , page 81 , TMRE.
The Familiar Bond with the magus gives them a Might Score and the ability to recover wounds.

In our current saga, we follow the "harsh" rule of RoP:M - Might is taken as a penalty to the learning total. In our opinion it actually works pretty well, much better than in the previous saga, where familiars ended having MT scores higher than their masters (who also had to learn arts and spells, craft magical items etc. etc.).

What kinds of familiars do characters in your Saga have?

My concern is that this would tend to set a fairly low cap on the Might of familiars OR undo the (in my troupes) well-established custom of familiars in the lab. It would take a lot of the luster out of the "Story to find a Might 20 Lion of Legend for my Jerbiton" if an animal with might that high would essentially NEVER be able to learn anything without wolfing down Vis.

I've been wrestling with this question for a little bit and I've come up with a House Rule that satisfies me. I share it with you here for your examination.

Advancing Familiars
A Magical Familiar's ability to learn and develop is strengthened by his connection to a mortal mind through the Silver Cord. This has two separate effects:

  1. When a Familiar learns directly from the magus to whom it is bonded, it suffers no penalty to advancement totals at all, no matter its Might. For the purposes of this Rule, "learning directly" includes:
    A) Learning from the magus via Training
    B) Learning from the magus via Teaching
    C) Learning via Exposure while working alongside the magus in a laboratory (or, at the story-guide's discretion, other similar close and quasi-instructive environments.)

Of special note is the fact that learning from books the magus has written does not count. The written page is too much of an intermediary for the familiar to gain the benefit.

  1. In other circumstances, a Familiar's penalties from Might are partially mitigated by the strength of the Silver Cord. When trying to learn from a source other than his magus, a familiar reduces the penalty to its Advancement Total by 5x the value of the Silver Cord score. For a sufficiently strong Silver Cord or a sufficiently low-might Familiar, this may totally negate the penalty. If, however, a penalty still exists after the benefit from the Silver Cord has been applied, the familiar may further mitigate it by consuming Vis per the usual rules.

To my mind, this has a two-fold benefit: it allows for more teaching of familiars AND it makes the Silver Cord a little sexier - in all of my previous sagas as both a player and a SG, the Silver Cord is usually skimped on when compared to the Gold Cord's botch removal and the Bronze Cord's Soak and Aging bonuses.

ArM5 p. 105 says

I suggest that the simplest option is to heed this rule - just let the familiar acquire the master's Abilities after some reasonable time. No need to keep track of the familiar's seasonal activities or argue over how much he would like to study Magic Theory.

This is in direct contradiction to the harder rule on p. 105, "Familiars can learn Abilities in the same way as humans". But then again, this rule is itself in contradiction to the RoPM rules, as noted above. In terms of gameplay, I think this familiars-as-humans core rule is too generous, while the RoPM rules are too Byzantine. I'm not sure what is best, although I like Venerable Bede's suggestion.

The more I think about it, the more I like the "Silver Cord Solution". I can't overstate how much the Silver Cord has been undervalued in my games in the past, but I think this might give it a reasonable boost in line with the other cords. It's also scalable - those who want to tweak down the rate of familiar advancement can subtract a smaller multiple of the Silver score, for instance.

I would agree with YR7 that people who want less book-keeping in their Ars Magica game might consider approach similar to his. For me, I like the fact that Ars Magica enables both nitty-gritty detail management and sweeping stories, so I'm sticking with this approach.

I like this option. For a higher-crunch version, you could let the familiar learn anything that the master has, without penalty. From the game standpoint, the core book should always trump supplements, unless the rule in the core is specifically listed in errata. Otherwise newcomers could never learn the game.

I don't much care for the RoP:M rule in general. If a being can't learn and change because said being is too magical, it doesn't make much sense that consuming more of the essence of magic helps with this situation. I know something like this is necessary for game balance, but it's very counterintuitive.

I like the book-keeping for main characters, but I find it tedious for the background characters. While familiars can be companion-level characters, in my experience they're more likely to be an afterthought of the character, an aid to the lab and glorified grog that's often half-forgotten. For such a character, conducting book-keeping is often just an extension of its master's interests. Perhaps it's possible to have two familiar advancement systems: one for subservient, grog-like lab assistants, that uses my simplified rule, and one for independent, Companion-level characters played by another player - and then, perhaps, learning according to something like your rules. This is a rather complicated set-up with little in-game justification, however.

Yes, that is an interesting compromise.

Actually I think the vis-learning loophole violates game balance. It means that a Magical character's growth is virtually unlimited - it just needs a large enough stockpile/source of raw vis. For a (probably NPC) being in the Magic Realm, this shouldn't be impossible to come by. The RoPM idea that Magical creatures are set in their stats is nice and works well to preserve game-balance, of sorts, for immortal characters. The raw vis consumption rule violates it.

Certain magical characters had already-listed means of advancement - the various sorts of immortality mentioned in TMRE, mostly. RoPM should have, IMO, just referred to them as exceptions. Most magical characters just shouldn't change at all. Familiars, specifically, need to be made into another exception, but I agree consuming raw vis does not really make sense, and it seems nearly everyone agrees you need to extend the rule somehow to make learning easier for high-Might familiars, at least regarding the master's Abilities.

We play with the learning penalty for familiars being in full effect. Since most familiars have fairly low might scores (in this edition) and all but the verditii have piles of vis... it just works.

Only true for Theurgic spirit familars - I believe the rest of us are discussing more ordinary familiars with might scores, penalized per RoP: Magic.